Prague, Czech Republic (Sports Network) – Czech native Radim Vrbata had two goals and an assist, as the Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Boston Bruins, 5-2, in the season opener for both clubs at the O2 Arena in Prague.
Taylor Pyatt, Scottie Upshall and newcomer Eric Belanger also tallied for the Coyotes, who surprised most pundits last season, overcoming discord off the ice regarding ownership and a coaching change to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002 as the fourth seed in the West. Phoenix, though, was ousted in seven games by Detroit in the first round.
Ed Jovanovski collected two assists for Phoenix, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 40 saves.
Nathan Horton, acquired from the Florida Panthers during the offseason, registered a pair of third-period goals for Boston, which will try to erase the memories of last season’s epic playoff collapse.
The Bruins, who plummeted from No. 2 overall in the NHL in 2008-09 to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, dismissed the Northeast Division champion Buffalo Sabres in the opening round, then won the first three games of their second-round series with Philadelphia and led 3-0 in Game 7 before the Flyers completed the historic comeback. Boston earned the dubious distinction of becoming just the third team in league history to lose a best- of-seven playoff series after building a 3-0 lead.
Tuukka Rask stopped 32 shots in defeat.
Phoenix and Boston will also play on Sunday in the Czech Republic as part of the 2010 NHL Premiere series.
Horton fired a wrister from the slot to put Boston on the board 3:33 into the third period, then lit the lamp on the power play to cut the Bruins’ deficit to 4-2 at 9:03. Vrbata, though, sealed the win on an empty-net goal with 1:47 to play.
Vrbata gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead when he positioned himself at the right post and tapped a carom off the end boards out of mid-air eight minutes into the contest.
The Bruins had three power plays in the opening 20 minutes, including a brief 5-on-3 advantage, and failed to convert. Rask turned away shorthanded breakaway bids from Martin Hanzal and Petr Prucha to keep the deficit at one.
Pyatt knocked in the rebound of rookie defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s wraparound try behind Rask to make it 2-0 at the 1:58 mark of the second period.
The Coyotes led 3-0 after Upshall scored off a breakaway with 4:58 remaining in the middle stanza. Belanger added a power-play goal in the waning moments of the second to give Phoenix a commanding four-goal cushion.
Before the game, the Bruins signed defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara to a seven-year contract extension through the 2017-18 season…Bruins forward Milan Lucic played his 200th NHL game…Boston forward Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, made his NHL debut…Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix’s top pick (sixth overall) in 2009, played his first NHL game…The Coyotes have won four of the last five meetings.