It was a night of accomplishments for the Flyers in a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, none bigger than Ilya Bryzgalov setting a new franchise record for longest scoreless streak at 249:43.
With less than 10 minutes to go in the third period, it looked like Bryzgalov was on the way to his fourth straight shutout, but the Islanders finally managed to figure him out. Michael Grabner tipped the puck past him with 6:30 left, and only 35 seconds later, the Islanders scored again – this time on a snap shot in the slot by John Tavares.
What had been a dominant game by the Flyers up until that point was now looking shaky, but Bryzgalov and the rest of the team hung on to get the victory. The 31-year-old made 29 saves and outdueled his countryman Evgeni Nabokov, who stopped just 19 shots.
Despite some problems with turnovers and clearing the zone, the Flyers established dominance early on in the first period. Zac Rinaldo beat Nabokov from a severe angle on the left wing 8:41 in, marking the first time in the last 20 games that the Flyers scored first less than 10 minutes into the game.
Claude Giroux’s goal with 6:34 left in the first gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead. His 26th goal of the season set a career record, as did his 81st point. Jaromir Jagr did yeoman work to set up the tally, working free of a checker behind the New York net, curling in front and dishing to the emerging star.
The Flyers headed into the second period up two goals, and Bryzgalov continued his stellar play. Two minutes and thirty seconds in, he passed John Vanbiesbrouck’s shutout streak of 218:42, which had previously been the second longest in Flyers’ history.
Scott Hartnell tacked another goal onto his already stunning season, giving the Flyers the 3-0 lead 12:53 into the second period.
While it went unnoticed on the ice given that it was not in front of a receptive home crowd, something major happened with 8:32 left in the 2nd – Bryzgalov finally broke the franchise record for longest shutout streak. The previous record of 227:40 had also been set by John Vanbiesbrouck, from October 17-26, 1999 in a run which also included three consecutive whitewashes by the veteran netminder.
They say that all good things must come to an end, and it was disappointing to see Bryzgalov’s streak halted, but what a remarkable accomplishment for a guy that, just a few weeks ago, wasn’t living up to his potential. Though his shutout bid was broken tonight, that does not disparage what he’s done over these last few games.
His confidence grows with each performance, and his teammates are playing better in front of him. Their defensive struggles have been noted this season, but they’ve tightened up quite a bit in these last few weeks, and these are all good signs. If Bryzgalov continues to play the same way he has recently – and we know he can do it, he’s got the stats to prove it – and the Flyers maintain their edge and defensive prowess, they’re going to be one scary team come playoff time.
Notes: Bryzgalov broke his own personal shutout streak in Thursday’s game; during the 2006 playoffs, he held streak of 249:15 as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks…The Flyers’ top line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr combined for 5 points… Wayne Simmonds and Matt Martin squared off 16:03 into the second period, but the linesmen broke it up after only a few punches had been thrown…Andreas Lilja and Nicklas Grossmann both took penalties late in the second period; Lilja was called for an interference penalty, and Grossmann for a holding penalty…The Flyers ran their impressive record to 14-2-0 on against the Islanders on Long Island since the 2007-08 season… The Flyers face a stern test against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, 1pm on Saturday.