Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: New Jersey Devils Are in Ilya Bryzgalov's Head

Carl StoffersCorrespondent IIMay 4, 2012

Bryzgalov: Better than a monkey.
Bryzgalov: Better than a monkey.

Space. The final frontier. A vast, soundless, empty void containing low-density plasma, hydrogen and helium that exists outside our atmosphere. And between the ears of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Perhaps this explains his preoccupation with the universe and the occasional monkey in outer space.

The sea of cosmic intergalactic geospace that is the Philadelphia netminder's mind contains more than trace elements, gases, black holes and the occasional space-traveling primate.

After being relentlessly peppered by the New Jersey offense, it harbors massive supercharged particles of Kovalchuk, streaking Elias comets, electromagnetic Parise and a host of other matter. In fact, the mystery that is Bryzgalov's play in this series has been as baffling as astrophysics and leaves us wondering whether he's truly seeing stars. Or monkeys. Or just Devils.

Of course, Bryzgalov isn't solely at fault for the 2-1 hole his Flyers find themselves in after dropping Game 3 in overtime versus the Devils, but the inconsistency in his play has been noteworthy. As each game unfolds, the sense is that if New Jersey continues to forecheck and put shots on net, eventually, they will get to Bryzgalov. It's a strategy that has served Peter DeBoer and his squad well.

Entering the Eastern Conferences semifinal matchup with Philly, Bryzgalov was a goaltender that gave New Jersey fits, stopping 75 of 76 shots in three starts and one relief appearance in the regular season. Through the first three games of this series, the Devils have scored 10 goals on 91 shots, leading many to question whether the they've gotten in the enigmatic goalie's head.

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette appears to be more concerned with his team's sputtering offense, specifically the power play, than the psyche of his goalie. When asked how concerned he was about Bryzgalov's play, he responded, "Why? I don't think he struggled tonight."

The Devils, meanwhile, are clicking on all cylinders, getting contributions from the usual suspects—Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk—as well as some unexpected players, like Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Knowing that the shots are flying fast and furious, and can come from anywhere, has to be weighing on Bryzgalov as he looks toward Game 4 on Sunday. If he continues to struggle, he will be just another in a long line of Flyers goalies to inexplicably fade in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

On the bright side, he's always got that career as an astronaut to fall back on.