By Rick Sadowski | NHL.com Correspondent
DENVER--Mike Smith is making the most of his opportunity to show he can carry the load as a No. 1 goalie.
The six-year veteran signed with the Coyotes (6-3-2) as a free agent on July 1 as a replacement for Ilya Bryzgalov, whose rights were traded to Philadelphia a month earlier, and he's beginning to make a name for himself.
The 29-year-old stopped 39 shots Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center and the Coyotes ran their winning streak to three games with a 4-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Coyotes have gone 4-0-1 in their past five games to move within two points of first-place Dallas in the Pacific Division heading into Thursday night's home contest with Nashville.
Smith used all of his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame to frustrate the Avalanche, but he's been doing that for a while. Smith has been in goal during the Coyotes' five-game streak and allowed just 12 goals.
The Avalanche (7-5-0), meanwhile, still can't figure out how to find success on home ice. Wednesday's defeat was Colorado's fourth in five home games this season. The Avalanche has outscored teams 26-15 while posting a 6-1-0 record on the road and has been outscored 15-6 at home.
Lauri Korpikoski scored what proved to be the backbreaking goal for the Coyotes 24 seconds into the third period when he put the rebound of David Schlemko's shot into the net for a 3-1 advantage (see KEY MOMENT below).
The Avalanche had drawn within 2-1 at 18:23 of the second period on a goal by Ryan O'Reilly. Daniel Winnik drove to the net and put a shot on goal from in tight that Smith stopped, but O'Reilly pulled the puck out from near Smith's pads and poked it into the net.
The Coyotes celebrate their first goal. Photo by Getty Images.
O'Reilly's goal came 26 seconds after Radim Vrbata lifted a rebound over Varlamov's right shoulder, beating him to the short side for a 2-0 lead. The play started in the Phoenix end when Colorado's Milan Hejduk lost the puck near the boards. Ray Whitney led a Coyotes rush into the Avalanche zone and passed to Martin Hanzal for a shot before Vrbata scored.
Vrbata added an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining in the third period for his second consecutive two-goal game.
Taylor Pyatt connected for the only goal in the first period on a scrambled play. Derek Morris took a shot that glanced off the skate of teammate Boyd Gordon skating to the net. The puck caromed to Pyatt and he put it past Varlamov at 7:53.
The Avalanche began the game with the NHL's top-rated power play but went 0 for 4 Wednesday.
► EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com compiled this recap.
Leading 2-1, Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski scored an acrobatic, even-strength goal just 24 seconds into the third period. The goal, a wrist shot as he was bumped to the ice, was the third of the season for Korpikoski, who played on a line with captain Shane Doan and center Daymond Langkow for the first time this season.
• The Coyotes have killed 35 of their last 39 penalties. "Your goaltender is your best penalty killer, but the details that come with playing well together are in place," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "Our guys have really done a good job of pressuring when we've had pressure, making sure we're in (shooting) lanes. You don't want to jinx it, but it's been pretty good lately."
• The Coyotes' next game is Thursday vs. Nashville at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time). The game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona and can be heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM).
"We gave up a lot of shots tonight and we didn't play as well as we would have liked, but our goaltender hung in there and battled hard for us, and we found enough (offense) to win."
"That's a good team. They come at you hard. There were a lot of pucks at the net and from behind the net they like to bring it out front. So, it wasn't an easy game to play, but we found a way to get two points."
"We put a lot of rubber on (Mike Smith). It's disappointing. I don't know what it is. The league's full of great goaltenders and they seem to be playing well in our building. We just have to stay with it."
• Nov. 2, 2011: PHX 4, COL 1 • Dec. 29, 2011:
• Jan. 16, 2012: • March 22, 2012:
1 - 0 PHX
2 - 0 PHX
2 - 1 PHX
3 - 1 PHX