Coyotes widen lead on Stars with win over Panthers

With Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Panthers, the Coyotes have won five of their last six and seven of nine.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Tippett didn’€™t want to talk about the flaws in the Coyotes’ game when he reached the interview room following Phoenix’s 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.

"They all can’t be masterpieces," the Coyotes coach said, grinning. "We got up two goals and we won. Let’s just leave it at that."

The last time the Coyotes won three straight games, kids were still eating their Halloween candy and the college basketball season hadn’t yet tipped off. So in the heat of a playoff race, a timely three-game win streak renders style points irrelevant.

Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette scored first-period goals — the latter a controversial one — and Mike Smith (22 saves) narrowly missed his fourth shutout of the season as the Coyotes widened their lead over the Stars to four points in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Stars, who dropped their fourth straight game Thursday in Philadelphia, have one game in hand on the Coyotes, who have won three straight for the first time since Oct. 31-Nov. 5 (part of a five-game winning streak). 

"It’s a good help, the other teams not winning, but I think we want to get there with us playing well and us winning," Vrbata said. "There’s still 12 games left, so we have to keep this streak going as long as we can." 

Thursday’s game marked the debut of the Coyotes’ Czech line of Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Martin Erat. Vrbata’s goal came off a rebound on a power play, so the line didn’t produce any goals in 5-on-5 play, but that wasn’t a big surprise. Despite their common ethnicity and their participation in many international competitions for the Czech Republic, the trio had never before played on a line together.

"It was alright for a first game," Vrbata said. "Offensively, you can see that we can find each other on the ice and when we have time that we can make the plays. Hopefully, with more practices and more games, it will get even better."

The game wasn’t without controversy — at least from the Florida side. On Vermette’s late first-period goal, Panthers defenseman Dylan Olsen shoved charging forward Mikkel Boedker into goalie Roberto Luongo, and Boedker fell on top of Luongo, allowing Vermette to tap the puck into a gaping net.

"It’s frustrating, because you want to give yourself a chance to make a save, but on a play like that when you totally get taken out of the play, you really can’t do much about it," Luongo said. "I felt like I was already in the blue (paint) once the contact was made, so it is tough for me to do my job when I end up in a corner."

A Panthers source told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that the referee admitted to the supervisor that he blew the call, but goalie interference is not reviewable unless it’s called on the ice.

Tippett saw it another way.

Coyotes 2, Panthers 1

"I thought it was the right call," Tippett said. "Boedker wouldn’t have been in there if he wouldn’t have got pushed."

There were still two periods for the Panthers to rally from that mistake, especially because the Coyotes couldn’€™t get a third goal to put the game away.

But they got the win. At this time of year, that’s all that is important.

Phoenix has won five of its last six games and seven of its last nine.

"Great timing," Vermette said. "Valuable points in the standings, and we’ll certainly take that."

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