The Anaheim Ducks didn’t have their starting goaltender for their playoff opener. They did, however, have a more-than capable backup.
Bryzgalov spent most of this season sitting behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and that figured to continue in the playoffs. Giguere, though, missed the final three games of the regular season because of a medical problem with his newborn son, paving the way for Bryzgalov to start Game 1 on Wednesday.
Bryzgalov responded with a strong performance, allowing only Pavol Demitra’s goal 6:01 into the second period and finishing with 24 saves.
“We felt that the emotional roller coaster Giguere has been on, it was more beneficial to let him get his feet underneath him,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
Carlyle’s decision was, no doubt, made easier because Bryzgalov went 5-1-3 with a 1.96 goals-against average over his last nine starts.
The 26-year-old Russian is also no stranger to the postseason. He won six straight playoff games in 2005-06 when Giguere was injured to help the Ducks reach the Western Conference finals, where they lost in five games to Edmonton. Bryzgalov is 7-4 with a 1.42 GAA and three shutouts in 12 postseason games.
“When you play well, it gives you more confidence,” Bryzgalov said after Wednesday’s win. “The team played very well in front of me.”
Dustin Penner’s goal with 5:20 remaining lifted the Pacific Division champion Ducks to a 2-1 victory. He poked home a loose puck after Minnesota defenseman Kim Johnsson crashed into goalie Niklas Backstrom, who was sent sprawling backward into the net.
Backstrom was excellent in his playoff debut despite the loss, making 32 saves. He stopped five of six all-out or partial breakaways, giving up Teemu Selanne’s tying goal at 9:52 of the middle period.
Backstrom felt Penner’s goal should have been disallowed.
“I watched the replay and I was sure it was under me and nobody saw the puck,” he said. “Of course, you’re going to get the puck out from a goalie if you slash at it with your sticks. That’s a bad goal and we lose a game on that.”
Anaheim has won five straight playoff games against Minnesota, including a four-game sweep in the 2003 conference finals. The Wild have lost eight of their last nine visits to Anaheim, with the lone victory coming in a shootout Nov. 6, 2005.
Minnesota gave up 34 shots on goal Wednesday after allowing 28.8 per game during the regular season.
“We’ve got to be better defensively,” defenseman Nick Schultz said. “It’s something where they’ve got guys with speed and a lot of skill and we have to make sure we don’t give them those quality opportunities.”
All five meetings between the teams this season resulted in one-goal games.
This series shifts to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday.