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Philly's Ilya Bryzgalov, Washington's Tomas Vokoun meeting lofty expectations

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

PHILADELPHIA - Ilya Bryzgalov wanted a hefty contract from a team that would contend for a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers granted the goalie's wish.

Tomas Vokoun wanted the same thing, big money from a team no longer mired in the second division. He got the second part when he signed with Washington. That high-priced contract, by NHL standards, will have to wait until next summer.

Two weeks into the season, the premier goalies have made the bold off-season choices pay off.

Vokoun is 4-0 and posted his 45th career shutout Tuesday night in a 3-0 win over Florida Panthers that kept the Capitals undefeated. Bryzgalov is 3-0-1 and had the first shutout for a Flyers goalie since April 2010.

They go head-to-head Thursday night in Philadelphia in a matchup between two Eastern Conference teams that expect to play deep into the post-season. Both goalies are expected in net for a showdown that could tame prolific goal scorers such as Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux.

One goal could be enough to win.

Vokoun is playing what could be his only season in Washington under the pressure of playing like a Vezina Trophy winner for a Stanley Cup contender so that he can cash in next summer on a potential lucrative, multi-year contract.

Although Bryzgalov was quickly targeted by Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, Vokoun found the demand for a two-time all-star was almost non-existent. So he told the Capitals he'd forego a top-shelf contract to play for a Stanley Cup contender, with the idea that he'd have another stellar season and take his chances on the market again next summer.

The Capitals and general manager George McPhee bit, signing him to a bargain one-year deal worth US$1.5 million.

Vokoun noted in July that the best offers came from his old team, the Florida Panthers, who proposed a two-year contract and a three-year deal.

Vokoun, however, had grown weary of all the losing.

He never made the playoffs in four seasons with the Panthers and has played in only 11 total post-season games over a 13-year career.

At 35, Vokoun's chances to win a championship are running out.

"That's one of the reasons why I'm here. Maybe the only one," he said. "I've played with great people and for great people. Not necessarily the best results as far as how far we got in the playoffs. But you know what? You never know. Some people have to wait until they're older, some people get to win a Cup when they're really young and never do it again. So you want to make sure if you have a chance, you do everything to prepare."

He allowed five goals on opening night, yet still won 6-5, then had his goals against number drop to two, one, then zero against the Panthers. He stopped 20 shots in his first game against his old team, and the Capitals' four-game winning streak at home to start the season is also a club record.

The young Caps can't take for granted that they will contend for the Cup every year. Eventually those chances run out. Or a player could end up on bad teams—the way Vokoun has.

"You have a chance, and I didn't have that in the past," he said. "It's something I definitely appreciate, and you don't know how many chances you're going to have. ... Some guys think, 'Oh, it's going to be like this always.' That's not true."

The Flyers thought their number of Stanley Cup championships would grow well beyond the two they won in 1974 and 1975. Hall of Famer Bernie Parent was the brick in net for the Broad Street Bullies dynasty, and the Flyers have tried in vain for most of the last three decades to find his replacement.

One by one, they've lined up trying to become the next Parent, with only a flash of brilliance here (Roman Cechmanek), a trip to the finals there (Michael Leighton) and then a spot in the Where Are They Now feature story a few years later to show for it.

The Flyers imploded in last year's post-season when they were swept by Boston in the second round. The Flyers were openly mocked for using a trio of goaltenders in the playoffs, each one as ineffective as the last.

Flyers founder andchairman Ed Snider stepped in and ordered the carousel to end.

"At best, it was embarrassing," Snider said. "It just pointed out the need for a goalie where this won't happen."

Enter Bryzgalov.

With free agency looming and the NHL running the team, the Phoenix Coyotes traded Bryzgalov's negotiating rights to the Flyers for a third-round draft pick in 2012, forward Matt Clackson and future considerations. Negotiations with Bryzgalov broke down because the Russian goalie wanted to not only be a top-paid goalie in the NHL, but one of the top-paid players.

The Flyers obliged and signed Bryzgalov—who won a combined 78 games the last two seasons—to a $51-million, nine-year deal.

In a 3-0 win over New Jersey on Oct. 8, Bryzgalov became the first Flyers goalie with a shutout since April 6, 2010 when Brian Boucher blanked Toronto 2-0.

"I want to be the guy who can carry this team," Bryzgalov said. "I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough. I want to win the Stanley Cup also, and I think we have similar ideas, similar goals."

Both teams are counting on the change of scenery to change their post-season results.


AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Joseph White in Washington contributed to this story.



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