After struggling for much of February, the Philadelphia Flyers appear to be hitting their stride.
Most importantly, their goaltender has been the catalyst to the turnaround and appears to be brimming with confidence.
Coming off his second shutout in three games, Ilya Bryzgalov should be in net looking to lead the Flyers to a fifth straight victory Saturday night against a Toronto Maple Leafs team hoping to avoid its longest single-season home losing streak in nearly 30 years.
Following a 4-7-1 finish to February, Philadelphia (38-21-7) has opened March with four consecutive victories. The Flyers scored five goals for the third time in six games in Thursday's 5-0 win over Florida, but once again Bryzgalov was the story.
He stopped 28 shots and appears to have turned the corner after a rocky start to the first season of a nine-year, $51 million contract.
Bryzgalov has a 1.25 goals-against average during the winning streak, and is 7-2-0 with a 2.17 GAA in starting the Flyers' last 10 games. He has allowed a total of three goals in those two losses, but Philadelphia was blanked in each contest.
"He's been unbelievable,'' Jagr said. "If he plays like this, it's great for us.''
It also seems to be helping Bryzgalov's psyche.
Bryzgalov received mock cheers in Winnipeg 2 1/2 weeks ago, and back in October following a 9-8 loss to the Jets he admitted to have "zero confidence" in himself.
"We always were behind Bryz in our dressing room," said Scott Hartnell, who scored his team-high 32nd goal Thursday. "He's obviously winning some fans now. His confidence is growing and I don't think we've seen the best of Bryz yet.''
Bryzgalov did not appear in either of Philadelphia's first two games against the Maple Leafs - both home victories - but is 4-0-0 with a 1.55 GAA in five career games against them.
The Flyers have won three straight over Toronto and seven of eight in the series. Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr have led the way this season, with Hartnell tallying three goals and two assists and Jagr contributing two goals and two assists.
Hartnell and Jagr each have scored twice in Philadelphia's four games this month, while Matt Read has three goals and an assist.
"You know they're going to be aggressive on the forecheck," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said of the Flyers. "They've got a veteran lineup with a sprinkling of kids and they're really trying to get their game into playoff mode."
Toronto (30-30-7) looks nothing like a team with playoff aspirations having gone 2-11-1 since Feb. 7 to drop from seventh in the Eastern Conference to 12th. The Maple Leafs have been outscored 25-13 in going 0-5-1 at the Air Canada Centre in that span, and haven't dropped seven straight home games in a single season since Nov. 11-Dec. 5, 1984.
In Wednesday's 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh, they squandered a 2-0 lead build on goals from Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarsson, falling to 1-2-0 since Carlyle took over following Ron Wilson's firing.
"We showed signs of enthusiasm and stuck with our game plan,'' Carlyle said. "I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies again.''
Already playing without wingers Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, the Maple Leafs lost defenseman Cody Franson (eye) and winger Mike Brown (thigh) in the first period. Armstrong is expected to return against Philadelphia but Franson and Brown will likely be out.
The Flyers are again expected to be without forward Jakub Voracek (head) and defensemen Kimmo Timonen (lower body), Andrej Meszaros (lower body) and Pavel Kubina (upper body).
- Ilya Bryzgalov
- the Flyers
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Scott Hartnell
- Jaromir Jagr