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Nino Niederreiter (22) congratulated Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) after he made a save on a shot by Jeremy Morin.

Carlos Gonzalez, DML -

Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov is not an elite goalie, but he is the goalie the Wild has to rely on now.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, with Mikael Granlund nearby, covered the puck after a save in the second period. He made 18 of them.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

Scoggins: Bryzgalov got sharper after breakaway save

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • May 10, 2014 - 5:45 AM

Patrick Sharp came roaring down the ice on a breakaway. He took a direct path toward Ilya Bryzgalov, who already had allowed two goals on the first five shots he faced.

On the confidence meter, this scenario fell somewhere between cover your eyes and, hey, maybe the game operations folks should show Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the videoboard again.

You could hear a simultaneous gulp from 19,000 fans inside Xcel Energy Center.

No chance, right?

Leave it to the Wild’s quirky goalie to script something wholly unexpected. Bryzgalov extended his right leg and made a textbook pad save that preserved a one-goal lead.

That highlight save also began a string of impressive stops by Bryzgalov, who experienced his usual tense moments but also stood tall to help the Wild even the series Friday with a 4-2 victory over Chicago in Game 4.

His robbery of Sharp became a pivotal moment.

“At the time, you can call it a game-changing save,” Zach Parise said.

The fact that the Wild has made this Western Conference semifinal a best-of-three series against the defending champions with Bryzgalov — the team’s fourth goalie — seems illogical.

Bryzgalov plays goalie like a guy walking across high wire. You keep waiting for him to wobble. Mike Yeo should keep a bottle of antacid next to him on the bench.

Bryzgalov gave up a softy on the fourth shot he faced with 38 seconds left in the first period. It was the kind of goal that can suck the life out of a team and home crowd.

On the play, defenseman Clayton Stoner got caught in the offensive zone, leaving Mikko Koivu back on defense. Sharp wove around Koivu and put the puck between Bryzgalov’s legs to tie the score at 1-1.

Bryzgalov settled down after giving up his second goal on a redirection and kept his team in the game with a couple of beauties.

Bryzgalov has become an unlikely story after being benched in Game 2 of the Colorado series. He was asked this week about his mental approach to that demotion, knowing he might not get another shot in a Wild uniform.

“Like all professional athletes, you’ve got to come to the practice rink every day, and we have to do whatever they ask us to do,” he said. “You have to keep yourself in shape because you never know what’s going to happen. Obviously if you ….”

He stopped in mid-sentence and paused for seven awkward seconds. He had a blank expression. Then he started laughing.

“I forgot the question,” he admitted.

Hard to blame the guy. Up until Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal series, Brygzalov — as well as Yeo —basically only heard a variation of the same question regarding the team’s goalie situation: Can this actually work?

That story angle took a hiatus after Bryzgalov pitched a shutout in a 4-0 victory in Game 3. It didn’t come up again after Game 4.

“There were a lot of questions, and we believed in Bryz,” Yeo said. “We knew what he was capable of, but the questions start to grow in numbers and the attention toward that continues to grow.”

The criticism of Bryzgalov had reached a point that he became the focus of every failure when, in reality, some of the goals he allowed in the first two games were directly related to defensive breakdowns. But Bryzgalov’s shaky moments make him an easy target and create a level of anxiety.

However, it’s a little unrealistic, and unfair, to expect Bryzgalov to be something he’s not — a savior. He arrived at the trade deadline as a worst-case-scenario option.

Privately, the Wild officials probably are crossing their fingers that Bryzgalov can hold up or, even better, recapture the way he played late in the regular season. This situation was not the team’s plan, but it’s become its reality.

The Wild has to ride with Bryz and hope he continues to play the way he did the final two periods Friday.

“What I like about Bryz right now is he’s just part of the team,” Yeo said. “He’s doing everything he can for his teammates. All he does is praise his teammates. For us, that makes us want to play harder for him.”

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com

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