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Red Wings top Coyotes, take first place in Atlantic

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With starting goalie Jimmy Howard on his way back from a groin injury this coming week and veteran backup Jonas Gustavsson also healthy again, there may not be room for Petr Mrazek to stick with the Detroit Red Wings.

But the 22-year-old goaltender has certainly given the Red Wings something to ponder with an impressive month of work.

Mrazek made 22 saves and came within 1:54 of his second straight shutout on Saturday in the Red Wings' 3-1 victory against the Arizona Coyotes at a sold-out Gila River Arena.

Mrazek, who had short stints with Detroit in each of the past two seasons, improved to 13-4-0 in 2014-15, including 8-1-0 with one no-decision during a run of 10 consecutive starts. But with Howard nearly ready and Gustavsson healthy again -- he dressed as the backup -- Mrazek could spend his 23rd birthday next Saturday back in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"You have to give Mrazek credit here," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who could have both of his veterans available for the Red Wings' next game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. "Your third goalie has gone (8-1); so maybe he doesn't want to be the third goalie.

"It's the NHL and the best guys are supposed to play, so we got to figure it out."

Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Darren Helm scored for Detroit (31-12-9), which has won three in a row and 11 of its past 13 games. The Red Wings moved into first place in the Atlantic Division; Detroit and the Tampa Bay Lightning each have 71 points, but the Red Wings have played two fewer games.

Tatar had his 23rd goal and assists on the other two to give him 39 points. Helm had a goal and an assist.

Sheahan scored on the second of six chances for Detroit's top-ranked power play, which produced a lot of chances in addition to the goal.

"(The power play) didn't score as good as it could have," Babcock said. "But we have two good groups with Pavel [Datsyuk] and [Henrik Zetterberg] on different groups that are very dangerous. We get a full two minutes of power play like that."

Mrazek shut out the Colorado Avalanche 3-0 on Thursday and stretched his personal scoreless streak to 132 minutes, 42 seconds before Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with 1:54 left in regulation.

He made his biggest save of the night with 8:22 to play and the Red Wings clinging to a 1-0 lead when he stopped Martin Erat's penalty shot with his blocker. Erat was awarded the penalty shot after being hauled down by Datsyuk on a shorthanded breakaway.

"I was hoping for him to shoot five-hole or blocker," Mrazek said. "He just shot on [my] blocker and the blocker was there so I was happy. It's like a regular shootout; you have a 50-50 chance. I thought we had a good penalty kill (5-for-5) and we scored on the power play so that was great."

Tatar made it 2-0 with 3:00 remaining when he finished off a 2-on-1 by converting a pass from Helm.

"I closed my eyes and shot it to low glove. It was lucky to get in," Tatar said. "Petr made a big save on the penalty shot and that gave us a lift and we were able to finish the games. He comes up big on the moments that decide the game like that."

After Ekman-Larsson got the Coyotes (19-27-7) back within a goal with his 16th of the season, a career high and tops among NHL defensemen, Helm put the game away by hitting the empty net with 1:16 left for his 11th of the season.

Ekman-Larsson's goal allowed Arizona to avoid being shut out for the eighth time this season, but little else.

"We played good and everyone battled hard, but it's hard to be happy about that right now," he said. "We created a lot of power-play chances but they didn't go in for us. We just need to keep working hard and playing that way."

Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, who had been 3-0-1 in his past four starts against Detroit, continued his strong play with 23 saves, but his offense produced only one goal for the second straight game.

"If we didn't compete hard then we would have really been behind in that game," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "We competed hard and gave ourselves a chance. It's 1-0 in the middle of the third period and we have a penalty shot. If we score there you never know what happens."

Detroit outshot Arizona 11-7 in the first period and the goalies had to be sharp to keep the game scoreless. Mrazek stopped made a quick reflex save on Ekman-Larsson during an early power play and denied Lucas Lessio in alone on the backhand. Smith made saves on a shot by Helm, a deflection by Tatar and a deflection by Stephen Weiss.

But Detroit's power play, clicking at 25.8 percent coming into the game, needed all of 23 seconds after Arizona's Andrew Campbell was sent off for roughing at 7:48 of the second period to put the Red Wings ahead to stay.

Datsyuk intercepted a clearing attempt by penalty-killer Antoine Vermette and found Sheahan alone at the top of the right circle. Sheahan one-timed a shot over Smith's glove at 8:11 for his ninth goal. Datsyuk has an assist in four straight games and 24 for the season.

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