GLENDALE, Ariz. - Many cards were stacked against the Coyotes on Sunday night coming into their matchup against the San Jose Sharks:
-The Coyotes hadn’t strung two wins together since the first two games of the season and were coming off a victory on Saturday over Florida.
-They were playing the Sharks, the best team in the NHL, who were off to an impressive 13-2-0 start.
-They were going against Sharks goaltender Brian Boucher, who had allowed one goal in three games this season and came into the game with a 0.33 goals against average and .985 save percentage.
-They were playing their second of back-to-back games.
None of that mattered.
Two goals and an assist by Olli Jokinen capped off an impressive victory by the Coyotes over the red-hot Sharks in front of 15,056 fans at Jobing.com Arena.
Peter Mueller and Viktor Tikhonov also scored, and Phoenix improved its record to 7-6-0.
“I think it shows on any given night, we can play on the top level,” Jokinen said. “We can beat good teams. It’s a good confidence booster.”
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was sensational, once again, making 30 saves and holding off the Sharks’ third period surge, during which they fired 12 shots at the Russian netminder.
“He’s a top goalie in this league and gives us a chance to win every night,” said Jokinen, who is tied with Shane Doan for the team lead with seven goals. “He’s been doing his part lately and that’s been the biggest reason why we are winning hockey games. We need him to play at the level he is capable of playing and it gives us confidence to have a goalie like him.”
Head Coach Wayne Gretzky agrees.
“In order to be competitive in this league, you have to have outstanding goaltending and we are definitely getting that,” Gretzky said. “We are getting goaltending as good as anyone in the league right now. He’s just making key saves and big saves. He’s really in a groove right now and that’s great to see.”
Phoenix fell behind 2-0 within the first 11 minutes of the game on two power-play goals by Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe, but that didn’t deter the Coyotes.
Tikhonov responded later in the first period by picking up a loose puck and firing a spinning shot past Boucher to get the Coyotes on the board. It was his first NHL goal.
“It was a big goal by Viktor (Tikhonov),” said Jokinen, who led all players with eight shots. “It gave us confidence.”
We faced one of the best teams in the league tonight. It was a good test for us and we passed. - Ilya Bryzgalov
Jokinen evened the score at 2 just 27 seconds later when he picked up a loose puck and completed a wraparound.
With newfound momentum, the Coyotes built upon their lead early in the second period.
Peter Mueller ripped a slap shot by Boucher on a power play 2:02 into the second period to give the Coyotes their first lead at 3-2.
From there, it was Bryzgalov’s show.
Several saves by Bryzgalov, including point-blank robberies of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, were crucial in earning two points as the Coyotes head on a two-game trip to Columbus on Wednesday and Minnesota on Thursday.
Coyotes center Olli Jokinen (center) celebrates with teammates after scoring a third-period goal against the San Jose Sharks. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
“It was a big win tonight … we have to be ready to roll again,” Jokinen said. “It’s a couple big games in a roll on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Jokinen capped off the game with an empty-net goal that secured a victory over arguably the top team in the NHL.
“Obviously, they are one of the best hockey teams in the league right now,” Tikhonov said. “For us, beating them is a morale boost.”
Bryzgalov added: “It’s a big test for us. We faced one of the best teams in the league tonight. It was a good test for us and we passed.”
• Coyotes forward Daniel Carcillo was struck in the face by the stick of Dan Boyle late in the third period. The extent of Carcillo's injury was not immediately known.
• With an assist on Jokinen’s empty-net goal, Ed Jovanovski is just one point shy of 400 career points.
• The Coyotes blocked 19 shots. Jovanovski, Kurt Sauer and Zbynek Michalek all had three.
• Phoenix improved its record when it scores four goals or more in a game to 5-0-0.
• The Coyotes allowed a power-play goal for the first time in five games. In the past four games, they were 13-for-13 on the penalty kill.
• Phoenix outhit the Sharks 27-19.
• The Sharks played minus goalie Evgeni Nabokov and Jonathan Cheechoo because of injuries.