VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s still not quite the “Silent Bob” act former Flyers goalie Robert Esche adopted to help him get through a long 2004 playoff run, but Ilya Bryzgalov’s performance art interview style made a bravura return Monday at the Skate Zone.
The man whose rambling monologues made him an HBO star leading up to the Winter Classic -- and eventually seemed to wear on some teammates’ nerves as his crease performances slipped -- has decided to go back to what endeared him in the locker room during the course of a brilliant stretch of winning hockey over the season’s last two months.
Essentially, Bryzgalov will let his play do the serious talking for him.
Not that he has completely shut himself off from the media, as Esche did for a postseason stretch. It’s just that Bryzgalov, intending to shove attention away from him and toward his teammates, is again in the comical spotlight as he takes the Eastern Conference playoff stage for the first time in his career.
Are the highly skilled Penguins the kind of team that scares opposing goalies?
“I’m not afraid of anything. I’m only afraid of bear – bear in the forest.”
Oh my. At least he didn't elaborate what they're doing there.
“Who knows?” Bryzgalov said when asked if he thinks he’ll play up to recent form in the Flyers’ first-round series with Pittsburgh which begins Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center (7:30, CSN). “I can’t predict the future, guys. I hope so.”
The way Bryzgalov finished the season, expectations should be that he offers the Flyers an edge in goal in this series. That’s something they rarely enjoyed in so many playoff years past, including in 2008 and 2009, when Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins ousted the Flyers in the conference finals and first round, respectively. Other memories…
n Garth Snow and Ron Hextall sharing duties in a 1997 run to the Stanley Cup finals.
n Brian Boucher outperforming aging John Vanbiesbrouck down the stretch in 2000, leaving it up to the rookie to take Flyers to what ultimately became a disappointing conference finals loss to New Jersey.
n Esche, a career backup, taking the reins in 2004 of another team that would lose in a tight conference finals series.
n Then 2010, when new coach Peter Laviolette led an underachieving team to the Cup finals while shuffling goalies like a deck of cards.
Why couldn’t the Flyers ever win it all in those oh-so close years? They spent $51 million on the answer last summer. Speaking of answers…
Bryz, is this your time of year to shine?
“You know, I can’t comment on people’s thoughts.”
Isn’t it fair to say they’re paying you a lot of money to be the guy that leads them in the playoffs?
“We not get paid in the playoffs,” he said, referring to the timing of salary disbursements. “You don’t know that.”
Do you thrive in playoff situations?
“I don’t know this word thrive.”
Do you see the playoffs as your chance to show people what you can do?
“We’re not playing individual game, we’re playing the team game.”
In the two games you played last week are you back to full strength with your chip fracture injury?
“It was a couple of days ago. I don’t remember. I have short memory.”
Finally, Bryzgalov begrudged seriously that criticism of his past two starting playoff assignments while with the Phoenix Coyotes was a little misplaced. He was 3-8 the past two playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings.
“Well, first year I had a pretty good series. We take Detroit to seven games,” Bryzgalov said. “Only in the last game it was (bad). … We lose 6-1. “Then last year, it was like …”
It was like he’d just remembered what his interview strategy called for.
“Why we come back to the before?” Bryzgalov said. “I already answer the questions at the beginning of the year. You’re starting to get in the way.”
Oh. Excuse us.
“He’s been getting rewarded for all the hard work he’s put in,” Danny Briere said of Bryzgalov. “We know he went through a tough time, but the last two months he’s been great. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s finding pucks everywhere. For us, it makes us all look a lot better than we really are and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Isn’t that all Bryzgalov seeks? Does Boy Bryz just want to have fun?
“Why you start asking me questions like this?” he said. “Why not think positive guys here, huh?”