NHL - Flyers looking for net gains from Bryzgalov
For almost two decades goaltending has been Philadelphia's Achilles heel in their Stanley Cup quest, and despite believing they have found the answer in Ilya Bryzgalov the Flyers could once again go into the playoffs with concerns about their keeper.
The Flyers opened up their wallet to address their goalkeeping needs by signing Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal from Phoenix. However, their hopes of going deep in the playoffs suffered a setback when the Russian went down with a chip fracture in his right foot earlier this week.
Bryzgalov was not missed on Thursday as the Flyers sent the lifeless Toronto Maple Leafs to their 11th straight home loss 7-1, but Philadelphia will be keen to have him back in net when the playoffs begin on April 11.
Sergei Bobrovsky got the start against the sinking Leafs and barely worked up a sweat facing just 17 shots, just one in the opening 13 minutes, as the Flyers closed in on Pittsburgh and home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
The victory, combined with Pittsburgh's 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders, leaves the Flyers just two points back of the fourth-place Penguins with five games to play, including a home-and-home series in the final week.
"This is a big game for us, we saw Pittsburgh lose so we are inching a little closer to them," said Flyers centre Danny Briere, who had four assists against Toronto.
"I've been there before when you're out of the playoffs, it's tough to get motivated when a hungry team comes in."
Since Philadelphia last hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1975 they have been to the finals five times, but any success in the playoffs has come despite their goaltending, not because of it.
That was not always the case in the City of Brotherly Love, however, with greats such as Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall all shining in the Flyers' orange and black.
After Hextall, a Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner as league and playoff most valuable player, retired in 1999, Philadelphia turned into what has been described as a goaltending graveyard.
Close to 20 netminders have since been given the opportunity to land the number one job but failed to seize their chance.
The need for an elite number one became clear after last year's postseason when coach Peter Laviolette juggled Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and minor league call up Michael Leighton in a bid to find some consistency in net.
After a wobbly start, Bryzgalov has found his best form when it mattered most, going 10-2-1 in March while recording four shutouts and a 1.43 goals-against average.
He became the first Flyers netminder since Parent in 1974 to allow two or fewer goals in 11 consecutive starts.
The Flyers believe Bryzgalov's injury is not serious and that he could resume practice as early as Friday.
"We don't think this is a serious injury," said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "It's a chip off a weight-bearing bone, and the doctor has said it'll be absorbed back into his system and there's no real risk here at all. It's just he's in a little bit of pain right now."