Going into this game, both the Arizona Coyotes and the Toronto Maple Leafs were winless in seven straight contests. Somebody was going to limp out of this game with two points, whether they wanted to or not.
Tuesday night's performance against Philadelphia carried over into tonight's game, as the Coyotes defeated the Leafs 3-1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Martin Hanzal, and Sam Gagner scored goals for the Coyotes, while Phil Kessel tallied Toronto's only goal.
Arizona and Toronto both had difficulty getting things going in the early stretches of the game, but Arizona appeared to gain its footing faster as they did a good job of controlling the pace in the first period. However, Toronto would take advantage of a Michael Stone holding penalty to generate some significant offensive zone time, and were finally rewarded at even-strength by a Phil Kessel wrist shot that dribbled through Mike Smith's pads and into the net at 16:33. The Leafs would take a 1-0 lead into intermission.
After an exciting finish to the first period, the second frame was largely devoid of action. One thing that became evident during the frame was that Mike Smith's excellent play the game before had carried over. He was not rattled by the Kessel goal and made several good saves down the stretch. Jake Gardiner and Brendan Shinnimin both took penalties, with Shinnimin's minor carrying over into the third. The score would not change from the first period, and it looked like the Coyotes' offensive woes were going to rear their ugly head yet again.
Then suddenly as the third period started, this happened:
Ekman-Larsson made what amounted to a clearing attempt on net, and Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier flat-out missed it. The goal was reminiscent of this gem from former Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala:
...and this softie from then former Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun off the stick of Radim Vrbata:
But beggars can't be choosers, especially when they've lost seven in a row, and the Coyotes would gladly take the goal. Bernier's nightmare period continued just three minutes later, when Martin Hanzal flubbed a Sam Gagner pass that bounced its way past Bernier low stick side from point blank range. Toronto would get some power play time courtesy of Andrew Campbell to attempt to tie the game, but a dumb David Clarkson penalty after an icing whistle would doom the Leafs, as Sam Gagner deflected a Keith Yandle point shot to give Arizona a 3-1 lead, which held to the final whistle.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- 3rd Star - Jonathan Bernier - The third period is going to haunt him for the rest of his career, but Bernier played a very good game. He stopped 42 of 45 shots for a .933 save percentage in a loss.
- 2nd Star - Sam Gagner - Gagner set up the Hanzal goal, and deflected in the third goal of the night to ice it. Between his performance tonight and Martin Erat's Tuesday night, some of the underperforming veterans have found a little jump in their steps.
- 1st Star - Mike Smith - Mike Smith has strung together two (arguably three) very good performances in a row. Smith made 24 saves while conceding only one goal for a save percentage of .960.
- Brendan Shinnimin played his third career NHL game tonight after Joe Vitale was unable to go with an injury.
- Phil Kessel's goal was his first in seven games, and his first even-strength goal in a whopping 18 games.
- The shorthanded tally by Ekman-Larsson at :05 of the 3rd period is the fastest shorthanded goal to begin a period in NHL history.
- Tonight was the first time this season the Coyotes won a game they trailed entering the third period. They were 0-18-2 in previous contests.
- The Coyotes outshot the Leafs 45-25, and out Corsi'd the Leafs 71-56.
- Arizona's penalty kill was a perfect 3 for 3 on the night, while their power play went 1 for 4.
The Eastern Canadian swing continues Saturday night as the Coyotes take on the Ottawa Senators. The game starts at 1 PM Arizona time and is not televised, so have a radio or NHL Gamecenter handy for this one.