Forgive me for completely taking a 180 degree turn when it comes to my thoughts on the Minnesota Wild’s goaltending situation. Just three weeks ago, I was exclaiming that Darcy Kuemper has to be the guy moving forward. The most recent piece I posted claimed that if Josh Harding is healthy he deserves the nod in the playoffs. Today, I’m going to say something that just over a month ago I never would have imagined. Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starting goalie for the Wild from here on out.
“Mr. Universh” is simply on fire. Several months removed from being a free agent and out of a dreadful goaltending situation in Edmonton, He has caught fire with the Minnesota Wild. Although shaky at times in the first couple games with his new club, Bryzgalov has adapted to a more defensive minded system that limits the amount of shots he sees on a nightly basis. To point out the obvious, less shots on goal means less room for error and fewer goals.
The Minnesota Wild’s defense deserve a lot of credit, but Bryzgalov has stood tall when called upon. Consecutive shutouts against Sidney Crosby and the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins as well as the rival Winnipeg Jets has the goalie brimming with confidence. That confidence is something he has experienced little of since signing a 9-year, $51 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Some might even go as far as saying that confidence has turned into swagger. With a 1-0 lead late in the third period against Winnipeg, the Jets faithful began raining down the chant “Ilya” “Ilya” “Ilya” in an attempt to get inside his head. To the surprise of many, Bryzgalov laughed, made a quick pad stop and started waving his arms, encouraging them to get louder. While Bryzgalov is a light-hearted and extremely easy going individual, that action showed some of the swagger he has been devoid of for several years.
Consider Bryzgalov’s situation. He joined the Wild with everything to gain and nothing to lose. His contract is up after this season and, at first, there was little assumption he would be back in the fold next year. He has no pressure to live up to a huge contract like he had with the Flyers. His performance has shown the Wild and other teams around the league that he still has what it takes to be a respectable goalie in the NHL.
Bryzgalov’s impressive performance has come at the perfect time for the team that has gone through more goalies this season than a mini-mite team with rotating goalie duty. I still stand by the fact that Minnesota will need a monster effort between the pipes to advance past the first round. Bryzgalov has taken the reigns and all but secured that job moving forward. With the Wild almost guaranteed a playoff spot, it can now start thinking about what team it matches up with best. Regardless of who Minnesota plays, Ilya Bryzgalov’s play will need to be “humongous big.”