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Bryzgalov keeps eye on game's sunny side // Los Angeles Times
By Eric Stephens
There are athletes who cower and shy away when the spotlight turns in their direction. Then there is Ilya Bryzgalov, who is embracing the glare like it's a long-lost friend.
The Mighty Ducks' rookie goaltender is seizing his moment in the postseason. He has won two big games to eliminate a team many thought would win the Western Conference and he became the first goalie in 13 years to pitch a Game 7 shutout.
All the while, he is smiling and joking with reporters and baffling his teammates with his carefree ways. Doesn't he know that these are the Stanley Cup playoffs?
"Bryz is in his own world," defenseman Ruslan Salei said. "He's a character."
Nervousness doesn't appear to be part of the 25-year-old's vocabulary. Forward Teemu Selanne joked before Game 7 against the Calgary Flames that Bryzgalov often doesn't know what time the game is that particular night.
As he prepared Thursday for Game 1 of the conference semifinals tonight against the Avalanche, Bryzgalov happily played along.
"I don't know what time the game is?" he asked with an inquisitive smile. "What time is the game?"
Hey, whatever works. The Ducks may be watching another rapid ascent of a talented goalie on the game's biggest stage.
Bryzgalov got the surprise nod in Game 1 against Calgary after Jean-Sebastien Giguere aggravated a lower-body injury during practice. The 6-foot-3 Russian responded with a strong, confident performance in the Ducks' 2-1 overtime loss.
As Giguere faltered in Game 5, Bryzgalov stopped all 19 shots he faced and effectively supplanted the 2003 Conn Smythe trophy winner. After the first round, he leads all goaltenders with a 0.80 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.
"He's playing really well right now," defenseman Francois Beauchemin said. "He's got a lot of confidence. We have confidence in him and that's very important."
Atoning for "mistake"
Bryzgalov is savoring this. It is in sharp contrast to his experience at the Winter Olympics.
In Russia's opening game, he gave up two goals in 29 seconds to Slovakia's Marian Gaborik and five in all in a 5-3 loss. His performance drew sharp criticism from Russian coach Vladimir Krikunov, who said it was a "mistake" to start him.
Bryzgalov didn't suit up for another game.
"I forget about the Olympic Games," he said. "It's in my past. The most important thing is my team. Most of the time, I'm here. This team pays me money to play for them and I don't care about what happened there."
That experience aside, Bryzgalov made an impression in his first full NHL season. Early in the year, he gained a number of starts as Giguere battled groin and hamstring injuries. Bryzgalov posted a four-game winning streak and overall he went 13-12-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average.
Scout eyed him early
For the 2000 draft, former Ducks general manager Pierre Gauthier traded three later- round picks to Montreal, allowing him to get Bryzgalov in the second round. Gauthier had targeted Bryzgalov after getting a strong recommendation from Alain Chainey, the club's director of amateur scouting, who first saw him play in the World Junior Championships.
"It was obvious that he had great size and athletic ability," Chainey said. "I was thinking, 'I don't want this guy to be this good right now.' Not too many scouts knew him very well because they hadn't seen him."
Chainey could tell that Bryzgalov wanted to be in the NHL.
"When we interviewed him, he obviously couldn't speak English," the scout said. "But he was laughing all the time. Sometimes, Russian kids don't smile very much and don't want to talk. He was talking all the time through the interpreter."
Bryzgalov made himself at home. When he arrived for his first NHL game on Oct. 8, 2001, he walked into a room full of reporters and bellowed, 'Helllooo, media.' He's often been known to offer fruit to some writers.
"He's a little goofy," rookie forward Ryan Getzlaf said. "He's a goalie. That's what they are."
Bryzgalov is just enjoying the ride. "Why not?" he asked. "It's more
interesting to play these games. ... You have to have fun."
7 февраля. Евгений Набоков, Илья Брызгалов: "Мы -
не конкуренты, мы - партнеры" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
6 января. Голкипер «Анахайма» Илья Брызгалов: При
чем тут Соколов? // "Советский Спорт"
12 декабря. Голкипер «Анахайма» Илья Брызгалов: Я
им не «запасной вариант»! // "Советский Спорт"
3 декабря. Илья Брызгалов: "Мне показалось, Крикунову
я не нужен" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
7 февраля. Евгений Набоков, Илья Брызгалов: "Мы - не конкуренты, мы - партнеры" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
6 января. Голкипер «Анахайма» Илья Брызгалов: При чем тут Соколов? // "Советский Спорт"
12 декабря. Голкипер «Анахайма» Илья Брызгалов: Я им не «запасной вариант»! // "Советский Спорт"
3 декабря. Илья Брызгалов: "Мне показалось, Крикунову я не нужен" // "Спорт-Экспресс"