Monday April 26th, 2010

The Phoenix Coyotes were planning on flying home after Sunday's contest in Detroit. After capturing the pivotal Game 6, they'll be bringing the Red Wings with them.

The Coyotes extended their Cinderella season at least one more game with a decisive 5-2 win at Joe Louis Arena. And while they may have entered this series as the higher seed, they continue to surprise with a level of resiliency and grit that carries them a lot further than their talent.

Looking to close out the series at home, the Wings staged an early assault, launching 14 shots that included at least seven quality scoring chances. But it was Phoenix that seized the momentum by capitalizing on opportunities, and for the first time in the series, their special teams led the way, creating four of their five goals.

And it was a pair of ex-Red Wings, Mathieu Schneider and Robert Lang, who really made them tick.

Schneider, who dressed for just the second time in the series, extended the lead to 2-0 early in the middle frame when his seeing-eye slapper found its way through a crowd and past Detroit keeper Jimmy Howard. That was the first of three power play markers for Phoenix and the one that finally snapped the team's 0-19 skid with the extra man.

Lang's moment came later that period when his cross-ice pass set Radim Vrbata up for a power-play chip shot that eventually stood as the game-winner.

Their veteran poise was an obvious plus for the unit.

"The old-timers, those guys have played on a few power plays in their life," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "They're not playing big minutes but they're playing smart minutes. Both of those players made a difference in the game."

The Yotes also got a monster performance out of Taylor Pyatt. The massive winger set up residence in front of Howard, clearly unsettling the goalie on two of Phoenix's power-play goals before deflecting a Derek Morris slapper into the net to send the Joe Louis faithless packing at 5:25 of the third. "We've been tinkering [with the power play] and I thought he did a great job in front of the net," Tippett said. "He finds loose pucks. He had an excellent game for us."

That three-goal effort is likely to garner most of the postgame attention, but the Coyotes' penalty kill might have been even more impactful. The unit, led by a sparkling performance from Ilya Bryzgalov, rebuffed three consecutive Detroit power plays in the first five minutes, including a lengthy five-on-three advantage that could easily have left them chasing the game. Instead, a trio of big stops on Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski and some nice work gumming up the passing lanes allowed them to survive the blitz.

Just getting out of that mess unscathed might have done the trick, but Lauri Korpikoski's short-handed goal settled them down emotionally while putting the giddyup in the Coyotes' legs. After a big defensive-zone faceoff win by Martin Hanzal led to the puck being cleared down the ice, Korpikoski drew a bead on retrieving defender Brad Stuart. He stole the puck at the Detroit blue line, muscled his way past Henrik Zetterberg, then ripped a wrister through Howard's wickets to give Phoenix the lead just 4:10 into the game.

The Wings had allowed only one shortie all season long. That was a lousy time to cough up No. 2.

Afterward, Detroit coach Mike Babcock seemed unmoved by the loss, praising his team for its early effort and giving the Coyotes full marks for taking advantage of the bounces that came their way.

Privately, though, he has to be concerned. The Coyotes took a physical pounding in the first period but regained their composure after that early glitch and executed their assignments expertly. They had a goaltender who had no trouble seeing the puck and group of forwards that established their presence in the trenches. That's a pretty sweet formula right there.

Will it carry over? Both teams go into Game 7 with something to lose, but there's a sense about these Coyotes that they're playing with house money. Not so much that they're happy just to be there, but they're a team that senses this is their opportunity. The Wings had theirs. Phoenix waltzed into the den of the two-time defending conference champs and snatched it away. And now they get to go home to take advantage of it.

"I said before the series that home ice is only good if you get down to Game 7," Tippett reminded reporters. "The compete level won't change whether you're home or on the road, but if you get to Game 7, I'd sure rather play it in front of our home fans.

"We're having fun playing. It'll be a crazy atmosphere, fun for everybody."

Well, more fun for one team than the other. And the way the Coyotes competed Sunday, it looks like it could be their party.

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