By Dave Vest DALLAS – The Coyotes, a team many observers in and around the NHL community left for dead before the season started, have climbed into first place in the Pacific Division standings and are tied for the most points in the Western Conference.
That’s right. Phoenix has officially risen.
Adrian Aucoin – aka ‘The Closer’ – and Radim Vrbata scored shootout goals to lead the Coyotes to a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Sunday at the American Airlines Center. Vrbata’s goal came with Phoenix down 1-0 in the bottom of the third round and Aucoin, per usual, ended the game by scoring his goal in the fourth round.
The victory was Phoenix’s ninth in a row and it enabled the Coyotes to set a new franchise record for points in a season (97). The Coyotes will look to set another franchise mark – 10 consecutive wins – on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the only team above them in the conference standings.
Regarding being in first place in the division with three weeks left in the season, Aucoin said: “We’ve earned it. There’s no doubt about it.”
Brad Richards scored in the first round of the shootout for Dallas, but Coyotes backup goalie Jason LaBarbera stopped the next three attempts by the Stars to win his fourth straight decision.
The Coyotes (46-22-5) arrived in Dallas at 3 a.m. on Sunday after beating Chicago in Glendale on Saturday night. The team’s plane had to land during a snowstorm, which made sleeping on the plane a bit challenging because of turbulence. Nevertheless, the Coyotes played with energy on Sunday and were able to jump out to a 2-0 lead on the Stars.
''Every night I say I'm concerned about this or that, and they just keep coming up with big efforts,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “... I thought our guys came out and played very well and fortunately we got another shootout win.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to listen to all of Tippett's post-game remarks.
Coyotes forward Petr Prucha scored a goal from in front of the Dallas net with less than one second left in the first period during the second of Phoenix’s six power plays.
Vrbata set up Prucha’s goal with a slick pass from the left wing. Vrbata scored a power-play goal himself at 2:23 of the second period with a snap shot from the left circle.
Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson scored goals for Dallas (31-27-14), which likely won’t make the NHL playoffs for a second consecutive season. Eriksson’s goal at 7:11 of the third period tied the score at 2.
"Give our guys lots of credit," Stars Head Coach Marc Crawford said. "No quit in them. They kept fighting. They battled hard. We got a point out of it, but at the same time, those things just crush you."
Coyotes backup goalie Jason LaBarbera made 30 saves, but none was prettier or more important than the diving glove stop he made on a backhanded shot by Stars rookie Jamie Benn with 3:00 left in the third period.
• Adrian Aucoin is 5-for-5 in shootouts this season, and all five of his goals have clinched victories for the Coyotes. "I just go in there and shoot it," Aucoin said. "I don't want to deke or lose the puck."
• The Coyotes have won 12 of 16 shootouts this season, including eight in a row. Five of those eight have come during Phoenix's nine-game winning streak.
• The previous franchise record for points in a season was 96, set by the Winnipeg Jets in 1984-85.
• Defenseman Jim Vandermeer returned to the lineup after a five-game absence, but he played forward on the fourth line with Petteri Nokelainen and Lauri Korpikoski instead of on the blue line. He logged 4:47 of ice time and took one shot on goal. Defenseman Sami Lepisto also got back into the lineup in place of Mathieu Schneider, who was given a rest.
• The Coyotes scratched Paul Bissonnette, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Viktor Tikhonov and Daniel Winnik. Dallas scratched Fabian Brunnstrom, Mike Modano and Matt Niskanen.
"We want to keep (the winning streak) as long as we can. As we've said all season, we want to try to find points every game and that's what we're doing right now."
"For a team that's not supposed to have a lot of skill, we're finding ways to win, especially in a shootout. We just have so much confidence in this room right now and I think that's the big difference.”
"We got it back in the third (period), but we need all the points we can get and we lost one today."
• Jan. 31, 2010: PHX 4, DAL 2
• Feb. 6, 2010: DAL 4, PHX 0
• March 21, 2010: PHX 3, DAL 2 (SO)
• Nov. 14, 2009: PHX 3, DAL 2
• Nov. 27, 2009: PHX 5, DAL 2
• Feb. 13, 2010: DAL 3, PHX 0
1 - 0 PHX