By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Flyers have finally reached the elusive .500 mark (11-11-1), after beating the Senators 2-1 on Saturday afternoon, and jumping back into the playoff picture. The Flyers currently sit eigth in the Eastern Conference with 23 points, one point ahead of the also disappointing Rangers and two points behind the Devils. With only 25 games remaining in the lockout-shortened season, the Flyers embark on their biggest week of the season, beginning tonight in New York.
The most compelling figure on the Flyers team for the last two seasons has been controversial, quirky, and unorthodox goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had his share of ups and downs. This season, he’s 21st in the NHL in GAA (2.61) and tied for 27th in the NHL in save % (.907). However, Bryzgalov hasn’t received much help from his defense and is tied for first in the NHL in games played, with 21. Many have called Byrzgalov the Flyers’ top player in the first 23 games of the season, while others have criticized his behavior and inconsistent play.
Matt Leon previews the week’s games with Sarah Baicker of Comcast Sportsnet:
The Flyers will play three Eastern Conference rivals in five days, in the Rangers (10-8-2), Penguins (15-8-0), and Bruins (14-3-2). The Flyers will play the Rangers (Tuesday) and the Bruins (Saturday) on the road, where they have won only four of 12 games in 2013.
Tuesday, March 5th – 7:30pm | at New York Rangers
The Flyers have had two tough, grind-it-out, 2-1 hockey games against the Rangers this season, with each team winning one. In their first match-up this season on January 24th, Bryzgalov stopped 18 of 19 shots, en route to a 2-1 win. Only 5 days later in their second meeting, this one at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers got a 2-1 win of their own. Nevertheless, Bryzgalov had a superb game, stopping 26 out of 28 shots in the loss.
The Rangers have won nine of their last 10 against the Flyers dating back to last season, and five in a row at Madison Square Garden. Bryzgalov, with the Flyers, is 0-3 at Madison Square Garden and 1-4 overall against the Rangers.
Thursday, March 7th – 7:00pm | vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Flyers vs. Penguins has quickly shaped up to be the unquestioned best rivalry in hockey, and one of the best rivalries in all of professional sports. This year, the Flyers lost 3-1 at home to open the season against the Penguins, but got revenge beating them 6-5 in Pittsburgh on February 20th. Ironically, Bryzgalov played well in the Flyers loss against the Penguins (24 saves on 26 shots), while struggling and allowing five goals in the Flyers win against the Penguins this season.
Saturday, March 9th – 1:00pm | at Boston Bruins
While the Flyers are finally hitting their stride, winning five of their last seven and getting to .500, the Bruins have been on cruise control all season long. The Bruins have 30 points (14-3-2), which is tied for second most in the Eastern Conference and fourth most in all of the NHL.
Bryzgalov struggled against the Bruins last season, allowing 16 goals in four games, in which the Flyers were 1-3, including two shootout loses.
Although injuries have hamstrung (no pun intended) the Flyers all season, this week gives the Flyers and Bryzgalov a crucial opportunity to prove to the fans, the media, and the rest of the NHL if they’re for real or for fake.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.