While most of the eyes around the NHL were turned towards Madison Square Garden and the return of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia Flyers' goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was setting a new record for the longest shutout streak in franchise history.
Bryzgalov fell just short of his fourth consecutive shutout, but he did hold the New York Islanders off the scoreboard until late in the third period to lead the Flyers to a 3-2 victory at Nassau Coliseum. The netminder blanked the opposition for 249:43, which eclipsed the mark previously held by John Vanbiesbrouck (227:40) in 1999.
Staked to a 3-0 lead on first period tallies by Zac Rinaldo and Claude Giroux and a second period goal by Scott Hartnell, the Flyers entered the late stages of the third period looking like another shutout could be in the cards. But after a 35 second span that began at the 13:30 mark, Philadelphia wasn't just attempting to help their goalie to a fourth straight whitewashing, they were trying to just hold on for the win and an important two points in the standings.
Michael Grabner snapped Bryzgalov's shutout streak with 6:30 remaining in regulation when he got separation from defenseman Braydon Coburn and made a spectacular play to reach out one-handed and redirect Mark Streit's point shot past the Flyers' back stop for his 16th goal of the season, and cut the Philly lead to 3-1.
Just a half a minute later, John Tavares got away from Coburn in the slot and took a pass from the right wing corner from straight and one-timed a shot behind Bryzgalov for his 31st of the year, cutting the Philadelphia lead to just one with 5:55 left in the third. It was the fourth straight game with at least one goal for Tavares.
Bryzgalov finished the contest with 29 saves in winning his seventh consecutive decision and eighth in the last nine, and has allowed just four goals in his last six games. He is now 29-13-6 for the season.
Rinaldo opened the scoring at 8:41 of the first when he chased down a Sean Couturier pass and sent a wrist shot from the left wing corner at the goal line that somehow found its way past a startled Evgeni Nabokov for his second goal of the season. The goal was the 51st scored by a Flyers' rookie this season.
Giroux added top the lead just under four minutes later, setting a new personal-best with his 26th goal of the season. The Flyers' leading scorer is third in the NHL in points with 82, just two behind Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos, and three short of leader Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hartnell would make it a three-goal lead just over seven minutes into the second period when he chased down a Kimmo Timonen pass and on a partial breakaway, rifled a shot over Nabokov's glove hand for his 33rd goal of the season, also establishing a new career-high.
Nabokov dropped his fourth consecutive decision (0-2-2), and fell to 16-18-3 for the year.
With Philadelphia's win and the Pens' win over the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh is within four points of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference leaders, and the Flyers are just six back of the top spot.
Just in time for the stretch run, and it should be a fantastic battle.