Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t have to say anything Monday night as the Winnipeg Jets fans did all the talking.
Bryzgalov, who is rarely short of words off the ice, stopped all 24 shots his way and Charlie Coyle scored the game’s only goal as the Minnesota Wild blanked the Jets 1-0.
The Russian goaltender was serenaded on more than once occasion by the home crowd with chants of “Il-Ya”. He answered the catcalls with a series of arm gestures.
“I want to show them ‘get louder’,” said Bryzgalov, who Minnesota acquired at the trade deadline from Edmonton. “It sounds like a good tradition.
“It became a good tradition every time I play here,” he added.
The Wild victory all but clinched a Western Conference wild-card berth.
Minnesota (41-26-12) would need to lose its final three games with Phoenix winning four straight in order to miss the playoffs.
Coyle’s one-timer off a pass from Zach Parise at 1:05 of the second period came just after a penalty to Winnipeg defenceman Mark Stuart had expired.
“Mikko (Koivu) made a nice pass down to Zach and Zach just put it through a guy and found me,” Coyle said, “And I just tried to throw it on net and it happened to go in, so it was a great play by those guys.”
The Jets (35-35-10), who will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season stretching back to their time as the Atlanta Thrashers, iced an injury-depleted lineup. With two games remaining and 80 points to their credit, the Jets are assured of finishing behind their 51-point pace of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, which would have extrapolated to 87 points in a full campaign.
Michael Hutchinson, a 24-year-old rookie who began the season in the ECHL, made his first career NHL start with regular backup Al Montoya still suffering from a lower-body injury.
He wasn’t asked to make many difficult stops, but Hutchinson’s only blemish on 17 shots came on Coyle’s one-timer.
“I thought I played pretty well,” Hutchinson said. “There’s some times where nerves get the best of you and you start over thinking certain situations, but overall I think I gave the team a chance to win the game.”
Bryzgalov wasn’t much busier, but did have a higher degree of difficulty as he picked up his fourth shutout of the season. Bryzgalov is now 6-0-3 since joining his new club.
“They keep the game simple for mea let me see the shots. They block a lot of shots,” Bryzgalov said about his teammates.
“I just go on the ice and play hard to try to give the team a chance to win the game. The guys play in front of me unbelievable.”
The shots were 7-6 Jets in the first period and 7-5 Wild in the second, as neither team could generate any offence.
The third period was wide open by comparison, with Winnipeg sending 12 pucks at Bryzgalov. Even four power-play chances couldn’t help the Jets find the back of the net.
“Whenever your goalie is giving you performances like that your penalty kill is going to be better,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo, who added that he’s pleased with the improvement his team’s penalty kill has shown in the stretch run.
Winnipeg winger Evander Kane, who was a healthy scratch Saturday night in Toronto for reportedly being late to a team meeting, was back in the lineup. He managed just one shot on goal and was on the ice for Coyle’s goal.
“They’re an aggressive penalty kill, like ours,” Kane said. “Special teams is what won the game tonight. It’s tough when you lose 1-0, because you’ve got to score at least one to win.”
The Jets wrap up their home schedule Thursday night against Boston, and finish their season the next night in Calgary.
Minnesota returns home to face Boston, St. Louis and Nashville.
Notes: Jets captain Andrew Ladd missed his first game due to injury since the 2010-11 season, while Dustin Byfuglien (torn muscle) is done for the season. a Still on the Jets’ injured list were forwards Chris Thorburn and Mark Scheifele and defencemen Keaton Ellerby and Zach Bogosian. a Minnesota was without forwards Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker and defencemen Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard. a Jets centre Jim Slater played in his 500th career NHL game.