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While Dan Ellis is unexpectedly making a strong case to be the Nashville Predators' No. 1 goaltender, the Phoenix Coyotes are completely at ease with their top netminder.
After rewarding Ilya Bryzgalov with a contract extension, the Coyotes face one of their main competitors for a playoff spot when they host the Predators on Thursday night in the teams' last game before the All-Star break.
Phoenix (25-21-2) and Nashville (25-20-4) are among six teams in the Western Conference trying to move into playoff position. The ninth-place Predators lead the Coyotes by two points.
Phoenix, trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2001-02, is making a strong push behind the play of Bryzgalov in net. Acquired off waivers from the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 17, Bryzgalov had a three-year contract extension announced Tuesday.
A league source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Coyotes don't make salaries public, said the deal is worth $12.75 million.
"I chose to stay in Phoenix because I love our fans, my teammates and I'm confident that we have a bright future ahead of us," Bryzgalov said Tuesday in a news release.
Phoenix was unsettled in goal when it beat Nashville 6-3 on Oct. 11 in the teams' first meeting this season. Alex Auld - since traded to Boston - started that game for the Coyotes, who were getting inconsistent play from then-No. 1 goalie Mikael Tellqvist.
Phoenix gave Bryzgalov a chance, and the 27-year-old Russian has gone 16-10-2 with a 2.33 goals-against average in 28 games. He made 19 saves in the Coyotes' 6-2 win over Buffalo on Monday night, helping his team avoid a third straight loss.
Nashville, meanwhile, has begun to give Ellis and Chris Mason equal time in net. Both players have started six games since Dec. 31.
Ellis has been outstanding, going 11-5-1 with a 2.25 GAA and four shutouts in 21 games, while the more established Mason is 14-15-3 with three shutouts and a 2.75 GAA in 34 games.
Ellis stopped 39 shots as the Predators beat Colorado 4-0 on Tuesday night for their third straight win. The 27-year-old netminder had played one NHL game in 2003-04 before this season.
"You can see we don't have any drop off when we start Dan," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "He gives us quality goaltending every time."
Martin Erat scored his 13th and 14th goals of the season, and Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov added goals as the Predators improved to 7-2-2 in January. Erat is six goals from matching his career high, set in 2003-04.
J.P. Dumont had an assist to extend his point streak to 13 games (nine assists, nine goals). It's the second-longest active point streak in the NHL behind Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf (14 games).
Dumont, though, has just one goal and one assist in his last five games against Phoenix.
The Predators have scored 15 goals in their last three games.
Phoenix is also playing well in the offensive end and is coming off one of its best offensive games of the season Monday. Shane Doan had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to 11 games (seven goals, 11 assists).
"He's just taking the team on his shoulders right now, there's no question," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He's playing probably better than I've ever seen him play."
Phoenix has won three of the last four meetings with Nashville.