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Coyotes top Stars 2-1 in shootout

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dripping wet with his underclothes stuck to his body like a second skin, Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said he had no trouble carrying the Coyotes and the pressure of Tuesday's huge game on his shoulders.

"I felt good, but I'm sure I lost a couple of pounds," Bryzgalov said. "But it's OK, I was overweight anyway."

Intent on making up for a rare subpar game in his last start, Bryzgalov blocked, kicked and caught whatever Dallas served up, making a career-high 44 saves in regulation and four more in the shootout as the Coyotes outlasted the Stars 2-1 at Arena.

Shaky in a 4-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday, Bryzgalov was rock-solid from the start against a Dallas team desperate to stay in the playoff race and carried it all the way to the end, when he smothered Loui Eriksson's final shootout attempt for his 35th win of the season and his 129th as a Coyote, tying Bob Essensa for the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise record.

"I'm not thinking about big game or not big game I just came on the ice to enjoy the game," said Bryzgalov, whose previous high was 43 saves which he reached twice, most recently at Detroit on Oct. 28. "We just needed the points. When you play desperate hockey, you give yourself a better chance to win."

Radim Vrbata scored for Phoenix in the second round of the shootout, matching Jamie Benn's goal in the opening round. Ray Whitney then squeezed a wrist shot through the pads of Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen in the fifth round, setting the stage for Bryzgalov to end the night with one more stop.

"He was a focused guy all day, so we knew he would have a bounce-back game," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "You could tell at the morning skate he was really dialed in. He's the top goalie that's been here, and he's basically carried the franchise for two years. He's an elite player in this League and he's got a lot of wins."

The victory pushed the Coyotes to 95 points and kept them in fourth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Los Angeles, which also won Tuesday. Phoenix is eight points ahead of ninth-place Dallas, which is 1-3-3 in its last seven games and three points behind No. 8 Chicago with seven games to play.

David Schlemko broke a scoreless tie in the second period and Benn tied it on the power play for Dallas. Benn, who has nine goals in his last 13 games, also hit the post in overtime, but the Stars couldn't get the extra point they really needed.

"We deserved to win tonight and we didn't get it," Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. "Their goalie was terrific tonight. He was the difference for them and they needed every one of the saves that they got. I thought we were the better team. I thought we outshot them 2-to-1 (45-27), we probably out-chanced them 2-to-1 in the game."

The effort came three nights after he struggled in the loss to the Sharks -- one of his rare off-nights down the stretch.

The Coyotes hit a pair of posts – Taylor Pyatt in the final minute of the first period and Rostislav Klesla in the second -- before finally breaking through. Phoenix had a listless power play but just as Mike Ribeiro was exiting the penalty box following a slashing penalty, Schlemko smacked a Michal Rozsival feed to the right point past Lehtonen for his fourth goal of the season.

The lead didn't last long. Vernon Fiddler was sent to the penalty box for hooking and the Stars cashed in. Benn capped a dominant period by scoring on his fourth shot, beating Bryzgalov between the pads from the right circle for his 22nd goal of the season.

Fiddler was a game-time decision with a painful lower-body injury, but the assistant captain played 20-plus minutes, took 20 faceoffs, killed penalties and even took 4-on-4 shifts in overtime. His return was a big lift for a team still missing Martin Hanzal and Lauri Korpikoski up front.

"The trainers did a great job and it was just about getting out there and getting hit that first time," Fiddler said. "We needed those two points and it was up to the guys with the letters on their jerseys to step up."

The Coyotes had an apparent goal by Lee Stempniak wiped out with 17 seconds left in the period when referee Kelly Sutherland ruled that Pyatt made incidental contact with Lehtonen in the crease. It was the second Phoenix goal in three games washed out by a crease call on Pyatt.

"I understand incidental contact but (Pyatt's) two feet outside the crease. Where do you want him to go, away from him?" Tippett said. "It's a tough call for the referees and I can see them protecting the goalies. We'd probably be mad if somebody's in Bryz's face, but you have to be consistent. As the desperation gets higher, you get closer and go harder to the net and you'll see more of that."
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