GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes needed a boost after an exhausting first half of the season.
Beating San Jose was a big step. Following that with a win over Detroit, another nemesis, could send them into a sprint toward the playoffs again.
Mike Smith stopped 30 shots, Martin Hanzal scored twice and the Coyotes ended a seven-game losing streak to the Red Wings with a 3-1 victory Monday night.
“They’re two good teams in the upper echelon of the conference and when you’re taking points away from them, you’re getting points that other teams aren’t going to get,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “You look at those as very valuable points.”
After an up-and-down first half of the season, Phoenix opened the second half with a loss to Anaheim, thanks in part to shaky goaltending by Smith.
Needing to make up ground fast, the Coyotes regrouped to beat the Pacific Division-leading Sharks 5-3. They backed it up with a solid performance against Detroit, getting a short-handed goal from Boyd Gordon in the first period and one on a power play by Hanzal in the second.
Detroit pulled within one on Johan Franzen’s 20th goal late in the second period and picked up the pressure in the third, creating numerous scoring opportunities. Smith didn’t let the Red Wings in, stopping 11 shots in the period, and Hanzal closed it out by scoring his eighth of the season into an empty net in the closing seconds.
The Coyotes needed a second-half surge to get into the playoffs last season and beating two of the Western Conference’s best teams could get them jump-started this season.
“We’ve been playing against some good hockey teams and getting some points,” Gordon said. “At this time of year, you’ve got to play with desperation to get the two points every night.”
The Red Wings, as usual, played with plenty of desperation, particularly in a furious third period. They just couldn’t find a way to convert, stymied by Smith and just missing the posts on numerous occasions.
The good news for the Red Wings is that after a five-game road trip, the next six are at home, where Detroit has won 17 straight.
“I think we started a little slow,” said Detroit goalie Joey MacDonald, who stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced in his first start of the season. “It’s been a long road trip for the guys and I think as the game went on, we got our wheels underneath us.”
This was a night of milestones in a game between teams that met in the playoffs the two previous seasons.
Coyotes left-wing Ray Whitney played his 1,200th NHL game, Red Wings right-wing Danny Cleary notched No. 800 despite a sore left knee and defenceman Adrian Aucoin played his 200th with the Coyotes.
The round numbers aside, the Coyotes needed to find a way to get some points.
Phoenix entered 11th in the Western Conference, but just four points out of the last playoff spot. At the end of a season-long six-game homestand, the Coyotes were hoping to gain a little momentum against a team they’ve struggled with.
Detroit swept Phoenix out of the playoffs last season and had won the three previous meetings this season, including a shootout the last time in the desert on Jan. 19. Of course, not many teams have been able to beat the Red Wings this season; they have 72 points, one ahead of the New York Rangers for best in the NHL.
The Coyotes played like a team fighting for points early on, getting some good stops from Smith and some good chances on offence.
Gordon scored a short-handed goal midway through the first period, using what seemed like a half-dozen dekes on a breakaway to beat MacDonald to the glove side.
Phoenix kept up the pressure in the second, setting up consecutive power plays midway through. The Coyotes scored quickly in the second against the worn-down Red Wings when Whitney sent a shot through traffic that Hanzal redirected through his legs and MacDonald’s.
Detroit got a chance at consecutive power plays—well, a few seconds apart—later in the period when Phoenix defenceman Rostislav Klesla swatted a puck over the glass from his own end. Franzen turned it into a goal, jamming in a shot from the edge of the crease after a pass from Henrik Zetterberg behind the goal.
“It was a slow start, but after we scored a goal, I think we played great,” Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk said.
With the game close, the Red Wings tried to swarm the Coyotes in the third period, spending large chunks of time in Phoenix’s end. Smith came up with some big saves and got a break midway through when he was sprawled on the ice and Datsyuk missed the net.
Smith also withstood a power play late and came up with a few more stops before Hanzal sealed the victory against a team the Coyotes were wondering if they were ever going to beat again.
“It’s been kind of a struggle finding ways to beat this team,” Smith said. “They’re obviously an elite team in this league and any game against them is going to be hard to win, but we were gritty tonight. We found a way to get a win tonight on home ice when it’s needed the most.”
Notes: Red Wings D Brad Stuart didn’t play because of the flu. … Phoenix plays 28 of its final 29 games against the Western Conference. … Rock star Alice Cooper, a Valley resident, attended the game.