UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Ilya Bryzgalov was less than seven minutes from the rare NHL feat of four straight shutouts, and he showered his teammates with praise after a close win over the New York Islanders.
The Russian-born Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year $51 million contract with Philadelphia last summer and has struggled at times this season, made 29 saves to lead the Flyers over the Islanders 3-2 on Thursday night for their seventh win in eight games.
Zac Rinaldo, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell scored for Philadelphia (41-22-7), which stayed two points behind Pittsburgh for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins beat the New York Rangers 5-2 to move within four points of first in the conference.
“It’s a great team accomplishment,” said Bryzgalov, who set a Flyers record with a shutout streak of 249:43. “All the players in front of me have been doing a tremendous job. They deserve the credit.”
Michael Grabner ruined Bryzgalov’s shutout bid on his 16th goal with 6:30 left. John Tavares added his career-best 31st goal 35 seconds later, but New York couldn’t muster a tying goal as the Islanders lost their fifth straight.
Bryzgalov broke the previous Flyers shutout mark of 227:40 set by John Vanbiesbrouck from Oct. 17-27, 1999. Before Grabner’s goal, Bryzgalov hadn’t allowed a tally since Johan Franzen of Detroit scored in the third period of a game on March 6.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he hasn’t perceived a difference in Bryzgalov’s work ethic or game-day approach during his hot streak. The coach said his club’s overall effort has been at the forefront.
“He comes to work every day, always very focused,” Laviolette said. “He’s really the one who kept us in games early in the season. Now you’re seeing what Bryz can do when we play well in front of him. Quietly, he has shut the door.”
Brzygalov also had a shutout streak of 249:14 during the 2006 playoffs when he was with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Flyers have won 25 of the last 28 meetings with the Islanders dating to March 2008. They’ve also won 13 of the last 14 at Nassau Coliseum, including all three games this season.
The Islanders (28-32-11) fell into a tie with Montreal for last in the East. The defeat was their fourth straight one-goal loss.
“We had chances but no second opportunities,” Tavares said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Bryzgalov almost became the first non-North American goaltender to record four straight NHL shutouts. Fellow Russian Nikolai Khabibulin had shutouts in three straight games for Phoenix in March 1997.
“I’m really just happy we keep winning,” he said. “That is the bottom line.”
Rinaldo scored his second of the season on a sharp-angle shot from along the goal line, beating Evgeni Nabokov at 8:41 of the first period. Rinaldo shot the puck from Nabokov’s right, banking it off the goaltender’s left pad and into the net.
Giroux scored his career-best 26th goal of the season on a snapshot from the slot with 6:34 to go in the first period and Hartnell made it 3-0 with his 33rd at 7:02 of the second.
“Our major job is to keep playing hard and stay focused on the task at hand—home ice in the playoffs,” Giroux said. “Having a goaltender with confidence is huge for us this time of year.”
Brian Boucher had five straight shutouts for Phoenix in 2003-04 with a shutout sequence of 332:01. Boucher’s accomplishment broke the then-record of four straight shutouts held by Montreal’s Bill Durnan, who had a 309:21 streak in 1948-49.
Alec Connell of the 1927-28 Ottawa Senators recorded six straight shutouts before the NHL’s so-called “modern era” began in 1943-44 with the addition of a centre red line. Connell didn’t allow a goal for 461:29.
NOTES: Referee Stephane Auger had to be helped from the ice after he was accidentally struck in the face by MacDonald’s stick 6 minutes into the third period. He returned with three minutes left … With 82 points, Giroux is third in league scoring behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. … Jaromir Jagr, who had an assist on Giroux’s goal, has more points against the Islanders than any other NHL team with 60 goals and 85 assists in 97 games.