PHOENIX (AP) - The storm clouds were trying hard to blot out the sun Thursday in Canuckland.
The club learned they would be without stalwart defenceman Mattias Ohlund for the remainder of the season as the rugged rearguard will have surgery to repair his injured knee.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, they took the but end of a 24-shot first period in Phoenix en route to a 2-0 shutout loss that moves the Coyotes within three points of the playoff spot that Vancouver is desperately clutching to their collective chests.
Ilja Bryzgalov made 24 saves for his fifth career shutout to revive the Coyotes' flickering playoff hopes – which will be flamed to a roar if they can again defeat the Canucks Monday in Vancouver.
"Every game is do or die for us," said Bryzgalov, who has two shutouts since Phoenix claimed him off waivers from Anaheim in November. He also stopped 35 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory over Anaheim on Tuesday.
Niko Kapanen and Daniel Winnik each scored and Martin Hanzal had two assists for Phoenix, who dominated physical play and spent much of the evening peppering Roberto Luongo with 45 shots.
The Canucks, who have just three goals in three road games, went 0-for-5 on the power play and finished the night with a variety of line combinations that would have made ben and Jerry blush.
Alain Vigneault split the Twins and deployed man-of-the-moment Alex Burrows on the power play in an effort to jump-start an offence that has all but dried up after 6-2 outburst against the Predators exactly one week ago.
"I think you have to give credit where credit is due," Vigneault said. "I mean, Phoenix came pretty hard."
Hard would be an understatement. The Coyotes badly out hit, out shot, and out played the Canucks through the first 20 minutes and would’ve been up by a few if it weren’t for Luongo.
It was the most in a period for the Coyotes this season, but they couldn't beat the Canucks’ keeper, who gave up four goals on 19 shots in a 24-minute outing a night earlier in Anaheim.
Earned his 25th and 26th assists of the season - hey, he was in on every goal!.
The cast-off keeper made 24 stops for his fifth shutout to get his team within three points of the playoffs.
Louie finished with 43 saves, including all 24 he faced in a wild first period.
"I was not pleased with the way things went (in Anaheim)," Luongo said. "Any time you go out there you want to do your best. It's not really a matter of bouncing back. It's more a matter of making sure you give your team a chance to win."
Still, Luongo’s heroics, which include an outright robbery from his back late in the third on Enver Lisin, wasn’t enough for a Canucks side that’s suddenly missing their first two lines.
Markus Naslund, the Sedin twins, and Taylor Pyatt have just one goal combined in their past 11 games. Not even a fresh-legged Brendan Morrison could make a difference as he spent much of the two periods on a line with mason Raymond and Naslund to no effect.
The Canucks finsihed with 24 shots to the Coyotes' 45, and were out hit 31 to 17 - eight of which were courtesy of Keith ballard who targeted the Sedins for most of 22 minutes on the ice.
Despite the letdown on the sstats sheet, the Canucks weren’t without emotion.
Tempers flared late in the first period as Phoenix tough guy Daniel Carcillo fought Vancouver's Alex Burrows. When they were sent off, the other skaters dropped their gloves and sticks and scrummed along the boards, and a total of 44 penalty minutes were assessed.
The Coyotes finally solved Luongo on a power-play goal at 10:32 of the second period. Keith Ballard's shot from the point was deflected in front of the goal, and Kapanen scooped it up and scored from the left circle.
At 7:32 of the third period, Phoenix took a 2-0 lead when Hanzal stole a pass in the neutral zone from Henrik Sedin, then fed Winnik between the circles as the twin got turned around trying to recover. An unmarked Winnik easily beat Luongo.
"Their power play got them a big goal and they made us pay on a turnover in the third period," Vigneault said.
But the star of the game was Bryzgalov, who slammed the door on a Canucks club that has mustered three goals in the first three games of a four-game western road swing.
"Bryzgalov was sensational tonight," coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He's the real deal. He's a pretty special young man, and he's made us a better team."
It was a critical game for the Coyotes, who are bidding for their first Stanley Cup playoff berth since 2002. They entered in 10th place in the Western Conference, five points behind No. 8 Vancouver and three behind Nashville. The Predators lost to Los Angeles at home on Thursday night, so the Coyotes found themselves with a rare chance to gain ground on both clubs.
"It's a playoff game, pretty much, for us," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "We know that, and I'm sure they know that."
The loss is even more painful for the Canucks who gave up ground to the Colorado Avalanche – who beat Edmonton on the night – and missed a chance to move into a tie with the Flames who lost to Atlanta.
Notes: The teams meet again on March 17 in Vancouver. ... Phoenix will wrap up its five-game homestand against Edmonton on Saturday night. ... The Canucks are 1-2 despite scoring only three goals in the first three games of a four-game road trip. They finish the trip on Saturday in Dallas... Phoenix blocked 21 shots Thursday night.
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