PHILADELPHIA -- After a 2011 postseason that saw them start three different goaltenders in the first round and was capped by getting swept in the second round, the Philadelphia Flyers focused their massive summer roster overhaul on bringing in a franchise goalie.
Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract to fill that role, but the result nearly was the same -- another second-round playoff exit. Bryzgalov's season was marked by record-setting highs and bizarre lows, with the final game of his first season serving as a 60-minute recap.
Bryzgalov turned aside 27 of 30 shots Tuesday night and looked strong in making a number of those saves. But a pair of bad bounces -- one he had little control over, another of his own making -- is what people will remember.
David Clarkson was credited with the game-winning goal in New Jersey's 3-1 victory, but he didn't need to do much to earn it. Bryzgalov took a backpass from Kimmo Timonen and tried to move the puck to the defenseman in the corner, but his pass hit the shaft of Clarkson's stick and ricocheted back between his pads and into the net at 12:45 of the first period, putting New Jersey ahead to stay.
"I saw him coming and I wanted to put the puck in the corner for Kimmo to start back up," Bryzgalov said. "The puck, I don't know, it hit him in the stick and go in the net. It's a bad bounce unfortunately because it could have gone anywhere -- in the corner, higher, lower. But it goes straight between the legs."
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A pair of fortuitous bounces 3:18 apart in the first period gave the Devils all the offense they needed, as they defeated the Flyers 3-1 in Game 5 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003. READ MORE ›
The Devils' first goal also came on an odd bounce. Defenseman Bryce Salvador took a shot from the left circle that hit Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and went up as Bryzgalov went down; the puck went over the goalie's right shoulder at 9:27 of the first period to tie the game at 1-1.
Beyond those two mistakes, Bryzgalov was sharp. He stopped all 11 New Jersey shots in the second period to keep his team in the game, and the only goal he allowed in the final 40 minutes was Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play rocket five minutes into the third -- a blast through a screen following a faceoff that he had no chance to stop.
"He played well for us in this series," center Claude Giroux said. "He was one of our best players. He made some big saves for us."
Bryzgalov made a number of big saves early in the season, winning his first three starts -- including a shutout of the Devils.
He had a four-game losing streak in October and a five-game winning streak in December. He struggled to get on the same page with his defensemen and blamed a number of goals on shots that were blocked or tipped by his teammates in an attempt to help him.
In 20 games between Dec. 17 and Feb. 23, he went 7-7-4, and upset some of his veteran teammates by announcing he would not be starting in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic before the club wanted the information shared publicly.
Things changed during a late-season West Coast swing, and in March he played like the best goalie in the League. Bryzgalov posted three straight shutouts, set the club record for longest consecutive scoreless streak and went 10-2-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average to win the NHL Player of the Month award.
Bryzgalov finished the regular season 33-16-7 with a 2.48 GAA in 59 games, but he couldn't sustain his strong closing kick in the first round against the Penguins. He was better in the second round against New Jersey, but the season ends with Bryzgalov playing much like he did in the regular season -- strong in parts, soft in others.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK