PITTSBURGH As omens go, it didnt seem foreboding. It was closer to cuddly, actually.Outside the CONSOL Energy Center, quite a few Penguins fans paused to take pictures with a guy (gal?) dressed in a white bear costume. It had a grinning cartoon head, oversized paws, the whole campy package. It wasnt exactly a scary sight. It looked like a scene that might play out at an amusement park kids and adults wrapped their arms around their giant furry friend. Except, like Yogi, this wasnt your average bear. The life-sized stuffed animal was decidedly pro-Pittsburgh. It had a sign that said, welcome to the woods.Before the puck dropped, the bear made its way inside and joined another bear a brown one. The two of them sat not far behind the Flyers bench and ended up on the giant video scoreboard that hangs above center ice. The crowd liked that."You know, I'm not afraid of anything," Ilya Bryzgalov said in advance of the Flyers first-round playoff series against the Penguins. "I'm afraid of bears bears in the forest.These bears were in downtown Pittsburgh, which doesnt have too many trees. But you get the idea. It was a good night for the bears and the Penguins at first. Then it was not such a good night for them. At some point, after falling behind by three goals in the first period, Bryzgalov and the Flyers did what they have done so many times this season: they made a crazy comeback. In an improbable twist, the Flyers beat the Penguins, 4-3, in overtime on Wednesday to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (see story). Weve been in that situation before a couple times this year, Bryzgalov said. Pittsburgh is a great team, you know. They have great players. What we did today was unbelievable.He was right. It was unbelievable.Sidney Crosby scored the first goal a little under four minutes into the game. The second goal was a two-on-one: Jordan Staal found Tyler Kennedy, and then Kennedy found the back of the net. The third goal came courtesy of Pascal Dupuis, who took a pass from Steve Sullivan and somehow pushed the puck past Bryzgalov.All of that happened before the first intermission. Bryzgalov allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period. They werent all his fault, not by any stretch, but three goals should have signaled the end for the Flyers.Instead, Danny Briere scored twice, while Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek each scored once. And while all that was happening, Bryzgalov started looking good really good. After that ugly first period, he stopped all 15 shots that came his way. It was a remarkable transformation to watch. In one evening, Bryzgalov morphed from a guy who let three pucks sneak behind him to a guy who kept every puck in front of him.I thought our goaltender really made some brilliant saves, and not only on the power play but five-on-five, Peter Laviolette said. Everyone really dug in a little bit. Our game got better When we did have opportunities come at the net, Bryz made the saves.There were all sorts of storylines going into the series, but one of the biggest was obviously which Bryzgalov would show for the playoffs. If it was the early-season Bryzgalov, the one who was lost in the woods and babbled about humongous big existential nonsense for the benefit of the drooling HBO masses prior to the Winter Classic, it was generally agreed that Flyers were probably in trouble. That Bryzgalov wasnt very good, and he certainly wasnt worth the 51 million contract the Flyers gave him during the offseason. But if the other Bryzgalov appeared the one who was the NHLs First Star of the Month in March, posting a 1.44 goals against average and a .947 save percentage that would make things awfully difficult for the Penguins.It seemed simple enough. With the good Bryzgalov, the Flyers could beat anyone in the playoffs, including the Penguins. With the not-so-good Bryzgalov, they seemed destined to be on vacation or playing golf before too long. In Game 1, the Flyers got a little bit of the latter Bryzgalov but they also got a whole lot more of the former Bryzgalov.After the first period, youre down three goals, in their own building, thats not easy, Bryzgalov said.While Bryzgalov was talking to the media, an unknown teammate with a sense of humor let out a Bearzzzz you know, instead of Bryzzzz. The joke was loud enough for everyone to hear, and a lot of people laughed. The guys (gals?) in the bear costumes obviously werent in the locker room when it happened. It was for the best. They probably wouldnt have found it amusing.E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com.
Bryzgalov overcomes Penguins (and bears)
April 12, 2012, 4:16 am