Maybe Ilya Bryzgalov was prescient back in January, pointing the way out of the woods and forward into the thick of a playoff race whose pulse he seemingly controls.
On Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, the $51 million man joined some elite goaltending company by stopping all 17 shots he faced as the Philadelphia Flyers silenced the New Jersey Devils, 3-0.
It was one of the easiest games he’s had as a professional and he took it all in stride, as if it was an eventuality.
Bryzgalov notched his sixth whitewash of the season and his third in as many starts. His shutout streak was extended to 196 minutes, 13 seconds and helped the Orange and Black reach the 40-win plateau for the fifth straight campaign. He joined John Vanbiesbrouck as the only goalies in franchise history to record a shutout in three consecutive starts.
Following the game, he downplayed the milestone in typical fashion, despite a wave of cheers which swept through the arena. “Yeah, I heard it. Thanks for the support.”
A little more effusive and expansive in his praise was head coach Peter Laviolette, who harkened back to simpler days.
“I think a lot of times, success and personal success also creates happiness, you feel good, you feel confident coming to the rink,” said Laviolette of his goaltender suddenly regaining form. “Personally, Bryz, he was smiling coming to the rink at the beginning of the year as well. He was the same then.”
Since his implosion on February 18 against Pittsburgh, the 31-year-old has simply gone 8-2-0 with a goals-against average below two per game, recorded four shutouts in five appearances and snagged First Star honors last week.
Not to be lost in the shuffle was that Danny Briere’s epic 23-game goal drought was finally ended with a unique score in the third period which iced the victory.
“Yes, you know what I’ll be honest with you guys. Peter had a pretty good talk yesterday. Gave me a lot of confidence with the talk that we had,” Briere said of his chat with Laviolette, which was backed up by his public pronouncement of faith in his 34-year-old winger. “I have to give him a lot of credit for the way he made me feel coming into tonight’s game. It was a good feeling.”
Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek also tallied for the Flyers, who have won six of their last seven and avenged a punchless Sunday night loss in Newark in the opener of the home-and-home set.
Martin Brodeur made 26 saves for the Devils, whose four-game win streak was halted. The loss dropped New Jersey two points behind the Flyers and into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and also resulted in the Horned Ones dropping four of six to Philly in the season series.
Voracek’s backhanded poke at a loose puck in the crease with 2:14 played in the third period gave Bryzgalov an insurance tally and put the hosts up 2-0. It was the capper on a two-point night for the young Czech, who showed no ill effects from the hit he absorbed one week ago from Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Kronwall.
In a turnaround from two days prior when the visitors encountered a fizzling offense, New Jersey was given a four-minute power play through the middle portion of the final stanza when Nicklas Grossmann clipped Calder candidate Adam Henrique, but only put two quality chances on net.
Minutes later, during a 4-on-4 situation created after concurrent minors to Eric Boulton and Scott Hartnell, Brodeur was pulled and Briere hit the empty net off a purely unselfish dish from Voracek with 4:49 to play.
“We had nothing going and we were down by two,” said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer on the decision to pull his goaltender. “There was an opportunity to create a power play and I like our chances scoring five on four better than I do with six on five with two minutes left to go. It is not a unique decision.”
The Flyers killed off two penalties in a scoreless first period, during which Bryzgalov stopped eight shots.
Normally used for his hitting ability, Zac Rinaldo showed some offensive flair early in the second period, but his wraparound chance from the right post somehow stayed out. Brodeur, who was nowhere to be seen on the play, nonetheless maintained his composure on several successive chances afterwards.
But the veteran failed to cover up a Brayden Coburn shot which ricocheted off the boards and into the crease, and Couturier shoveled home the loose puck from the right side at 11:07.
Bryzgalov needed to make just six saves in the middle 20 minutes to safeguard that one-goal margin.
Notes: John Vanbiesbrouck is the only other Philadelphia goaltender to record three straight shutouts, from October 20-24, 1999…Vanbiesbrouck also holds the top two shutout streaks in Flyers history, at 227:40 (October 17-26, 1999) and 218:42 (January 3-16, 1999)…Martin Biron was the last Philadelphia goaler to blank the Devils here, in a 22-save performance which punctuated a 3-0 victory on April 4, 2008…The 17 shots were the second-fewest allowed by the Flyers this season, after yielding just 16 at Tampa Bay on December 27…Briere hadn’t scored since registering a hat trick against Ottawa on January 7…Bryzgalov has 29 shutouts for his career…Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen returned to the lineup for the first time since March 1…Voracek was back in action for the first time since March 6…Brodeur’s last Philly start came on March 28, 2010 where he was pulled after two periods of a 5-1 loss…Prior to the game, the Flyers assigned defenseman Brandon Manning to Adirondack of the AHL.