Phoenix backup Jason LaBarbera shook off a lot of rust and self doubt to lead the Coyotes past his former team.
LaBarbera made 46 saves, and Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan scored 1:18 apart on the same power play late in the third period to help the Coyotes snap the Vancouver Canucks’ seven-game win streak with a 3-1 victory Friday night.
It was just LaBarbera’s third game in more than two months, and his first start since Feb. 23, when he gave up eight goals in a loss to Tampa Bay.
”My last game was a joke. I got lit up,” LaBarbera said. ”When you have to sit on an eight-goal game like that, it’s not easy. It’s been a tough couple of weeks just trying to stay confident.”
LaBarbera watched Ilya Bryzgalov make his 10th straight start — and 29th in the last 30 games — Thursday night in Edmonton, before finding out he’d finally get to start again against a Vancouver team he played for two seasons ago.
”You get that carrot dangled in front of you,” LaBarbera said. ”I just had to refocus and reset myself in my head and just go out and play. I just wanted to contribute something.”
LaBarbera made several brilliant stops, but also got a lot of help killing off five chances for the Canucks’ No. 1-ranked power play, including a 5-on-3 for 1:10 in the third period. Shortly after, the Coyotes got a five-minute power play when Vancouver forward Alex Burrows was given a major and game misconduct for pushing Vernon Fiddler face-first into the end boards.
Vrbata scored with 6:29 left after collecting a loose puck in the slot and firing a blind backhand past Roberto Luongo. Doan blasted a shot through Vrbata’s screen with 5:11 left as the Coyotes won their fifth straight game to move within one point of first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.
”We know we’ve got to be better than that,” Doan said after his team was outshot 47-29. ”At the same time, it is big for us, just because we need points and we recognize Vancouver is the top team in the league and arguably the best team in the league.”
Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff spoiled LaBarbera’s shutout just more than two minutes later, but Lee Stempniak scored into an empty net with 1:05 left.
Luongo finished with 26 saves for the league-leading Canucks.
”It was a huge effort by (LaBarbera), and then in the third period finding ways to get a goal here and get a goal there,” Doan said.
After first carefully professing his respect for the referees, Burrows admitted he wasn’t happy with the call that decided the game and felt it was the result of the league’s recently increased focus on head shots.
”I like the idea of protecting head shots and making sure everybody is safe, but at the same time you’ve got to be careful,” Burrows said. ”It’s a fast game and you wouldn’t want to cost a game like that in the playoffs. I thought two minutes max when I saw his arm up. I just thought it was going to be a boarding call. Obviously, I was surprised when it was a major.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault agreed with Burrows’ assessment of the penalty, but not that it cost his team the game. For that he blamed an ineffective power play and credited LaBarbera.
”At the most, it was a minor,” Vigneault said. ”But at the end of the day, we had a 5-on-3 and an opportunity to control the game there — couldn’t beat LaBarbera. He made some great saves.”
Fiddler went to the locker room after his face hit the edge of the boards, which is part of the NHL’s new protocol on potential concussions, but was back on the ice less than 10 minutes later.
”I was dazed at first, but that’s part of the game,” Fiddler said. ”They asked me a bunch of questions, just a typical neuro-psyche test, and I just did what I was asked and that was it.”
NOTES: Right after Luongo’s delay-of-game penalty in the first period for clearing the puck over the glass expired, LaBarbera took one for tripping Henrik Sedin at the side of the net. … The Coyotes are 6-0-0 in Western Canada this year. They became the first team to win twice in Vancouver this season.