PHILADELPHIA – Ilya Bryzgalov can stop worrying about fans counting the zeros in his contract.
They are busy adding up the zeros in his shutout streak.
Bryzgalov stopped 17 shots for this third straight shutout and fourth in five games to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. His three straight shutouts matched a team record set by John Vanbiesbrouck in 1999.
Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Danny Briere scored to provide the offence.
After an underwhelming start to the season, Bryzgalov has dominated of late and proved worthy of the nine-year, $51 million contract he signed in June. He stretched his shutout streak to 196 minutes, 13 seconds, and has stopped 152 of 154 shots.
The Devils didn’t test him much, but it might not have mattered. He went 3-0 last week with an 0.65 goals-against average and a .979 save percentage in three starts.
Bryzgalov turned away questions about his performance as if they were pucks. He had no interest in analyzing or discussing his shutout streak.
“I think we have unbelievable game tonight,” he said. “Start to finish, all 60 minutes.”
Bryzgalov beat Washington 1-0 on March 4, then was a 3-2 winner over Detroit. He had back-to-back shutouts, making 28 stops in a 5-0 win against the Florida Panthers on March 8, and 29 saves, plus another two in the shootout, in a 1-0 victory at Toronto on March 10.
Once frustrated by his erratic play, Flyers fans chanted “Bryz! Bryz! Bryz!” as the final seconds wound down.
Briere understood the lofty hopes pinned on Bryzgalov because he signed his own eight-year, $52 million contract in 2007.
“I went through the same thing the first year,” Briere said. “You come in with the big contract, there’s lots of expectations, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. You want to perform.”
Bryzgalov and Vanbiesbrouck stand alone on the shutout list. Vanbiesbrouck recorded three straight shutouts from Oct. 20-24, 1999.
The punchless Devils took only three shots in the third period and went 0 for 5 on the power play.
“We were outcompeted in a lot of the small areas of the game that we’re usually pretty good at, and it showed,” New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said. “They were better than us.”
Bryzgalov outplayed Martin Brodeur and denied the New Jersey goalie career win No. 651. Brodeur won his 650th career game on Sunday when he beat the Flyers 4-1. Sergei Bobrovsky was in goal for the Flyers that night as the streaking Bryzgalov got a night off after starting 11 straight games.
In his last 11 starts, entering Tuesday, Bryzgalov had a 1.95 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. Bryzgalov had a pedestrian 3.01 GAA entering the Winter Classic.
Bryzgalov, the self-deprecating Russian, was benched Jan. 2 for the NHL’s signature game. He will be expected to perform like he has over his recent hot streak if the Flyers have any chance of winning their first Stanley Cup title since 1975.
Bryzgalov admitted in the lead-up to the Winter Classic that leaving Phoenix for big money and a hockey-mad market has made him feel added pressure. Earlier this season, Bryzgalov said he was “lost in the woods.” He found his way out—and is now back on top of his game.
The Flyers took a two-point lead over the Devils and moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Bryzgalov got plenty of help from Voracek, who needed stitches in his upper and lower mouth after he took a blast to the face last week from Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall. He complained of headaches and missed three games, but wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion.
He put the Flyers up 2-0 in the third when he fought for the puck in the crease and flipped it past Brodeur. Voracek also had the assist on Briere’s 14th goal—which snapped his 23-game drought. Briere, who scored into an empty net after Brodeur was pulled late in the third, raised his arms in triumph and broke out a huge smile for ending the puzzling skid.
“I knew there was something going on. I looked up and there was no goalie,” Briere said.
Couturier made it 1-0 in the second when he pounded a puck that was fired off the boards into the net. From there, Flyers fans derisively chanted “Mar-ty! Mar-ty!” at Brodeur.
“We just didn’t have it tonight, especially in the third period when we needed to have that great push,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “You have to have pressure against this team in the third, and we didn’t. But they played very well, we just didn’t have the puck a lot.”
NOTES: Flyers D Kimmo Timonen also returned after missing five games with a back injury. … The Flyers improved to 3-2-1 against New Jersey this season. … The Flyers have won six of seven games.