The numbers are ugly when you look at them in a vacuum: .847 save percentage and 4.19 goals against average in eight games in what would be his final NHL season.
ProHockeyTalk reports Ilya Bryzgalov telling HC Lada of the KHL's official website that he could retire within the next month and a half. The two-time former Anaheim Ducks goalie reportedly "doesn't see himself signing with a KHL team, but didn't want to rule it out either." So would close the career of a Stanley Cup champion who saw success in his early years with both the Mighty and Anaheim Ducks, earned the starters reins in Phoenix for four years before signing a mega-bucks deal and being chewed up and spat out by the media in Philadelphia.
Blogs have predictably had fun with Bryzgalov's impending choice, and considering his multitude of memorable moments of candor and humor with the media it brings back happy memories. But for all the talk of his time with the Flyers where tigers, the universe, and thermoses seemed the dominant discussion points, and the moments of amusement with the Oilers and Wild, fans would be well served to remember how Bryzgalov began his 465 game NHL career. He was an integral part of two of the best playoff runs in Anaheim history.
Build Up To Backup
Drafted in the second round, 44th overall by the Mighty Ducks in 2000, Bryzgalov came as a touted prospect from Lada Togliatti in Russia thanks in part to a pair of high quality showings internationally in 1999-00 first in the World Junior Championship, then the World Championship. His debut with the big club came three games in to the 2001-02 season when he spelled Steve Shields for the final 32:02 of a 6-1 defeat at Air Canada Centre, stopping 11 of 12 Maple Leafs shots faced. Bryzgalov's first start with the Mighty Ducks came two seasons later, backstopping a 3-2 overtime win in Phoenix making 26 saves as Sergei Fedorov scored the winner on March 16, '04.
In the meanwhile Bryzgalov appeared in 199 regular season games with the then-AHL affiliate Cincinnati Mighty Ducks from 01-02 to 04-05, going 76-80-24 with a .913 save percentage. He was selected as Russia's third goalie at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and made a trio of starts for his country at the 04-05 World Cup of Hockey going 2-1-0 with an .897 save percentage. With Martin Gerber moving on after the 03-04 season, the back up spot behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere was primed for Bryzgalov for 05-06.
The 2006 Run
Before the Ducks developed the annoying tendency to win the division then crash out in game seven of the playoffs, Randy Carlyle's first year behind the bench saw the Mighty Ducks begin a trend that would define his tenure of the 'furious charge down the stretch' to qualify for the playoffs. No better an example of this than the 05-06 season, when Giguere backstopped the Mighty Ducks to a 14-7-1 record after the 2006 Olympic break. Bryzgalov appeared in just five games during that span going 2-1-0 as Anaheim put up the third best record in March to finish as the sixth seed, three points clear of eighth seed Edmonton. In his first full NHL year Bryz went 13-12-1 with a .910 save percentage, 2.51 goals against average and one shutout in 31 appearances.
Perhaps stemming from the heavy workload down the stretch Giguere missed game two of the first round series against Calgary due to a lower body injury, with Bryzgalov making 28 saves in his playoff debut despite the 2-1 overtime defeat to the Flames. Giguere had a clunker in game three at home (five goals against on 24 shots) but backstopped the series tying game four win. After conceding three times on eight shots in game five in Calgary, the Mighty Ducks turned to Bryzgalov again in game six and he would hold the crease for the majority of the way. 21 saves to force game seven, then 22 stops in a 3-0 game seven white wash to win the series solidified his spot.
With the complete chaos of all the lower seeded sides winning in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, it meant Anaheim began round two with home ice advantage against the seventh seeded Colorado Avalanche, and Bryzgalov continued his brilliance. 29 and 22 save shutouts in games one and two extended his run of scoreless play to second longest in NHL playoff history, ended at 249:15 when Dan Hinote scored in the first period of game three. The Mighty Ducks completed the sweep with Bryzgalov making saves on 117 of the 121 shots he faced in the series, including 40 in the 4-1 game four clincher. For comparison, Giguere made 122 saves on 123 shots in his three shutout performance in the 2003 Western Conference Final against Minnesota.
Bryzgalov came back to earth against eighth seeded Edmonton in the Western Conference Final, out-dueled by Dwayne Roloson as he allowed a pair of goals in each of the first two home games on 49 shots. The true glass slipper shattering was game three, where the Oilers roasted the rookie for five goals on 22 tries to send Bryzgalov to the bench for the remainder of the playoffs. Still, his run of form is the second best single playoff performance by a Ducks goalie in save percentage (.944) and shutouts (3), while the lowest single playoff GAA (1.46) ever.
Backup To The Cup
Giguere again took the heavy workload for the 06-07 season, appearing in 56 games to Bryzgalov's 27. However with three games remaining the in regular season Giguere's first son Maxime arrived, but with unfortunate complications. Thus it was up to Bryzgalov to hold the fort heading in to the playoffs, and he responded with some of his best play of the season making 100 saves on 106 shots over the final three games of the regular season. With the seventh seed Wild waiting in the first round Bryz gave the Ducks everything they needed to take the first three games of the series; 24, 30, and 19 stop performances while allowing four goals over the stretch. In the six games where there was the most pressure and question on him for the season Bryzgalov turned in a .945 save percentage.
Minnesota took game four of the series scoring four times on 36 shots, leading to Giguere's return and reassumption of his starting role. Bryz would make just one more appearance in the postseason, spelling Giguere in a gong show game three loss to the Red Wings in the Western Conference Final. Still, when all was said and done and the magical evening of June 6, 2007 took place there was Bryzgalov hoisting the Stanley Cup, a reward well earned as a clutch backup during the best two-year run of playoff success in Anaheim history.
A Deserved Spot In History
The Ducks did right by Bryzgalov the following season, waiving him so he'd have the opportunity to become a starter which he did over the next four seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. Twice Bryzgalov lead the Coyotes to the playoffs, compiling a 130-93-27 record with a .917 save percentage in 257 regular season starts with the club. He's the Coyote franchise leader in regular season wins, tied with Nikolai Khabibulin for most shutouts (21), and third in saves (7,062).
Scaling out further, Bryzgalov has the third most regular season wins by a Russian goalie in NHL history (221), starts (465), shutouts (34), playoff wins (20), playoff starts (47), and playoff shutouts (4). He and Khabibulin are also the only Russian goalies to hoist the Stanley Cup. While many may take the moment of the end of his professional hockey career to mark more comedic moments, it's important to remember the place Bryzgalov earned in NHL history over his 14 year career; there are few from his country who have done it as well for as long, and with such flair.
Ilya Bryzgalov will always cause a reaction amongst hockey fans. In Anaheim the final moments will not be what he is remembered for. Few Mighty or Anaheim Ducks goalies made as indelible a mark in the young history of the franchise.