ST. PAUL, Minn. – Because the Phoenix Coyotes lack a true superstar, they have had to win games by committee.
Radim Vrbata scored a pair of goals two minutes apart early in the third period, Curtis McElhinney stopped 28 shots in his first start of the season and the Phoenix Coyotes hung on to beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Saturday night.
Daymond Langkow and Ray Whitney also scored for Phoenix, which ended a four-game skid.
“Our guys played a real solid game,” said coach Dave Tippett. “We’re a team where everybody has to contribute. Different players get different roles, and some have a little more than others, but we still need everybody to chip in and that’s what I thought we had tonight.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen scored for Minnesota, 1-6-3 in its past 10 games.
“We didn’t force the issue enough tonight,” Cullen said.
With the game tied 1-1, Vrbata took a pass from Whitney low in the left circle and snapped off a shot that beat Niklas Backstrom over his right shoulder at 4:15 of the third period. Vrbata took a pass from Kyle Chipchura, circled the Minnesota net and beat a fallen Backstrom from almost the same spot at 6:16.
But once again, nothing would come easy for the Coyotes. Cullen scored on a penalty shot at 8:12 to get the Wild within one and shift momentum to the home team. Phoenix had played seven straight one-goal games.
“We know how to play in these games,” said Vrbata, who with Whitney are the team’s only double-digit goal scorers.
With the slim margin, McElhinney was solid down the stretch, moving well post-to-post and controlling rebounds. His best save was squaring up to stop Dany Heatley on a one-timer from the slot with about two minutes to play.
With starting goaltender Mike Smith out with a lower-body injury, McElhinney was recalled from AHL Portland on Monday and stopped six shots in relief of Jason LaBarbera that night.
“I was pretty excited tonight and hopefully the guys could feel the energy as well,” he said.
Backstrom was pulled with 90 seconds remaining, and Whitney added an empty-net goal with 18.9 seconds left.
Both teams entered the game looking for some momentum entering a stretch in which they are away from home more often than not. While the Coyotes had lost four straight to fall to fourth place in the tight Pacific Division and 12th in the conference, Minnesota beat Edmonton 4-3 Thursday to end an eight-game drought after winning seven straight before then.
Phoenix is two games into a stretch during which it plays seven of eight on the road; Minnesota plays seven of its 10 January games away from home.
Coach Mike Yeo admitted he was nervous about a letdown by the Wild after the team ended its lengthy losing streak 48 hours earlier.
“Emotional or not, we have to come to the rink and be ready to go and play a certain way. We don’t have a choice,” he said. “We’re not going to go in and just drop our sticks and win hockey games.”
Despite his team being outplayed for most of the first two periods, Bouchard put Minnesota on the board at 6:19 of the second period, lifting a rebound over a sprawled McElhinney. The goaltender stopped Nick Johnson twice at the right post before the puck squirted across the crease. Bouchard has four goals in his past six games.
Langkow countered nearly nine minutes later on the power play. His shot from the right end line was stopped by Backstrom, but popped up and deflected off Langkow’s right arm as the forward crashed the net. As the puck landed on the ice, defenceman Jared Spurgeon knocked the puck into his own net. It was the first Phoenix power-play goal in 12 chances over five games.
“It was huge for us to not only score but get some momentum on our power play,” said right wing Shane Doan. “The last couple games it’s almost taken away our momentum.”
NOTES: Chipchura has three assists in his past two games. … Spurgeon returned to the Wild lineup after missing two games. He was hit face-first into the boards Monday. … The Wild recalled RW Jed Ortmeyer from AHL Houston and placed C Jarod Palmer on the injured list with an upper-body injury. … C Martin Hanzal missed his fourth straight game for Phoenix with a lower-body injury. … Minnesota, which had a season-high 38 penalty minutes Thursday—including 20 minutes by Matt Kassian, who won two fights—was whistled for three minor penalties; Phoenix had one.