GLENDALE – The flu bug hit goalie Jason LaBarbera around mid-morning. David Schlemko got it around 2 p.m. By late afternoon, Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett – without a single extra player on his roster – wasn't sure if he would be able to field a full team for Thursday's must-win game against Detroit.
But the Coyotes showed up for the game – in more ways than one.
Defenseman Michael Stone, minor league call-up Chris Conner and captain Shane Doan scored during a 14-minute span of a dominant second period and emergency goalie Chad Johnson made 34 saves as the shorthanded Coyotes ran their points streak to five games with an emotional 4-2 win against the Red Wings at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night.
“That was one of the more amazing wins I've ever been around,” Tippett said. “I don't know what happened, but during the afternoon, we had five or six guys that were throwing up on the way to the game. That's the first game I think I've ever coached with two buckets beside me on the bench.
"(LaBarbera) couldn't go, Schlemko tried but he had to go down the hall after every shift and get sick. We had the wounded dog theory going.”
To complicate matters the Coyotes moved three veteran forwards at trade deadline Wednesday -- Matthew Lombardi, Steve Sullivan and Raffi Torres – forcing minor-leaguers Conner and Chris Brown to make the cross-country trip from Portland, Maine early Thursday morning.
“It's exciting. You just try not to do anything but play your game,” said Conner, a former Red Wing and Michigan Tech Husky, who has three goals in seven career games against Detroit. “It's where I'm from, so there's always a little added motivation playing them.”
Johnson didn't even get into the net at Thursday's morning skate. The Coyotes worked out Mike Smith – who missed his sixth straight game with injury – and LaBarbera, who had the flu hit him just after he got off the ice. But Johnson, who hadn't played anywhere in two weeks, showed the same steady hand he has shown in his three NHL starts this season, helping the Coyotes collect five of six points (2-0-1).
“I was kind of thrown into the game and knew it was a big game so it was great to get that chance,” said Johnson, who found out he was playing about six hours before the game. “We got some timely goals from guys and we held on from there.”
Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary scored for Detroit. Cleary's goal came on a 6-on-4 power play with 1:13 left in regulation and goaltender Jimmy Howard on the bench in favor of an extra attacker. Both Detroit goals came on the power play; the Coyotes took seven penalties but survived.
“I think our undoing was the power play,” Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock said. “It's not that we didn't do much on the power play … we got caught out at the end of (two) power plays for long shifts and they ended up scoring on one. In the end, they tilted the rink on us.”
Phoenix's Martin Hanzal scored an empty-net goal with less than a second left on the clock for the final margin.
The Red Wings lost for the seventh time when scoring first, the most of any NHL team this season. Howard, who came into the game 15-3-2 in 20 starts against Phoenix (including playoffs) stopped 34 shots.
The Coyotes climbed to 11th place in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race, two points behind eighth-place St. Louis and three behind seventh-place Detroit. The Coyotes and Red Wings play again April 22 at Joe Louis Arena.
Phoenix had a rough first five minutes, losing Schlemko, taking a bad early penalty, and giving up an easy power-play goal.
Rob Klinkhammer was called for holding Cleary 54 seconds into the game, and the Red Wings cashed in 1:02 later. Johnson stopped Gustav Nyquist's shot from the left circle but couldn't control the rebound. It landed at the feet of Filppula near the right post, and he scored his first goal in eight games with an easy backhand flip.
But Johnson stopped Detroit's other 14 first-period shots, and his teammates blocked 11 more to keep Phoenix close.
The second period was all Coyotes.
Phoenix outshot the Red Wings 20-5 and picked up its play from the first shift, tying the score at 1:47. Yandle set up Stone for a slap shot from the right circle that beat Howard cleanly for his fourth goal. After the Phoenix penalty killers shut down the Detroit power play twice, a former Red Wing put his new team ahead for good.
Conner, who had 13 goals and 40 points in 60 games with Portland of the American Hockey League, took a pass from Mikkel Boedker on the rush in the right circle and beat Howard high with a wrist shot to the far post at 8:08. It was Conner's first NHL goal in more than two years -- the last one came on Dec. 10, 2011, when he scored for Detroit against Winnipeg.
Almost eight minutes later, Phoenix doubled its lead on a pretty play. Yandle caught the Red Wings on a bad line change and whipped the puck 130 feet to Hanzal at the Detroit blue line. Hanzal pushed the puck forward to Doan, who found plenty of room between Howard's pads at 16:01 for his team-leading 12th goal and a 3-1 lead.
“It was a bad period for us,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We struggled a bit. We turned the puck over a little bit too much and they took advantage of that.”
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. In addition to scoring his team-high 12th goal of the season, captain Shane Doan led the team with seven shots on goal and co-led the team with three hits.
3. Defenseman Michael Stone notched a goal and an assist. It was his first multi-point game of the season and the second of his NHL career.
4. Forward Chris Brown played in his second NHL game and first since being recalled from the American Hockey League with forward Chris Conner on April 3. Brown logged 8:41 of ice time, took three shots on goal and delivered two hits.
5. The Coyotes improved their regular-season record to 6-4-4 vs. the Red Wings under Head Coach Dave Tippett.
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