If the Phoenix Coyotes are to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs and go deep into the postseason, they will likely take the game of March 10 as incentive.
That's because goalkeeper Ilya Bryzgalov was simply outstanding and the kind of effort teams need to advance. In white-washing the Calgary Flames 3-0, the 30-year-old turned away 39 shots, including 19 in a torrid second period. In that session, Bryzgalov was particularly effective, and many Calgary opportunities were solid scoring chances.
"When you get shot after shot like that, it keeps you ready," Bryzgalov said after recording his sixth shutout of the season, and the 22nd of his NHL career. "Everyone played well in front of me, and this was two more huge points."
At this time, the Coyotes need every standing point. There are eight teams battling for five playoff positions, and with 12 games remaining, including a four-game road trip beginning March 13 at Anaheim, sands are quickly falling through the hourglass.
The reality of a dwindling amount of games makes Bryzgalov's effort, down the stretch, all that more critical. History of the Stanley Cup playoffs is replete with stellar netminding, and the play of Patrick Roy, Bernie Parent, Ken Dryden and other legends all powered their teams to championships.
"When Bryzgalov sees the first shot, he can be very solid," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "[In the Calgary game], we did a better job in front, and that was important."
The issue with Bryzgalov is consistency. For the Coyotes to qualify for the playoff and make some noise thereafter, Bryzgalov must be strong early in games. He has a tendency to allow goals early, and especially soft ones. That did not happen against the Flames March 10, and when he stops the competition early, he gets stronger as the game progresses.
Now comes the most critical stage of the season. Bunched with so many other teams, the Coyotes must find a way to gain separation. That may be easier said than done. Their power play is one of the worst of the league, and players need to stay out of the penalty box.
In the recent three-game homestand, Phoenix picked up five of six points, including defeating the Red Wings in overtime and stopping the hot Flames.
"The home stand was huge for us," Tippett added. "That keeps us in the hunt, but, like I keep saying, this is going down to the final games."
After Anaheim, the desert dogs travel to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Then, they return home for a six game home stand and eventually close the season with back-to-back games, home and away with San Jose.
Captain Shane Doan picked up an empty goal in the win over Calgary and tied Martin Hanzal, Taylor Pyatt and Radim Vrbata for the team lead in goals, each with 16 in games through March 10.
Eric Belanger picked up a goal against the Flames and scored four points games in back-to-back games for his highest streak of the season. His three-point effort (goal and two assists) against Vancouver March 8 was his first three point game since October 6, 2009.
Defenseman Adrian Aucoin, coming into the Anaheim game March 13, is five games short of 1,000 career games. If he plays in all upcoming games, he will hit this milestone at home March 20 against Chicago.