Will Ilya Bryzgalov be the difference maker the Flyers are looking for?

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Let’s face it, Ilya Bryzgalov is the best goalie the Philadelphia Flyers have brought in to play in decades. Not since Ron Hextall in the early 90s have the Flyers had a big time number one goalie who could carry a team. After struggling in the playoffs last year with Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren decided it was time to correct a long-standing problem in Philadelphia at goalie.

Enter Ilya Bryzgalov to the situation, a guy who established himself as the top guy in Phoenix the last four seasons.  The kind of success he brought the Coyotes and the kind of statistics he piled up made him into one of the league’s best goalies. With that pedigree, Bryzgalov arrives in Philadelphia as a savior-like figure.

Should he be though? Jonathan Willis of Houses Of The Hockey breaks down his numbers and whether or not he’s better (or, gulp, worse) than what Bobrovsky and Boucher brought to the ice last year.

Since the NHL lockout, Bryzgalov’s 0.916 SV% ranks him eighth (min. 100 games), tied with figures like Ryan Miller and a hair back of Niklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist.  Over just the last three seasons, that same 0.916 SV% places him 10th.  Last season, Bryzgalov ranked eighth among starters.  There’s a good deal of consistency in those numbers, which place Bryzgalov as a top-10 NHL goaltender.

The problem is that the Flyers, by and large, got pretty good goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher last season.  A lack of consistency game-in and game-out cost Bobrovsky his starting job immediately when he faltered early in the playoffs, but his overall save percentage of 0.915 is in the same range as Bryzgalov’s career numbers, as was Boucher’s 0.916 SV%.  Those players faltered in the post-season, but then again so did Bryzgalov – he went 0-4 with a miserable 0.879 SV%.  I’m not inclined to harshly criticize Bryzgalov for those numbers (four games is too short a period to be basing judgement on) but neither am I inclined to dismiss the regular season results of Bobrovsky and Boucher because of their playoff struggles.

None of this is to say that Bryzgalov isn’t a much better goalie than Boucher, and probably a better one than Bobrovsky for that matter.  His career numbers are far superior to the former, and the latter is a bit of a question mark given that he’s played just a single NHL season.  Over the long haul, Bryzgalov is a good bet to outperform that duo.

Willis is a smart guy and great with breaking down the numbers but if there’s any shot that Bryzgalov turns out worse than how the Flyers’ duo performed last year, especially late in the season, Flyers fans are going to start gnawing off their arms come April. With Bryzgalov signing a nine-year, $51 million deal this summer the Flyers are hoping that Bryzgalov can sustain his great play for a long time.

The one problem to those big plans could be Bryzgalov’s age. At 31 years-old, asking him to stand tall for a long time in Philly could be asking a lot. After all, not all goalies play until they’re 40. Martin Brodeur will be 39 this season and has a Hall Of Fame résumé to back him up. Patrick Roy played until he was 37 and had an equally gaudy career. Dominik Hasek left the NHL at age 43 and continues to play professionally in Europe now at age 46. In other words, Bryzgalov’s long future isn’t guaranteed.

The one thing that will keep the hounds at bay for Bryzgalov in Philly will be to win the Stanley Cup. If he can bring Philly their first Cup since the mid-70s, something he’s eager to do, the rest of  his contract will end up looking like a “thank you” bonus. One thing is for sure, the expectations are high for Bryzgalov and it’s up to him and the rest of the team to help him live up to sky-high expectations.

Sharks showed in Round 1 they’re not done yet

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For the better part of the past two decades the San Jose Sharks have been a near constant in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making 18 appearances in 20 years. Because that run has not yet resulted in a Stanley Cup — and at times resulted in some crushing, premature postseason exits — they have usually been more of a playoff punchline than a celebrated success story for being a contender almost every year. With every passing year that does not result in a championship, and with every year that foundational  players like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski get older, we seem to forget about them a little more.

It’s usually the old “their window has closed” situation as we wait for them to fade into obscurity.

Then two years ago, after everyone seemingly gave up on them being a serious threat to ever win it all, they finally had a breakthrough and reached the Stanley Cup Final.

They entered the playoffs this year as somewhat of an afterthought once again (hey, I admit, I was guilty of that too), lost beneath the hype of the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and even their second-round opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights. But after making quick work of an overmatched and hapless Ducks team in round one, outscoring them by an 18-4 margin in a clean four-game sweep, they are now in the second-round of the playoffs ready to take on the Vegas with a trip to the Western Conference Finals on the line. They have done all of this while only getting 47 games out of Thornton who has not played since the end of January.

So what has been the key to their success? For one, they finally have a goalie they can count on in the playoffs.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

One of the biggest issues that plagued some of the great Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau teams in the early-mid 2000s were some truly disastrous postseason goaltending performances from the likes of Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi that completely sunk the team’s chances. Those postseason shortcomings were then hung on the two guys at the top of the lineup (Thornton and Marleau) even though they almost always produced.

Now the net belongs to Martin Jones, and in what is his third playoff run with the team he is once again playing some of his best hockey at the right time of year.

Jones was incredible in the first-round sweep of the Ducks, turning aside 128 of the 132 shots he faced. In his 34 playoff games as a member of the Sharks he now has a .930 save percentage. Of the 18 goalies that have appeared in at least 10 playoff games during that stretch, that would be tied for the third best mark in the NHL. That sort of goaltending will always give you a chance.

For as good as Jones has been, it is not just the goaltending that is sparking the Sharks right now.

They have also managed to reshape their roster a bit and work in some youth and speed, even from what the team looked like just one year ago. The Ducks, a classic rough-and-tumble “heavy hockey” Pacific Division team, were overmatched it by from the drop of the puck in Game 1.

When looking at the skaters that played in the first-round this season versus the first round a year ago (when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers) you can see where the changes come in.

After being a healthy scratch in all six playoff games a year ago, 22-year-old Kevin Labanc not only played in all four games in the first-round, he recorded two assists, was not on the ice for a single goal against, and generally played great two-way hockey. The same was true for 23-year-old center Chris Tierney as he came off what was a breakout regular season performance. Twenty-one-year-old Timo Meier, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2015, saw an increased role this season and after scoring 21 goals during the regular season contributed three points in the first-round against the Ducks.

That influx of young talent has been a great complement to the established veterans already on the roster, including Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl, a trio that combined for six goals against the Ducks. And that doesn’t even include trade deadline acquisition Evander Kane whose two goal effort in Game 1 helped lead the Sharks to their first win of the playoffs.

Including playoffs, the Sharks are 16-6-1 since that trade while Kane has had three multiple-goal games during that stretch.

Given how impressive Vegas was in its first round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings — a series that pretty much mirrored the Sharks’ win, where a faster, more skilled team overwhelmed a slower, bigger, more physical team — the Sharks are certainly going to have their hands full in round two. But they have put themselves in a great position to make another deep run in the Western Conference in another year where everybody kind of forgot about them.

The Sharks are still here. They are still good. Given the makeup of their roster, they are not ready to go away anytime soon.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Andrew Hammond to start Game 5 for Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice in Nashville on Friday night they will be facing elimination. They will also need to rely on their third-string goalie to help get them a win if they are going to extend their season.

The team announced on Thursday that Andrew Hammond will be getting the start, replacing Jonathan Bernier who had to leave Wednesday’s game after two periods with a lower body injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Bernier’s injury has been a nagging one and that he could still be available off the bench on Friday if needed.

The Avalanche had been starting Bernier because their regular starter, Semyon Varlamov, is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury of his own.

Obviously, this puts the Avalanche in a pretty tough spot. Not only because they have to go on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators, but also because they have to turn to a goalie that, including Wednesday’s brief relief appearance, has appeared in just eight NHL games over the past two years. He has faced only 127 shots in those appearances and managed only an .874 save percentage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 Hammond’s career has been a fascinating one to this point.

Late in the 2014-15 season he came out of nowhere as a 25-year-old rookie to lead the Ottawa Senators on an improbable late season run (where Hammond put together a 20-1-2 record) to qualify for the playoffs. Nicknamed “the Hamburglar,” his initial run in Ottawa was highlighted by fans throwing hamburgers on the ice to celebrate his wins.  That run earned him a contract extension with the Senators and a bunch of free hamburgers from McDonalds. It was a crazy year.

After that, though, injuries and a decline in his production have limited him to just a handful of appearances in the NHL.

The Avalanche acquired him from the Senators earlier this season as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

Now he has to jump into the crease in an elimination game.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators’ Ryan Hartman to have hearing after illegal check to the head

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Ryan Hartman had a tough night at the office on Wednesday night and will have to answer to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety because of it.

Hartman’s hearing stems from a charging penalty he was assessed after lining up Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg‘s head with his shoulder at the 4:42 mark of the third period.

Soderberg was forced to leave the game after the play.

Earlier in the game, Hartman tried to line up Sven Andrighetto from a mile out in the second period but missed, prompting the latter to come and give Hartman some business, which included a stick below the belt to Hartman.

The Predators took Game 4 by a 3-2 margin, holding off a third-period comeback attempt from the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seinfeld’s Puddy attends Devils game to ‘support the team’

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The man known affectionately as Puddy (aka actor Patrick Warburton) was in New Jersey last night trying to rile up the Devils prior to Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You’ll remember Puddy, the face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody.’

That’s pretty much it, but he didn’t need to say much else to become an instant cult classic among Devils fans.

Warburton resurrected the character on Wednesdat night, doing his best to get the Devils and their fans amped up prior to the game.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the tactic didn’t pay off as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 3-1 win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck