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Goalie steers away taunts

Bryzgalov thanks crowd for 'hospitality' in long-awaited jeer-fest

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As expected, Ilya Bryzgalov received a warm welcome to Winnipeg Tuesday night.

Before the Philadelphia Flyers left the MTS Centre with two points, the story of the night was predetermined to be their eccentric goaltender, who lived up to the advance billing with some erratic play contained within a big save or two.

You might remember Bryzgalov from last spring, when he wasn't too keen on signing in Winnipeg because it didn't have enough parks for his liking. Locals took that as a slight and when the Russian netminder finally took his crease for the first time in Winnipeg, the nature-starved and outdoors-hating Jets faithful took to song.

ILL-EE-AH, ILL-EE-AH, ILL-EE-AH, ILL-EE-AH -- and so on and so forth.

"I like it. It was a great atmosphere," Bryzgalov said after the Flyers beat the Jets. "I wish every building was as supportive as that. It's nice to hear cheering, 'Ilya, Ilya... ' I never heard it before, anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it's very impressive.

"Here, they cheer me. In Philly, they boo me," he laughed.

That's right, Jets fans: Bryzgalov thought you were cheering FOR him.

In some other universe, maybe he was right.

On the ice, Bryzgalov had no one in Flyer orange laughing Tuesday night. He let in two soft goals; one an unscreened, along-the-ice point shot from Dustin Byfuglien in the first period and the second a fluttering wrister from Evander Kane that bounced off his glove and into the net.

"There was probably a couple he would have liked to have back," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, adding Bryzgalov made a huge glove save in the third period off Andrew Ladd when the Jets were up a goal.

One thinks Bryzgalov was putting the media on a bit after the game but in all honesty, knowing his past verbal ventures into the Twilight Zone, it was really hard to tell. When asked if he felt like this whole 'Winnipeg vs. Crazy Goaltender' thing is over, he had this to say:

"I like to play here. It's very entertaining. I want to say thank you for the nice hospitality."

Funny stuff. Or just very, very weird.

JONESING: He wouldn't come right out and say it -- he's been around long enough to know better -- but it's been a difficult year for Randy Jones.

Jones, 30, made his fourth consecutive appearance in the Jets lineup against the Flyers Tuesday night, a personal streak that comes on the heels of sitting out seven straight as a healthy scratch.

Though he's found his way of late, stretches like the latter are tough for experienced players to compute.

"A nine-month season, there are always ups and downs," the eight-year veteran offered Tuesday morning. "It comes with the game and it comes with the job."

The NHL's first season back in the Manitoba capital has been one to forget for the New Brunswick product. The reliable rearguard has been in 26 of Winnipeg's 62 games this season, missing 24 games due to injury. He's also been a healthy scratch a dozen times.

Now, with an injured Zach Bogosian looking closer and closer to returning to the lineup (his status was given a resounding 'we'll see' designation by the club for Thursday's game against Tampa Bay), Jones could find himself on the outside looking in again.

"You want to play. And when you're not playing, yeah, you're pissed off and whatnot, but you need to be able to control that," said Jones. "That's something I've learned along the way and I've tried to do this year."

SCREEN MAN: The debate on where Dustin Byfuglien should play developed a new wrinkle Tuesday when Noel told reporters he has considered using the 6-5, 265-pound defenceman in front of the opposition net during power plays.

"If you look at the last game (Sunday vs. Colorado), he parked himself in front of the net there, which gave me a little bit of anxiety," the coach said, reiterating a common complaint about Byfuglien's roaming game. "I had heart palpitations when that was happening, because I thought: If you're up there, who's back?"

Using Byfuglien as a screen creates a hole on the power-play point, Noel said, and he would rather keep the 26-year-old's big shot at the blue-line. Noel said he's broached the subject with his defenceman earlier this year.

"He's not averse to it. He'll do what's necessary for the team."

The Jets did not deploy Buff up front Tuesday night and scored three power-play goals, including one from Byfuglien.

PHITTING IN: Trading a handful of draft picks for veteran defencemen Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossman last week marked the start of an annual Philadelphia tradition: being active buyers near or at the NHL trade deadline.

"When you talk about a playoff run and how much depth you need in those situations, it's nice to add a couple veteran pieces like that," Flyers coach Laviolette said of the moves.

The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m.

For those curious, scouts from six NHL clubs had spots in the MTS Centre's press box Tuesday night.

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2012 D3

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