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Coyotes need better Bryzgalov to avoid elimination

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On and off the ice, the Coyotes tried everything they could think of to whip Arena into a frenzy for a Game 3 they had to have to keep the Detroit Red Wings within range in this Western Conference quarterfinal series.

They called in Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nil Lofgren, who had been a perfect 5-0 when playing the National Anthem before Coyotes games, for an encore performance. They trotted out 6-year-old sensation Joshua Sacco to deliver his impassioned rendition of Herb Brooks' pregame speech from the movie "Miracle," casting the Red Wings in the role of the invincible Red Army Russians of 1980.

But before the capacity crowd of 17,130 fans, the majority dressed in "White Out" T-shirts, had a chance to unleash all that topped-off energy, the Red Wings had two goals and their Russian darling -- goalie Ilya Bryzgalov -- was again without answers against the team that confounds him the most.

And now, it will be a "Miracle on Ice" if the Coyotes can regroup and ever catch up to Detroit.

Goals by Ruslan Salei and Drew Miller -- not exactly the usual suspects -- just 2:41 into the game gave Detroit control of the arena and the series, putting the Coyotes' backs against the wall with a 4-2 win that felt much more decisive than the final score.

After taking the Red Wings the full seven games last season, the Coyotes now have to think in terms of avoiding a sweep, and an inglorious end to the season, when the series resumes on Wednesday.

"Well I think we can relax a little bit now. There's nothing to lose, eh?" said Phoenix winger Ray Whitney, trying to inject a little levity into a tough situation. "You play as hard as you can in Game 4 and hopefully extend it and do the same thing in Game 5.

"It's not a position you want to be in, for sure, but we're giving what we can. The fight was there. The energy was there. The crowd was there. But we got a couple of unlucky bounces right off the start and it really took the wind out of our sails."

The one decided edge the Coyotes figured to have in this series was between the pipes. Instead, it has become a liability as Bryzgalov's struggles against the Red Wings continue.

Bryzgalov, who won 78 games during the last two regular seasons and allowed just 2.33 goals a game in the process, has allowed 12 goals in three games in this series, including four at even strength in Game 3.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. During the regular season, he allowed 11 goals in four games against the Red Wings. And in last year's playoffs, Detroit scored 24 goals in the seven games he played. He hasn't been awful in any one game, but he hasn't been good enough to give his team a chance to win -- something they bank on.

When asked about his best player's performance in the postseason, coach Dave Tippett's answer said it all: "Just alright." That's not going to get Phoenix anywhere in the postseason, especially against a team that will pressure the net at every opportunity.

What will it take to win Game 4? "We need our goaltender to have an all-world game," Tippett said.

When asked if he would consider turning to backup Jason LaBarbera in an attempt to shake things up, Tippett smiled. "I think Bryz got us to this point, and we'll rely on him to get us out of this. There's been some times when he could get more help."

A few more goals would certainly help. Since Kyle Turris scored for Phoenix on his first shift of Game 1, the Coyotes have put grand total of one even-strength goal behind Howard in 170-plus minutes. Much of that credit goes to the Red Wings, who have hounded Phoenix defensively and made every trip into their zone uncomfortable.

"We never really got enough of a sustained forecheck or anything really going five-on-five. That's obviously been the problem the last couple of games," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who played 21 minutes and was all over the ice, but came up empty. "We just weren't good enough."

The Coyotes did some things well. Martin Hanzal threw a rope around Red Wing magician Pavel Datsyuk, holding him without a shot in the first two periods and just two meaningless shots for the night. Phoenix outhit the Wings 36-27, cleaned up some of its neutral zone play and spent more time in Detroit's end.

But Detroit owned the first five minutes of every period, and that was enough to push the Coyotes to the brink of extinction.

"You have to win the next game if you want to see the next one," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We're facing a big hole, but if we limit our mindset to one game at a time and don't look any further … it's a challenge but it's been done before."
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