The Philadelphia Flyers had a much different first half of their season than most expected. While their record may have exceeded expectations, Flyers fans like myself didn't expect them to get it the way they did. We didn't anticipate Claude Giroux becoming an MVP favorite, or that Philadelphia would get to where it is in spite of Ilya Bryzgalov, not because of him.
Sergei Bobrovsky was ready to be dismissed after he failed to be the Flyers' goalie savior following the 2010-11 midseason. His early success didn't hold up then, which has to make us weary that he can have a terrific second half this season - especially since it may be very necessary. But he started this second half at full strength against the New York Islanders on Jan. 12, as Philadelphia started its second string of 41 games with a 3-2 win.
Bobrovsky started and won his second straight game, as Bryzgalov hasn't gotten off the bench since giving up four third-period goals to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 8. Following that loss, Bobrovsky turned away 35 shots, 14 of which came in the third period, to knock off the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 10. Then to follow that up, he stopped 33 more Islanders shots and shut them down for two periods before a few third period slipups.
Before then, Bobrovsky was perfect while the Flyers built up a 2-0 lead on goals from Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. Yet after the Islanders cut the lead in half in the first minute of the final frame, Bobrovsky and Philadelphia stood back up until Sean Couturier sealed the win with 90 seconds to go. Although the Islanders got close again by scoring with 16 seconds left, it was too little, too late by then.
The Flyers were fortunate to face two straight teams that they've practically been undefeated against in the last several years. This was the 26'th win in the last 28 games against New York's last place team, and this one helped Philadelphia get back to within two points of New York's first place team in the Rangers. It shouldn't have taken much to beat the Hurricanes and Islanders, yet Bobrovsky was the big difference - and not Bryzgalov.
With the second half of the year now under way, the Flyers are facing goaltending questions that they thought they were finally finished asking. If Bobrovsky peters out in the later months again, there will be no safety net for Philadelphia as it still waits for Bryzgalov to get hot and stay hot.
The Flyers can't afford to wait much longer for that to happen - and it is clear that they have to depend on Bobrovsky to buy them more time. Fortunately, his work in the last two wins suggests that they might have a little time to play with after all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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