Before we start, let's make a couple of things clear. I hold these truths to be self-evident:
1. For the first five months of the season, Bryzgalov was terrible. Not just mediocre, terrible. As in, not-starting-caliber terrible. And he was at his worst against the Bruins and Rangers. So he earned every word of derision he got during that time.
2. Six games does not a season make. As phenomenal as he has looked--and I watch just about every game, and he has truly been superb--none of this matters if he doesn't sustain it through the playoffs. He doesn't need to post four shutouts every six games, but he does need to sustain the success he's had in the second half as a whole.
That said, I'm rooting for the guy. Because of all the negative press I've given him, it may seem like I don't want him to succeed. But I do, because like any other team, these Flyers are going to need strong performance from their goaltender if they want to contend for a Cup.
Since the All Star break, Bryzgalov has gone 11-3-2 with a 1.67 GAA and a .937 SV%. By comparison, for the season, Henrik Lundqvist is 32-14-5 with a 1.88 GAA and a .935 SV%.
Granted, Lundqvist is running away with the Vezina race right now, but the point is that the kind of play the Flyers have gotten from Bryzgalov in the last month is the kind of play the Rangers have enjoyed from Lundqvist all season. That's how a franchise goaltender plays, and that's how you earn $51 million.
But in four full NHL seasons prior to this one, Bryzgalov has posted a GAA below 2.44 just once. So it's far from clear that he can sustain this kind of performance long-term.
If he does, and particularly if he helps carry the Flyers in the playoffs, then I'll owe him an apology. But if we see him swing back the other way, and start letting in bad goals and getting in his own head, then I'll be more right than ever.
As usual, the ball is in Bryzgalov's court (or is the puck in Bryzgalov's zone?). Until he wins a Stanley Cup or that contract expires, he's always going to be on the hot seat.
If he keeps playing well, I'll be the first to congratulate him. But if he doesn't, then we're paying him too much to be a detriment to this team.