CHICAGO – Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov just sat in his crease, staring at the boards and wondering how Chicago winger Bryan Bickell’s deflection on the power play sneaked through him, tying Game 5 at a goal apiece in the second period.
This was the closest that Blackhawks fans had been to breathing relatively easy since Game 2, and Bryzgalov accepted the moment in typical fashion: He stood back up and forgot about it.
“Just nothing,” Byrzgalov said about brushing off the goal.
The Wild wouldn’t see it the same way, eventually falling to Chicago 2-1 on Sunday night, enabling the Blackhawks to take a 3-2 series lead back to Minnesota.
For all the concern over Bryzgalov’s ability to move past bad goals, and bad games, that’s all he seems to do against Chicago.
“He’s stopped the pucks he’s seen,” Wild winger Zach Parise said. “He’s made the saves he should make and made some big ones at some big times. He’s pretty confident with the way he’s seeing the puck right now. He’s finding it through screens, and our defense is doing really good job boxing guys out.”
Bickell’s goal would normally be the type to shake the 33-year-old Bryzgalov, who has five losses in eight playoff starts this year, but there haven’t been any sign of that this series.
When Blackhawks’ forward Patrick Sharp rattled a similarly ugly goal through Bryzgalov’s five-hole in Game 4, it appeared as if the Russian was heading for another one of his famous meltdowns. Instead, he recovered instantly, holding the Hawks’ high-powered offense to just one more goal in his second consecutive victory.
That was after his Game 3 shutout, after he’d been tortured for the two previous games in Chicago, both losses.
Yet none of those games provided the type of challenged he faced during Game 5. Before then, the Wild held the Hawks to 22 or fewer shots each game this series. On Sunday night, Chicago broke the trend by getting 28 on net.
The Wild helped Bryzgalov out by collapsing to the net and clearing away all the loose pucks, rarely allowing the Hawks to sustain any offense. Even when they did, Bryzgalov was up there to clean up the mess.
“They tried to get more in front of the net,” Bryzgalov said. “I just tried to be more aggressive.
Of course, the 23rd shot of the night beat him as well. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews got in front of the net and tapped in winger Marian Hossa’s rebound.
For 60 minutes in Game 5, Bryzgalov made the type of saves reserved for playoff heroes. He stymied the deflection of Hawks forward Ben Smith at the end of the second period and gloved down numerous attempts in the final frame.
Truthfully, there wasn’t much else he could do for his team. He’d completely outplayed Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, and had since Game 2.
Entering Sunday night, Crawford had a 5.31 goals-against average and was only stopping 77 percent of the shots he saw in his last four periods.
Bryzgalov had stopped 95 percent of his shots since Game 2 and was averaging a goal allowed per game.
Bryzgalov stayed on the ice for a couple of extra seconds after Toews’ goal, too, likely wondering what more he would need to do to give the Wild an opportunity to bury the defending champs.“