Vrbata’s goal tops Coyotes’ rally over Kings
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Phoenix Coyotes were slow to the puck on defense, lost nearly all the individual battles, were stuck in a malaise somewhat surprising for a team that had been working so hard and playing so well.
Even down 3-0 in the first period, they didn’t panic, didn’t think they were out of it. Just start playing hard and we’ll win this, they told each other.
They did just that and pulled out an impressive win, moving into a tie atop the Pacific Division.
Radim Vrbata scored his second goal late in regulation and Phoenix rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-4 in a shootout Tuesday night.
“It shows a lot about our team and the way we’ve been playing of late,” Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. “At the beginning of the year, we were losing games last minute or in overtime. Lately, we’ve been finding a way to play good hockey and come together — and it’s been fun.”
The Coyotes were on a big February run for the third straight season, but played the first period like a team well out of the playoff picture, not one surging up the standings.
In a rematch of a fight-filled game five days earlier, Phoenix allowed three goals in the first period and managed just five shots on goal, its streak seemingly headed toward a disappointing end.
The Coyotes rallied in the second on two goals by Shane Doan and another by Vrbata, with Martin Hanzal matching his career high with assists on all three.
Vrbata tied it at 4-all with 2:27 left in regulation on a power play after Kings winger Kyle Clifford received a game misconduct for a shot to Coyotes center Gilbert Brule’s head.
The Coyotes nearly won it in regulation, then pulled it out in the shootout when Ray Whitney and Mikkel Boedker scored and Los Angeles defenseman Jack Johnson missed wide right.
The NHL’s worst power-play team, Phoenix scored three goals with a man advantage to earn a point in its ninth straight game and reach 69 points, tied with San Jose in the Pacific.
“It continues to build a belief system that you can win,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “You can win when things are going well and you can win when there’s some adversity in front of you. There’s some good learning experiences for us there.”
Hoping to climb out of a recent rut, the Kings went at Phoenix hard in the first period, getting goals from Drew Doughty, Andrei Loktionov and Dustin Brown.
Justin Williams added his 12th goal in the second period and goalie Jonathan Quick made a sprawling save on Doan late in overtime to send the game to a shootout.
One of the NHL’s best teams on the power play, the Kings were hurt by three goals by Phoenix with a man advantage and missed on two of their three shots in the shootout to leave the desert disappointed despite moving into sole possession of eighth in the Western Conference.
“If you give up three power-play goals on the road, you’re going to have a tough time winning,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
Fighting for playoff spots in the West, the Coyotes and Kings slugged it out last Thursday night in Los Angeles.
The game featured three fights in the first period and 62 penalty minutes overall.
Goalie Mike Smith got involved in one scrum and Doan also made a rare appearance on the fight card, going toe-to-toe with Brown, his fellow captain.
Phoenix beat Los Angeles 1-0 on Vrbata’s power-play goal and Smith’s 28 saves.
The rematch was even bigger for the Kings.
While Phoenix was bounding up the standings, Los Angeles had taken a tumble, losing six of its previous eight games.
The Kings have struggled to find the net, failing to score two goals six times — all losses — and followed the shutout against the Coyotes with another 1-0 loss against Calgary.
This time, the fighting was down and the scoring up.
The Kings had the jump at the start, getting a goal from Doughty about 6 minutes in and two more from Loktionov and Brown just over two minutes apart.
The Coyotes had just five shots on goal in the period and Smith gave up as many goals as he had the previous five games combined.
Phoenix snapped out of its struggles quickly in the second, getting a power-play goal from Vrbata 50 seconds in, another by Doan — both on feeds from Hanzal — four minutes later.
Los Angeles answered on Williams’ one-timer on a power play, but Doan scored his second of the game on a rebound late in the period to cut the Kings’ lead to 4-3.
“They got that early power-play goal in the second and that took some of the wind out of our sails,” Brown said. “Then we came back to get another goal back and they get a third goal off a mistake of ours.”
Los Angeles held on through most of the third period before Vrbata tied it late in the third with a nifty carry-and-spin move, giving him 30 goals on the season.
Even after Quick’s big save, the Coyotes came through in the shootout to win a game that seemed far out of reach after the first period.
“A big win, a big two points,” Vrbata said. “We were flat in the first, but after the first we talked in the dressing room about how we wanted to make a comeback.”
They did and it could be a big boost toward their playoff push.
NOTES: The Kings are 20-4-6 when scoring first. … The first period featured no penalties, the second five. … Los Angeles had killed 23 of 24 penalties before Phoenix converted 3 of 7. … Phoenix has won six straight home games.