PITTSBURGH - Ilya Bryzgalov knows better than anyone that in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a goalie can be one of two things. There is no gray area, no in-between.
You either stop the puck, or you don't. You either win, or you go home. It's a polarizing position for a polarizing personality.
"Goalies have two ways to be," Bryzgalov famously said last spring. "To be a hero. To be a goat. I am goat."
For three games this series, Bryzgalov's Flyers teammates circled around him at the buzzer to congratulate him as the hero. On Wednesday night, Bryzgalov was the goat.
Bryzgalov has allowed 17 goals in a little more than 10 periods of work. He'd love nothing more than to be the hero, the one at the front of the traditional handshake line after Game 5 Friday night at Consol Energy Center, should he be able to keep the Penguins at bay for one more game. It would be his first playoff series win in 3 years.
Even after getting pulled in Game 4, Bryzgalov will be one or the other on Friday night. NBC10's Howard Eskin reported on Thursday that Bryzgalov suffered a hip injury in Game 4 and will be a game-time decision in Pittsburgh.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren rebuffed the report, saying it had "no truth." Bryzgalov practiced for a little more than 10 minutes on Thursday before leaving the ice, something not out of the ordinary. He was unavailable to the media post-practice.
The Flyers say they feel no different about Bryzgalov than they did on Monday. Truth be told, the Flyers know the loss should not be pinned on Bryzgalov - but rather themselves - after a shoddy, turnover-laden defensive effort.
"It's not the goalie's fault," Jaromir Jagr said. "It's the whole team's fault. There are turnovers, and their whole team attacks the net. They keep coming. We as forwards need to backcheck every time, need to do a better job."
The Flyers are 19-2 all-time in best-of-seven series they have led 3-1. New Jersey (2000) and Washington (1988) are the only two losses. The Flyers have closed out the series 14 times in 21 tries in Game 5 with a 3-to-1 lead.
Neither Marc-Andre Fleury nor Bryzgalov has been even the slightest bit impressive in this series-long skills competition. Both goalies know the stats and the stakes - and they entered the series knowing these stats were the likely outcome.
Fleury has a 5.43 goals-against average and an .817 save percentage. Bryzgalov is slightly better with a 4.95 goals-against average and .844 save percentage.
Yet, the chatter heading into Game 5 is that Fleury finally found confidence with a 22-save performance in which the Flyers waved a white flag in the second period.
"At that point, Bryz needed to come out," coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday when asked about his goaltending. "He'd seen five goals, I don't know what it was, 22 minutes. That's enough for him. He's been carrying the load for us."
On Thursday, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma pointed to two saves in the second and third period that might boost Fleury's ego. The score was 9-3 at that point.
"Whether they meant a ton to the score or not, I think they were big saves for Marc," Bylsma said.
The same theory, then, holds true for Bryzgalov. What was lost, if anything, can be found in the first 2 minutes on Friday.
Bryzgalov has been far from great in this series. Thus far, he's made the key saves in the game's biggest moments. The Flyers do not win Games 1 and 2 without timely stops. In a series that might never slow down to that defensive battle everyone envisions in the playoffs, that's all that matters. It doesn't have to be pretty. A hero can still look like a goat.
"[Our confidence] hasn't changed," defenseman Matt Carle said. "A lot of those goals, I don't think there was a whole lot he could do on them. You take it in stride. It's just one game. It's one of those things where, we're still up, 3-1. If you told us we'd be up, 3-1, we would have a smile on our face today."