NHL

Ducks have decisions to make on goalies Ilya Bryzgalov, John Gibson

Has Ducks goaltender John Gibson, back from minors, earned the right to stay with the big club?

They changed together in the same cramped dressing room this week — only the two of them.

Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov was grumpy, the 34-year-old goalie wanting no part of explaining why he allowed three goals on eight shots during a 6-2 Ducks' loss to the Florida Panthers, one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams.

Was it on him — because of slower reaction time brought on by age — or was it the team's ongoing defensive sloppiness?

John Gibson replaced Bryzgalov and allowed three goals too, but those were surrendered on 18 shots. It was also the 21-year-old's first game since being recalled from an extended minor-league assignment. He had been sent down around Halloween to get back in shape after suffering a groin injury.

As Bryzgalov squirmed this week, Gibson maintained his everyday expression, which falls somewhere between coy and smug.

And so, with his team gassed Thursday night — playing on getaway night to close a five-game Southern trip — Gibson started and did the heavy lifting, the Ducks defeating Carolina, 2-1, despite being outshot, 36-17.

Similar shots that got past Bryzgalov on Tuesday were blocked and gloved by Gibson two nights later.

Ducks' leading goal scorer Corey Perry said Gibson's performance was "huge."

"That first period, they threw a lot at us. Second, even more saves. He really buckled down. When a guy can come in and play like that, it's an emotional lift for everyone.

"It's tough, last game of the road trip. Kind of want to get home."

Gibson was excited about that prospect too, noting he'll "get ready for Sunday," when Anaheim (35-14-7) returns to Honda Center for a 5 p.m. game against the Washington Capitals.

Sunday will be the final game injured starting goalie Frederik Andersen (head/neck) is required to sit out on his injured-reserve stint.

Then, the Ducks will have to decide whether to keep three goalies on the roster, send Gibson back to minor-league Norfolk, Va., or perhaps shuttle Bryzgalov there. The latter move would be financially unappetizing, considering the team paid Bryzgalov $1.9 million to sign as a free agent in December.

But Bryzgalov is 1-4-1 with the Ducks, and his experience might be best served as a postseason security blanket.

Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn't tip his hand on what the team will do, declining to say something that would make Gibson "comfortable."

"We expect that kind of performance from [Gibson], that's why he started the season here," Boudreau said. "Came in, played great … great vision from a young goalie."

Does the potential of youth surpass the slippage of age?

"You're asking a question; that's not my answer," Boudreau said, deferring to General Manager Bob Murray. "We have faith, believe it or not, in all three of them. Whoever's here, we'll figure out who's going to play."

Iron horse

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano has played in 596 consecutive games dating to Oct. 24, 2007.

He skated gingerly toward the bench in the first period Thursday after getting struck hard on the right leg by a shot. He continued to play, racking up 16 minutes 28 seconds of ice time, and said afterward he was "fine."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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