By Curtis Zupke | NHL.com Correspondent
LOS ANGELES -- Every team in the playoff race says it is involved in playoff hockey in terms of hard-fought, chippy, stingy defensive affairs. Few clubs demonstrate it quite like the Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings did on Thursday night at the Staples Center.
The teams combined for four fights and 40 penalty minutes in the opening period alone, and when the tempers settled down Phoenix (28-21-9) got the game's only goal for a 1-0 victory that leapfrogged it over LA (27-20-11) for seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
“That was a very competitive game," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We knew they were going to be competitive. We had to make sure that our team was very competitive. We talked about the importance of this game and where we are in the standings and where they are in the standings. We had to be all in if we’re going to have a chance at winning this game and I thought we were all in... We played a smart hard game and we found a way to win.”
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith stopped 28 shots and made Radim Vrbata's second-period power-play goal (see KEY MOMENT below) stand up for his second shutout in a row.
The Coyotes, who were in 12th place in the West on Feb. 3, extended their season-high unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1). Both teams have 65 points in 58 games, but the Coyotes have three more non-shootout wins.
LA had only four shots in the first 15 minutes of the third period and couldn’t convert on a six-on-four advantage in the final 90 seconds after Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival was called for cross-checking and the Kings pulled goaltender Jonathan Quick for an extra attacker.
The scoreless opening period featured three official fights and a scrap between Smith and Anze Kopitar behind the Phoenix net that prompted Quick to skate all the way out to the Coyotes blue line for a potential goalie battle.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan fought Kings counterpart Dustin Brown after Brown knocked Rostislav Klesla out the game with a check. Klesla suffered an upper-body injury and his status was not immediately known.
Photo by Getty Images.
“It speaks volumes about Shane Doan and the rest of our group and how they care for each other and want to stick up for each other," Tippett said. "They’re willing to go to battle for each other. That’s just part of the game and it’s a part of the game that I think is entrenched in all these players. When you play the game of hockey you stick up for your teammates and that’s what that was all about.”
"It’s part of the game and 'Browny' plays that way all the time," Doan said. "He hits hard. Both sides are trying to set the tone and he was more than willing (to fight) and it’s part of the game."
Doan added: "It’s one of those games that you love to play in and you really like to win. It was a big one for us."
► EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com edited this story and compiled this recap.
Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata’s 27th goal of the season - and 19th away from Glendale - came with Kings defenseman Jack Johnson serving a delay-of-game penalty; it was the first power-play goal allowed by the Kings in eight games.
Coyotes forward Ray Whitney found Vrbata in the right circle and Vrbata wristed a shot past Jonthan Quick, who made 20 saves, at 15:59 of the second period.
► Click here to see the KEY MOMENT.
• Defenseman Rostislav Klesla suffered an upper-body injury at 4:34 of the first period when checked by Kings captain Dustin Brown while in an awkward position. Klesla was helped off the ice by two teammates and did not return to the game.
• Goalie Mike Smith extended his career-best winning streak to six games with the 15th shutout of his NHL career. It was also his second shutout in a row and his fourth shutout of the season - also a career-high. Smith has not allowed a goal in 139:04 of ice time.
• Forward Radim Vrbata scored his 27th goal of the season to match his career-high for goals in a season set with Phoenix in 2007-08. He's tied with Scott Hartnell of Philadelphia and Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers for seventh in the League.
• The Coyotes entered the game with 12 major penalties for fighting. They had four in this game, including one by goalie Mike Smith (vs. Kings forward Anze Kopitar) in the first period. Phoenix, the NHL's least penalized team, finished the game with a season-high 28 penalty minutes.
• Forward Paul Bissonnette played his first game since Jan. 10 - a stretch of 14 games. Bissonnette logged 8:31 of ice time and delivered five hits. He fought KIngs forward Kevin Westgarth in the third period.
• Center Martin Hanzal delivered a team-high seven hits and won 11 of 14 faceoffs. Center Boyd Gordon won 15 of 23 faceoffs.
• The Coyotes' next game is Saturday vs. the Dallas Stars at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 6 p.m. (Arizona time). The game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona and can be heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM).
"That game was like a win in the playoffs and there's no better feeling than that. The intensity level was at an all-time high for the season and... we got a huge two points tonight."
"Everyone realized how big of a game it was and how important it was for us to find a way to win. They’re ahead of us in the standings, they've got the position we want, and everybody is chasing everybody right now."
"In a game like tonight, we have to find a way to tie that game up and push it into overtime. We weren’t able to do that... It’s going to be a tough run and we have to find a way to win games."