By Shawn P. Roarke
Host of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series between the Coyotes and Boston Bruins, the Czech Republic 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 -- forwards Radim Vrbata
, Petr Prucha
and Martin Hanzal
Vrbata notched two goals and was named the first star of Phoenix's 5-2 victory over Boston at O2 Arena. Hanzal and Prucha had four shots apiece and each finished plus-1 in the 2010-11 season opener for both teams.
Virtually everything went well on this night 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.
The fairy-tale story for Phoenix began when Vrbata opened the scoring with 7:59 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 NHL.com. "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 the game.
Vrbata added an empty-net goal late in the third period.
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 last season.
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 NHL.com.
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 1:58 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.
After Scottie Upshall
gave the Coyotes a 3-0 lead at 15:02 of the second period, (see KEY MOMENT
below), 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 past Rask.
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.
Boston needs a win in Sunday's rematch 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.
Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com contributed to this recap.
• The Coyotes have won five consecutive season openers.
• Not only did center Eric Belanger
score a goal for his 300th NHL point in his debut with the Coyotes, he won 13 of 17 face-offs.
• Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
made his Coyotes/NHL debut at age 19. He played a team-high 23:47, delivered three hits and blocked two shots.
• Center Vernon Fiddler
got into the team's first fight of the season when he swapped punches with Boston's Gregory Campbell early in the third period.
• Forward Ray Whitney
, signed in the off-season to help boost the power play, did just that when he assisted on Eric Belanger
's goal in the second period.
• Forward Scottie Upshall
returned to the ice for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury in January of last season. He logged 12:45, took four shots on goal and scored an unassisted goal.
• Forwards Kyle Turris
and Paul Bissonnette
were healthy scratches. Defenseman Derek Morris
did not play because of a lower-body injury. He is listed as day-to-day.
• The Coyotes and Bruins will play again at O2 Arena on Sunday. The puck drops at 7 a.m. (Arizona time). The game can be seen on NHL Network and/or heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM).