Wild pins playoff hopes on Bryzgalov

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2014 - 4:20 PM


– Like the “humongous” universe he was so fascinated by during HBO’s ‘‘24/7,’’ the Ilya Bryzgalov YouTube library is vast and endless.

Type his name into the search field, and you’ll find out Bryz- galov is afraid of bears in the forest. You’ll hear how the Wild goaltender thinks Siberian huskies with blue eyes look like beautiful blondes. You’ll watch him dive on the knife after a 9-8 Flyers loss to Winnipeg by telling reporters, “If you throw a ball instead of a puck, I’m not going to stop it. I’m terrible. I’m lost in the woods.”

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter figured he’d give his new pal a pointer April 7 following a funny scene in Winnipeg that would have lived in YouTube infamy had Bryzgalov been scored upon.

Suter was partly amused and partly flabbergasted when Bryz- galov encouraged Jets fans to taunt him while the Jets were circling the puck in the offensive zone. With Bryzgalov waving his arms to the tune of “Il-ya, Il-ya,” the goalie suddenly had to drop into his butterfly to stop a point shot.

After a line change, Suter skated to Bryzgalov, whom he kiddingly calls “Vladimir,” and told him, “Hey, if they score, you’re going to look like an idiot.”

Bryzgalov’s reply? “Yeah, I know, but it’s just how it is. Tradition,” Suter laughed as he imitated Bryzgalov’s thick Russian brogue. “He’s a good dude.”

Bryzgalov made 24 saves that night for his second consecutive shutout. In 11 starts and 12 games since coming from Edmonton on March 4, the 33-year-old is 7-1-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and three shutouts. Acquired by the Wild at the trade deadline, Bryzgalov was tabbed as Darcy Kuemper’s backup. But the surprising rookie faltered a bit in March, then was injured.

So as the Wild begins the playoffs Thursday night at Colorado, the net belongs to Bryzgalov. The team’s fourth No. 1 goalie of the season has 38 games of playoff experience and won a Stanley Cup in 2007 as Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s backup with Anaheim.

Not bad for a player who came to Minnesota with — fair or unfair — the reputation of being a guy who can easily damage a locker room. Bryzgalov was so immediately accepted by the Wild that captains Mikko Koivu, Suter and Zach Parise allowed him to attend the leadership breakfast in Phoenix last month that is largely credited for helping resuscitate the Wild’s playoff chances.

Remember, this was when Bryz- galov still was considered the Wild’s No. 2 goalie.

“Whether Bryz was a fit elsewhere, I don’t know, but he’s been a really good fit here,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s just happy to be here and to get the opportunity.”

A cerebral sort

Bryzgalov came to the Wild with a reputation of being eccentric and goofy. Safe to say that reputation has been cemented.

“I’m not going to say that he’s the most normal person that I’ve ever met in my life,” Yeo said. “But he’s very intelligent.”

Bryzgalov loves art, science, history and has a broad knowledge of global politics. He’d sooner talk to friends about Tolstoy, Stalin, Lincoln and Obama than discuss hockey lore and Masters pools.

“He’s the only athlete I know in 41 years that quotes Grigori Rasputin,” NBC play-by-play man Mike “Doc’’ Emrick said.

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