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Bryzgalov, Wild blank Jets, edge closer to wild card

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Fans at MTS Centre tried to get into the head of Ilya Bryzgalov on Monday, but the offbeat goalie left them shaking theirs.

Bryzgalov registered his second consecutive shutout, and the Minnesota Wild slipped out of town with a 1-0 victory over the Jets.

Thanks to Bryzgalov's 24 saves, the Wild improved to 41-26-12 and moved eight points up on the ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes, all but solidifying a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Winnipeg (35-35-10) remains 12th in the West and is eliminated from playoff contention.

Despite fans' best efforts to rattle Bryzgalov during the tight game, chants of "Ilya, Ilya" had the opposite effect.

By his own admission, he loved the attention -- encouraging fans to bring it on.

"It's become a good tradition every time I play here," he said. "At the end of the (second) period, they start cheering my name. I just show them the hands to get louder, you know."

Minnesota center Charlie Coyle scored a power-play goal, his 12th tally of the season, early in the second period, and that was all the firepower the Wild required.

The visitors went 1-for-3 with the man advantage, while the Jets were 0-for-4.

A makeshift Winnipeg lineup -- missing seven regulars -- pushed for the tying goal, firing 12 shots at Bryzgalov in the third period, but the Jets couldn't connect.

"It was a team effort. I think we played a very good game," Bryzgalov said. "It was a very good man's game... good hockey.

"The guys played (an) amazing game. They didn't give up much. They kept the game simple for me, let me see the shots. They (make) my job as easy as possible."

The Russian-born goalie backstopped the Wild to a 4-0 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. He is now 6-0-3 since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in early March.

Speaking humbly, Bryzgalov said his recent stretch of play was solid but unspectacular.

"Obviously, I'm not painting any pictures in front of myself," he said. "I go on the ice and play hard and try to give the team a chance to win the game. The guys in front of me played unbelievably. That's the formula for success.

"I pretty much understand everything. Guys tell me to stop that puck -- that's my system."

In the other net, Michael Hutchinson made 16 saves in his NHL debut for Winnipeg. His first game came six years after he was drafted by the Boston Bruins.

Before his recent call-up, he split time this season with Ontario Reign of the ECHL and the Jets' AHL affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, where he posted a 15-5-1 record.

"I'm just happy I got a shot," Hutchinson said. "I thought I played pretty well. There were some times when my nerves got the best of me in certain situations. But overall I thought I gave the team a chance."

The first period of Hutchinson's NHL career wasn't exactly packed with excitement. Despite having nearly three minutes of power-play time, the Wild managed just six shots in the initial frame, and none was particularly onerous on the Jets goalie.

The game was scoreless after a hum-drum first.

Coyle fired Minnesota's seventh shot just 1:05 into the second and beat Hutchinson through the legs, just as Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart was about to step out of the penalty box.

Left winger Zach Parise made a terrific pass to Coyle, recording his 26th assist of the season on the play.

"I just tried to find open ice. Mikko (Koivu) made a nice pass down to Zach, and Zach put it through a guy and found me," Coyle said. "I just tried to throw it on net, and it happened to go in."

Minnesota is 4-0-1 in its past five games, and it has three regular-season games left -- all at home.

"We came here looking for two points, and we got them," Coyle said. "It's so close to playoff time, and we want to be playing our best hockey, offensively and especially defensively. It's nice to be on top of your game going into this final stretch."

Following the game, the Wild hopped on a plane for the 90-minute flight home to Minneapolis, where they will host the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night and the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

The Bruins continue north to face the Jets on Thursday at MTS Centre, Winnipeg's final home game of the season.

Since vacating Atlanta in 2011, the Jets franchise has yet to qualify for postseason play.

NOTES: Winnipeg C Jim Slater played the 500th game of his career Monday. Slater, 31, is still with his original organization. He was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round, 30th overall, in 2002. ... No one plays more than Wild D Ryan Suter. Prior to Monday's game, the team's alternate captain led the league in average time on the ice per game (29:43), just over 2 1/2 minutes more per game than Ottawa D Erik Karlsson, the next player on the list. ... LW Evander Kane returned to the Jets lineup after being a healthy scratch in Toronto on Saturday. The Vancouver native had just three goals in his past 23 games.
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