The Phoenix Coyotes had two winnable games on their schedule against Tampa Bay and Florida.
They did exactly what they needed to do in both of them.
The Coyotes scored three goals and avoided the dreaded third period collapse in tonight's 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
The Coyotes iced the same lineup that won in Tampa, and early on appeared to have issues handling the Florida Panthers, who came out with speed and physicality. Some early looks from Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski were stopped thanks primarily to sharp early period work by Mike Smith. The Panthers also went on an early power play, but with a power play south of 10% could get little going.
Phoenix got one power play in the first, and promptly proceeded to make the most of it. Keith Yandle teed up a shot from the side that Mike Ribeiro appeared to tip just slightly. That tip would be enough to beat Roberto Luongo and give Phoenix the 1-0 lead going into the 2nd period.
The second period featured more of the same, but in a good way. Florida mounted a few decent scoring chances, but Mike Smith once again stood tall. The Coyotes' net-front presence would serve them well yet again, when an Oliver Ekman-Larsson point shot found its way past Luongo thanks to a Lauri Korpikoski screen (who recorded the secondary assist on the play in a show of the team's mobility in the offensive zone).
Phoenix and Florida would trade chances and penalties in the second half of the second period. Phoenix struggled to enter the zone on their late 2nd period power play, while Florida would carry their power play into the third period. However nothing would come of the early man advantage for the Panthers.
Back at even strength the Panthers started changing up their strategy, going hard to the net and getting in the way of Smith. This meant that Florida was taking more chances, and the Coyotes capitalized. Antoine Vermette fed Radim Vrbata a beautiful pass on a two on one that caught Robert Luongo completely out of position to make the score 3-0.
The Coyotes had to be tired down the stretch, and eventually sloppy play got the best of them. Florida drew a power play and Brandon Pirri registered a rare power play goal for the Panthers after his point shot was deflected by David Moss and Michael Stone on the way in. If you are a Phoenix fan, this is where you get nervous.
Maybe it was playing a struggling team like the Panthers, or maybe the Coyotes had finally learned how to close out games. Unlike their collapses against St. Louis and Washington, Phoenix put on some more offensive pressure, made smart decisions in their own zone, and minimized the amount of good looks the Panthers got on Mike Smith. Despite a late penalty by Brandon Gormley, the Coyotes did not concede another one and won the game 3-1.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- 3rd Star - Brandon Pirri - He scored the lone goal for Florida, but the former Chicago Blackhawk had several very good chances in this one.
- 2nd Star - Radim Vrbata - Vrbata figured in all three Phoenix goals, with a tally and two assists. He is white hot.
- 1st Star - Mike Smith - Smitty recorded 31 saves in his second win in back-to-back nights. Excellent game by #41.
- How good has Mike Smith been recently? This good:
Mike Smith since Feb 1: 1.80 GAA & .939 Sv% #Coyotes— Jaime Eisner (@JmeEisner) March 12, 2014
- Bonus 3rd star to Mike Ribeiro, who tipped in the Coyotes' power play goal and won 58% (7 of 12) of his faceoffs.
- Brandon Gormley and Chris Summers drew into the lineup again, and Head Coach Dave Tippett clearly has confidence in them; both defensemen were on the ice in the final minute of play until Gormley's minor.
- The other Brandon on the team, Brandon McMillan, continues to impress with his speed and his physicality. He led the team with five hits in his 15:41 of ice time.
- Some bad news for Phoenix: Martin Erat was injured in the first period after playing just 2:13. He would not return in this game.
- The Coyotes outshot the Panthers in the first and the second periods, but were outshot 11-3 in the third.
Phoenix concludes its East Coast swing with a huge test against the Boston Bruins. Puck drop is at 4 PM Arizona time.