Two-goal leads and second periods are still riddles to be solved, but two points were what the Coyotes came for against an old nemesis and two points were what they got.
Defenseman Keith Yandle scored the tying goal midway through the third period on a slapshot that somehow eluded unscreened goalie Jonathan Quick. Jeff Halpern netted the winner with 3:05 left on a goal that was initially missed by the officials before video review gave Phoenix a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night at Staples Center.
"It was a weird turn of events," said Halpern, who could have been talking about this entire Coyotes season, but was only talking about his biggest goal as a Coyote.
Everything set up perfectly for Phoenix as it settled in for the opening faceoff. Minnesota, Winnipeg and Vancouver all lost earlier games in the chase for the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots. The Coyotes knew that they could climb past idle Dallas into eighth place with a win or even a point in L.A.
Rob Klinkhammer and Mikkel Boedker scored 63 seconds apart in the first period to stake Phoenix to a 2-0 lead, but the Coyotes couldn’t build on it or learn from the horrific second period turned in two nights earlier against Calgary.
Rookie Tanner Pearson took advantage of an ill-advised Michael Stone pinch to put L.A. on the board. Defenseman Alec Martinez beat Mike Smith from a tough angle with a perfect shot to tie the game at 2-2, and Marian Gaborik added a power play goal between the circles in a three-goal, second-period outburst for the Kings, who were without captain Dustin Brown for a second straight game because of a lower body injury.
Just like that, the Coyotes were in a hole again of their own making.
"We just had too many weak links in our lineup," coach Dave Tippett said. "Not enough people bearing down on loose pucks, not enough compete in one-on-one battles. We got back on our heels, took some penalties and let them back in the game."
With center Martin Hanzal providing a spark on his return from a lower-body injury and Smith standing tall once again, Phoenix reversed that trend and carried the play early in the third period to get momentum back in its favor.
Hanzal did the dirty work down low before the puck squirted back to Yandle for a low slapshot that slipped past Quick’s glove. Halpern’s game-winner came from a tough angle, slipping over the goal line before Quick pulled it out, stymied Shane Doan on a rebound then waited for the review to seal L.A.’s third straight loss.
"I thought we played well enough. I don’t think I played well enough," Quick said. "You give up four goals, you’re going to lose games."
L.A. had been 21-0 when leading after two periods this season, but the Coyotes have now won three straight in the season series, which concludes April 2 in L.A.
With 77 points, Phoeninx trails seventh-place Minnesota by three points and sixth place L.A. by five. Ninth-place Dallas still has two games in hand on the Coyotes, but the first of those comes Tuesday in Pittsburgh against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The Coyotes are back in the race, and there probably isn’t a more satisfying place to achieve that than L.A., against the team that eliminated them in the Western Conference Final two seasons ago.
"We’re in dire straits," Doan said. "You’ve got to find points every night. You’re down to 13, 14 games left so that was big."