The Phoenix Coyotes went into St. Louis with the ability to control their own destiny in the Pacific Division race and the quest for the number 3 seed in the Western Conference. Standing in their way, a Blues team that had dominated the three previous match-ups this season with suffocating defense and a surprising amount of offense. Although the Coyotes were riding a three-game winning streak (all Mike Smith shutouts), nobody in the locker room seemed particularly happy with how they were playing as a team and there was a goal to get back to Coyotes-hockey.
Consider this mission accomplished in a big way. The Coyotes played a tenacious game from the opening puck drop, and aside from a slow down in the final 10 minutes of the first half, they took the play to the Blues, never allowing St. Louis to get the lead and clamp down in their defensive trap style. And although Mike Smith was unable to continue his impressive shutout streak, he did allow only 1 goal against, as the Coyotes jumped into first place in the Pacific with a 4-1 victory.
In the end, this one wasn't all about Smitty, but he put in another fine performance despite being hit in the mask at one point late in the second by the leg of Rostislav Klesla. Smith made 31 saves, none bigger than his stop on TJ Oshie as time expired on an extended 5-on-3 Blues advantage. The lone Blues goal came at the end of a Yotes power play when the Blues streaked up ice with a 4-on-1 advantage and Patrick Berglund corralled a second rebound in the crease and banged it home, snapping Smith's shutout streak at just over 234 minutes, the third longest streak in the NHL this season.
On the other end of the ice, the Coyotes would take an early lead in the game on a goal by Keith Yandle "from the ladies' tees" as Tyson Nash would say. Yandle stepped into a slapshot from the top of the circle that beat Brian Elliott high glove side and was in and out so fast that they had to go to video review to make sure it went in. In the second period, the Ray Whitney to Radim Vrbata goal machine would strike again as Whitney found Vrby streaking in late to an odd-man rush and Vrby fired one through a Blues player and past Elliott to give the Coyotes a 2-1 lead.
Only a few minutes later, captain Shane Doan would convert a nifty saucer pass from Antoine Vermette and the Coyotes were running away with things 3-1. Mikkel Boedker added a third period insurance tally cutting across the middle and firing a wrist shot that found almost the exact same spot in the net as Vrbata's earlier goal.
The game got a little chippy later on with Klesla dropping the gloves with Chris Stewart and Raffi Torres exchanging blows with Matt D`Agostini after D`Agostini made a pretty high hit on Oliver Ekman-Larsson. With the teams potentially meeting in the first round of the playoffs, there was definitely some tone-setting going on here. In the end, the Coyotes avoid the season sweep and position themselves favorably for their first ever Pacific Division crown.
Five For Winning
1. Two points. Regardless Thursday night's outcomes involving the Stars, Kings, and Sharks, the Desert Dogs need to be playing for the win. A pacific Division title is still possible and having home ice advantage in the first round would be nice for change. Done.
2. Score first. The Blues have scored first in all three meetings between the teams so far this season. The Coyotes need to not allow the Blues to dictate the tempo of the game by getting a lead and sitting back and clogging the neutral zone. Done.
3. Short passes/Pucks in deep. The Yotes need to do what they haven't done in prior games with the blues this year and make good decisions against Kent Hitchcock's system. This means giving up on stretch passes and passes from one side of the ice to other for the most part. Done for the most part. The Coyotes definitely improved their puck possession game from the past three nights. I'm sure Tippett would like to see them make it even better.
4. Pick up Mike Smith. Smith has been a one man team at times throughout this season, especially early and late in games. After Tuesday night his teammates owe him one. Phoenix needs to possess the puck much more and longer than they did against Columbus. Other than Klesla almost killing him in the second, I'd say they did a good job of relieving some of the pressure of Smitty tonight.
5. No brooms. The Yotes need this win to save from being swept by the Blues. There is a good chance the two teams could meet again as soon as even next week. Phoenix could use some confidence going into a potential series with St. Louis. Hard to have any when the other team swept you in the regular season. Done.
Our Three Best Players on the Ice
1. Mike Smith - took a licking and kept on ticking
2. Raffi Torres - made a real nice play to help set up the first important goal and then brought a physicality that is going to be essential in the playoffs; plus, he stood up for OEL after the D`Agostini hit.
3. Mikkel Boedker - had a nice blocked shot that helped set up the Doan goal and scored a pretty one of his own as well. He seemed to be buzzing tonight.
Comment of the Night
THAT WAS SO AWESOME I SAW IT ON THE RADIO!!!!
-AhwatukeeCoyote (most recs on a very active GDT)
For the St. Louis perspective, head on over to St. Louis Game Time.
The Coyotes end their regular season with a match-up against the Minnesota Wild in Minny. The Coyotes are 1-1-1 against the Wild so far this season, including a 4-2 win in their trip to Xcel Energy Center on New Year's Eve. There's still a lot of seeding mess up for grabs tomorrow. If Chicago beats Detroit in regulation or OT in the early game, then Chicago gets the 5 seed and Detroit becomes the 6, setting up a potential third consecutive first round match-up with the Wings if Phoenix wins the Pacific. The Coyotes will win the Pacific if they win tomorrow night in any fashion or if they get a single point and SJ wins OR LA wins in the shootout.