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Bryzgalov is a nice safety net for Ducks

Times Staff Writer

Two days after the Ducks’ Ilya Bryzgalov mopped up in goal in the Game 3 rout by Detroit last week, he seemed to be caught off guard when asked to talk to a reporter.

“Interview for what? For allowing two goals?” said Bryzgalov, the locker room comic relief specialist for the Ducks. “Not good start for me. But I thought that I played awesome after I gave up that quick goal.”

Bryzgalov got the call after No. 1 goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was pulled 3 minutes 17 seconds into the second period of the Western Conference playoff game.

With the Ducks trailing, 3-0, Coach Randy Carlyle made the switch “to shake things up,” he said later. Bryzgalov responded by giving up a goal 17 seconds after he entered the game.

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“It [happened] so fast. Maybe I would have done better if I had more time to stretch and make some quick movements,” Bryzgalov said even before being asked about his last playoff effort. “But that’s the goaltender’s job. You focus on being ready because you can go in at any time.”

When the Ducks take on the Ottawa Senators beginning Monday in the Stanley Cup finals, they will take the ice with arguably the NHL’s best one-two goaltender punch in Giguere and Bryzgalov, who have proved themselves in the playoffs.

But Bryzgalov for now can only wait for another chance.

“It’s huge to have two guys like we have,” forward Dustin Penner said. “Jiggy is the ultimate competitor and Bryz has all the skills in the world. We’re not afraid to put either goalie in the net. They are both big-time players.”

Over the last two years, Bryzgalov has experienced the highs and lows that playoff hockey can offer for a backup goalie. He’s been to the penthouse -- when he registered the second-longest shutout streak in NHL playoff history last year -- to the basement -- he’s been pulled in two of his last four postseason starts.

Through it all, Bryzgalov said he has enjoyed every moment.

“I love this time of year. It is just the best,” said Bryzgalov, who has a 9-5 record in 16 playoff appearances over the last two seasons. “Summertime and you’re still playing.... You know that you are going against the best players.”

Bryzgalov made his playoff debut last spring, stepping in for an injured and ineffective Giguere in the first round against Calgary.

“Hot” fails to describe what came next. Bryzgalov helped the Ducks advance, when many thought they were finished. And in the next round, his astonishing ability to stop the puck fueled the Ducks’ sweep of Colorado.

In the process, Bryzgalov matched Frank McCool’s NHL rookie record with three consecutive shutouts and helped put the Ducks in the Western Conference finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Giguere, meanwhile, was patience personified, waiting for another turn and cheering Bryzgalov.

And then it happened.

Bryzgalov lost the first three games against Edmonton and Giguere was back in net.

“I didn’t know him well last year, but that run he had in the playoffs was impressive,” defenseman Sean O’Donnell said of Bryzgalov. “I think that success gave him a lot of confidence. He learned that he can play and excel in this league.”

Bryzgalov led the NHL in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts during the 2006 playoffs and was rewarded with a two-year contract last summer. He began this season ready for more playing time.

But Giguere was back to form and Bryzgalov ended up playing in only 27 regular-season games.

Then this year’s playoffs began against Minnesota, but Giguere had been forced to the sideline after the birth of his first child. The boy, who is doing fine now, was born with a deformed eye, which put Giguere on an emotional roller coaster.

Carlyle started Bryzgalov.

The 26-year-old Russian had three straight victories. Then, in Game 4 against the Wild, he gave up three unanswered third-period goals and was replaced by Giguere.

“When Jiggy couldn’t go against Minnesota, Bryz came in and played great,” O’Donnell said. “He helped us get off to a good start in the playoffs.”

By the time the Ducks faced Detroit, Bryzgalov was entrenched as the backup again.

“Now is all about team,” he said. “Coach knows that we’re all professionals and it’s our job to keep ourselves ready and in good shape no matter what. It’s the goalie’s job to play when called to play. And when I don’t play, be ready when called again.”

That call came in Game 3 against the Red Wings, but Bryzgalov had barely put his water bottle down when Tomas Holmstrom scored.

“Randy was trying to get us to snap out of the funk we were in, but that’s really tough for Bryz to come in like that,” Penner said. “We were playing bad and he came in and was hung out to dry with that first quick one.”

Bryzgalov stopped 13 of the next 14 shots, but that’s been it.

“I started playoffs and I gave the team the best that I can and right now, Jiggy is playing,” Bryzgalov said. “He plays well and we’re winning. So, it is the right decision. If something changes, I will be ready to play. I will give the best performance that I can.

“But for sure, I am looking for the next opportunity. That would be nice.”

And if it doesn’t happen and the Ducks win the Cup, Bryzgalov would not have a problem.

“No way,” he said. “It does not say goalie wins Stanley Cup. It is the team that wins Stanley Cup and I’m part of team. That’s what is most important.”

lonnie.white@latimes.com


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