The Philadelphia Flyers were supposed to have made out like bandits when Ilya Bryzgalov left the Phoenix Coyotes to join them. Flyers fans like myself figured we finally had the A-list goalie we were starving for, while the already troubled Coyotes needed a new face for their uncertain future.
However, it seems that both teams are making out well as they start the second round of the playoffs - yet only one of them can really trust their goaltender. Shockingly, that team is the Coyotes, as Mike Smith has proven to be far more clutch than Bryzgalov has ever been with the Flyers - and with Phoenix in playoffs past.
Smith backed that up in Game 1 of the second round against the Nashville Predators on April 27. Although Phoenix blew a late 3-2 lead and was outshot by 16-1 in the last 20 minutes, Smith still kept the Coyotes on life support to force overtime. Then he kept the Coyotes afloat until Ray Whitney stunned the Predators with the winning goal off a faceoff.
Despite outshooting the Coyotes by 42-24, the Predators still lost by 4-3 thanks to Smith's 39 saves. It was yet another huge performance from Smith that won the night, like the ones he had against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. This previously unknown goalie has put the franchise in the second round for the first time since it was in Winnipeg - and it could still go even deeper in a wide open Western Conference.
The Coyotes have to wonder why they couldn't do this before with a big name like Bryzgalov around. Although he carried Phoenix on his back to the postseason in 2010 and 2011-and perhaps helped keep the Coyotes from having to move in the meantime - Bryzgalov was a huge letdown when they got there.
The Flyers are getting a taste of that right now, as their offense carried them past the Pittsburgh Penguins much more than their goalie did. While Bryzgalov did settle down in the last two games, we fans still worry that the other shoe will drop again - and that the offense won't bail him out against the likes of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. At the least, Philadelphia cannot yet trust him to steal a win like Phoenix can trust Smith.
Bryzgalov frequently puts the Flyers in early holes that they have to make huge rallies from. In contrast, Smith regularly blows leads in the last few minutes of regulation before righting the ship in overtime. Nonetheless, these two goaltenders are still finding ways to win - yet only Smith has been lighting up the highlight reel and making the huge stops when it counts.
The Flyers haven't really needed Bryzgalov to carry them - but if they need him to in the next round, can he do it? The Coyotes already know that their goalie can do it, and as such, they may be in a stronger position. That didn't seem possible when Bryzgalov left them last summer, yet things have turned out more unpredictable than Phoenix or Philadelphia had imagined.
Of course, the ultimate test of who made out better could come in the Stanley Cup Finals, if the Flyers and Coyotes actually meet there. Envisioning Philadelphia in the finals became a lot easier after the first round - and it might start to actually look plausible for Phoenix before long as well.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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