Coyotes survive Riga challenge for 3-1 victory
RIGA, Latvia --
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Phoenix Coyotes found a way to persevere in their final preseason game -- an impressive 3-1 victory against KHL power Dinamo Riga.
In doing so, the Coyotes believe they are ready for the 2010-11 regular season, which opens for them with the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series against Boston this weekend in Prague.
Phoenix sure got an NHL-caliber test Wednesday night at a hostile Arena Riga, which was packed with 10,520 crazily passionate Riga supporters hoping to see another team from the Kontinental Hockey League spring an upset.
But it was not to be, as Petr Prucha
broke a tense tie with a power-play goal late in the second period to send Phoenix on to victory.
Prucha, part of an all-Czech forward line, was set up beautifully by his teammates for the go-ahead goal as Martin Hanzal
confidently lugged the puck into the attacking zone before dishing to Radim Vrbata
, who feathered the puck to Prucha for the one-timer past goalie Chris Holt.
Wednesday's game was a rollicking affair throughout at Arena Riga, as the Latvian fans treated this more as a Stanley Cup Playoff game instead of a mere exhibition.
Plus, the already passionate fans here were emboldened by the fact that SKA St. Petersburg, a KHL opponent, had handed the Carolina Hurricanes a 5-3 defeat just two night's earlier.
So not only did Phoenix have a hostile crowd and the weight of expectations working against it, but it also had to deal with some pretty telling physical duress as the club arrived in Europe just 48 hours earlier and had only one full practice under its belt in the past four days.
Yet, Phoenix found a way to subdue a talented club -- more than half the Riga players play for the Latvian national team -- that was playing for the pride of a hockey-mad nation.
Just as a tense, and relatively even, first period was about to expire, Taylor Pyatt
gave Phoenix its first lead by slamming a Lee Stempniak
rebound past Mikael Tellqvist, the Riga goalie, who played three seasons as a backup in Phoenix. He was replaced by Holt midway through the second period.
That same duo combined in the third period to give Phoenix some breathing room, only this time it was Stempniak beating Holt with an assist from Pyatt.
Phoenix also switched goalies midway through the game. Starter Ilya Bryzgalov
did not allow a goal during his 30-minute stint. Jason LaBarbera
, who came in at the 10-minute mark of the second, was not as lucky, conceding a goal on just the third shot he faced.
Former NHLer Mark Hartigan slammed a rebound past the prone LaBarbera to tie the game at 1-1 and send the Riga supporters into delirium.
Canadian Brock Trotter, who played for Hamilton in the American Hockey League last year, set up Hartigan's goal with a nifty move behind the net, banking the puck off the back of the cage to disengage from his defender and then feeding the puck in front.
Trotter was Riga's best player for much of the game, generating several quality chances.
But LaBarbera was perfect after his early misstep, allowing Phoenix to escape with a win that should boost the team's confidence heading into the weekend showdown with Boston.