DETROIT – The Phoenix Coyotes were at their best when they were up or down a skater, or two, and that gave them a chance to survive for at least one more game.
Phoenix scored its first three goals on special teams and Ilya Bryzgalov made 31 saves in a 5-2 win over Detroit on Sunday that forced Game 7 in the first-round series. “They won the special teams battle,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That sucked the life out of our team.” Phoenix will host the final game against Detroit on Tuesday night.
“Any time you can play in a Game 7, it’s a game you’ll remember,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Detroit would love to forget how Sunday started.
The Coyotes were called for three penalties in the first 4:42 – including a pair that put them down two skaters for 1:09 – but they were the only team to score in the opening period.
Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart nonchalantly carried the puck out of his end, Lauri Korpikoski snatched it and scored a short-handed goal 4:10 in to spark the win.
“My fault,” Stuart said.
Mathieu Schneider snapped the Coyotes’ 0 for 19 skid on the power play with a goal early in the second for a 2-0 lead, and Radim Vrbata scored with the man advantage midway through the period to restore the two-goal edge.
“I don’t want to say we solved it,” Schneider said. “It worked for tonight.”
Wojtek Wolski’s even-strength goal put Phoenix ahead 4-1 late in the second.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard made 24 saves, but he gave up at least four goals for the third time in the series. He allowed only one the previous two games as Detroit took a 3-2 lead.
A finalist for the Calder Trophy – given to the NHL’s top rookie – Howard is about to play in his first win-or-go-home game in the NHL.
“No, I’m not concerned about him at all,” Babcock said. “We’re real comfortable with Howie. You can’t win Game 7 until you get there.”
The Coyotes went ahead 1-0 on their first shot Sunday and beat Howard four more times.
“They got lucky,” Howard said. “We hit a couple posts.”
The Red Wings also often hit Bryzgalov’s stick, skates and pads, including 10 times in the first 10 minutes.
“Bryz was excellent,” Tippett said. “That’s what he’s done for us all year.”
Stuart scored 2:51 into the second – 24 seconds after Schneider put the Coyotes up 2-0 – to fire up the crowd, but the fans were quieted by the goals from Vrbata and Wolski.
Phoenix ended any hopes the Red Wings had for a comeback when Taylor Pyatt scored a power-play goal 5:25 into the third.
Detroit’s Darren Helm scored with 3:31 left, but the goal came much too late. The Red Wings missed opportunities, going 0 for 5 on the power play, and couldn’t slow down the Coyotes – 3 for 6 with a man advantage.
“Special teams was the difference,” Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said.
The Coyotes have been a feel-good story this season after enduring tumultuous times that threatened the team’s long-term future in Arizona. Now the Western Conference’s fourth-seeded team has a chance to eliminate the two-time defending conference champions with one home win.
“I said it before the series, home-ice advantage is only good if it comes down to a Game 7,” Tippett said.
Phoenix’s previous owner took the franchise into bankruptcy last year, leading to the NHL buying the team in November. Wayne Gretzky resigned as coach nine days before the opener, putting Tippett behind the bench.
The Coyotes, in the post-season for the first time since 2002, are 0-5 in the first round of the playoffs. The franchise hasn’t advanced since 1987, when it was the Winnipeg Jets.
The Red Wings are in the playoffs for the 19th straight time, the longest active streak in sports. They’ve won nine series – including the 2008 Stanley Cup finals – since a first-round exit four years ago in Babcock’s first season.
Babcock bristled at the notion that the Coyotes won’t have pressure to win in what has already been a successful season for them.
“They’ve got something to lose,” Babcock said. “Both teams do.”
Detroit started the post-season without home-ice advantage for the first time since 1991, when it lost Game 7 at St. Louis in the first round. The Red Wings haven’t won a Game 7 on the road since a 1964 victory at Chicago in the opening round.
NOTES: The Coyotes scratched captain Shane Doan, keeping him out of the lineup for the third straight game because of what looked like a shoulder injury sustained in Game 3. Tippett said Doan is close to being able to play. … Former Red Wings star Brendan Shanahan attended the game as a league observer and drew applause when shown on the video boards. Shanahan said he has been in “watch-and-learn mode” since being hired by the NHL four months ago.