Better With Popcorn

A look at the goalies: Bryzgalov is primed to silence his critics

Former NFL head coach Herman Edwards once famously said that professional athletes, ‘play to win the game.’

While that certainly rings true for the vast majority, it doesn’t fully encompass the entire spectrum. For superstar athletes (especially ones who sign enormous contracts), they play to win championships.

This is the case for Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Signed in the 2011 offseason to a nine-year, $51 million contract, Bryzgalov was brought to Philadelphia to stabilize the goaltender situation for a storied franchise that has had infamous problems with net minders.

Often seen as the final piece, he wasn’t only brought in to solve an area of need; he was expected to bring with him a Stanley Cup Championship.

This was magnified to the nth degree when the Flyers traded away two fan favorites in the form of team captain, Mike Richards and goal scoring machine, Jeff Carter in order to create enough salary cap space to fit him in.

It placed a giant target on his back long before he ever put on an orange and black sweater.

In addition to the highly emotional atmosphere surrounding the acquisition of his services, a dubious stigma hung over Bryzgalov’s head; one that still stands to this day.

Fresh off a losing effort against the Detroit Red Wings in back-to-back seasons in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, many called into question his ability to win in the postseason.

With a 12-13 record in 27 career playoff appearances, many use those numbers as ammunition to shoot down the theory that Bryzgalov is the answer to the Flyers problems.

It also doesn’t help that in his last five playoff starts (all of which have been against the Red Wings), Bryzgalov is 0-5 and has allowed four goals or more in each game. This includes a 0-4 record in the 2011 playoffs where he registered a .879 save percentage and 4.36 goals against average.

While those glaring miscues certainly help make a case that he is not a playoff performer, it also helps skew Bryzgalov's impressive accomplishments in the second season.

During his rookie year with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006, he had a chance to make four appearances in the team’s first round matchup against the Calgary Flames, which included a win in Game 6 and a shutout in Game 7 to help the Ducks advance to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

Bryzgalov went on to record two more shutouts in Games 1 and 2 of the second round, which tied the NHL record for most consecutive shutouts by a rookie in the postseason, a record that had been in place since 1945. In the process, he also moved into third on the all-time list for longest consecutive shutout streak in the history of the NHL playoffs.

Those are two facts that often go overlooked when discussing Bryzgalov and the playoffs.

Of course, sports don’t operate in that fashion; it's not a case of what have you done. More so than any other profession, it’s often a case of, ‘what have you done for me lately.’

This is why it’s strange that so many analysts are so quick to back Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.

In the two years since winning the Stanley Cup, Fleury has had his own struggles in the playoffs, registering a 10-10 record since hoisting the Cup in 2009.

Last season, he allowed four goals in back-to-back games, which played a part in the Penguins losing hold of a three games-to-one series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the year prior, he allowed four goals in back-to-back games against the Montreal Canadiens, which saw the Penguins lose a three games-to-two lead.

Over his last 20 playoff games, Fleury has allowed four goals or more in eight games.

However, he’s won a cup, so for that reason his miscues go overlooked.

Well, Bryzgalov’s won a cup too. While it may have been as a back up, he has experienced what the postseason success is like.

Bryzgalov has had problems in the playoffs in recent years, but so has Fleury.

If one wants to point to past performances when picking a potential winner, maybe they should note that Bryzgalov has a 4-1-1 lifetime record against the Penguins, in addition to a 2.08 GAA, .930 save percentage and one shutout.

Fleury? Well, just like his most recent playoff performances, his recent history against the Flyers has been suspect.

In his last 11 games against Philadelphia he has a record of 2-7-1 with a 3.09 GAA and a .879 save percentage.

Certainly doesn’t seem like his Cup is playing a factor in those games.

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