Hot Phoenix Coyotes Well Positioned for a Playoff Run
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The shot was just one in a cascade of pucks leveled against Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.
Yet the save is clearly representative of what the Phoenix Coyotes can do down the stretch and into the postseason.
Arguably the hottest team in the NHL at the moment, the Coyotes concluded an undefeated February with a 2-1 shootout victory over Vancouver—the team with the best league record.
If there are doubts about the staying power of Phoenix, their collective ability to respond, their work ethic as a catalyst in many come-from-behind victories, and the “character” of leaders like Shane Doan and Keith Yandle, those dark clouds have long drifted from the desert.
In compiling 23 standing points of a possible 24 in February, the Coyotes jumped from deep in the Western Conference to third overall in the conference.
With 75 points at the end of February, that’s good enough to stay atop of the NHL’s Pacific Division, and position Phoenix for a strong playoff run.
While Smith has emerged as a dependable and durable goaltender, it’s the defense in front of the net minder which has made a difference.
Whether it’s back-checking from forwards, centers winning face-offs or the play of defenseman in front of Smith to allow the goalie to see the first shot, this combination of factors has enabled Phoenix to soar quickly to the top of the Conference.
“The recent success starts with Smith,” said Yandle after the win against Vancouver.
“We’re so confident in him and he continues to play at high level. Plus, the forwards are coming back to help and that’s been a big plus for us.”
The “save” Smith made was against Daniel Sedin on a pass from his brother Henrik. Daniel ripped a wrist shot from just inside the left face-off circle and Smith slid across, made the save, and kept the score tied at 1-1 in overtime.
Earlier, he made back-to-back stops against Christopher Tabev and Mason Raymond to keep the score 1-0. That was after a Vancouver lead when the Alexander Edler scored on the power play at 14:56 of the opening period.
“Mike is solid and continues to give us a chance to win,” said Dave Tippett, the Coyotes coach. “He’s established himself as an elite goaltender in the NHL and did nothing (against Vancouver) to tarnish that.”
Later, shootout goals from Ray Whitney and Mikkel Boedker sealed the deal. Through the three periods and the overtime, Smith turned aside 39 of 40 shots to improve his season mark to 29-14-7 in 50 games.
Smith is the first acknowledge the effort of the defenseman and forwards in clearing out in front of him and keeping rebounds from harm’s way.
“Guys are taking shots in front of me, I see them limping off the ice and the trainer’s working on them,” Smith said.
“But it takes that kind of effort to be successful. Seems like guys are coming out with ice bags and it hurts to win. But, It’s also great to win.”
In February, the Coyotes lost only one point and that at Vancouver when they lost in a shootout, 2-1 on February 13. Overall, they won 11 of 12 and spiked their chance for success down the stretch.
“We set a standard for ourselves and what we expect as a team,” said Tippett. “We’ve built some momentum here and we’ve rallied around that. Everyone is expected to do their part, and if that happens, then that gives us a chance to win.”
On the Ice
Down 1-0, the Coyotes grit surfaced and they managed a goal from Whitney mid-way through the final period to send this one into overtime.
Whitney’s backhander at 9:43 of the final period came of a pass from Yandle and deadlocked matters.
He also shot first in the overtime and his wrist shot cleanly beat Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider to set up the eventual win.
“The wins are great but that’s where the humility comes,” Whitney said. “Going forward, we need to stay focused. We know what’s out there.”
Elsewhere...The win was the first by the Coyotes over Vancouver in Phoenix since March 21, 2009. … The Canucks ended a six game road trip with a mark of 3-1-2 and now return to Rogers Arena for a seven game home stand. They have only five road games the rest of the season. .. The Coyotes stay at home to complete a three-game home stand with Calgary and Columbus next. After stops in Pittsburgh and Columbus, they return home for games against Minnesota, San Jose and Nashville between March 8 and March 12.
Editor's note: Quotes used in this story were obtained by the author in postgame interviews, Vancouver at Phoenix, Feb. 28, 2012.
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