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Ilya Bryzgalov returns to Winnipeg, where they still aren’t overly fond of him

Harrison Mooney
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In a sense, the Toronto Maple Leafs did fans of the Winnipeg Jets a favour Monday night.

With Ilya Bryzgalov in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers' visit to Toronto, and a stop in Winnipeg coming up the following night, it seemed likely that Brian Boucher would start versus the Jets Tuesday. However, after Toronto scored its fourth goal on Bryzgalov in 14 shots midway through the second period, Peter Laviolette made a goalie swap. Brian Boucher took over. He played more than half the game.

Now it seems more likely that Laviolette will go back to Bryzgalov, which is good news for Jets fans, who won't have to spend the entire game jeering the goalie who isn't playing.

Yes, Winnipeg Jets fans still don't particularly care for Ilya Bryzgalov, who famously dissed the city when there was a prospect of his Phoenix Coyotes moving there, citing the small population, the cold, and the lacks of parks as reasons he'd prefer not to go.

Bryzgalov apologized for the comments later in the year, but by then, the damage was done, and he was public enemy number one. Jets fans made sure his first visit in February of 2012 was no walk in the park, and not just because they don't have any. They jeered him all night. Will they do the same Tuesday?

Probably. From Arctic Ice Hockey:

But whether he starts or not is irrelevant. Jets' fans will be there, ready and waiting to unleash in unison with chants and verbal jabs. With Bryzgalov, it's personal. Let the sing-songs begin.

This is a strange thing to say, but if I'm Ilya Bryzgalov, I'm hoping the Winnipeg fans are absolutely vicious Tuesday night.

Well, he's probably looking forward to it either way. He enjoyed it last time, as chronicled by NHL.com:

"I like it," Bryzgalov said of the experience. "It was a great atmosphere. I wish every building would be supportive like here and support me like here."

"It was nice to hear [them] cheering, 'Ilya, Ilya,'" Bryzgalov said jokingly. "I never heard that before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it's very impressive."

"Here they cheer me," Bryzgalov continued, tongue in cheek. "In Philly, they boo me."

But there's another reason besides wry irony for Bryzgalov to soak up the hate tonight.

The Flyers' goaltender has something of a reputation as a weirdie, you see. You might have already known. This is a guy who heads slideshows titled "Ilya Bryzgalov and the 10 wackiest goaltenders in NHL history", a guy who's been blasted for his lack of focus, his inability to stayed dialled in when it counts. Public opinion is that Ilya Bryzgalov can be thrown off his game by making him the centre of attention.

But Bryz has been playing well this season, despite the Flyers' struggles. He appears eager to shed his reputation and prove to the world that he's a different goalie, more focused, more ready to play, and deserving of that insane contract.

If that's the case, a steady showing versus the Winnipeg Jets --whose fans have every intention of giving him a lot of attention -- could do wonders towards a paradigm shift.

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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