VANCOUVER – The trade-deadline acquisition of Antoine Vermette is starting to pay off for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Vermette scored the winning goal Wednesday and added two assists as the Coyotes held on for a 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
The Coyotes (35-25-11) posted just their second win in eight games after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit against a rejuvenated Canucks squad that featured several different forward and defence combinations. Vancouver (42-20-8) suffered its sixth loss in eight games.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves to go out and spot them a 2-0 lead early,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippitt. “But we knew they were going to come hard (after) all the talk about days off and being rested.”
After a slow start following a Feb. 22 trade to Phoenix from last-place Columbus, Vermette has come on strong lately. He now has two goals and four assists in his past five games. He started off with just one point in six games.
“It is (nice to contribute), no doubt about that. First couple of games it was almost a joke,” he said. “I was right around it and if you keep doing the right things it’s nice to get rewarded at such good timing. Guys are playing well and it’s nice to get rewarded.”
Like the rest of the Coyotes, Vermette is hungry to make the playoffs. The 29-year-old St. Agapit, Que., native, failed to qualify for the post-season in his last two campaigns with Columbus.
“On the personal side of it, it’s tough,” said Vermette, who is in his ninth NHL season. “You’re leaving a team and you’ve got some friends. My wife and I liked the community there. It’s always a shock. But at the same time, if you look at the opportunity, coming in here with this team having success this year and battling for the playoffs.
“(Making the playoffs) is something I’m looking forward to. I’m a little disappointed we couldn’t do it the last two years in Columbus. It was the only two years in my entire life that I didn’t make playoffs. So I’m very excited to be in that position right now.”
Rostislav Klesla, Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larson, and Gilbert Brule also scored for Phoenix. Meanwhile, Ray Whitney had three assists as the seventh-place Coyotes remained a point ahead of Colorado in the Western Conference and moved three ahead of ninth-place San Jose and Calgary heading into a key matchup with the Flames on Thursday.
The high-scoring affair after the previous two games between Vancouver and Phoenix were both decided by 2-1 scores, with each team claiming a win.
“It’s usually not the way we want to play, but certainly we’ll take the points tonight,” Vermette said. “If we find a way to win, that’s good. But, usually, we play a tighter defensive game. We’ll take it at this point no matter how we get it.”
Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Dan Hamhuis, with his first goal in 35 games, scored for the Canucks, who came out strong, but fizzled late in the second period before attempting a rally late in the third.
The Canucks outshot the Coyotes 43-33 as the clubs combined. Vancouver went 2-for-3 on the power play while Phoenix was good on its two chances.
Before Wednesday, both clubs had gone five games without a power-play goal.
The score was tied 2-2 after the first period and Phoenix led 4-3 after the second.
Vermette gave the Coyotes a two-goal cushion on a power play 1:38 into the third period as he put in Ekman-Larson’s rebound. The goal came after Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa took a retaliatory slashing penalty on Daymond Langkow.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said his club gave up too many odd-man rushes that resulted in goals.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to clean up, because if you look at their chances, that’s where their chances came from,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t from spending a lot of time in our end, because they didn’t spend a lot of time in our end tonight.”
Burrows made Vigneault’s decision to pair him with Jannik Hansen on the third line look smart right away. On the line’s first shift of the game, Burrows put in Hansen’s pass from behind the net at 2:18. The puck fluttered past Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith after Burrows failed to get good wood on it.
Kesler gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead seven minutes later as he wired in Henrik Sedin’s cross-ice pass during a power play. The assist was Sedin’s first point in nine games. The power-play goal was Vancouver’s first since the last meeting with Phoenix on Feb. 28.
Klesla pulled Phoenix within a goal at 11:22 of the first as he fired in Vermette’s long rebound.
Doan drew the Coyotes even about five minutes later as he went wide around Roberto Luongo on a two-on-one and jammed the puck past the Vancouver goaltender.
“It was one of those that you’re coming across trying to get to the net,” said Doan. “(Whitney) told me about trying to stuff it.…I found a way.”
In the second period, the Canucks took a too-many-men penalty, and it cost them as Ekman-Larson put in a slapshot during the ensuing power play. But the Canucks got a power-play chance of their own soon after the goal, and Booth put in a Chris Higgins pass from behind the net to create a 3-3 deadlock.
Brule gave the Coyotes a 4-3 advantage with 1:39 left in the second period as former Canuck Taylor Pyatt put a shot in off him as he stood in the crease over a fallen Luongo. The goal was allowed to stand following a brief video review.
Hamhuis reduced Phoenix’s lead to 5-4 at 12:11 of the third as he moved in from his point position to stuff in Daniel Sedin’s rebound. The goal was the first for Hamhuis since Dec. 23 against Calgary.
“We played good enough to win tonight but they ended up getting one more than us,” Bieksa said. “A potential first-round opponent right there. We got a taste of what that series would be like.”
And the flavour was not exactly sweet.
Notes: Vancouver winger Manny Malhotra was an unexpected scratch due to an undisclosed personal issue. He took part in the club’s morning skate. … Canucks winger Dale Weise played after being scratched for the previous six games.