True to his reputation as one of the better first-shot goalies in the NHL, Ilya Bryzgalov was at the top of his crease and square to the questioner Monday when asked about the pressure of stopping every postseason shot that Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, John Vanbiesbrouck, Michael Leighton, Robert Esche, Garth Snow, Marty Biron, Sean Burke, Ron Hextall, Sergei Bobrovsky and Antero Niittymaki didnt.
"I want to be the guy who can carry this team, said Bryzgalov, in his first parry with the Philadelphia media via conference call. I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough.
Pressure we have to deal with the pressure every way and every day in our lives, in hockey, everywhere.
Good answer from what the Flyers hope is The Answer, signed for nine years at 51 million and front-loaded, just like the pressure, at 10 million for this season. A lot of good goalies and even better men have not made the Flyers better in the nets than their playoff opponents, a line that extends back as far as the first version of Hextall, to 1987 and 1989.
We already know that Bryzgalov can handle the regular season for an overachieving team in an underachieving market like Phoenix. But can he stay cool in a town hot under its collar, where after 36 Cupless years its going to be deliverance or bust?
He had better be worth the championship that Dominik Hasek meant to Detroit and Ed Belfour became to Dallas. Or Bryzgalov had better not have a car radio or an iPhone.
Pressure? At this point, Bryzgalov only thinks he knows its meaning, even if, English being his second language, he can still find the word in a dictionary a lot faster than Vanbiesbrouck could any longer find a puck in his feet.
Upstairs at Voorhees, there was love for young Bobrovsky and sentiment to find a goalie for two years, like Tim Thomas, which would have gone over big, or Tomas Vokoun or Jean-Sebastien Giguere, which would have gone over worse than Patrick Kane went under Leighton. If Ed Snider didnt want the best guy available, he wouldnt have looked into the cameras after the Boston debacle and basically declared the carousel stopped right here.
If it helps the Chairman sleep any better tonight, most hockey people think the music indeed has stopped and Bryzgalov is good enough to take the Flyers to the top of the Ferris Wheel. Whatever Ed, Homer, Peter and the boys were smoking to decide to get so young up front while staying so old in the back, the consensus around the league is that their problem no longer is between the pipes.
Bryzgalov is one of those goalies that psychologically can beat you, said a coach of many years in the Western Conference. Theres a feeling sometimes when you play against him you are not going to score, which forces players to squeeze sticks too tight or think you have to overwhelm him with shots on goal.
He makes players drop their heads. And those kinds of goalies are unique. As a coach, you run around all over the place trying to fix problems, when, in fact, the problem usually is in goal.
Anybody reading this know a team like he described? But would anybody who is reading this know Bryzgalov if they fell over him? And now that we mention it, yikes, couldnt that happen, too?
Hes been durable, said the coach. Another big reason to like him.
Also reason to hate him, should the short side open up like Keith Primeau did on Bill Barber. Some of these seasons' ends have been ugly, especially since the Flyers have had the means to fix the problem and chose to run around all over the place and fix other things.
Bryzgalov had one 11-game, postseason run for the Ducks in 2006, not nearly the run Belfour had in Chicago before signing in Dallas, and pretty much the same track record Hasek, for all his regular-season success, had in Buffalo before jumping to Detroit to complete his resume.
The Flyers' new goalie went down hard for Phoenix in a seven-game first-rounder to Detroit in 2010, but didnt stop much when the Coyotes were swept by the Red Wings this spring. Asked about that, Bryzgalov fessed up more than Leighton ever did, another good sign.
Definitely I can play better, he said. Last year I think with Detroit, in a seven-game series, I think we had good chances but in Game 7 we just ran out of gas.
This years playoff series we came in already running out of gas because we had a lot of injuries in the two-month race for the playoff spot. I thought I should have played better, but maybe I was tired too, thats why I made some once-in-a-while mistakes.
I know I can play in the playoffs, I have played well there before, expect much better of myself in the future.
Not doubting him for a minute, that means he expects about half of what is now expected of him. No kid at 31, Bryzgalov says he understands that, a good start, but the ending the Flyers have wanted since 1975 demands that he deeply embrace it.
Related: Bryzgalov aims to carry Flyers to the Stanley Cup My Favorite Flyer Part 1: 1967-1979