LOS ANGELES – An out-of-nowhere comeback victory is the perfect way for the Phoenix Coyotes to make history.
Nobody expected much of anything out of this beleaguered franchise this season, yet the Coyotes have sneaked up on the rest of the NHL all the way to a nifty 50 wins.
Adrian Aucoin scored in the fourth round of the shootout, and Phoenix roared back from a two-goal deficit in the final minutes of regulation to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Thursday night.
Jason LaBarbera stopped 22 shots against his former Los Angeles teammates as the Coyotes secured the first 50-win season in the 30-year NHL history of a franchise that began life as the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets. They also extended another club record with their 106th point, and they did it with the same hard work that has put them back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“We can’t say we’re surprised,” said Taylor Pyatt, who scored the tying goal with 5:53 left in regulation. “We’ve been winning this type of game all season long.”
Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson scored in regulation for the Kings before Matthew Lombardi and Pyatt scored 1:24 apart to tie it for the Coyotes, who already locked themselves into the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs one night earlier with a win over Nashville.
Anze Kopitar scored in the shootout’s first round, but Radim Vrbata tied it on Phoenix’s last chance in the third. After Jarret Stoll missed, Aucoin beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick with a wrist shot.
“I just figured this goalie hadn’t seen too many hockey highlights, being in L.A.,” Aucoin said, laughing. “Maybe he hadn’t seen my special move. … We’re professionals. We’ve been playing this same way all year. Barbs made some great saves and kept us in it, and we finally capitalized.”
The Coyotes rallied to snap a four-game road losing streak while resting a handful of regulars: starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, forward Petr Prucha and defencemen Ed Jovanovski and Sami Lepisto.
Both Phoenix and Los Angeles are headed back to the post-season for the first time in seven seasons – and if the Kings recover from this stunning loss to finish strong, the Pacific Division’s usual also-rans will face each other.
By losing for the second time in three straight shootout games, the Kings still moved into a tie with Detroit and Nashville for fifth place in the West playoff standings with 98 points. Los Angeles can earn a first-round rematch with Phoenix by beating Edmonton and Colorado in the final weekend of the regular season, but the Kings wasted a chance to tie a franchise record with their 46th victory.
“We’re trying to move up in the standings, and hopefully if we move up as far as we can, if we keep winning games here, we play these guys next week,” said Kings defenceman Matt Greene, who accepted blame for the Coyotes’ tying goal. “It’s obviously not the outcome we wanted. We didn’t have that down in the third period.”
Quick made 25 saves, but failed in his seventh straight attempt to earn his franchise-record 40th victory.
Quick already has the most wins in a season in Kings history, and he tied Felix Potvin’s team record with his 71st appearance against the Coyotes. His play has been a major factor in Los Angeles’ playoff return – yet he’s catching far too much unpleasant attention lately as a possible weak link.
Quick hasn’t won in seven appearances since March 22, getting pulled twice – including Tuesday night in Anaheim, where he allowed three goals on eight shots before the Kings rallied for a 5-4 shootout win. Coach Terry Murray has stood behind Quick, insisting the goalie would regain his form in time for the post-season.
“Penalty killing was huge for Quick,” said Kings coach Terry Murray, whose team held Phoenix scoreless on six power plays. “I liked his game. I thought he was alert, sharp, and made some great stops. … I don’t think the killer instinct is lacking. I think it was just two faceoff losses (leading to Phoenix’s goals).”
After Doughty opened the scoring midway through the second period with a spectacular breakaway goal, Quick and the Kings seemed firmly in control before Lombardi’s goal halved their lead. Pyatt then deflected home Zbynek Michalek’s shot from the point with 5:53 left, stunning the sellout Staples Center crowd.
Phoenix’s scratches created rare playing opportunities for enforcer Paul Bissonnette, who hadn’t played since getting just over two minutes of action on March 14, and veteran defenceman Mathieu Schneider, acquired from Vancouver last month.
NOTES: Kings C Jeff Halpern was a healthy scratch after missing a week with an upper-body injury. Halpern was blindsided into the boards by Vancouver’s Tanner Glass last week. … Bissonnette leads the Coyotes in penalty minutes despite playing in just 41 games. He fought Los Angeles enforcer Raitis Ivanans in the second period. … Kopitar, the Kings’ leading scorer with 80 points, set a career high with his 46th assist on Doughty’s goal.