Well, that headline kinda wrote itself, didn't it?
More than enough has been said about Ilya Bryzgalov's struggles in his first season in Philadelphia, which seemed to curiously coincide with his Stephen Hawking-like insight into how big the universe is in comparison to everyone's problems. The undisputed star of HBO's "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" series has had a rough start to his tenue with the Flyers. Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract with the team in June, even briefly lost his spot as the starting goaltender for a stretch which included the Winter Classic.
But Bryzgalov, a seasoned professional, didn't stop working. Following a relief appearance in a 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh on February 18, the quirky Russian netminder not only took his job back, but began performing at other-wordly levels.
Since then, the Flyers have gone 8-2 with Bryzgalov between the pipes thanks in large part to his own play. He's allowed more than two goals just twice in the last 10 games, and after blanking the red-hot Devils last night at the Wells Fargo Center, has increased his current shutout streak to 196:13, or just shy of 10 straight periods, to the layperson.
For the first time in roughly two weeks, New Jersey's top unit of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Adam Henrique looked like mere mortals in Phialdelphia. The Devils managed to fire only 17 shots at Bryzgalov, who was up to the task each time.
Bryzgalov, who had been the target of Philadelphia's unique form of brotherly love until recently, has helped the Flyers keep pace with the Penguins and Devils in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. His third shutout in as many games broke a tie with New Jersey and brought Philadelphia to within two points of the Penguins, who have won nine in a row and are expected to continue their strong play by adding some Crosby guy to their lineup tomorrow night.
Now the question turns from who will be in net for the Flyers come April, but just how far a streaky Bryzgalov can take them. He's proven his ability to show up in the playoffs in Anaheim and Phoenix, so don't count Philadelphia out of duplicating their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 just yet.
With that said, at this point of the season it's safe to say they'll almost certainly be faced with the task of taking on an Atlantic Division rival in the opening round of the playoffs. Regardless of whether it's the Penguins, Devils or Rangers, Bryzgalov's torrid pace in the past month is a reminder that he is just as capable of carrying a team deep into the postseason as he is of being responsible for their collapse.
For Flyers fans, the idea of pinning their hopes on their high-priced goaltender is both exciting and terrifying, much like exploring the infinite frontier. But as the end of the regular season draws near, remember this Philadelphia: in space, no one can hear you scream.