Bryzgalov's shaky play catches up to him

Bryzgalov's shaky play catches up to him
April 19, 2012, 4:04 am
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In each of the first three games of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, Ilya Bryzgalovs performance was nothing to brag about. The Flyers netminder allowed four goals in each of those games, a fact that didnt get much attention simply because his team was winning.
But Bryzgalovs play caught up him Wednesday night. Once he allowed the games fifth goal on just 18 shots, no less he was done, yanked in favor of backup Sergei Bobrovsky.
He had imploded, and his teammates followed right behind him. The results werent pretty: Five goals allowed by Bryzgalov, five by Bobrovsky in a 10-3 Game 4 loss in front of the home crowd that sent the Flyers back to Pittsburgh and gave life to the desperate Penguins (see game recap).
All series long, the Flyers have simply needed Bryzgalov to play well enough, to make the saves any steady goalie should be able to handle and perhaps one or two highlight-reel worthy ones on top of those. Hed been capable enough through the first three games, even extraordinary at times, showing glimpses of his lights-out performances through March.
Wednesday night was a different story entirely.
Our team needs to be better, coach Peter Laviolette said politically, when asked if he has been satisfied with his goaltending. That is, everybody's performance has to be better than what we do. It was an off game for us. We were not as sharp as we need to be and that was obvious.
I said it before about Bryz. The first few games in Pittsburgh, he made spectacular saves. But when you put it cumulative together and tie everything together, it makes it a little more difficult to answer if Im satisfied with goaltending with a yes or a no.
Thats about as damning a statement as the Flyers goalie could likely get from his coach.
It started out well enough, though. Claude Giroux scored the games first goal, the first time the Flyers netted the first goal in a game this series. Bryzgalov stopped the first shot of the night he faced, too (something that cant be said for Game 2). But everything went downhill soon after and it seemed to start in the Flyers net and bleed out from there.
Bryzgalov was making saves through much of the first period, but he was coughing up generous rebounds as he did so. He looked entirely too shaky on many of the saves he did make. And then, one by one, the Penguins made those ugly rebounds count.
They had chances, Bryzgalov said simply. When you have world-class players like they have and consistently they were on a power play its tough to win the game like that.
First there was Evgeni Malkin, who beat Bryz when the Flyers goaltender thought he had the puck but didnt. Then, Matt Nishkanen. Sidney Crosby. Jordan Staal. Kris Letang
Unfortunately for the Flyers, a Bryzgalov collapse is nothing new. He had breakdowns during the regular season, certainly more than his teammates would have preferred. The silver lining, perhaps, is that he emerged from each of them rather unscathed.
"The most important thing is he has to have confidence in himself, Jaromir Jagr said. Nobody is going to help him but himself. I think he is OK. He had games like that before when other teams scored a lot of goals. It's not his fault. We didn't play very good defense. There's a lot of power play and a lot of 2-on-1s.
But what makes Game 4s flop disconcerting on another level is that, lest we forget, Bryzgalov is still injured.
Bryzgalov has been playing for a few weeks now with a chip fracture in his right foot and though the Flyers say it is simply an issue of pain management for their 51 million goaltender, it seemed to be much more than that Wednesday night. Yes, the defense in front of him bears some responsibility, but Bryzgalov looked much like that former iteration of himself that couldnt stop a beach ball.
Were not talking about injuries, was all he offered when asked how his foot was feeling.
This has been a weird, wide-open series from the start. But one thing that it hasnt been is a battle of goaltending. As rough as Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky looked in Game 4, Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury looked in his previous outings. Remember, the Flyers have now scored 23 goals in just four games.
Im not worried about Bryz, Claude Giroux said. He knows what hes got to do. Hes an elite goaltender, weve got to do a better job in front of him. Hell be our best player in Game 5.
Perhaps, then, the team can take some respite in the fact that this series is anything from done, momentum is anything but decided. The Flyers have to hope Game 4 was simply a wakeup call and not the turning point of the series.
Theres nothing you can do, Bryzgalov said. We lost, and its 3-1 in the series right now. We need one game and everything can be over.
E-mail Sarah Baicker at sbaicker@comcastsportsnet.com.

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