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E.J. Express: Bryzgalov's renaissance perfectly timed

Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 10:24 AM / NHL.Countdown

By EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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E.J. Express: Bryzgalov's renaissance perfectly timed
With the playoffs right around the corner, the Flyers finally are seeing the Ilya Bryzgalov they've been hoping for.
Welcome to a pretty exclusive club, Steven Stamkos!

In last night's 6-1 win against the Boston Bruins, the Lightning superstar sniper thrilled the home fans by cracking the 50-goal plateau for the second time in three seasons. In doing so, Stamkos became just the sixth player in League history to record two 50-goal campaigns before his 23rd birthday.

Who are the other five players to accomplish this feat? Puck icons Wayne Gretzky (who did it four times before turning 23), Mike Bossy (twice), Mario Lemieux (twice), Joe Nieuwendyk (twice) and Alex Ovechkin (twice). That's quite a group.

With 13 games left on Tampa Bay's schedule, Stamkos should have no trouble surpassing his single-season personal-best of 51 goals in 2009-10. As hot as he's been in the past several weeks (13 goals in his last 13 games), I have to wonder if he might not be able to challenge the 60-goal barrier.

We do know he'll skate away with a second Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. He enters Wednesday's games with a commanding 12-goal lead over the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin in the chase for top goal-scoring honors.

Here's today's edition of the EJ Express. All aboard!



1. Holy turnaround, Captain Universe!

Flyers big-money goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov seems to have re-discovered his mojo in the City of Brotherly
Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 28-13-6
GAA: 2.53 | SVP: 0.908
Love. And after more than half a season of struggles, Bryzgalov's rebirth didn't come a minute too soon.

The Russian-born stopper has been near perfect in his last five starts, recording four shutouts, including a 3-0 whitewash of the Atlantic Division rival Devils on Tuesday. In this recent span, Bryzgalov is playing to mindboggling 0.30 goals-against average and a fantastic .986 save percentage.

Clearly, these days, there's nothing wrong Bryzgalov's universe.



2. Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier, pondering a question about what his team needs to do to earn a playoff spot in the final 12 games of the season, came to a direct answer. "For us, it all starts with Ryan Miller," Regier said.
 
Well, the Sabres veteran goalie has been doing his part over the last several weeks, pushing the club back into the playoff picture. Since Feb. 19, Miller is 9-1-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. No other goalie has that many wins since that date.

In a game that has significant playoff meaning for both sides, Miller and his teammates will look to stop the Avalanche on Wednesday in Buffalo (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).



3.
Colorado Calder Trophy candidate Gabriel Landeskog netted the overtime game-winner against Anaheim on Monday, becoming the youngest player in Avalanche/Nordiques history (19 years, 110 days)
Gabriel Landeskog
Left Wing - COL
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 44
SOG: 235 | +/-: 20
to score in overtime.

Landeskog was the fifth rookie to score a game-winner this season. Devils center Adam Henrique, Lightning forward Brett Connolly, Senators blueliner Jared Cowen and Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk were the other members of this season's rookie class to score overtime goals.

The Swedish-born power forward seems to be getting better and better during the stretch run. That's a terrific sign for the future.



4. Coyotes GM Don Maloney said it's vital for his team not to fall behind in games. "We just have to expend too much energy to come back in games," he said. "Even if we tie the game, we don't have enough energy to finish strong."

When Phoenix scores first, however, it's a different story. In nearly three full seasons under coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes are 94-12-14 when scoring the first goal. Obviously, you don't want to fall behind the Coyotes.



5. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher did field some inquiries about goalie Josh Harding, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"There was nothing that made sense for us," Fletcher said. "We weren't going to give him away."

While the Wild remain interested in bringing Harding back, he'll likely want to see what other options and opportunities might be available for him.



6.
Canucks star center Henrik Sedin has been a pretty reliable point producer in his career; but even someone as prolific as him can go through a bit of a scoring drought.
Henrik Sedin
Center - VAN
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 53 | PTS: 66
SOG: 95 | +/-: 19

Dating back to his two-assist performance in Detroit on Feb. 23, he has been kept off the score sheet in eight consecutive games, playing to a minus-3 rating in that span. Henrik hasn't endured such an unproductive stretch since the 2002-03 season, when he failed to register a point in eight straight games between Dec. 26, 2002 and Jan. 11, 2003.

He'll look to snap out of this rare funk Wednesday against the Coyotes.



7.
After a stretch where they surrendered two goals or fewer in 10 straight games, the Blues looked a little more human Tuesday, blowing an early two-goal lead en route to a 4-3 shootout loss in Chicago. St. Louis hadn't allowed that many goals in a game since dropping a 4-2 decision to visiting Boston on Feb. 22.

Despite the setback, the Blues still sit atop the League's overall standings with 98 points. St. Louis has climbed to that lofty perch on the back of some consistently stingy defensive play. The Blues have allowed a league-low 132 non-shootout goals, and they're the only club that's averaging less than two goals-against per game (1.86).

That kind of hard-core, two-way play will make the Blues tough to handle come playoff time.



8.
If the Panthers can lock up their first playoff berth since 2000, they will have done it by beating up on the East's current non-playoff teams. The Panthers have piled up a terrific 20-4-4 record, taking 44 of 56 points, against their conference peers who currently occupy the ninth through 15th spots in the standings.

They completed a season series sweep of the Leafs on Tuesday with a 5-2 victory at the BankAtlantic Center. Against the Leafs, Canadiens, Islanders and Hurricanes, the Panthers are a perfect 14-0-0. Their ability to beat the teams below them in the standings has served them well. Probably well enough to end a 12-year post-season drought.



9.
Toronto GM Brian Burke is going to have to take a long, hard look at his roster after the club’s recent 2-13-2 collapse likely will cost them a playoff berth for the seventh straight spring. If the Panthers can nail down a post-season spot, the Leafs will be the only club to have failed to qualify for the playoffs at least once since the lockout.

Since the All-Star break, the Leafs have won a League-low five games. That's not exactly the playoff push fans in Toronto had been hoping for.



Max Pacioretty
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 30 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 57
SOG: 242 | +/-: 2
10. Canadiens power forward Max Pacioretty made a little franchise history, becoming the first U.S.-born player to score 30 goals in a season for the Habs. The Connecticut native might soon be joined by teammate and New York native Erik Cole, who has 26 goals thus far.

The play of Pacioretty and Cole has been a silver lining to an otherwise disappointing season in Montreal.

Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins