The Philadelphia Flyers have won a certain way for much of this season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. Most of the time it works, as Flyers fans like myself cheer for how a hot offense bails out Ilya Bryzgalov's soft play. But for a time in March, it was Bryzgalov who carried Philadelphia while the goal scorers went cold, until it went the other way around again to start the playoffs.
Yet it reverted back in Game 2 against the New Jersey Devils on May 1, as the Flyers went cold on offense and had to cling to Bryzgalov to preserve a 1-0 lead. However, he could only do this for 40 minutes, as he was the one let down by his teammates this time and suffered a 4-1 defeat as a result.
Bryzgalov kept Philadelphia afloat with 25 saves in the first two periods, while New Jersey only gave up 11 shots of its own. If the Flyers could have preserved their 1-0 lead anyway, Bryzgalov would have finally proved that he can steal games in the playoffs and that he can win without getting 4+ goals of support. But the third period showed that he and the Flyers still have a ways to go to prove all this.
Once the Devils finally tied things up early in the third, it was only a matter of time before Bryzgalov and the embattled defense cracked for good. It ultimately happened midway through the third when New Jersey got two goals in under three minutes, which was too big a hole for Philadelphia to get out of. It wouldn't have been on most nights, yet this wasn't like most nights for both the offense and the defense.
The Flyers' offensive stars have bailed out Bryzgalov throughout the postseason, but Bryzgalov fell just short of bailing them out this time. Yet while he got all the support in the world when the Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia had no support for him when he really needed it.
This is further proof of how the Flyers and their goalie have an unequal relationship. When Bryzgalov has a bad night, Philadelphia needs 4-5 goals or more to bail him out - but when he has a hot night, the goals are often much harder to come by. Unfortunately, he could only put together a hot night for two periods before New Jersey caught up to him.
Even through 82 regular season games and eight postseason battles, the Flyers still don't know how to be successful on both sides of the ice at the same time. On most nights so far, that hasn't held them back - but when it does this time of year, it is really costly.
Because of that, the Devils now have new life in this series and Bryzgalov still has to wonder if he can win no matter what he does. If the Flyers win, they do it in spite of him - but if he's really good, he's usually the only thing keeping them afloat. Can Philadelphia really win 11 more times while going back and forth between these methods?
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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- Ilya Bryzgalov