Winning streaks are hard to come by for the Phoenix Coyotes. For a team that made a habit of late-season success in the past, the Coyotes can't seem string wins together like they did down the stretch in 2011 and 2012.
However Phoenix was able to put together back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-January after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 in front of a crowd of 15,282 on Thursday night behind a pair of goals by Radim Vrbata.
"It was a good atmosphere," Vrbata said. "We're playing a Canadian team and there were lots of fans in the stands and we know we need every point we can get, so it was a big game for us."
It was Phoenix's first win against Montreal since 1998.
Despite the fact the Coyotes never trailed, the game was in doubt until late in the third period.
Phoenix's inconsistent play this season is perplexing and on full display Thursday.
The Coyotes' first and third period offense bailed out a shaky, penalty-filled second period performance. Phoenix followed up a three-goal first period with a one-shot second period and a two-goal final period.
Their two-goal third period iced the game and relieved the tension inside Jobing.com Arena as Coyotes fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief that their team didn't lose another game after having a multi-goal lead.
"These are desperate points for us before we go on the road," coach Dave Tippett said. "We needed this win bad."
Mike Smith followed up his shutout of the Vancouver Canucks with another solid outing, stopping 24-of-26 shots for his 22nd win of the season.
A quiet trade deadline day for the Coyotes gave way to a crucial game against the Canadiens with a pair of new faces making debuts.
Phoenix's only NHL addition, Martin Erat and Montreal's only NHL addition Thomas Vanek made their team debuts. While Vanek was rather quiet, Erat's presence was felt on his first shift.
It took only 2:08 for the Coyotes to get on the board as Vrbata deflected a point shot past back-up goaltender Peter Budaj. Erat screened Budaj who never saw the deflection.
The strong start was encouraging given the fact Montreal played the night before.
Even a Montreal goal by Andrei Markov, who smacked the puck off the post then camera in the back of the net, didn't slow the Coyotes down. Phoenix rebounded to score two more goals in the opening period including Oliver Ekman-Larsson's 100th career NHL point with nine seconds remaining.
However, the Coyotes flashed back to the faults that plagued them all season as a litany of penalties allowed the Canadiens to stay in the game and halve Phoenix's lead.
"We took four minors and a lengthy 5-on-3, that's recipe for disaster," Tippett said.
That it was as Alex Galchenyuk's 5-on-3 power play goal brought Montreal within one and it appeared the Canadiens had control of the game.
The penalty-taking area of the Coyotes game had improved recently, going on a penalty-free streak of 89:53 before the second period.
The Coyotes turned it around in the third on goals by Shane Doan and Vrbata that put the Coyotes in front for good. Doan's power play goal was the second of the night for a unit who scored on two of its three opportunities.
"Going in to the third we wanted to play like we did in the first and push them back and spend more time in the offensive zone so we don't have to defend as much and that fourth goal helped us so that we could breathe a little easier, and then we scored one more and that was it," Vrbata said.
Martin Erat played a solid game in his debut playing 16:30, recording four hits as well as being on the ice for two goals.
"He is a smart player with the puck and he can make plays and I tried to get open for him as much as I could," Vrbata said. "You could see those give-and-goes sometimes; we were kind of on the same page, so that was nice."
The Coyotes remain in ninth place, gaining ground on the Winnipeg Jets and Canucks who both lost on Thursday. Dallas Stars' win keeps them a point ahead of Phoenix in the standings. The two teams play in Glendale on April 13 in the regular season finale.