PHILADELPHIA - Ilya Bryzgalov wants to accomplish what no goalie other than Bernie Parent has done for the Philadelphia Flyers: Win a Stanley Cup.
The 31-year-old Russian understands the pressure of being a goaltender in Philadelphia, and he's up for the challenge. After shuffling goalies in and out of the lineup for years, the Flyers are counting on Bryzgalov to be the man in net.
"I want to be the guy who can carry this team," Bryzgalov said in a conference call Monday. "I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough. I want to win the Stanley Cup also and I think we have similar ideas, similar goals. That's why we have to work hard and reach this goal. Pressure. We have to deal with the pressure every way and every day in our lives, hockey, everywhere."
The Flyers acquired the rights to Bryzgalov last month in a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. They signed him to a US$51 million, nine-year deal amid a flurry of big moves on June 23 — captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter both were traded that day. Bryzgalov is considered the first legitimate star goalie the Flyers have had during his prime since Ron Hextall played in Philadelphia in the late-1980s.
Despite winning the Atlantic Division title, Philadelphia stumbled in the post-season and used three goaltenders — Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton — along the way. After surviving a seven-game series against seventh-seeded Buffalo in Round 1, the Flyers were swept in the second round by the Boston Bruins. In 2010, the Flyers also used three goalies in the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup finals where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Philadelphia hasn't won the Stanley Cup since Parent led them to consecutive titles in 1974-75. Bryzgalov aims to end that drought.
"I knew Philadelphia was a great team," Bryzgalov said. "The highest goal is to win the Stanley Cup every year. This team always drafted a big, aggressive team that doesn't like to play second number. They always like to play great hockey and they want to dominate. I know it's a long, long time. It's a big, aggressive team that wants to dominate on the ice."
Bryzgalov was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2009-10, and went 36-20-10 with a 2.48 goals-against average and seven shutouts last season. He has a 2.53-goals against average and .916 save percentage in nine seasons with Anaheim and Phoenix. But Bryzgalov's numbers in the post-season the past two years have been poor. He was 3-8 with an 8.96 save percentage.
The Flyers, however, have a far better surrounding cast, especially on defence, than the Coyotes. Besides, Bryzgalov was a major reason Phoenix even made the playoffs.
"Definitely I can play better," he said. "I thought I should have played better, but maybe I was tired, too. That's why I made some once in a while mistakes. It's hockey and I expect from myself much better. I gave Phoenix everything what I could at that moment. I expect from myself much, much better. Unfortunately, we couldn't beat Detroit. I know I can play in the playoffs, I have played before. I expect much better of myself in the future."
Bryzgalov knows what it takes to win the Cup. He was a backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere during Anaheim's championship run in 2007. Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger also played for the Ducks that season.
"One of the greatest moments in my life because it was such a long season, such competitive teams and such competitive players play against you, and when it's over and you've got success, there's nothing better," Bryzgalov said about winning the Cup.
Bryzgalov has played in at least 65 games in each of the past three seasons. If Bobrovsky remains with the Flyers, he could see less action next season.
"If the team needs me 82 games I'll play 82 games," he said. "If the team needs me 60 games I'll play 60 games. It's the coach's decision and management's decision. We'll see how much we go through the whole season. It's not a short season, 82 games, we'll see. It depends."
It's an even longer season if the Flyers play until June and hoist that elusive Cup at the end.