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Vrbata, Bryzgalov lift Coyotes in Prague opener

by Shawn P. Roarke
PRAGUE --Host of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series between the Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes, the Czech capital of Prague is known as the "Enchanted City."

After Saturday night's first of back-to-back games here between the two clubs, the Coyotes won't argue with that description.

Neither will the team's three homegrown talents -- Radim Vrbata, Petr Prucha and Martin Hanzal.

Vrbata had 2 goals and an assist and was named the first star of the game. Hanzal and Prucha had four shots apiece and each finished plus-1 in the 5-2 victory by the Coyotes at 02 Arena on Saturday night.

"It was special, especially for us Czech guys," Vrbata told"We got a good introduction early. Everyone was cheering when we were introduced. It was really nice."

Virtually everything on this night was nice for Phoenix, which earned all of its good fortune. For Boston, its first regular-season game in Europe was not one for the memory banks and, afterward, the Bruins said they had nobody but themselves to blame.

"I thought we were flat in the beginning and couldn't get anything going," said Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who signed a seven-year contract extension right before the game.

The fairy-tale story for Phoenix began when Vrbata opened the scoring with eight minutes gone in first period to author one of the signature moments of the NHL's return to Prague. The NHL held a Premiere Game series between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago, a series in which Vrbata also played.

On the goal, Vrbata was able to bunt home a shot that caromed crazily off the glass behind the goal after a point shot that was wide of the goal from Adrian Aucoin drew Boston goalie Tuukka Rask out of position.

"It was a good bounce off the glass," Vrbata told "They all count, no matter how you score them."

Vrbata was free off to Rask's left because Boston's defensive coverage had collapsed, a theme that was present throughout this night.

Vrbata also added an empty-net goal in the dying seconds.

Once Phoenix had the lead, it applied the formula that resulted in a 107-point effort and a surprising fourth-place finish in the West.

Mainly, Phoenix used timely scoring, a stout defense and brilliant goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 40 saves, including 26-straight through two periods.

By then, Phoenix had built a 4-0 lead and looked ready to cruise home.

"When you get the lead, pretty much you can control the game," Bryzgalov told

That is just what the Coyotes did until the Bruins showed a bit of life in the third with a pair of goals from newcomer Nathan Horton.

Just two minutes into the second, Taylor Pyatt provided a goal from Phoenix's energy line when, unmarked in the low slot, he shoveled a rebound over Rask's shoulder before defenseman Matt Hunwick could get on the scene.

Another Boston lapse at the 15:03 mark led to the third goal of the game. This time, Scottie Upshall stole the puck from Daniel Paille in the neutral zone and streaked in alone on Rask.

Rask, who was strong in making 32 saves, had already stoned the Coyotes on three breakaways at this point, but he had no answer for Upshall.

Phoenix got its final goal of the period with 17 seconds remaining, using some crisp cross-ice passing to open up Boston's penalty-killing box before Eric Belanger found a crease in the coverage and redirected a pass from Vrbata. He had been set up by a sweet play from defenseman Keith Yandle, who backhanded a sweet pass across the slot to Vrbata.

"That shows you the skill Yans has," Doan said. "When you have skill like that out there on the power play, that unit can be dangerous."

The Bruins, particularly Horton -- who came over from Florida in an offseason trade -- found their European legs in the third period. But, it was too late by then.

Horton scored a pair of goals from the slot -- one on the power play -- to halve the lead at the time and suggest, perhaps, that Phoenix's fairy tale might yet turn into a nightmare.

Instead, Bryzgalov held the Bruins off the board for the final nine minutes, performing a repeat of the early-game heroics that allowed his team to take control of the game and set the stage for the storybook finish for the Czech players on the Phoenix roster.

"We can't rely on Bryz that much," Doan, the Coyotes captain, told "They had 42 shots or something like that. We can't do that. Bryz was really good in the beginning or we would have been in trouble."

Instead it is Boston that is on the defensive heading into Sunday's back-end affair (10 a.m. ET, NHLN) of the Premiere Game series here.

Boston needs a win to avoid going winless for the trip and flying back across the Atlantic with a realization that they let four points slip away while on European soil.

 "We have to play our style and be more relaxed," said Chara, who thought his team might have been nervous at the start of the game. "We have to force our style of game."

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