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Continued: Wild pins playoff hopes on Bryzgalov

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

Perhaps because of that, Bryzgalov often seems misunderstood. He loves to joke around. Last weekend, he pretended to be upset with two interviewing reporters who wanted to sit down with him again the next morning.

“At least next time wear some masks so you look like different guys,” he said, with no hint of a smile.

Ask him about the pressure he’s feeling and Bryzgalov looks confused and asks, “You mean, like, blood pressure?”

Said Suter: “You hear all the stuff about him before we get him and you see the HBO ‘24/7’ thing, but he does that just to get a reaction out of people. He’s very smart, very witty.”

It’s easy to forget English is Bryzgalov’s second language. He sometimes has trouble wording esoteric comments. For example, last week a reporter asked Bryzgalov what motivates him.

Bryzgalov stared into space for an uncomfortable 15 seconds.

“I’m trying to interpret my English,” he said. “I don’t have enough words to say. I don’t know how to say it. … I just want to live and enjoy life. That’s all I want to do. Enjoy every moment, be on the ice, be in the locker room with the guys. Enjoy the hockey. Enjoy life, too.”

Incisive, divisive

Bryzgalov’s direct nature — he can be short with people, and critical of players — has rubbed past teammates the wrong way.

Even Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, known as one of the NHL’s best teammates, called Bryzgalov “divisive.”

In Phoenix, Bryzgalov developed into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders. Big and athletic, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2010. When Philadelphia signed him to a nine-year, $51 million contract, Bryz- galov’s save percentage was side by side with Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo among the NHL’s elite.

But things soured at the end in Phoenix. In the first round of the 2010 playoffs, after Phoenix forced Game 7 at home with a Game 6 victory in Detroit, Bryzgalov, although peppered, gave up six goals as the Red Wings advanced. In the 2011 first round, Bryzgalov gave up 17 goals in a Red Wings sweep.

Coyotes teammates slammed him after he left as a free agent. Behind closed doors or with his body language on the ice, Bryzgalov would blame them for screens or poor defensive plays. Scottie Upshall said Phoenix players had to “put him in his place.” Derek Morris said there was “animosity” as he tore him to shreds in an interview with Fox Sports Arizona.

“We’re actually glad he’s gone,” Morris said, because the team was “tighter” without him. In a backhanded compliment, Morris said, “When he wants to play, he’s one of the best goalies you can have.”

Rise and fall

Things began well in Philadelphia for Bryzgalov. He was excited about leading the Flyers and integrating his family — he and wife Jeniya have two children — in the community. He’s a big fan of American history and toured Philly’s sites. His zany conversations were a star part of HBO’s ‘‘24/7,’’ which previewed the 2012 Winter Classic.

But things quickly went south. In the 2012 playoffs, the Flyers beat shaky goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1.

“Fleury melted down and Bryz- galov was every bit as bad as Fleury, except somehow Philly scored more goals,” TSN analyst Ray Ferraro said. “When things came unraveled in Philly, it was like he was the worst goalie in the world. But just before coming unraveled, he had been really good.

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