GLENDALE – The Phoenix Coyotes have their offense clicking, their starting goalie back between the pipes and their team swagger back.
The only question: Is there is still enough time for them to rescue a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon and Shane Doan all scored during an 11:31 span of the second period Saturday and goalie Mike Smith returned to the Phoenix lineup from injury with 24 saves and his fifth shutout of the season as the Coyotes drilled the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 at Jobing.com Arena.
The line of Doan, Hanzal and Radim Vrbata combined for six points and Oliver Ekman-Larsson added two assists as the Coyotes extended their points streak to a season-high six games (4-0-2) and jumped over Columbus and Edmonton and into ninth place in the Western Conference with 40 points. They trail eighth-place St. Louis by two points – the Blues have two games in hand and own the regulation win tiebreaker – heading into a crucial three-game road trip to Western Canada beginning Monday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Coyotes play seven of their final 10 games on the road.
“We're feeling better, but ninth place doesn't get you anything,” said Doan, who has 20 career goals against Colorado. “We’re starting to get all our players back and we need everyone to be the kind of team we're capable of. (Smith) is such a big part of our team.”
The Coyotes swept a must-win, three-game homestand – their first three-game win streak of the season – using three different goaltenders. Jason LaBarbera beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Tuesday and Chad Johnson stopped the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Thursday before Smith returned after missing six games with an upper-body injury to record his 13th shutout in 94 games with Phoenix.
Smith was his old feisty self from the very beginning, straying from the net to set up Hanzal's power-play goal and engaging the few Avalanche players who invaded his crease.
“That's my game. I didn't want to go back in there and be tentative. I wanted to get in there and do what I do, and that's when I play at my best,” said Smith, who was 0-3-1 with a no-decision in five starts before being run over by Vancouver's Alexander Edler during a 2-1 loss to the Canucks March 21.
“It was a well-rounded game by everyone. We came out hungrier. We knew they had traveled the night before and if definitely showed that we were the fresher club.”
The Coyotes have dominated Colorado on home ice over the past six years, 9-0-2 in their past 11 games here. And the Avalanche, who are a miserable 2-15-3 road on the road this season and winless in their past 14 (0-11-3) were in trouble from the start after fighting hard in an overtime home loss to Detroit on Friday.
“There are no positives to take out of that game, I don't think,” Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson said. “From the drop of the puck, they were the more desperate team and it definitely showed. They were fighting for their playoff lives and we have to show more than we did. You can talk about it all you want, but you've got to go out there and do it.”
Just 1:46 into play, Mikkel Boedker raced down the left side and let go a long wrist shot that beat Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov (24 saves) over his pad to the far post. It was Boedker's seventh goal and 24th point of the season -- and the 44th first-period goal allowed by the Avalanche.
Smith saw only five shots in the first, but became a bigger factor with big plays offensively and defensively in the second, when the Coyotes were dominant and scored three times for the second straight game.
On an early Phoenix power play, Smith dashed to the faceoff circle to stop a clearing attempt and caught Colorado on a change. His long pass was right on the tape of Vrbata, who sent Hanzal and Doan in all alone. Doan returned a pass for Hanzal for the easy tap-in at 3:06 – the 23rd power-play goal allowed by Colorado in 20 road games.
“You miss that when Smitty isn't in there, the way he moves the puck up,” Doan said. “You can see how good he is at it and why we really enjoy having him here.”
Smith then made a more traditional goalie play, diving to smother an Aaron Palushaj rebound shot. Cody McLeod tried to jam at the puck, but Smith grabbed McLeod's stick out of his hands and tried to break it over the crossbar before tossing it away in disgust.
“Tip (Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett) told me never to beat a stick over the post again, so after I pulled it out of his hands and saw (the crossbar) I said, ‘I better miss with this,’”Smith said. “It's an emotional game and it's the competitive spirit in me.”
Just 2:58 after Hanzal's 11th goal, a Colorado breakout attempt caromed off the skate of Brad Malone and gave the Coyotes another golden opportunity. David Moss pushed the puck to Gordon, who carried the puck to the goal line before banking a puck off Varlamov's back and in at 7:04. Gordon didn't score a goal in the first 32 games of the season, but now has three in the past six.
Doan made it 4-0 at 14:37, completing and tic-tack-toe play with Ekman-Larsson and Vrbata, with both Varlamov and Johnson over committing and leaving the crease wide open. Doan's easy goal was his team-leading 13th of the season and the rout was on.
“This was really the first game in the last little while that we were really not in the game,” Colorado Head Coach Joe Sacco said.
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson notched two assists for his team-leading sixth multi-point game of the season. His two helpers gave him 18 for the season, which leads the team. He also delivered a team-high seven hits.
2. Center Martin Hanzal had a goal and an assist to notch the 30th multi-point game of his NHL career. Hanzal is tied for second on the team with five multi-point games this season. The Coyotes are 16-0-2 in games when he collects multiple points over the past three seasons.
4. Rookie Chris Brown played a career-high 11:14, including 1:50 on the power play in his third NHL game. He took two shots on goal and delivered one hit.
5. The Coyotes improved to 12-0-1 this season and 110-4-5 under Head Coach Dave Tippett when leading after two periods.