GLENDALE, Ariz. – It's been three weeks since Daymond Langkow has played a hockey game -- and they've been three of the hardest weeks of his life. But his first step on the ice Saturday was the first step back to normalcy, and the smiles that come with a winning locker room were just what he needed.
When Langkow's mother, Vivian, died on Nov. 8 at the age of 54, his attention immediately turned to matters that made hockey totally insignificant. Traveling back home to Edmonton. Funeral arrangements and ceremonies. Comforting family and recovering from the tragedy himself.
But if was finally time for hockey again on Saturday -- and Langkow returned ready to play. He assisted on two of the Coyotes' three goals, logged 17 minutes and was named second star as Phoenix blanked the banged-up Dallas Stars 3-0 at Jobing.com Arena.
One night after the Coyotes were throttled 5-0 at home by Vancouver, Langkow's return gave them added jump, allowed them to reconfigure their lines and led to their eighth win in 10 games when coming off a loss this season (8-1-1).
"I didn't know what to expect. I just tried to prepare myself as best I could and it felt good," Langkow said. "My linemates played great, and that obviously helps. It's a huge bounce-back game for us. It was a tough one last night but those games happen. You don't want to have it slide and start losing games, things can snowball and you start to get out of it."
Langkow said it was difficult to play for the first time without his mom watching, but he's starting to feel better. "Unfortunately, it's part of life but you have to battle through it and I think the best way to do that is to get back with your regular routine. It definitely feels good to be back with the guys."
Coyotes captain Shane Doan marveled at his close friend and linemate.
"I can't say enough good things about him as a man, let alone a hockey player. The type of person that he is and the strength he has is remarkable," Doan said. "I'm privileged to be his friend, and to get to know him and see him play the way he did tonight makes you so happy for him."
After blowing leads in the final 61 seconds of regulation and losing in overtime to Dallas twice earlier this season, the Coyotes played a full 60 minutes Saturday. A 26-save shutout from ex-Star Mike Smith made sure there would be no implosion this time.
Mikkel Boedker scored in the first period, Ray Whitney in the second and Taylor Pyatt in the third for the Coyotes, and Keith Yandle matched Langkow with two assists for Phoenix.
"We need a boost, and Langkow came in and gave us some real good minutes," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "He's a real solid veteran player who recognizes what he needs to do on the ice and does it well. He's a very well-liked, well-respected guy. "I'm sure there were a lot of (pats on the back) in there tonight."
Dallas lost not only the game but three more players to injury in what is becoming an epidemic. The big blow came when star goaltender Kari Lehtonen suffered a groin injury while making a routine blocker save on Phoenix's Derek Morris just 5:31 into the game.
A huge reason for Dallas' fast start this season, Lehtonen was helped off the ice, unable to put weight in his right leg, and was replaced by backup Andrew Raycroft. Before the period was out, Dallas also lost defenseman Trevor Daley to a back injury and center Vernon Fiddler left the game as well the second period with a groin injury. Already without captain Brendan Morrow (back), winger Adam Burish (hand) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (thumb), the injury-ravaged Stars are 2-6-1 since opening the season with 11 wins in their first 14 games.
"We'll see how back (Lehtonen) is tomorrow. It's one of those injuries where you don't know the extent until you see it the next day," Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. "He and Trevor will be out for Monday (at Colorado) and then we'll see after that."
With Lehtonen gone, the Coyotes turned up the offensive heat on Raycroft, who is now 0-5-0 this season, and finally cashed in. Langkow chased down his own draw and fed Yandle for a shot at the top of the point. Raycroft stopped it but got tangled with defenseman Stephane Robidas as the puck fell behind them in the crease. Boedker was on the spot to sweep in his fourth goal – matching his total from last season – at 15:05, one of 16 shots Phoenix produced in the period.
The Coyotes doubled their lead in the second period, when Raycroft was a bit too aggressive in his challenge on Radim Vrbata's approach. Vrbata fed Whitney, who had open ice between Raycroft and the near post and slid in his seventh goal of the season and No. 348 in his career at 6:02.
Phoenix iced the game 10:28 into the third period. Langkow wasn't able to get Lauri Korpikoski's centering pass on net, but Pyatt gathered it and put it past Raycroft.
"We just really didn't have it tonight," said Raycroft, who went 5-2 in a seven-game stretch last season while Lehtonen was injured. "The injuries didn't help. When you go down a goalie, and then down to five ‘d' in the first four minutes … it's pretty tough against a team that works so hard down low. They kind of took it to us a little bit at time during the night. We just have to let it go and get the next one."
Smith, a hard-luck loser in both previous overtime losses to the Stars, recorded his second shutout of the season and the 13th of his career. He has yet to lose in regulation to his former team (3-0-3).
"We lost two games to them in the final minute and that sticks in the back of your head," Smith said. "Getting the shutout was obviously a bonus but it was a big win for our team tonight."