EDMONTON -- In a game between teams desperate for points, the Phoenix Coyotes showed more urgency.
Mike Smith stopped 29 shots Wednesday as the Coyotes beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 at Rexall Place to pull within one point of the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings for the final Western Conference playoff berth. The Coyotes have 42 points, one fewer than the Red Wings -- who also have a game in hand.
“This was a do-or-die game for either team,” Phoenix head Coach Dave Tippett said. “We got the points and we're still in the race.”
Boyd Gordon and Antoine Vermette scored second-period goals for the Coyotes, who started a three-game trip through Western Canada with a 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, the beginning of a stretch that will see them play six of seven games on the road.
David Moss added a power-play goal in the final seconds.
“I think the effort was there,” Smith said of Phoenix’s start. “We didn't execute as best we could have, but we found a way to get two points. We competed really hard, did a lot of good things and found a way to get two points.”
The Oilers got a third-period goal by rookie Nail Yakupov, but lost their fourth game in a row and remained at 39 points, four out of a playoff berth. They lost to the Coyotes for the first time in three tries this season.
“It's going to be tough to make the playoffs,” Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid said. “We have eight games left and we pretty much have to win all of them.”
Phoenix outshot Edmonton 10-8 in a scoreless first period, then needed 37 seconds of the second period to take the lead for good. Gordon scored his fourth goal of the season when his sharp-angled shot from along the goal line went into the net off goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
“We thought we were getting some chances in the first period. We just didn't bury them,” Tippett said. “(Gordon) gets kind of a fluky goal from the corner, and that obviously gives your club momentum. Whoever gets the lead has a big advantage.”
Dubnyk was his own worst enemy on Phoenix’s second goal. He took his time playing the puck behind the net, and as Coyotes forward Chris Conner pressured him, the goaltender slid a blind pass toward the right circle, where Vermette jumped on the puck and snapped it into the half-empty net at the 9:00 mark for his ninth of the season.
“He makes people make mistakes,” Tippett said of Conner, a recent recall from the American Hockey League. “That’s what he did on the second goal.”
The Coyotes came close to breaking the game open late in the period when Moss stole the puck and raced in on a shorthanded breakaway. Moss beat Dubnyk but not the post, leaving the lead at 2-0 after 40 minutes.
Edmonton, outshot 22-15 through two periods, came out with a much more spirited effort in the third. Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff was all alone in front just over two minutes into the period but couldn't beat Smith; seconds later, Martin Hanzal got a stick on a shot by Jordan Eberle with Smith down on the ice.
“They found their game in the third period,” Smith said.
The Oilers broke through at 7:49 when Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko couldn’t control the puck in his own zone. Ryan Smyth whacked the puck toward the net and off Smith's pads, and Yakupov batted the rebound into the net for his 10th of the season.
Smith held off the Oilers, making the best of his 14 third-period saves when he denied Sam Gagner's stuff shot and with 18 seconds remaining.
“It was too little too late for the result we needed, which was points,” Oilers Head Coach Ralph Krueger said. “It's a tough one to swallow. There are no points to give any more. We're not giving up. We need to do everything possible to win the next game.”
Horcoff took a cross-checking penalty during the ensuing scramble. Moss' power-play goal iced the win -- and may have ended the Oilers' slim playoff hopes.
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek played 21:46 in his first game back from a lower-body injury that cost him 14 games.
2. Center Boyd Gordon notched a goal and an assist, led the team with six shots on goal, and won 12 of 19 face-offs.
3. Goalie Mike Smith, who made 29 saves, has stopped 93 of 95 shots in three games since his return from injury.
4. The Coyotes used seven defensemen in a game for the first time this season.
5. The Coyotes upped their record to 6-1-1 at Edmonton in Head Coach Dave Tippett's three-plus seasons.
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