Ilya Bryzgalov tried to play it off, calling tonight's matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes "game No. 18." No one was buying that, however.
The Philadelphia Flyers goaltender will face his former team for the first time tonight and admitted it would be an emotional game.
"It's special; it's my former team," he told reporters Wednesday. "I have lots of friends and can't forget the time I played there. The good years, (there were) lots of friends, lots of good people work in this organization, and it is going to be a very special game."
Bryzgalov spent most of the last four seasons with the Coyotes, who claimed him on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks early in the 2007-08 season. He left Phoenix this June, when his rights were traded to the Flyers prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Bryzgalov left the Coyotes as the club's all-time leader in games played (257), wins (130) and shutouts (21), and he guided the Coyotes to back-to-back playoff appearances the previous two seasons. His 42 wins in 2009-10 are a franchise single-season record, as are his eight shutouts from the same season.
After a hot start and a rocky middle, Bryzgalov is trending up again, with a 3-0-1 record in four November games, with a 1.98 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. And after allowing four goals on 10 shots Oct. 27 against Winnipeg, he's allowed nine goals in his last five games.
Bryzgalov is committed to the Flyers now -- he signed a nine-year deal with Philadelphia in the offseason -- but won't forget the time he had in Phoenix.
"I really appreciate everything they did for me," he said. "I wish them the best. I'm really glad they are doing well without me because they deserve it. They work extremely hard. They have beautiful people in that organization. Management and coaches and a good group of guys. I have lots of friends out there."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK