GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes have had a knack for making big runs in February, charging their way into the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
This year’s surge has been impressive even for them. Actually, for anyone.
Mike Smith stopped 39 shots through overtime and two more during a shootout, Ray Whitney scored in the third period, and the Coyotes extended their point streak to 12 games by beating the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks 2-1 on Tuesday night.
“That was a heck of a month by any team’s standards and we had to earn them both home and on the road,” Whitney said. “We beat some quality teams.”
Smith has been superb during the streak and was spectacular at times against the Canucks, allowing a goal on a carom in the first period and nothing else. He also stopped Alexander Edler and Mason Raymond in the shootout to extend his career-best and franchise-record winning streak to 11 games.
Whitney has continued to produce big goals and spectacular plays at 39, getting the tying goal in the third period and another in the shootout. Speedy Mikkel Boedker provided the perfect capper, beating Vancouver’s Cory Schneider with a nifty move in the shootout to seal Phoenix’s sixth straight win.
Sitting 12th in the Western Conference at the start of the month, the Coyotes moved into the Pacific Division lead with a nearly-perfect February, earning 23 of a possible 24 points and winning seven straight home games.
“Obviously, we’ve done some good things,” Smith said. “I think we’ve improved, and this month has been good for us. We’ve moved up the standings drastically and we just have to keep pushing, keep going forward.”
The Canucks were one of the busiest teams at Monday’s trade deadline, pulling off three deals they hope will add balance, size and toughness.
The trades with Columbus, Anaheim and Buffalo netted Vancouver four players: checking-line centre Samuel Pahlsson, rookie forward Zack Kassian, defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani, and forward Andrew Gordon.
Gragnani didn’t play, but the rest of the new guys were in the lineup against Phoenix.
Vancouver played well in the finale of a six-game road trip, getting a first-period goal from Edler and a superb game from Schneider, who stopped 34 shots. The Canucks just couldn’t finish it off, walking off with one point instead of two after Smith stopped Raymond’s spinning attempt, and Schneider allowed two goals on three shots.
“It was a frustrating way to end the trip,” Schneider said. “We had a lead going into the third period and we don’t close the door. We’re a team that (usually) does that well.”
The Coyotes were quiet at the trade deadline, fearful of disrupting the chemistry of a team that had gone 10-0-1 in February. Phoenix picked up centre Antoine Vermette from Ottawa for a second-round draft pick last week, but that was it for the dealing.
Once the puck dropped Tuesday night, these teams played like the NHL’s points leader and its hottest team: players flying across the ice, crisp passes tick-tacking through the zones, and shots sailing in from all directions.
Vancouver hit the post twice in the first 10 minutes and had a puck linger in the crease for what seemed like 10 seconds before it was cleared. The Canucks finally got a good bounce late in the period, when a shot by Edler from the right circle caromed off Coyotes defenceman Chris Summers, 9 seconds into a power play.
The good chances kept coming in the second period. The goalies were too good for any of them to go in.
Schneider stopped Vermette on a redirect midway through the period and sprawled out to keep the rebound from going in, too. He also made tough saves during a power play midway through, and stuffed Taylor Pyatt on a mini breakaway.
Smith wasn’t bad, either. He made difficult stops early in the second and did his best work late, sliding left to stop Kassian’s one-timer on an odd-man rush, and getting back to block Raymond on the rebound. He closed out the period with a snatching glove save on Daniel Sedin’s shot from the left circle, keeping Phoenix within 1-0.
“An excellent game by both goaltenders,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Phoenix had good chances against Schneider in the third period and got one past him midway through, when Whitney gathered a long rebound off a long shot by Keith Yandle and backhanded it in for the tying goal.
The Canucks thought they had it won early in overtime on a 3-on-1 rush, but Smith stopped a one-timer on a pass between the Sedin twins. Kevin Bieksa also hit the crossbar late, and the shootout didn’t go well for the Canucks, who are glad to be headed home after earning eight points in six road games over nine days.
“I think with the schedule, this is going to be a big point in our season,” Schneider said. “It could go pretty bad or it could go pretty good. Fortunately we were able to salvage some points throughout the month.”
NOTES: Whitney has a six-game point streak. … The Canucks lead the NHL with 68 first-period goals. … Vancouver, the NHL’s fifth-best team on the penalty kill, turned aside all four of Phoenix’s advantages.