VANCOUVER – Jason LaBarbera shook off some rust and made the most of a rare opportunity Friday.
Phoenix’s backup goaltender stopped 46 shots and Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan scored goals 1:18 apart on the same power play in the third period as the Coyotes beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1.
LaBarbera’s strong performance was a sharp contrast from his previous start Feb. 23 in Tampa Bay, when he allowed eight goals on 39 shots.
“My last game was a joke. I got lit up,” said LaBarbera, who was making just his third start in the past 31 games. “When you have to sit on an eight-goal game like that it’s not easy. It’s been a tough couple of weeks just trying to stay confident.”
Lee Stempniak added an empty netter for the Coyotes. Vrbata and Doan scored on a five-minute power play in the third after Alex Burrows received a boarding major and game misconduct.
Christian Ehrhoff replied for the Canucks to briefly cut the Phoenix lead to 2-1. Roberto Luongo finished with 26 saves as Vancouver lost for the first time in seven games.
Phoenix, meanwhile, has won five straight and six of its last seven. The Coyotes (39-23-12) pulled within a point of the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks. Perhaps more importantly, Phoenix gained a stronger post-season foothold it the battle to be among the Western Conference’s top-eight teams.
Phoenix retained fourth place in the conference, while moving four points ahead of the idle Los Angeles Kings.
LaBarbera, a former Canuck, thrived on the opportunity to perform before family and friends as he improved his all-time record to 4-1-0 against Vancouver.
“I’m a hometown kid, right?” he said. “I got to play here. Anytime you play in this building. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere.”
LaBarbera was especially sharp early in the third on a Vancouver 5-on-3 power play. The Canucks controlled the puck in the Phoenix end, but could not beat the Coyotes netminder, who caught a break when Mason Raymond missed a pass while facing an open net.
Vancouver (47-17-9) lost Burrows after he face-planted Vernon Fiddler into the end boards at 11:09 of the third. Fiddler went to the dressing room for evaluation of a possible concussion.
Earlier in the week, league general manager announced a new initiative to enforce existing boarding and charging penalties more strictly.
Vrbata beat Luongo with a backhand from the slot at 13:31 before Doan ripped a slapshot from the point at 14:49.
Burrows said the infraction was not worthy of a major.
“When I go back for the puck like that, my intention is to get the puck and move it to my partner,” he said. “I tried to get there. I didn’t want to drive him through the boards … I just tried to get the puck off him.”
Fiddler did not criticize him for the hit.
“I was dazed at first but that’s part of the game. You’re going to get bumps and bruises,” he said. “I was going in on the forecheck and I don’t remember what happened after that.”
Burrows felt his major was influenced by the general managers’ meetings.
“Yeah, I think so, and I agree with the NHL decision about it, obviously, to be making sure to limit head shots and try to prevent concussions and that kind of stuff,” said Burrows. “But at the same time, you’ve gotta make sure that you make the right call when it’s out there.”
Meanwhile, Fiddler was subject to the league’s new concussion-testing protocol, which requires players to be examined by a doctor in the dressing room.
“I went through a protocol, they asked me a bunch of questions, just a typical neuro-psyche test and I just did what I was asked and that was it,” said Fiddler, adding he felt fine.
Said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett: “(Fiddler) came back to the bench and I asked the trainer, ‘Is he good to go?’ He said, ‘Yes, he’s good to go.'”
Notes: Vancouver was without Manny Malhotra due to a serious eye injury. Coach Alain Vigneault was forced to shuffle three lines, as well as his power-play and penalty-killing units. … Phoenix’s Adrian Aucoin, is one game away from 1,000 for his career. He started it with the Canucks in the early 1990s. … Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa (foot) and winger Tanner Glass (upper-body soreness) are expected back from injuries Wednesday in Detroit. … Three other Vancouver defencemen, Alex Edler (back), Andrew Alberts (wrist) and Lee Sweatt (foot) remain out. … Phoenix played without defencemen Kurt Sauer (concussion) and Ed Jovanovski (orbital-bone surgery) as well as centre Martin Hanzal (lower body). All are listed as day-to-day.