By Dave Vest SAN JOSE – The Coyotes ended their most successful regular season in franchise history with a hard-fought shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion on Saturday night.
Phoenix trailed 1-0 and 2-1 but didn’t stop battling in a game that meant nothing for the visitors. San Jose, playing to capture the top seed in the Western Conference, won 3-2.
Coyotes forward Matthew Lombardi tied the score at 2 when he wristed a shot past Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov from between the circles at 1:47 of the third period after Coyotes captain Shane Doan forced the Sharks to turn the puck over.
Neither team scored after that, and a shootout was needed to decide the outcome for the fourth time in six games between these clubs, the top two in the Pacific Division.
San Jose scored goals in the first, second and fifth rounds of the shootout on Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who stopped 28 of 30 shots in regulation/overtime. Lauri Korpikoski and Radim Vrbata scored for Phoenix (50-25-7). Adrian Aucoin – aka “The Closer” – had a chance to win a shootout/game for the Coyotes for the seventh time this season in the fourth round, but Nabokov blocked Aucoin’s attempt to beat him with a shot between the pads.
The game then was decided in the fifth round when Sharks rookie Logan Couture scored the first shootout goal of his career on his first try. Moments later, Nabokov earned his league-high 44th win by thwarting a back-handed shot by Doan.
"He's a shooter that Bryzgalov obviously wouldn't know," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said of Couture, who scored five goals in 25 games this season. "We went with it. That's a lot of pressure for the young man. He's handled every bit of pressure that's been put on him since he's been here. He'll get a taste of more of it later on next week (in the playoffs)."
After the game, Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett assembled the players who had played, the scratched players and members of his staff for a quick meeting to congratulate them on a 50-win season and to underline that the regular season is now history and the playoffs are looming. Phoenix will play its first postseason game since 2002 later this week on home ice against an opponent yet to be determined. They could face Detroit, Los Angeles or Nashville depending on what happens on Sunday, the final day of the season. (Click here for more information on the playoff picture as of April 10.)
“Now the second season starts,” Tippett said when asked to summarize his message in the post-game meeting. “We should jump in, and use what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown as a team to jump in the playoffs and have fun and see if we can do the same thing there.”
(Click here to listen to Tippett's post-game remarks.)
Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi gave San Jose a 1-0 lead at 4:04 of the first period. Setoguchi skated through the neutral zone up the right wing, gained control of the puck just inside the Phoenix blue line, got behind Coyotes defender Keith Yandle, and wristed a shot between Bryzgalov’s legs from the right circle.
Lee Stempniak parlayed some hustle into an unassisted goal early in the second period to tie the score 1-1. Nabokov tried to pass the puck to teammate Douglas Murray behind San Jose’s net, but Stempniak squeezed between them, stole the puck and quickly slid it in the goal before Nabokov could get back into position.
“We had some good pressure on them,” Stempniak said. “…Nabokov likes to play the puck and I had a pretty good jump on him. I was able to pick it off and put it in the open net.”
The Sharks (51-20-11) took a 2-1 lead at 12:41 of the second period when Patrick Marleau redirected a shot by Dany Heatley past Bryzgalov for his 44th goal of the season.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Check back to phoenixcoyotes.com on Sunday evening to learn which team the Coyotes will play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and when those games will take place.
Quite frankly, the key moment of this game for the Coyotes was the end. With nothing to gain or lose, Phoenix was happy to leave HP Pavilion with 20 healthy players.
"It's a fine line," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "You want to come out and make sure you don't lose anybody (to injury) in a meaningless game, but at the same time you've still got to be competitive."
The Coyotes finished the regular season with 50 victories and 107 points. Both are franchise records.
The Coyotes wanted to work on their struggling power play in this meaningless game, but they never got the chance. The Sharks were not called for a penalty.
Captain Shane Doan finished the regular season with 18 goals. It’s the first time Doan has ended a season with less than 20 goals since 1998-99.
Forward Lee Stempniak set a career high for goals in a season when he scored his 28th at 1:04 of the second period. Stempniak set his previous high of 27 in 2006-07 when he played for St. Louis. Stempniak scored his first 14 goals of this season in 62 games with Toronto. He scored 14 more in 18 games after being traded to Phoenix on March 3.
The Coyotes finished the regular se
son with a 14-6 record in shootouts. No other NHL team won as many shootouts, which are not used to determine the outcome of games in the playoffs.
The Coyotes scratched Paul Bissonnette, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Viktor Tikhonov and Jim Vandermeer. San Jose scratched Jay Leach, Brad Staubitz and Niclas Wallin.
"The last two games were very meaningless games for us, but the guys worked hard for each other. They work hard because they want to work hard and not because they have to. It's just part of our identity."
"We would have liked to have won but I thought we played really hard. You can’t ask for a better test before the playoffs than to play the Sharks in their building."
"I didn't expect to shoot with all the talent we have on this team. When they put me out there I was confident I was going to score. I'm glad I did score so it looked like he (Head Coach Todd McClellan) made the right decision."