In advance of Sunday's opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals between thePhiladelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, SB Nation New York will break down the matchup. We've already discussed the offense and defense on both teams, and just one more area remains - the men between the pipes.
For several years, the Philadelphia Flyers goalies were a who's who of veterans, rookies and underperforming goalies. In all that time, the New Jersey Devils had just one goalie - Martin Brodeur - who went on to shatter most of the goaltending records.
Despite that huge advantage, the goaltending matchup between the two teams is virtually even, with the needle quivering ever so slightly toward the Devils.
During the offseason, Philadelphia went out and inked goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract. The veteran netminder, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances with the Phoenix Coyotes, was seen as the answer to the team's goalie woes. But he had an up and down regular season, following strong performances with horrible ones. At one point, he was so bad he was the backup in the Winter Classic, watching backup Sergei Bobrovsky get the start.
Yet, for all his quirks, the Flyers netminder dominated the Devils. In three starts and one relief appearance against New Jersey, Brzygalov went 3-0-0 with two shutouts, a 0.29 goals-against average and a .987 save percentage. He allowed just one goal on 76 shots against.
To solve Bryzgalov, New Jersey's strategy is simple - get to the front of the net.
"He's a big goalie," Ilya Kovalchuk told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "He plays the butterfly style. So, we've just got to create a lot of traffic. Pittsburgh scored a lot of goals against him that way. He's a great goalie, but we've got to find a way how to score."
Bryzgalov wasn't great in the opening round, finishing with a 3.89 goals-against average and .871 save percentage in the win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He allowed 21 goals, and his offense bailed him out plenty of times. He won't be the toughest goalie New Jersey faces, but they'll need to drive the net to have success. When Brzygalov gets hot, he's nearly impossible to beat.
Brodeur, pulled in Game 3 of the first round, has responded to his critics in the first round. He saved his best performance for Game 7, stopped 43 of 45 shots to send New Jersey into the second round. The future Hall-of-Famer, who will turn 40 years old next week, enters the second round with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
He struggled against Philadelphia this season, posting a 1-3-0 record with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. Brodeur will need a few more vintage performances in this second round, as the Flyers can trot out at least three scoring lines.
If the first round showed anything about these two netminders, it put the cracks in Bryzgalov's game on display and showed Brodeur, while he did struggle, can steal a game or two in the series. That ability gives New Jersey the slight edge, and could become a key to this series.