Smith, Olympic snubs steal show in Coyotes’ big win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team stole the pregame show Friday at Arena. Two Olympic snubs and a goalie who isn’t expected to play much in Sochi took over once the puck was dropped.

Team USA snub Keith Yandle buried a bullet from the point 1:09 into the game, Czech snub Radim Vrbata followed with a late second-period goal, and Team Canada goalie Mike Smith made 30 saves as the Coyotes climbed into playoff position for the first time since Jan. 9 with a 2-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

The shutout loss for Chicago was the franchise’s first since being shut out in Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup finals against Boston, further underlining Phoenix’s recent penchant for playing to the level of its competition.

"We battled hard," coach Dave Tippett said. "We’ve got to keep that mindset (Saturday in Dallas) and see if we can get points before the break."

It’s certainly easier to get up for the Blackhawks than it is the Stars, but the Coyotes were helped by the presence of the Miracle on Ice team that won gold in Lake Placid, N.Y. After fist-bumping his American inspirations, Yandle took a backhand feed from Mikkel Boedker on a power play and ripped a shot from the point just inside the far post for a 1-0 lead before the crowd had even settled into its seats.

"I think everybody felt American tonight," Yandle said. "When you see Mo (Canadian Derek Morris) standing and clapping for the USA guys, you know." 

The Blackhawks were at the tail end of a six-game road trip and were playing without sniper Patrick Kane, who flew home to attend his grandfather’s funeral. But the Coyotes played without do-everything center Martin Hanzal, and the arena was heavily tilted toward Chicago fans.

"I actually liked that they didn’t have a lot to cheer about," Tippett said.

Both of Phoenix’s goals came on the power play — against a Chicago penalty-killing unit that had allowed just one power-play goal in its previous 10 games. That’s a positive sign.

Coyotes 2, Blackhawks 0

So was the Coyotes’ defensive play, which has steadily improved since Zbynek Michalek returned to the lineup and got a big lift from Michael Stone with Derek Morris sidelined by an upper-body injury.

But perhaps the most encouraging sign for Phoenix has been the play of Mike Smith in his last three starts. Smith has stopped 90 of his last 93 shots in that span while posting wins over Pittsburgh and Chicago.

"I’m never satisfied," he said. "I played well tonight, but just when you think you’ve got it, it can turn. I’m not going to look too far ahead here. I look forward to (Saturday)."

With Friday’s win, the Coyotes climbed past the Canucks into eighth place in the Western Conference. If they can somehow get a win in Dallas, they would hold onto that playoff spot as they head to the Olympic break.

"We want to be in a playoff position any time, let alone break," Tippett said. "Players know that they’re going to get a rest after this, so they’d better bring all they’ve got (Saturday)."  

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