By Dave Vest
RALEIGH, N.C. – The Coyotes have fielded several very good teams since moving to Arizona in 1996, but this season's club is proving to be something special.
Case in point: Phoenix beat Carolina, 4-0, on Saturday night at the RBC Center. The victory was the team’s 41st of the season. No other Phoenix Coyotes team ever has won more than 40 games in one season. (The franchise record for wins in a season is 43, set in 1984-85 when the team was based in Winnipeg.)
Ilya Bryzgalov played a terrific game in goal for the Coyotes against the red-hot Hurricanes, who did not resemble the club that entered the match with an eight-game home winning streak. Bryzgalov stopped all 29 shots he faced to record his NHL-leading eighth shutout of the season.
At the other end of the ice, forwards Lee Stempniak and Martin Hanzal each scored two goals to help Bryzgalov lift Phoenix (41-22-5) to its fourth consecutive victory.
"(It was) just a solid road game," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "(Bryzgalov) cleaned up the few chances that we gave up, but other than that we had a real good group effort."
Stempniak scored his goals – his fourth and fifth since coming to Phoenix in a trade with Toronto on March 3 – in the first period. The first came from in close and the second was a wrist shot from between the circles during Phoenix's first of two power plays. Forward Taylor Pyatt screened Carolina goalie Justin Peters nicely on the play.
"He's a hard-working guy," Tippett said of Stempniak. "He likes to play the style that we play and is getting rewarded around the net with some real good puck play. He's been a very positive player for us."
Hanzal, playing on a line with Shane Doan and Daniel Winnik instead of fellow Czechs Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata for the first time this season, scored one goal in the second period and one in the third. The latter, a textbook one-timer off a crisp pass from defenseman Zbynek Michalek, gave Phoenix a 4-0 lead at 2:45 of the third period and sent many of the Carolina fans fleeing for the exits.
Bryzgalov made several key saves early in the game to keep Carolina from taking a lead and then tying the score at 1. His best stop came on a breakaway by Erik Cole (see KEY MOMENT below).
Carolina outshot Phoenix, 29-20, but the Hurricanes had few scoring chances from within close range.
“We were having a hard time around the net, no question,” Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We felt if we got one (goal) we would have a chance to get it going and they did a good making sure we didn’t."
Trailing 1-0 in the first period, Carolina’s Erik Cole received a nifty touch pass by Ray Whitney and got behind the Phoenix defenders on a breakaway. Cole skated hard at Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and tried to put a forehand shot past him, but Bryzgalov blocked it with his right leg at 7:55 to preserve the tie. The Coyotes scored again 8:04 later and never looked back.
• With 14 games to go, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is tied with Nikolai Khabibulin for the franchise record for shutouts in a season (eight). Khabibulin set the record in 1998-99.
• Defenseman Adrian Aucoin chipped in two assists for his second two-point game of the season and his first since Oct. 22 vs. Detroit.
• Defenseman Sami Lepisto took a high stick in the mouth late in the first period and left the game. He returned in the second period and played a total of 17:36. Carolina forward Jerome Samson was sent to the penalty box for four minutes for delivering the stick to Lepisto’s face and drawing blood. Coyotes forward Lee Stempniak gave Phoenix a 2-0 lead by scoring a power-play goal about halfway through the double minor.
• The Coyotes have not allowed a power-play goal in the past three games. On Saturday, Carolina had three power plays, including a five-on-three advantage for 29 seconds early in the third period.
• The Coyotes scratched Paul Bissonnette, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Viktor Tikhonov and Jim Vandermeer. The Hurricanes scratched Brandon Sutter and Cam Ward.
"We scored at the right times and I think we played well and we didn't give them too many chances tonight. After we shut them down on the five-on-three (in the third period) and scored our fourth goal right away, I think they gave up a little bit."
"I've developed some good chemistry with my linemates (Vernon Fiddler and Taylor Pyatt). We all play similar games based on working hard and skating well and getting in on the forecheck."
"We are fighting for our (playoff) lives and it’s a tough pill to swallow, to lose a game like this."
• March 13, 2010: PHX 4, CAR 0
1 - 0 PHX
2 - 0 PHX
3 - 0 PHX
4 - 0 PHX
Hi stick - double minor