COLUMBUS, Ohio – Wayne Gretzky could only shake his head.
During a six-game losing skid, the Phoenix coach had seen his team play well and lose. Then the Coyotes were outplayed by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night, and ended up winning 3-2. “How do you figure this game?” Gretzky said. “Sometimes it can be crazy.”
Viktor Tikhonov’s goal with 2:32 remaining was the difference, with goaltender Mikael Tellqvist standing on his head to make 38 saves.
“They usually score goals and stuff for me. I want to steal a game for these guys, too,” Tellqvist said. “We probably didn’t have our best game this year, but we battled hard and blocked a lot of shots. If it wasn’t for my defenseman, there probably would have been 80 shots.”
With under seven minutes to play and the score tied at 2-2, the Blue Jackets had 54 seconds of 5-on-3 – but Tellqvist was impenetrable.
“We should have put our foot right on their throat,” said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock. “(The Coyotes) weren’t ready to play, we had everything going for us and we didn’t bury the chances we had.”
Soon after stopping the Blue Jackets’ two-man advantage, captain Shane Doan dug the puck off the back wall and backhanded a pass to Tikhonov, who was skating from right to left along the goal line. He deked with the puck and slid it past goaltender Steve Mason for his second goal of the year.
“Doaner made an unbelievable pass from his backhand,” said Tikhonov, the grandson of the former Soviet national team coach. “I just did what I had to and put it in the back of the net.”
The Coyotes won by getting goals from unlikely scorers. David Hale picked up his first career goal in his five seasons in the NHL, and tough guy Daniel Carcillo added his second of the season. Ed Jovanovski had two assists.
“We got some timely goals from a couple of guys who don’t score a lot but work hard every night and do a good job for us in the role that they play,” Gretzky said. “That was the difference in the hockey game.”
Kristian Huselius converted one of five breakaway chances to open the scoring for Columbus and Jason Chimera added the tying goal a minute into the third period.
“The guys were joking that it was me against Huselius there a couple of times,” Tellqvist said. “On the first one, he got the better of me but then we shut him down.”
The Coyotes had not won since beating the Blue Jackets 5-2 on Nov. 12, also in Nationwide Arena.
Columbus grabbed a 1-0 lead when Fedor Tyutin intercepted a deflected pass from Phoenix’s Keith Yandle and backhanded a lead pass to Huselius at the centre circle. Huselius skated the distance and picked up his eighth goal when Tellqvist blocked a piece of the puck but it slid between his leg pads and into the net.
Mason, a rookie, had strung together 112 minutes, 53 seconds of shutout hockey before Phoenix broke through when Hale scored for the first time in his 231st NHL game. He snapped off a shot from the top of the left circle.
The Coyotes then cashed in on their fourth power play when Carcillo, who had only one goal in his first 16 games this season, redirected a shot by Yandle.
The Blue Jackets tied it on a 2-on-1 pass from R.J. Umberger to Chimera for the jam shot.
“Tellie gave us chance in the first half of the game where they definitely outplayed us,” Doan said. “In the last bit, they probably outplayed us again. But Mikael Tellqvist was phenomenal for us tonight.”
Notes: Tellqvist got the start in goal for Phoenix since Ilja Bryzgalov had lost his last five starts. … Phoenix C Olli Jokinen suffered a shoulder injury in the first period. Gretzky said he didn’t know how long Jokinen would be out. … Columbus RW Derek Dorsett injured his hand during a lengthy fight with Carcillo early in the game. He was put on injured reserve after the game and the team recalled D Kris Russell from Syracuse (AHL). … Mason finished with 22 saves.