At the start of this Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes, it wasn’t that hard to guess that Ilya Bryzgalov would be the most important player in the series. If the Coyotes were going to upset the Wings, he was going to be the reason.
Bryzgalov was indeed the most important player, but not for the reason anyone would have predicted.
Detroit finished the sweep with a 6-3 win Wednesday night, scoring five goals on the Phoenix netminder and adding an empty net goal. Bryzgalov allowed four goals in each of the previous three games. In short, he failed his team. In retrospect, the result shouldn’t be a surprise.
All four games were hard-fought, each closer than the series as a whole ended up. If goaltending had come through for the Coyotes, this is a different series.
I’m not trying to throw Bryzgalov under the bus, his team could have limited Detroit’s chances better and taken more advantage of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who was giving up rebounds and bobbling the puck more than he probably wanted to. It’s just that it was known going in that Bryzgalov would have to steal games – it was almost expected that he would – and he didn’t come close to that.
As for Game Four from the Detroit perspective… Damn, the grinders were out tonight. The first Patrick Eaves goal sums up this series to me. Darren Helm banged the puck loose, took it himself for the shot, and Eaves drove to the net to knock it in. It was about physicality and taking advantage of the chances you get.