Mrazek helps Wings beat Coyotes to move into 1st-place tie in East
The plan was for Petr Mrazek to make one final start for the Detroit Red Wings to end his feel-good story, then head back to the minors.
Only thing: The rookie might be playing too well to go anywhere. Stopping a penalty shot can't hurt his chances, either.
Mrazek made 22 saves, and Detroit's impressive stretch with its No. 3 goaltender continued in a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night that moved the Red Wings into a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference.
"You've got to give the kid credit," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of Mrazek. "Maybe he doesn't want to be the third goalie."
Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Darren Helm scored for Detroit, but the game was in the balance when the pressure shifted to Mrazek.
With Detroit ahead 1-0 in the final period, Mrazek made a blocker save of Martin Erat's penalty shot with 8:22 left. Erat was hauled down by Pavel Datsyuk on a short-handed breakaway.
It was the exclamation point in a stretch during which Mrazek has led the Red Wings to nine wins in 11 games with their top two goaltenders injured. He has allowed two goals in three games.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson's career-high 16th goal with under 2 minutes left ended Mrazek's bid for a second straight shutout.
"I felt great," Mrazek said. "I think we played a really good game."
The Red Wings' third straight win gave them 71 points and moved them even with Tampa Bay, which lost at home to Los Angeles.
Helm's empty-netter with 1:16 left capped a wild ending that included three goals in the final 3 minutes.
For much of the game, it appeared Detroit's conversion on its league-best power play on Sheahan's slap shot midway through the second period would hold up.
But a drama-filled third period included a wasted chance when Erat couldn't convert the Coyotes' first penalty shot of the season.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett acknowledged the miss deflated his team.
"A little bit, because you're looking for that chance to get back in the game," he said.
The Red Wings also killed off a 4-minute power play bridging the second and third periods behind their unlikely goaltender.
Detroit was forced to use Mrazek when No. 1 Jimmy Howard went down with a groin tear on Jan. 10. Backup Jonas Gustavsson was already out with a shoulder injury.
After some shaky early performances that saw him pulled twice, the 22-year-old Czech has grown comfortable. He entered coming off a 28-save shutout in Colorado, after allowing just one goal in a win against the New York Islanders.
That earned him a 10th straight start despite Gustavsson's return four days earlier following a rehab stint in the minors. But with Howard set to return Wednesday against Pittsburgh, Mrazek could be sent back to the minors.
Or will he?
"It's the NHL and the best guys are supposed to play," Babcock said. "So we've got to figure it out."
The pro-Red Wings crowd seemed to wish Mrazek will stick around. The Coyotes said they set a game revenue record, but many in the crowd were wearing Detroit jerseys. Red Wings chants were occasionally heard, although Coyotes fans tried to drown them out.
Mike Smith kept the Coyotes in it with 23 saves in their second straight loss.
"I think we created a lot of chances," Ekman-Larsson said, "and they didn't go in for us."
NOTES: It was the 25th penalty shot in the NHL this season. There have been eight goals. ... Many fathers of Red Wings players attended the game as part of an annual trip. ... Coyotes F Mikkel Boedker, 20 pounds lighter, attended the game as he continues his recovery after having his spleen removed. ... In a scheduling quirk, it was the teams' first meeting since October 2013, a span during which the Coyotes won twice to sweep the season series.