ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Anaheim Ducks are going back to the playoffs after missing out last year. The struggling Coyotes don’t know where they’re going to be next season. If this was their final game representing Phoenix, at least they went out with a bang.
Radim Vrbata had three goals, capping his hat trick with a short-handed score, and Jason LaBarbera made 22 of his 43 saves in the third period to lead the Coyotes to a 5-3 victory over the Ducks on Saturday night.
Phoenix finished 21-18-9, four points out of a playoff spot after winning its first division title in franchise history last season and advancing to the Western conference finals. This is the first time the Coyotes will miss the playoffs since 2009, and only the second time for Dave Tippett in his 10 seasons as an NHL head coach.
“It’s not the situation that we wanted, but it was the same for everybody once the season started,” Vrbata said. “Everybody knew it was going to be a short season and every point would be vital. We just didn’t get enough. “
Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan and defencemen Francois Beauchemin scored for the Ducks, who replaced Phoenix as Pacific Division champions in the lockout-shortened 48-game season. They finished with the NHL’s third-best record behind Chicago and Pittsburgh (30-12-6) and had only four fewer wins than they had last season—when the schedule was the normal 82 games.
“It was tough, and we expected it was going to be with the tight schedule,” Selanne said. “I felt that the team’s first 25 games were unbelievable, and then the schedule started catching up to us. But overall, I think we were playing really good and won the games we had to win.
“There were a lot of nights where you just couldn’t recover. And obviously, in this league, it the legs and the body aren’t working properly, it’s hard to play.”
As the second seed in the West, Anaheim will meet seventh-seeded Detroit in the opening round of the playoffs. It will be the sixth time the teams will face each other in the post-season.
“They have a great history and culture with that hockey club,” Selanne said. “It’s unbelievable that they have been in the playoffs the last 22 years in a row, so that tells you something about that organization.”
The Coyotes twice squandered one-goal leads before Anaheim goalie Victor Fasth left a bad rebound on a 40-foot wrist shot by Shane Doan and Vrbata scored into a wide-open net at 6:46 of the second period. His third of the game and 12th of the season came with 12:17 remaining while teammate Antoine Vermette was serving an interference penalty.
“He’s one of the skill guys we have, and if he gets an opportunity, he can capitalize on it. That was evident tonight. Those were three big goals for us,” Tippett said.
Vermette scored into an empty net with 2 seconds to play.
“Tonight just reaffirms how we have to play in order to win,” Tippett said. “I know this was a game that doesn’t mean anything in the standings, but we expect our team to play with a certain character and grit and do whatever it takes to win.”
Vrbata opened the scoring at 8:14 of the first, one-timing a pass from behind the net from Doan. Selanne tied it about two minutes later with his 12th goal and No. 675 for his career, getting a return pass at the right of the crease from Patrick Maroon after the rookie made a 360-degree spin move at the left circle.
Kyle Chipchura put Phoenix ahead 2-1 at 17:36 of the first with a 15-foot wrist shot from the left of the net that trickled through Fasth’s pads.
But teammate Lauri Korpikoski was sent off for tripping Ryan in the final minute of the period and the Ducks cashed in on the power play 14 seconds after the intermission. Beauchemin used teammate Corey Perry as a screen and beat LaBarbera through the pads with a slap shot from the right point.
Phoenix was eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-0 loss at Detroit on Monday, and it remains to be seen if the team will remain in the desert. The franchise has been run by the NHL the past three seasons after the previous owner took the team into bankruptcy in an attempt to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.
Doan is tired of all the uncertainty year after year.
“I’m sure our chances to stay are probably as good as last year,” he said. “It’s no fun, that’s for sure, but hopefully we’ll get something figured out. There’s a good nucleus here and we’d like to build with that.”
NOTES: It was Vrbata’s fourth career hat trick and first since 2008. … Keith Yandle had two assists for Phoenix and finished with a team-high 30 points. He is one of two defencemen to lead their respective teams in scoring this season, along with Nashville’s Shea Weber (27). … The Ducks were 16-7-1 at home, including a franchise-record 13 straight victories. … Doan, who signed a four-year, $21.2 million contract extension just before the lockout, finished with 13 goals and 14 assists and didn’t miss a game. … This will be only the second time that the Ducks and Kings will be in the playoffs in the same season since the league expanded to Anaheim in 1993-94.