“To me, that ‘24/7,’ he lost all his focus and he never got it back. And once you lose it in Philly — let’s be honest, Philly’s market is not Minny — you start to fight the crowd, fight the media, fight the puck. He didn’t even look like the same guy.”
After the Flyers missed the playoffs last year, Philadelphia used one of its compliance buyouts to rid itself of the final seven years of Bryz- galov’s contract. He will receive more than $1.63 million from Philadelphia in each of the next 14 years.
Bryzgalov couldn’t find a job last summer. He latched on with the Oilers in November. When the Wild needed goalie insurance before the trade deadline, General Manager Chuck Fletcher traded a fourth-round pick for him.
Fletcher, a former executive with the Ducks, felt comfortable because he knows the player and the person. And whatever past teammates might think of Bryzgalov, Wild teammates genuinely seem to love him.
“When I came here, they were welcoming very, very warmly,” Bryzgalov said. “They helped me in all possible ways to get adopted to the new team. We have some great group of guys, great leadership. The team is very united. Besides just good players, they’re good people.”
Bryzgalov keeps the locker room loose. The night before that April 7 shutout at Winnipeg, Bryzgalov dined with teammates at a steakhouse next to the team hotel. As Bryzgalov held court, players were howling.
“The fun that he’s brought, the attitude he’s brought, has been great,” Parise said. “You really want to win for him. You see how excited he got after the shootout win [over Boston that clinched the West’s top wild-card spot] and how excited he is when we win, you really want to play well in front of him.”
Bryzgalov has played best on teams with little pressure and strong defensive structures (Anaheim, Phoenix), so he has melded well into the Wild. The Wild averaged 25 shots against in his 11 starts.
Now, the player who has been so widely ridiculed, the player who almost found himself out of the league last summer, has the Wild’s playoff hopes planted on his broad shoulders.
In 2006, the year before the Ducks won the Cup, Bryzgalov played 11 playoff games. He posted a 1.46 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. It was Bryzgalov, not Giguere, who held the Wild to four goals in Games 1 through 3 of the 2007 first round.
But there have been past playoff implosions with Bryzgalov, so that’s the great unknown going into the postseason.
Which goaltender will Wild fans witness? The happy-go-lucky, confident Bryzgalov who was so good his first 10 Wild starts? Or the Bryz- galov who looked like he was napping in the regular-season finale against Nashville by falling down outside the crease before one goal, then giving up three on three shots in two minutes later on?
Considering what Bryzgalov has been through the past few years, this can become a great leaguewide story if Bryzgalov can backstop the Wild out of Round 1 against the fast, explosive Avalanche.
“Just the veteran presence back there, it’s nice,” Suter said. “We’ve had a lot of change, and every goalie who has played has been great, but Bryz does bring that extra confidence. It’s good having him back there.
“Winning heals everything, and it brings guys closer together. That’s just the biggest thing. You win, you have confidence in him and you trust him.”