LESS THAN 7 minutes into last night's game, the Flyers announced that big-money goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was named the NHL's First Star of the Week.

The Wells Fargo Center roared with congratulatory pleasure.

Bryzgalov ignored them.

It did not affect his play.

He stoned Ilya Kovalchuk twice on the ensuing Devils power play. In the game's waning moments, Bryzgalov lost his goalie stick, snared a teammate's stick . . . and made a stick save.

It was goaltending genius.

Bryzgalov shut out the Devils, 3-0. He tied John Vanbiesbrouck's team record with a third straight shutout, accomplished in October 1999. His shutout streak of 196 minutes, 13 seconds is 31:28 shy of Beezer's mark.

"Thanks for letting me know," Bryzgalov said, coldly.

Asked if he played this well for his previous team in Phoenix, he replied, "I don't want to talk about me."

So, is he enjoying this ride?

"When teams win, everybody has a great time."

He has four shutouts in his last five starts, but Bryzgalov generally looks as joyful as a bone-marrow donor.

And that's too bad.

Bryzgalov is playing to the level of his 9-year, $51 million contract he agreed to in June. He should be happy. It is his nature. He's got a wholesome smile; his eyes crinkle at their edges like a paper fan.

He should be sharing more of his discoveries about the cosmos and its calamities, the way he did months ago on HBO's annual "24/7" documentary of the Winter Classic teams. He should be joining arms with lefthander Cole Hamels as Philadelphia's wonderful weirdos.

Instead, resentful of a demanding fan base and a critical press corps, Bryzgalov toils in rigid stoicism.

Inconsistency early in the season and his accompanying candor cast him as . . . unusual. Hockey brass, hockey writers and hockey fans abhor the unusual.

His teammates understand.

Danny Briere starred in Buffalo before he came to Philadelphia. Kimmo Timonen was a big deal in little Nashville before landing with the Flyers. Each has gone through droughts in Philadelphia. Each is an assistant captain.

They led a contingent of veterans who, last month, sat down with Bryzgalov. They asked him if they could help him. They told him to stop worrying about himself. They encouraged him to play loosely.

"It's not easy to come from a different team with totally different expectations. It's worse as a goalie. That's 50-60 percent of your team," Timonen said. "In Phoenix, there's not much media . . . The pressure is very different here than it is in Phoenix. Maybe that's one of those things he had to learn: how to handle the media, that kind of stuff."

Maybe the meeting turned it. Maybe it was something else.

Since then, Timonen said, Bryzgalov has been . . . happy?

"I can only tell you what I see. To me, he looks happy and comfortable," Timonen said. "He's been carrying us the last couple of weeks. That's what good goalies do."

"Bryz was happy coming to the rink at the beginning of the season, too," coach Peter Laviolette pointed out.

Not everyone sees a happy Bryz.

"I'm sure, inside, he is [happy]," Briere said. "I'm sure it's special for him."

He should enjoy it. He is 8-2-1 in his last 12 starts. He entered last night with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.

The signing of Bryzgalov marked a seismic change in philosophy for the Flyers, desperate to win again for benevolent owner Ed Snider while Snider still can enjoy it. The Flyers built themselves for 2011-12 around this Franchise Goalie.

This is like the Eagles building around a Pro Bowl middle linebacker.

Right now, the Franchise Goalie is the best player in the franchise. Bryzgalov should be effervescent.

He denies himself that indulgence. Why?

He doesn't want any more blame. He doesn't want any more boos.

He understands that being "different," as Laviolette called him on "24/7," is dangerous. Individuality makes you a target; soldiers wear the same uniform in part to keep the enemy snipers from telling officers from enlisted men.

For now, Bryzgalov just wants to blend in.

"From hate to love in one step . . . Then, the same in the other direction," Bryzgalov observed of the Flyers' demanding, if impatient, fan base.

That was Thursday. He had just shut out the Panthers, a game in which he claimed that he did not hear the fans chanting his name. Ridiculous: If a gnat sneezed in Voorhees and it sounded like "Bryzgalov," Bryzgalov would hear it.

He craves acceptance and adulation. That is normal.

Over his first 35 starts, when soft goals, criticism of his defense and strange observations of the world in which he lives panicked the organization and the fan base, Bryzgalov neither was accepted nor adored.

He was blamed. Now, he is worshipped. He fears a reversal of favor.

He is sensitive, intelligent, inquisitive.

While his teammates are comparing computer games and crossbows, Bryzgalov is pondering the plight of endangered species. In China.

OK, so, he might have a wire loose. So what? He can play.

Recently, Laviolette pointed out the defense's improved play as the action comes closer to the net and the team's newfound proficiency at rebounds. This improvement coincides with the addition of defensive defensemen Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossmann.

So, too, does Bryzgalov's increased aggressiveness. He leaves the paint, shrinks angles, makes the shooters commit.

He has nothing to lose. Maybe that's why he's playing so well.

Unfortunately, now, he's gun-shy.

Ask him something innocent, like, say, how he feels. He will tell you he doesn't know. Really.

Little wonder he will no longer give us anything of himself.

At the end of the "24/7" snippet, Bryzgalov considers the volatile state of the heavens and advises:

"Don't worry. Be happy, right now."

Excellent advice.