When the Pittsburgh Penguins won their 11th straight game after clobbering the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, they are now challenging the New York Rangers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. All the Penguins' success as of late had overshadowed the Philadelphia Flyers' five-game winning streak until it came to an end against the Devils last Sunday. While the streak may be over, the confidence is back in a big way for the Flyers.
Ilya Bryzgalov has become the man Flyers fans and the Philadelphia front office hoped for all season, setting the Flyers' record for consecutive shutout minutes with 249:43 until Michael Grabner scored on him in Thursday's win over the Islanders. In the past seven games Bryzgalov has started, he's posted four shutouts and has gone 7-0. With the Russian net-minder getting hot late in the season, Philadelphia can hopefully ride his play and soaring confidence into the playoffs. Bryzgalov has gained more support from the fans as well as they chanted his name and he responded with an enthusiastic: "Yeah, I heard. Thank you for the support."
Maybe Bryzgalov's response was not full of excitement, but there is no doubt his confidence is back. Over the seven-game span, Bryzgalov's goals against average is a minuscule 1.01 and his save percentage is .966. If he continues to play at this high of a level, the Flyers will go a long way into the postseason this spring.
Along with the stellar goaltending, the Flyers have had no problems scoring goals this year, something many fans worried about in the offseason. The Flyers rank first and fifth respectively in goals per game (3.2) and power play percentage (19.6). Led by All-Star center Claude Giroux, the Flyers rack up goals with ease, and although Giroux is the far-and-away points leader for this team (82), the Flyers spread the wealth when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Four players have more than 40 points on the season with five more surpassing 30 points.
With each player knowing his role and good chemistry among the offensive lines, the Flyers are an opposing goaltender's worst nightmare. Giroux can make any pass from any place on the ice, helping to significantly improve the play of his linemates in Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell. Hartnell has enjoyed the most productive season in his 11-year career, registering 35 goals and 64 points overall. Giroux has also accounted for the resurgence of Jagr, who is enjoying a 47-point season. Still, the presence and work ethic of Jagr in the Flyers' locker room has undoubtedly helped younger players to develop and build confidence.
There is also a strong mix of veteran leadership and young talent on the Flyers, which has helped build team chemistry and experience. The emergence of rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier have brought both an offensive and defensive boost to the club with both players serving on the second forward line for the Philadelphia penalty kill. The Flyers' younger core has helped shoulder much of the load all season when injuries have sidelined players like Chris Pronger and James Van Riemsdyk.
The Rangers, Bruins and Penguins (in recent weeks) have been receiving so much media attention, the Flyers are currently skating below the radar in the Eastern Conference. The seemingly "no love" mentality has helped these Flyers right the ship and in the last few weeks thanks to the glare of the Eastern Conference spotlight focused on other teams.
As the Rangers and Bruins have struggled as of late, the door has been left wide open for the Flyers to move up in the conference standings and make a push for a Cup. Sunday's huge 3-2 overtime win over the Penguins has not only broken Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak, but the confidence in Philadelphia is soaring to new heights.