With 91 points on the season and 12 games left to play, it is safe to say that, barring any major collapse, that the Phoenix Coyotes will make their first playoff appearance since the 2001-02 season.
One of the main reasons for the Coyotes' success this season has been the stellar play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov is in at least the top 10 of most goaltending categories. He leads the league with eight shutouts and is tied for second in wins with 37; his 2.25 goals against average is good for second and his .922 save percentage currently ranks ninth.
Bryzgalov and the Coyotes have been especially good as of late. They are currently on a six-game winning streak heading into Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. Most of these wins have come because of their excellent defense.
Although their defense is the the best in the league allowing only a league-leading 2.37 goals per game, their offense is ranked near the bottom at 27th in the league. With their offensive struggles, Bryzgalov had to be solid and he has been that and more.
If the Coyotes have any chance of winning a playoff series, they are going to need Bryzgalov to be on top of his game. Although he isn't the most playoff experienced goalie, he did win a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and played a fairly significant role as a backup. He won three games in the playoffs for the Ducks, filling in for J.S Giguère. The postseason before, he tied an NHL rookie record with three consecutive shutouts for the Ducks.
If Bryzgalov can play as good as he did with the Ducks in past playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes could be a very scary team. They say defense wins championships, and if the Coyotes somehow win the Stanley Cup, you can bet it will be with their defense, in particular Ilya Bryzgalov.
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