Forgive the simplicity, but that one word sums up what the Coyotes accomplished after the second intermission Thursday night at the BankAtlantic Center en route to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.
Phoenix, playing its fourth road game in six nights, scored three goals in the third period and then bested the Panthers (28-30-11) in a tidy three-round shootout to win its season-high seventh game in a row, and set a franchise record for wins in a season (44). The 1984-85 Winnipeg Jets held the previous franchise record with 43 wins in the era before shootouts.
Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata scored the game-tying goal with 59.7 seconds left in the third period and then scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout. The former came via a harmless dump-in from the right wing near center ice that somehow bounced over the glove of Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun and into the net. To clarify, if Vokoun were a shortstop on a baseball diamond, the ruling on the play would have been “E6.”
Tied 1-1 in the shootout, Vrbata ended the game by beating Vokoun with a backhander up high to complete Phoenix’s comeback and its four-game trip against Southeast Division teams with a spotless 4-0-0 record.
“It speaks volumes to the players,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “After the second period you could tell that we were at the end of a road trip. It was a little quiet… But somebody mentioned in the room - ‘let’s get one (goal) and see what happens’… we just found a way (to win) at the end.”
The Coyotes outshot the Panthers, 26-17, in the first two periods yet trailed 3-0 thanks to goals by Florida’s Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Cory Stillman.
Phoenix (44-22-5), however, refused to settle for a 3-1-0 road trip and moved to within three points of Western Conference-leading Chicago. The Coyotes will play the Blackhawks on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.
Center Martin Hanzal started Phoenix's rally by scoring a power-play goal at 3:56 of the third period. It was Hanzal’s third goal on the trip; he scored twice in the opener vs. Carolina.
Less than a minute later, forward Lee Stempniak pulled the Coyotes to within 3-2 by backhanding a shot from the left circle between Vokoun's legs and into the net. Stempniak’s goal was his seventh since joining Phoenix on March 3 – not bad for a player the Coyotes had hoped would fit in nicely on the third line and chip in a goal or two over the final six weeks of the season. It was also the 200th point of his NHL career.
Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov did not play a spectacular game, but he made 21 saves, including all six shots he faced in the third period and one more in overtime. In the shootout, he blocked two of three attempts by the Panthers - just enough to earn his 38th victory.
"For us it seems, Murphy's Law, whatever can go wrong is going wrong," Panthers Head Coach Pete DeBoer said.
Radim Vrbata’s shootout goal decided the game, but the shootout goal scored by Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski a few moments earlier should not be overlooked.
Trailing 1-0 in the shootout, Korpikoski skated in quickly on Vokoun and beat him with an extraordinary one-handed backhander.
“The last three shootouts I tried the same move and it hadn’t worked out so I thought maybe it was time to switch it up a little bit,” Korpikoski said. “(Vrbata) gave me the heads up that (Vokoun) bites quite a bit, so I just tried to make him move a little bit laterally and then just slid it one-handed. It worked pretty good.”
• Defenseman Mathieu Schneider assisted on Martin Hanzal's goal in the third period. It was Schneider's first point for Phoenix since being acquired in a trade with Vancouver on March 3. He added another assist on Vrbata's goal.
• The Coyotes launched a season-high 46 shots on goal. Radim Vrbata led the way with 10.
• Captain Shane Doan and Panthers defenseman Keaton Ellerby are first cousins. The two played against each other on NHL ice for the first time on Thursday. Ellerby, the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, is in his first NHL season.
• The Coyotes have 11 games left in the regular season. All 11 games will be played against Western Conference opponents. Phoenix is 33-16-4 vs. Western Conference teams this season.
• The Coyotes finished the season with a 4-2-0 record vs. teams from the Southeast Division.
“We are looking at improving our game, making the playoffs and then doing something in the playoffs. It’s nice (to set the record for wins in a season), but that was not our goal. We still have lots of work ahead of us.”
“It wasn’t a panic (after two periods). We just came at them. We just kept playing and kept playing. It was a focused effort, more so than anything else.”
“(Setting the record for wins) is a great accomplishment for our team after everything we went through in the summer. It shows the character in our room and of our coaching staff.”