Coyotes’ win over Canucks has playoff feel

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Even in a leap year, February is
the shortest month. That’s a shame for the Phoenix Coyotes because they
absolutely owned these 29 days.

Mikkel Boedker’s warp-speed, shootout goal lifted Phoenix to a playoff-feel,
2-1 win over the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday at
Jobing.com Arena, helping the Coyotes finish off an 11-0-1 month in which they
earned all but one of a possible 24 points.

In so doing, the Coyotes have vaulted from 12th place in the Western Conference
standings to the Pacific Division lead and the corresponding No. 3 seed for the
playoffs.

“That was a heck of a month by any team’s standards,” said forward
Ray Whitney, who had a goal in regulation and another in the shootout. “We
realize that if we work hard we can compete with the big boys.”

The biggest of those boys were in town Tuesday. Vancouver had earned seven of
10 possible points on this six-game road trip before Tuesday’s game, and the
Canucks were the team responsible for that one lost Coyote point in February
when they beat Phoenix in a shootout on Feb. 13 in Vancouver.

With the trade-deadline acquisitions of Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson, the
Canucks have loaded up for another run at the Stanley Cup that narrowly escaped
them last season in a seven-game Stanley Cup Finals loss to Boston.

“They’re an elite team in the league,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett
said. “That was a great challenge for our group. Our guys were talking
about it before the game: ‘They were the only team that was able to take points
from us this month. Let’s see if we can get two from them.'”
 
From the outset, this was a goaltending exhibition between the Coyotes’ Mike
Smith and the Canucks’ Corey Schneider, who is technically the backup but has
played better than highly paid starter Roberto Luongo.

Vancouver’s Alexander Edler scored after his shot deflected off of Coyotes
defenseman Chris Summers and into the net in the first period — and it looked
like that goal might hold up as Schneider robbed Phoenix again and again, while
getting plenty of help from his posts.

But just as they did in that shootout loss in Vancouver, the Coyotes got the
equalizer well into the third period when Whitney knocked a knuckleball rebound
of Keith Yandle’s shot between Schneider’s pads.

Smith, who finished with 39 saves, was impenetrable from that point on, robbing Daniel Sedin on a
goal-mouth feed from brother Henrik, and stoning both Canucks shooters he faced
in the shootout, including Mason Raymond’s lengthy, spin-o-rama on which he
appeared to come to a complete stop.

“It seemed like he was turning a school bus,” quipped Smith, who is
seventh in the league — fifth among No. 1 goalies— with a .927 save percentage.

When asked what he saw on Tuesday, Smith smiled.

“I saw a lot of things,” he said. “From a goaltender’s
perspective, that’s important. If I’m not seeing things I’m in trouble.”

There was palpable concern among Coyotes fans on Twitter on Tuesday night that
the simple turning of the month could spell trouble for the stretch run. But
Tippett was showing no concern for the Ides of March.

“We don’t just start new,” he said. “We continue to build
confidence, build momentum and build our team game for the stretch drive. If we
secure a playoff spot, hopefully we’re playing well going into it and that’s
the whole mind-set.

“March 1 shouldn’t change our mindset.”