The Flyers played an absolutely horrible game on Tuesday night. They played well for about the first ten minutes but went almost the entire second period without registering a shot on goal, not receiving their first until there was 1:28 remaining in the period. Despite that, they somehow entered the second intermission with a 1-0 lead.
Ilya Bryzgalov was a big part of that. He gave them a chance to win, and he was in the process of stealing a win until the third period began and the Devils were finally able to put pucks by him. It wasn't his fault that the Flyers lost Game 2 to New Jersey.
But yesterday morning, habitual pot-stirrer Jack McCaffery wrote a column in the Delaware County Times arguing that Ilya Bryzgalov failed in Game 2 because he did not steal the win for the Flyers.
They needed Bryzgalov to steal a game, to tend goal so memorably that the effort would be referenced for generations, to return the favor to an offense that was prone to the eight-goal outburst in Round 1. Instead, when they needed perfection, the Flyers received the usual ... that, and a 4-1 Game 2 loss to the Devils that left the series level at 1-1.
The Flyers did not lose because of Ilya Bryzgalov. They did not win, though, also because of Ilya Bryzgalov.
A franchise-redefining, star goalie would not have allowed that to happen. So now, the Flyers must wonder: Will they ever be rescued by a goaltender? And if not, can they really win a championship?
I don't believe there is anything at all incendiary or inappropriate about this story. The problem is that so many people agree with this line of thinking.
When Ilya Bryzgalov was brought in as the second-highest paid player in the NHL, many justified it by finding fault in recent Flyers netminders -- an above-average, but far from elite group -- and identifying a need for "timely saves," "clutch" performances and the ability to "steal" a playoff game.
Without even venturing away from our own comments, we had community members saying:
- "The Flyers haven't had goaltending to change the momentum in a playoff series for over 20 years";
- "Sometimes it's not about how many saves a goalie makes, and more about making the saves he needs to";
- "No more excuses. Ilya will be expected to steal games like [Ryan] Miller did";
- "a team needs a goalie that can steal one game per playoff series";
- "the best goalies keep their teams in games even if they shouldn’t be and they also play their best when it really matters";
- "to win in the playoffs, every team needs a goalie that can [steal those games] for you, especially when your offense is not playing up to snuff and you’re getting peppered shot after shot".
While I contend this line of thinking is a minority opinion among the BSH community, I think it is a much more common opinion elsewhere among Flyers fans. Generally speaking, even if it may be a minority opinion here, I don't believe that to be the case at-large.
Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to be the goalie who can steal playoff games for the Flyers. Perhaps he is that goalie -- after all, he had some excellent games in March and came close Tuesday night. But regardless of whether or not he is, it seems ridiculous to criticize Bryzgalov after perhaps his best game in the past three playoff years.
After watching Ilya Bryzgalov try to single-handedly carry the Flyers to victory despite them very clearly not deserving it, many are right to deflect blame away from him. Putting the burden of victory on one man when the 18 professional athletes around you carry none of that weight is ridiculous.
We all know that the blame lies on the team in front of him that couldn't keep the opponent from controlling the game, and in hockey, we can never expect one of 18 players on a team to steal a game for a team. It's unfair, regardless of the contract that player has. If that's the standard we're holding our goalie to, we're never going to be satisfied with him.
Even when he does stand on his head and make timely saves, but you still lose, it's not a flaw that he failed to steal the game.
He's a $51 million goalie! He's getting paid to steal last night's game!
If these are the expectations, it's time to adjust those expectations, $51 million or not. Bryzgalov deserves praise for his performance on Tuesday night, not more doubters wondering if he can ever steal a hockey game for the team in the playoffs.