GLENDALE, Ariz. – Radim Vrbata took the pass from behind the net and drifted around the crease, in no hurry to shoot. Just as it seemed his window of opportunity was about to close, Vrbata lifted a shot over the sprawled-out goalie, earning another game-winning goal.
When it’s going this good, there’s no need to rush.
Vrbata scored his career-high 28th goal 1:15 into overtime, Mike Smith stopped 30 shots, and the Phoenix Coyotes earned a point in their eighth straight game with a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
“I don’t know what to say about it,” Vrbata said after his 10th game-winner of the season. “Lately, it seems like those are important goals. That’s the way I’ve been able to help the team, so I’m happy with it.”
Phoenix has surged up the standings since the all-star break, moving within two points of Pacific Division-leading San Jose after its latest win.
The Coyotes have done it behind superb goaltending, opportunistic scoring, and contributions from unexpected places.
Mikkel Boedker gave Phoenix a lift early against Dallas, scoring his first goal in 21 games. Smith was steady throughout, withstanding a flurry of shots in the third period after having a long scoreless streak end.
Ray Whitney, having a superb season at 39, set up the game-winner by snatching the puck from unsuspecting defenceman Mark Fistric behind the Stars’ net.
Vrbata finished it off by waiting for goalie Kari Lehtonen to commit before lifting a shot just under the crossbar.
“It’s huge points for us against a team that’s below us in the standings,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “But we’ve got to find a way to be better than we were.”
The Stars felt as though they let one get away.
Playing without leading scorer Jamie Benn (left knee laceration), Dallas overcame Boedker’s first-period goal to tie it behind Michael Ryder’s 22nd goal in the second. Lehtonen was superb at times, turning away 31 shots. The Stars picked up the intensity when they needed to, spending a good chunk of the third period in Phoenix’s end.
Good, but not good enough, leaving Dallas three points out of eighth in the Western Conference.
“We played hard, but we need results,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “It’s a results-based business and we need results. We need to capitalize, and we can’t make a mistake at the end to give a point away.”
After a mediocre first half of the season, the Coyotes have made another February charge.
Phoenix had a winning streak of at least five games after the All-Star break in each of the past three seasons, including last year, when it earned 16 points in 17 games. This season, the Coyotes opened the second half with a loss to Anaheim, then reeled off a 6-0-1 run to move from 12th in the Western Conference to seventh.
Smith has been a big part of it.
The former Stars backup has been stellar during Phoenix’s run, allowing three goals in five games, including consecutive shutouts against Chicago and Los Angeles.
Smith was sharp early against Dallas, with 13 saves in the first period, and snatched a shot by Ryan Garbutt with his glove in the second.
The Stars thought they had ended Smith’s scoreless streak midway through the second period, when Tomas Vincour punched in a rebound. The goal was waved off, though, because Adam Burish was called for high-sticking on a redirect just before the shot.
Dallas kept up the pressure to set up a 5-of-3 power play late in the period and broke through on the second penalty when Ryder swiped a rebound past Smith. That ended Smith’s career-best scoreless streak at 171 minutes, 26 seconds.
He was good after that, though, stopping 10 shots in the third period to force overtime.
“Smitty was unbelievable,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “We’ve just got to find a way to score more goals for him.”
The Stars had lost three straight and four of five before beating the Flames in overtime Thursday night. That gave them 65 points, four behind Phoenix and Los Angeles, and in 11th place in the West.
Dallas gave up a lot of good chances early in front of Lehtonen, and Boedker broke through with his eighth goal on a rush. The Stars picked up the pressure in the second period to get Ryder’s goal and were all over the Coyotes in the third, creating one good chance after another. They couldn’t break through, losing a chance to make up ground on a team ahead of them in the standings.
“When you get that close, it’s always hard, but I think it was promising the way we played,” Lehtonen said. “We were gritty and worked hard. I think overall it was the way we needed to play and keep playing.”
NOTES: Coyotes D Rostislav Klesla didn’t play after sustaining an upper body injury from a hard check by Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown on Thursday. C Martin Hanzal also sat out the third period after sustaining a lower body injury. … Dallas C Tom Wandell left in the second period after a puck off the stick of Phoenix’s Keith Yandle struck him in the face. He returned for the third. … Rocker Alice Cooper, a Valley resident, was part of the ceremonial puck drop. The first 10,000 fans were given a bobblehead with him wearing a Coyotes jersey.