Tomorrow night, the Flyers will host the Phoenix Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center in what promises to be an emotional affair for Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
It was in Phoenix where Bryz rose to prominence. He averaged 33 wins per season as the Coyotes’ starter and backstopped them to consecutive playoff appearances after a six-year absence. In 2009-10, he was the runner-up to Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller.
That rise to prominence saw him sign a nine-year, $51-million deal with the Flyers this summer, making him one of the highest-paid players in hockey.
Needless to say, Bryz looks back on his time in Phoenix with fondness.
“They have beautiful people in that organization. Management and coaches and a good group of guys. Maybe not like superstar players, but a group of guys like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, a good defense and all the team works together in the offensive and defensive zone.”
Speaking of Yandle, he’s an interesting character in the Bryzgalov-Phoenix-Philly saga. This past summer, the ‘Yotes had two key free agents to deal with: Bryzgalov (UFA) and Yandle (RFA). Phoenix deemed Bryzgalov expendable but broke the bank for Yandle — five years, $26.25-million, making him the highest-paid player on the team.
If that wasn’t a clear indicator of who the Coyotes thought was more vital to their success, they then turned around and signed former Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith to a modest two-year, $4-million deal…and are chugging along just fine. Phoenix has a lower goals-against average this year (2.44) than last (2.68) and is just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.
Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight
People love star athletes because they can do amazing things. Even so, people also often love to see the occasional moment of weakness.
Aside from the occasional injury hiccup, Sidney Crosby‘s been as advertised after being a super-hyped No. 1 overall pick. He has that “Golden Goal,” two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of individual accolades.
Not many people expected the Capitals-Penguins series to be over in five games, but there’s a chance that could happen before the end of the week. After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Capitals are one loss away from being bounced from the 2016 playoffs.
The Capitals failed to take advantage of the fact that Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Letang is now set to return for Game 5 which makes Washington’s task even more difficult.
“We didn’t take advantage of it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “One thing I said to the guys coming into this, and we talked it about it yesterday, was when Kris got his suspension, is that they’re going to rally. Their whole team, their forwards are going to come back. They talked about they didn’t play their best game (in Game 3) and now they have Letang out and everybody had to step up on their side, and I thought they did.”
If you look back at the regular season, the Capitals were head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league for a good portion of the season. Washington finished 11 points ahead of second place Dallas in the league standings and it looked like they had the team that would finally take them over the hump.
Although things look gloomy, it’s important to realize that the series is far from over. Many NHLers would tell you that the fourth win is always the hardest to come by in a best-of-seven series, and by no means is anyone expecting the Capitals to wave the white flag.
“Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed, but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle, per NHL.com. “We’re looking forward. Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”
Game 5 goes Saturday night in Washington.
PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice