Mike Smith made 31 saves in another stingy start, helping the Phoenix Coyotes take the Pacific Division lead with a 4-1 victory over the suddenly beatable St. Louis Blues on Friday night.
Patrik Berglund’s rebound goal in the first period ended Smith’s shutout streak at 234:25 and tied it at 1, but Smith was perfect the rest of the way. The Coyotes won their fourth in a row and extended the Blues’ season-worst winless streak to four games in St. Louis’ home finale.
Keith Yandle, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker scored for Phoenix, and Antoine Vermette had two assists. The Coyotes, who’ve won the last four by a combined 14-1, can win the first division title in franchise history with a victory in the regular-season finale Saturday night at Minnesota.
The Coyotes have a one-point lead over Los Angeles and San Jose. The Kings and Sharks will play Saturday night in San Jose, with one team guaranteed to earn two points.
Brian Elliott, whose scoreless streak ended at 241:33 in a shootout loss to Detroit on Wednesday, had 28 saves for St. Louis. The Blues were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and could still win the Western Conference with a win Saturday at Dallas along with a Vancouver loss at home against Edmonton, but are 3-4-4 in their last 11.
The Blues finished a franchise-best 30-6-5 at home, but with a pair of blowout losses in the last three, also falling 5-2 to lowly Columbus last Saturday. A sellout crowd showed its frustration in the third period, with a beer bottle and a hat tossed onto the ice after Jamie Langenbrunner and Michal Rozsival tangled.
Phoenix avoided a season sweep by St. Louis after getting outscored 11-3 in three losses, including a 4-0 setback at home March 25. The Coyotes killed seven Blues’ power plays.
Yandle scored his first goal in 11 games on the Coyotes’ second shot, hitting the top corner with a drive from beyond the left faceoff circle at 2:13. Berglund’s 19th goal tied it late in the period and the Blues outshot the Coyotes 11-0 the last 11 minutes of the first period, appearing to build some momentum.
Phoenix regained control early in the second, beating Elliott on consecutive shots by Vrbata from the slot and Doan on a rush for a 3-1 lead about 7 1/2 minutes in. Vrbata has 34 goals, the most for the Coyotes since Jeremy Roenick had 34 in 1999-2000.
The Blues missed a chance to climb back into it, coming up empty with 1:48 of a two-man advantage late in the period.
Notes: Doan has 20 goals and 46 points in 64 career games against the Blues. … Elliott and Smith fell well short of the NHL record of 332:01 set by Brian Boucher of Phoenix in 2003-04. … The Coyotes are 32-1 when leading after two periods. … Smith won for the first time in four career starts in St. Louis.