GLENDALE – With their playoff hopes dwindling and the trade deadline hours away, the Phoenix Coyotes wanted to show there was still some life and fire in a dressing room lobbying for a chance to prove they can still salvage the season.
Backup goalie Jason LaBarbera was brilliant with 39 saves and defenseman Keith Yandle matched a career high with two goals as the Coyotes kept their flickering playoff hopes alive with a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at Jobing.com Arena.
“It keeps us in the game. The only way you're going to have a chance is to win,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “We have a real good group. They want to do well and they respect what we're trying to do. Sometimes it doesn't go as well as you like, but it's not from a lack of trying.”
The Coyotes are 2-0-2 in four games since a seven-game losing streak that dropped them out of the playoff pack, and they failed to hold late third-period leads in Minnesota and San Jose last week before settling for a point. But this time, Yandle's second goal with 2:53 left wrapped up two points Phoenix had to have.
The 36 points still leave the Coyotes 12th in the West and two points behind the eighth-place St. Louis Blues, who have two games in hand.
“We have to play like our lives depend on it, and they do,” said Yandle, who has 21 points for the season and 17 of them – including seven of his eight goals – have come in Phoenix's 19 home games. “If we play this way we can make a push at it.”
Kyle Chipchura had the first assist on both of Yandle's goals and Matthew Lombardi snapped a 1-1 tie with the eventual game-winner in the second period. But the real star was LaBarbera, who was very good early when the Coyotes had a listless start and continues to hold the fort while starter Mike Smith continues to rehab the injury suffered in a March 21 collision with Vancouver’s Alexander Edler.
Five straight starts have allowed LaBarbera to find his rhythm and comfort zone.
“It's tough when you play once a month and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to deliver on that opportunity,” said LaBarbera, who made one start in a 26-game span from Jan. 28 to March 25. “That's my role and I've had ups and downs with it, but getting some games here makes you feel like when I was younger and played a lot. It's gratifying to get that feeling again.”
Jonathan Quick made 27 saves for the Kings, who had been 6-2-1 in their past nine games – including a pair of home wins against Phoenix. Los Angeles got an odd first-period deflection goal from Justin Williams, but that was it. LaBarbera stopped everything else.
“We probably out-chanced them by quite a margin, (but) you've got to give (LaBarbera) credit,” said Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter after his team took seven of 10 points on a 3-1-1 road trip. “We could have won every game. We played well enough to win every game, but that's the way it goes.”
LaBarbera made big saves on Dustin Brown and Mike Richards on an early Kings' power play, and later on Brad Richardson and Anze Kopitar, before his teammates woke up and took a brief lead.
Chipchura chased his own dump-in behind the Los Angeles net, won a battle with Keaton Elllerby and found a charging Yandle storming toward the crease unmarked. Yandle punched the feed past Quick at 11:02, giving Phoenix the first goal for the fourth straight game.
The lead didn't last long. The Kings caught a huge break just 1:10 later, when Williams ran down a puck at the right boards and flipped it high toward the slot. The puck hit Phoenix defenseman Michael Stone in the chest and bounced past LaBarbera at 12:12. Williams was credited with his eighth goal and his fourth in the past four games.
It stayed that way until midway through the second period, when recent call-up Rob Klinkhammer – who has been an unexpected and much-needed injection of production to a wilting Phoenix offense over the last 10 games – made another big play.
At the end of a long shift, Klinkhammer pushed into the Los Angeles zone and, with Kings center Tyler Toffoli draped all over him along the boards, chipped a pass that found Lombardi in stride. Lombardi went to the backhand as well and banked a shot off the far post and in at 11:05 to put Phoenix back in front.
It stayed that way until Yandle fired a puck from a hard angle off the side boards to give him his first two-goal game in more than three years (Jan. 26, 2010 at Detroit.)
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Dave Tippett notched his 150th victory as head coach of the Coyotes. Only Bob Francis has coached the franchise to more victories (165).
2. Defenseman Keith Yandle notched his 50th NHL goal at 11:02 of the first period.
3. Forward Rob Klinkhammer assisted on Matthew Lombardi’s game-winning goal to extend his point streak to a career-high five games.
4. Forward Radim Vrbata played in his 700th NHL game.
5. Before the game, the Coyotes honored forward Steve Sullivan for playing in his 1,000th NHL game on March 28 in Nashville. Sullivan’s family joined him on the ice for the ceremony, during which Sullivan was presented with gifts from the League, the team and his teammates.