SUNRISE, Fla. – The Phoenix Coyotes preserved their win by the smallest of margins.
Ray Whitney had a goal and assist, and Radim Vrbata also scored to lift the Coyotes to a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Mike Smith stopped 19 shots before leaving with 16:31 left in the third period because of a non-contact injury. Jason LaBarbera relieved Smith and made eight saves, including a close one on a penalty shot.
The Coyotes won for just the second time in six games. They gave up the winning goal with 0.1 seconds left on Saturday against the New York Rangers. This time, an inch separated them from a possible tying goal.
Florida was awarded a penalty shot with 24.5 seconds left after several Coyotes’ players displaced the net. Stephen Weiss’ shot was blocked by LaBarbera, and the puck stopped right on the goal line.
“I looked at our bench, there was no reaction. Then I looked at their bench and there was no reaction, and I’m wondering what the heck is going on here?” LaBarbera said. “I looked beside me and saw it, and I obviously saw the replay and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.'”
Brian Campbell scored for the Panthers, and Jose Theodore made 20 saves. It was the first loss in regulation for the Panthers in nine home games. Florida’s last 13 home games have been decided by one goal.
Weiss came in fast and fired the puck low on his penalty shot.
“I was going with a lot of speed,” Weiss said. “Just an inch short, I guess. I’d like to have that one back, for sure.”
LaBarbera, who has played in seven games this season, responded well after coming off the bench cold.
“By that time in the third period, you don’t feel like you are going to go in,” LaBarbera said. “You do have to be ready at any time. I was kind of in la-la land, but the heart gets going pretty quick and you get out there and move around.”
The Coyotes were relieved that the breaks went their way this time.
“Very important, very important. Having a penalty shot with 24 seconds left is not ideal,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “So to trade some of those demons away and get ourselves a win, that should be confidence for our group. That’s the hockey gods maybe paying us one back for the other night.”
The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead during a 5-on-3 power play in the first period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson passed from above the right circle to Whitney low in the left circle. His one-timer beat Theodore at 19:53.
Phoenix stretched its lead to 2-0 on a power-play goal by Vrbata at 9:02 of the second. Keith Yandle passed to Vrbata in the left circle, and his slap shot trickled past Theodore for his team-leading 16th goal.
The Panthers closed to 2-1 when Campbell’s shot bounced off the right post, hit Smith on the back, and bounced back into the net with 2:18 left in the second.
“They played hard and we weren’t able to find a way to pull it out in the end,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.
Florida’s Mikael Samuelsson took a hard check from Phoenix’s Shane Doan in the second and lay motionless on the ice for several minutes before being helped off the ice. He didn’t return.
NOTES: Florida LW Sean Bergenheim missed the game because of a strained groin … Florida signed RW Bill Thomas to a one-year, two-way contract. … Phoenix D Adrian Aucoin is day-to-day with a lower body injury. … Coyotes D David Schlemko was hit in the face by a puck in the second period. … The Coyotes are 11-1-1 when leading after the first period.