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Bryzgalov shares starring role on Episode 2 of '24/7'

by Bob Condor /
You figured it was coming -- you just knew the HBO producers of Wednesday's second episode of the four-week "24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" series would serve up more Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and his gleeful perspective on the cosmos.

Oh, there is plenty of 'Bryz' in this episode: The 31-year-old Russian is greeted at a pregame meal by teammates with a new nickname last Thursday on the morning after Episode 1 debuted last week. Pay attention to which Flyer volunteered he "would never kill a tiger." Another belly-laugh bit is Bryzgalov explaining how his chest protector was broken during a recent practice and players kept shooting pucks to the area anyway. Funny stuff, all, plus the Philly goalie adds a thoughtful analysis on the ardor of his defensemen teammates blocking NHL-caliber slap shots before they ever reach the crease.

But Bryzgalov has competition for first star in this week's show. No, Ryan Callahan's grandmother did not return (there is always hope for Dec. 28 or Jan. 4). But New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist appears early in the second episode and, have to say it, this man's blue eyes take over the screen during one segment. That, and "24/7" follows Lundqvist to a guitar jam session with, wait for it, tennis legend John McEnroe as the two men practice for a charity gig in February. Good line from McEnroe on Lundqvist's musical talents. Style points for "24/7" viewers if you know who is playing the drums in the segment.


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Another strong candidate for the Episode 2 three-stars list is Liam Trainer, a 10-year-old fan who has become a texting pal with Rangers coach John Tortorella after meeting him a couple of years ago. You have to watch the episode to fully appreciate the relationship and the joy in Tortorella's face as he talks about Liam.

Tortorella and his Flyers counterpart, Peter Laviolette, both turn in their second straight week of impressive performances.

Tortorella talks up Steve Eminger during a film session is vintage, complimenting the eight-year veteran's all-out effort while admitting he plays "ugly as hell" on most plays.  Laviolette skates alongside Scott Hartnell during practice to praise the Flyers forward's recent 200th goal and admits to his own abbreviated NHL career of "12 games and zero points" (ironically, with the Rangers).

In a nod to how technology stretches the reach of the modern coach, Laviolette talks about keeping in touch with star scorer Claude Giroux, sidelined last week with a concussion (he returned Wednesday at Dallas, scoring his 17th goal and adding three assists in a 4-1 win) and back home in Philadelphia while the team was on the road. "I talked to 'G' once today and texted him after the game," said Laviolette, explaining he wanted Giroux to know he was missed and such an important part of the team.

HBO delivers another jam-packed hour of choice access. Viewers are inside a candid referees' room after a physical first period between the Flyers and visiting Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. We hear great on-ice sound during Philly's road game at Montreal, with no holding back on Laviolette's opinions about the officiating.

Tortorella's intermission speech after falling behind 2-0 in St. Louis is not simply a rant but complete with a strategy for getting back in the game. The thing is, you feel like you are slumping in front of the lockers alongside the NYR players.

There is even a reference to HBO's all-hours, all-places presence. When Laviolette premises one pregame talk on the fact that opposing teams are additionally motivated when facing the HBO-blanketed team on a winning streak during the early episode (Philly this year, Pittsburgh last year), the coach looks right at Max Talbot, last year's Penguin turned this year's Flyer. "I couldn't wait to play your team last year," Laviolette admits.

Viewers will feel the same sort of anticipation-slash-impatience about Episode 3 (featuring Flyers at Rangers on Friday) and the final episode (featuring Rangers at Flyers in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2).

Other play dates for the second episode of HBO's "24/7 Flyers/Rangers" include Dec. 22 (5:30 p.m. and 11:50 p.m. ET) Dec. 23 (3 p.m.), Dec. 24 (11:30 a.m. and 11:55 p.m.), Dec. 25 (8:45 a.m.) and Dec. 26 (4 p.m.).
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