Ilya Bryzgalov says he's trying to prove with each game that he's worthy of being a starting goaltender in the NHL. The Phoenix Coyotes are pleased with what he's proven so far.
Bryzgalov will try to win his fifth straight game and the Coyotes look to snap a three-game skid in Minnesota when they meet the Wild on Wednesday night to begin a four-game road trip.
Since being acquired off waivers from defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim on Nov. 17, the former backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere has yet to lose. With a 25-save effort in a 5-1 win over Toronto on Friday, Bryzgalov improved to 4-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and one shutout for his new team.
"He is truly one of the pieces of this puzzle," Coyotes (11-10-0) coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He's helped us turn this team around, and maybe our franchise."
Bryzgalov, named the NHL's second star of the week on Monday, downplayed his accomplishments.
"You have to earn this job, you know?" he said Tuesday in a conference call. "It's not like a right to be No. 1 goalie. You have to learn this and prove it every day in practice and in the game. It's so tough to get this job to be No. 1 and so easy to lose. You have to keep working hard.
"I was so excited I got this opportunity, and I want to keep working hard and help this team to make the playoffs and win the most possible games."
Bryzgalov has made only one start in Minnesota, making 32 saves for Anaheim in a 4-1 loss on Jan. 7, 2006.
Phoenix hasn't won at the Xcel Energy Center since a 4-2 victory on Nov. 8, 2005.
"You know, they have good offensive lines. They have good (defense), good goaltending, too," Bryzgalov said. "This is a good team and it's a good crowd in this city. I expect this team will play hard against us, and that's everything what I expect."
The Coyotes' Radim Vrbata has three goals and two assists in his last two games after being held without a point in his previous six. His only three goals versus the Wild came when he registered a hat trick while with Colorado on Feb. 8, 2002.
Minnesota (12-9-2) will try to avoid losing three straight in regulation at home for the first time since Jan. 9-16, 2006. The Wild, who have traditionally been one the league's best home teams and are beginning a four-game homestand, were outscored 8-2 by Vancouver and Columbus in losses there last week.
On Saturday at Nashville, Minnesota got the go-ahead goal from Branko Radivojevic with 1:53 remaining en route to a 4-3 victory. Aaron Voros, Matt Foy and Marian Gaborik also scored and Niklas Backstrom made a season-high 40 saves in the win.
The Wild have cooled considerably after a 7-0-1 start, going just 5-9-1 in their last 15 games. Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire challenged his team to play on a higher level.
"We've been having some tough luck lately," he said after Saturday's win. "Even in this game, it looked like we were going to go back to the old games we had played. The guys kept working, though. All the guys played hard. That's probably the reason we scored the last goal and won the game."
Gaborik has scored seven of his team-high eight goals in his last eight games. He's also scored six goals during a five-game streak against the Coyotes.
The Wild will also face St. Louis, Vancouver and Philadelphia on this homestand.