CHICAGO -- Ask Wild players about goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and they can't help but smile.
"He's easygoing, funny, always positive," center Charlie Coyle said. "Everyone loves to be around him."
The 33-year-old Russian was deemed by Bleacher Report to be the fourth "wackiest" goalie in NHL history, a student of philosophy with a mellow vibe who once said: "It's only game, why you heff to be mad?"
But things got serious in the Wild's playoff series victory over the Avalanche. Bryzgalov started twice and lost both times, allowing eight goals before being pulled.
So even with Wild starter Darcy Kuemper injured for Game 1 and probably beyond, it was no sure thing Bryzgalov would get the call against the Blackhawks.
Coach Mike Yeo summoned Bryzgalov, a veteran of five teams, and he fared respectably in the 5-2 loss. Sure, he allowed four goals on the 21 shots he faced, but how many goalies could have denied the Hawks on this night?
"I have no problem with the way he played," Yeo said. "This is a talented team that doesn't need 30 opportunities to put five in the net. We have to do a better job of eliminating the quality opportunities. It's tough when you're giving up backdoor plays in front of your net."
Bryzgalov, though, was not pleased with his play, saying: "How can you be satisfied with losing?"
The Hawks' final goal against him looked like something from a video game -- a Patrick Sharp blast, deflected by Ben Smith to an all-alone Patrick Kane, who fed the quasi-empty net.
Bryzgalov appeared shell-shocked.
The Hawks' third goal also came from Kane, who beat Bryzgalov with a lofted backhand from a sharp angle. Is there much Bryzgalov could have done to stop it?
"I should have put myself in a different position in the net," he said, "but that was a hell of a shot."
In the first period, Bryzgalov made an excellent save on a Niklas Hjalmarsson blast. He gloved a top-shelf wrister from Marian Hossa. Smith pulled a 360 and a fired a point-blank shot but was denied.
But he could not withstand the Hawks' four-minute power play. Brent Seabrook fired from the point and Bryan Bickell redirected the shot into the net. Not much any goalie could have done.
Then Michal Handzus and Brandon Bollig crashed the net, sending the 6-foot-3, 213-pound goalie across the goal line while he had the puck covered up. A replay review revealed that officials had blown the play dead.
Boos rained down from the fans. Bryzgalov, after studying the replay on the United Center video board, must have felt relief. He stopped 12 of 13 shots in the period.
"I think everybody's comfortable with him," Coyle said of Bryzgalov before the game. "Literally, nothing fazes him."
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