By Kyle Shohara
Morning Skate Photos
In a nationally televised game against the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers (21-11-4, 46 points), it’ll be Ilya Bryzgalov who mans the crease tonight for the league-leading Ducks (26-9-6, 58 points).
This marks his second start of the season and he hopes it’ll go better than the first, when he was blitzed for six goals against on Dec. 19 at Ottawa. Bryzgalov has served as Frederik Andersen’s backup since then, but tonight, it’s his show.
“I want to win games for this team, and I want to give them a chance to win games,” he said after the morning skate. “I want to be a part of the team’s success and help them finish the season and win the Cup.”
Though his stats in his second go-around with Anaheim aren’t glistening (75 minutes, 6.40 goals-against average, .789 save percentage), there’s no denying the success he’s had over the course of his 12-year NHL career. In 459 career NHL games, Bryzgalov has posted a 220-159-53 record with 34 shutouts, a 2.57 GAA and .913 SV%, and was named a finalist for the 2010 Vezina Trophy after setting career highs in win (42), shutouts (8), GAA (2.29) and SV% (.920) with the Arizona Coyotes.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau admitted throwing Bryzgalov into the fire that night in Ottawa was probably too soon for a goaltender who, up to that point, hadn’t had much practice and conditioning time.
“We wanted to make sure he was totally ready,” said Boudreau, on the decision to go with Bryzgalov tonight. “It’s not good putting in a guy that’s not ready to play. It’s not fair to him, but he’s practiced really hard and he’s in shape now. He’s part of our team, so we have to get him in sooner rather than later. Tonight will be a great test for him and our team.”
Boudreau says Bryzgalov’s recent practices, coupled with feedback from goaltending consultant Dwayne Roloson, proved “it was time.”
“What better test than against the best?" Boudreau said. "That’s who we’re playing.”
MORE ON THE RANGERS
They may not be leading the Eastern Conference, but there is no team hotter than the Rangers at the moment. Winners of 10 of their last 11 and 14 of 18, tonight marks the beginning of a three-game California road trip that continues tomorrow with a Stanley Cup rematch against the LA Kings and a Saturday night showdown against the San Jose Sharks.
Tonight’s game is the first of two meetings between the Ducks and Rangers this season, with the finale taking place March 22 at Madison Square Garden. The Ducks, who have won the last two games vs. the Rangers and two straight in Anaheim, own a 16-6-5 record vs. New York and an 8-2-2 mark at Honda Center.
“We know they’re a good team, but it’s all about us,” said Rene Bourque, who has experience playing the Rangers from his time with the Canadiens. “Our start is going to be key.”
Remember, it was Bourque who recorded a hat trick in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, a 7-4 victory for Montreal, which forced a Game 6, one that the Rangers ultimately won, punching them a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
“They have a good mix of everything,” Bourque said. “They have a lot of size and speed, and they play hard. This is a big opportunity.”
“It’s imperative that we’re ready and self-prepared right from the drop of the puck,” said Boudreau. “We have to skate because they’ve scored 40-plus goals in the first period. They come at you. If they get a big lead, the guy in net doesn’t usually give up more than two.”
The guy in net for the Rangers will be Henrik Lundqvist, who is 9-1-0 in his last 10 appearances (1.68 GAA, .934 SV%, one shutout). But all-time vs. Anaheim, Lundqvist sports a rather pedestrian 3-4-1 record, 2.71 GAA and .902 SV%.
TIES TO BROADWAY
Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri hails from Montvale, New Jersey, but he didn’t grow up idolizing the Devils. Rather, he donned the familiar “Broadway Blue,” and last season was able to play at The Garden for the first time in his career. Earlier today, Palmieri talked about facing his favorite childhood team.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to play against the team I grew up rooting for,” he said. “This is pretty special. I watched them on TV growing up. It’ll be a fun game.”
It’s worth noting that Palmieri scored the game-winning goal in Anahiem’s 2-1 victory against the Rangers at MSG last season.