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Coyotes boost playoff hopes by beating Oilers 3-1

by Robin Brownlee
EDMONTON, Alta. --  The Phoenix Coyotes were outplayed by the last-place Edmonton Oilers for long stretches Thursday night. Thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov, they won anyway.

Bryzgalov made 35 saves -- one on a penalty shot -- as the Coyotes made it 3-for-3 on a four-game trip by beating the Oilers 3-1 at Rexall Place.

"I don't think we're going to kid ourselves and think that we played good in any fashion," said former Oiler Ray Whitney, whose second-period goal proved to be the game-winner. "Bryzgalov was good again, but that's kind of been the story the last month."

Phoenix, part of the scrum battling for a playoff berth in the Western Conference, won its fourth in a row overall and third in five days on a trip that began Sunday in Anaheim and took them to Calgary on Tuesday. The Coyotes, now 21-12-5 away from Arena, visit the League's top team, the Vancouver Canucks, on Friday

Lee Stempniak and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes, who moved into sole possession of fourth place in the West with 87 points, two more than Los Angeles

The loss was the fifth straight for Edmonton and a case of adding insult to injury. The Oilers have lost Ryan Whitney, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky for the season and are also playing without captain Shawn Horcoff, J.F. Jacques, Gilbert Brule and Theo Peckham. Edmonton had to call up four players from its AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City -- Teemu Hartikainen, Ryan O'Marra, Chris Vande Velde and Alex Giroux -- since Monday just to ice a full roster.

"We're trying. We're trying," coach Tom Renney said. "I mean, my gosh, the guys played their guts out tonight. You can pick any element of our game you want and we tried. It doesn't always translate into what you want."

Having beaten the Oilers 4-3 in a shootout at Rexall Place Nov. 19 in the first meeting of the season, the Coyotes arrived with the opportunity to win two games in Edmonton in the same season for the first time since 1992-93, when they were the Winnipeg Jets.

But the Oilers, aided by three power plays, held a 9-1 margin on the shot clock 12 minutes into the game.

"It's one of those nights when we weren't disciplined enough," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "We gave them lots of opportunities and they played well. Thank goodness Bryzgalov was as good as he was."

However, Stempniak tapped a pass from Lauri Korpikoski behind Nikolai Khabibulin from in tight at 19:13, and Phoenix escaped the first period with a 1-0 lead despite a less-than-inspired 20 minutes of hockey.

"We didn't play very good at all," Whitney said. "It was one of those games where you just take the points and leave it at that."

When Whitney jammed a puck past Khabibulin to put Phoenix up 2-0 at 11:32 of the second period -- the play was reviewed and the initial call of a goal by referee Brad Meier stood -- the Oilers found themselves behind by a pair with their best offensive players watching from the press box.

"Five-on-five I thought we played great," rookie forward Jordan Eberle said. "We were getting in on the forecheck and getting shots and getting chances. We need to put those in if we want to win games."

Andrew Cogliano had a chance to cut Phoenix's lead in half when he was awarded a penalty shot 3:46 into the third period after being slashed by Keith Yandle. Bryzgalov snapped his pads shut when Cogliano tried to beat him five-hole.

Blanked on their first eight power-play attempts, rookie Magnus Paajarvi finally got the Oilers on the board with Eric Belanger off for holding when he snapped a shot past Bryzgalov 6:05 into the third.

But Vrbata restored the two-goal lead at 11:57,  snapping a power-play shot behind Khabibulin with Linus Omark sitting in the penalty box for a diving call that drew loud protests from Renney.

"Your guys have to know you're with them," Renney said. "We work hard as a team and it hasn't been easy for us this year. We're not complaining. We're just working hard. We're trying to be legitimate, be respectable and allow our fans to embrace the right things about a team that cares about who they are.

"Sometimes there's things that get in the way of that happening that you have no control over. You've got to learn to live with that, of course. Sometimes it's just as important to make sure they know their coach is with them 100 percent, too."
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