Never the easy way, but Coyotes prevail
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Pack your Pepto and practice deep breathing. This is how the final 14 games of the Phoenix Coyotes season look: an imperfect team struggling to overcome its demons and deficiencies to squeeze into the playoffs.
Calgary had played the night before and when the soon-to-be-vacationing Flames fell into an early 2-0 hole on career goal No. 1 from Chris Summers and season-goal No. 10 from Rob Klinkhammer, it looked like Phoenix might just cruise to an easy win Saturday night.
Silly fans. Have you learned nothing?
It took another superhuman effort from goalie Mike Smith, six third-period power plays and a third-period deflection from captain Shane Doan to overcome Calgary's rally in a 3-2 win at Jobing.com Arena.
There was drama where none belonged.
"I think we thought it was going to be an easy game after the first. I hope we take something away from this game," said Smith, who turned aside 30 shots of which too many were high-percentage chances. "We can't just tip-toe around in games and expect to win -- even against teams that aren't in the playoff hunt."
The important result of this game was that Phoenix pulled even with eighth-place Dallas in points (75) in the Western Conference, although the Stars still have two games in hand. But Smith was, without question, the biggest reason the Coyotes were still in position for that climb after two periods.
Calgary got second-period power-plays goals from Curtis Glencross and Mikael Backlund, but Smith stopped a half dozen point-blank chances that nobody would have blamed him for missing -- chances that maybe two or three other guys on this planet could have stopped.
"He made some big saves overall throughout the game where they were really athletic, unbelievable saves," Doan said.
Fortunately for Smith, he only had to face four Calgary power plays, one of which was 12 seconds long. Phoenix has allowed nine power-play goals in its opponents' last 32 chances to fall to 27th in the league on the penalty kill at 79.2 percent. That was the focus for coach Dave Tippett's when asked if there was a common denominator in the Coyotes blowing two-goal leads in three of their last eight games.
"Don't take penalties," he said.
When the second period had ended, a sickening feeling settled over the arena. This was not a game the Coyotes could afford to drop. There aren't many of those left on the schedule anyway, but certainly not a home game to a non-playoff team.
The Coyotes needed their leadership to take over and that's what happened when Doan redirected a shot from Yandle past goalie Joni Ortio on the third of the Coyotes' six power plays in the third.
"We got frustrated and we paid for it," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said.
Calgary's loss on composure was Doan's gain. The Coyotes captain wants so desperately to lead his team in every way possible, and itâs been eating at him that he hasn't contributed more points.
"I was so frustrated after I hit the post earlier. I thought I had it," Doan said. "Everybody wants to contribute; everybody wants to help but yeah, I take a lot of responsibility and rightfully so because I'm given a lot. If youâre given a lot you'd better contribute once in a while."
On the other side of the locker room, a guy who rarely gets to contribute was wearing the team belt as player of the game. Summers might have occupied a bigger portion of the Coyotes story Saturday had the team not blown the lead he gave them. But as the 2006 first-round talked emotionally of calling his dad after his first NHL goal, Tippett noted the equally important role Summers played on one final penalty kill late in the game when he posted the last of his three blocked shots.
"Great attitude," said Tippett of Summers' patience over the past eight seasons. "He's a good player and a reliable player, but he's a very good person.
"It makes you want to keep him in the organization."