ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Phoenix Coyotes found a quick and effective way to quiet a hostile crowd Wednesday night.
Radim Vrbata had a goal and an assist, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 24 saves in the Coyotes’ 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. But it was Scotty Upshall who ruined the home fans’ fun. The Wild’s Antti Miettinen tied it at 2 with 4:58 to play, but Phoenix countered 19 seconds later, with Upshall blasting in the rebound of Keith Yandle’s shot, suddenly quieting the sellout crowd.
“That’s a big one, especially when the building is sitting there waiting for something to happen,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “They get some life and we can take it away from them in a hurry. That’s not a bad scenario you want to follow.”
James Vandermeer also scored for Phoenix.
Andrew Brunette added a goal for the Wild, 0-2-2 in their last four games. Minnesota was outshot for long stretches of the game and repeatedly frustrated by Bryzgalov.
“This is probably our poorest, I think, performance of the year,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “We had spurts in the third period. First period they pretty much controlled and dictated everything going on in the first period, and I would say a good portion of the second.”
The teams emerged from the first period scoreless, despite the Coyotes repeatedly pouncing on Wild giveaways and outshooting Minnesota 15-5.
The Coyotes scored on their 16th shot when Vrbata’s wrister eluded a crowd in front of Minnesota’s Nicklas Backstrom and sailed over the line before the goalie could get a look at the puck. It was Vrbata’s sixth goal of the season.
The goal early in the second period came on a controversial Phoenix power play. In the final seconds of the opening period, Minnesota’s Owen Nolan was whistled for slashing Sami Lepisto of the Coyotes. Replays showed Nolan raised his stick, but did not make contact with Lepisto, just as the Phoenix player’s stick snapped. Fans serenaded the officials with boos when replays of the call were shown, and when Vrbata scored on the ensuing man-advantage.
“I don’t think it was a penalty, but calls like that happen and I’m sure it will happen against us during the season,” Vrbata said. “So when it happens for you, you have to take advantage of it.”
The Wild finally solved Bryzgalov early in the third period. The goalie deflected Miettinen’s close-range pass, but could not control the puck, leaving it free for Brunette to backhand into the net. It was the team-leading eighth goal of the season for Brunette, who had not scored in the Wild’s previous nine games.
Vrbata set up Vandermeer’s goal that gave the Coyotes a 2-1 lead, but Miettinen knotted the score again.
Backstrom finished with 29 saves for the Wild, and refused offers to use Nolan’s penalty as an excuse for his team’s loss.
“It’s one penalty. It cannot kill our game,” Backstrom said. “We have to play better, it doesn’t matter. It’s hockey, it’s 60 minutes. That’s only two minutes. We have to find a way to play a lot better.”
It was the third multi-point game of the season for Vrbata, but the first since he opened the season with four points in Phoenix’s first two games.
Notes: Former University of Minnesota star Danny Irmen made his NHL debut with the Wild. He was recalled from Minnesota’s minor league affiliate in Houston earlier in the day. … Coyotes centre Matthew Lombardi was scratched for the second game in a row because of a lower-body injury. … Phoenix snapped a string of seven consecutive losses in Minnesota. The Coyotes’ last win at Xcel Energy Center was more than four years ago, on Nov. 8, 2005.