Ilya Bryzgalov has a bit of a history with Winnipeg, even though he's never represented the city as a professional hockey player. So naturally, Jets fans serenaded him Monday night - and Bryzgalov accepted the challenge.
Since arriving in Minnesota at the trade deadline, Ilya Bryzgalov has been a rock. That’s not a word you’ve been able to use to describe the Russian goalie’s play since 2010-11, when he was still a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. It’s been a small sample size, but in the 10 games he’s played with the Wild, Bryzgalov has looked as confident and stable as he did in his pre-humangous big days.
Bryzgalov’s Wild went into Winnipeg Monday night looking to lock in a playoff spot and add more cushion between themselves and Dallas, which sits in the final playoff spot. If you recall, Bryzgalov has a bit of a history with Winnipeg, dating back to before the Jets flew back into town.
As a member of the Phoenix Coyotes all those years ago, with Winnipeg relocation rumors whirling, Bryzgalov was asked about the Manitoba city:
"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right? Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family.
"I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold. I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."
Winnipeg Jets fans haven’t forgotten. And when they noticed Bryzgalov was in net Monday, they began serenading him. No problem for Bryz. Even while the puck was being cycled around his own zone and back to the point during a close game, he’s flapping his arms and egging them on.
That's the kind of run this guy has been on lately.
And he backed up his flamboyance with another perfect outing.
In the end, Bryzgalov was the one singing after he earned his second consecutive shutout and third with the Wild. He turned aside all 24 Jets shots, still hasn’t lost in regulation with Minnesota, and improved his post-deadline numbers to a .929 SP and 1.67 GAA.
Despite being on their fourth goalie of the season now, Minnesota has reached the playoffs on the strength of a stern defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest goals against per game. Niklas Backstrom, the only goalie to struggle behind the Wild this season, went down in January with an abdominal issue and won’t return. Josh Harding became the No. 1 with his own strong play that was worthy of Vezina consideration, but he had to end his season to deal with his own challenges related to multiple sclerosis. Darcy Kuemper had solid numbers, but he went down with an injury at the end of March.
Dare we say it’s been a team performance Jacques Lemaire would be proud of.
Bryzgalov is the latest goalie benefiting from Minnesota's style. Whether or not it'll be enough to get the team out of the first round of the playoffs is a whole different question - but this kind of defense and this kind of goaltending at least gives the Wild an outside chance at an upset.