GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Determined to atone for an admittedly poor outing against Tampa Bay on Saturday and focused on sending his team into the All-Star break on a positive note, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made sure his team finally came out on the right end of a one-goal game.
It took 32 saves, a disallowed goal and a little breath-holding, but Smith delivered in a game his team had to have as they tread water in the Western Conference playoff race.
Radim Vrbata scored his team-leading 23rd goal early in the third period Smith made it stand as the game-winner as the struggling Coyotes snapped a run of 10 straight one-goal losses by beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 at Jobing.com Arena on Tuesday night.
The Coyotes came into the game tied with the 2007 Washington Capitals and the 2009 New York Islanders for the longest such string of futility in one-goal games since the NHL returned from a work stoppage in 2005. But in a game the Coyotes felt they had to have after going 1-3-3 in their last seven, they never trailed and were able to goose the third of their three one-goal over the finish line when Smith made big saves on Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza in the final minutes.
"It was a game we needed to have to stay in the playoff hunt before the break," said Smith, who took the blame for a couple of soft goals in a 4-3 loss to the Lightning, his former team. "This win was one of the biggest ones of the year. Now we can take some time off feeling good about ourselves so we can come back ready to win some more."
Gilbert Brule and Shane Doan also scored for the Coyotes. Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Neil scored for the Senators, and Alfredsson appeared to have tied the game with 8:34 left in regulation. But the goal was quickly washed out because Nick Foligno was called for goalie interference on the play.
The Senators started a four-game West Coast trip by extending their surge to 10-1-1 with a win at San Jose on Thursday night, But they head home for this weekend's All-Star festivities in Ottawa with a three-game losing streak after losses in Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
"We're not doing enough," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "We have to play a little bit harder, a little bit smarter and a little bit better. In the first period, we kind of threw our sticks on the ice and waited to see what the game was going to be like, as opposed to dictating. We need to have the puck more than we did on this trip."
Phoenix, now 8-9-8 in one-goal games this season, had last won one on Dec. 21, when it beat the Hurricanes 3-2 in Carolina. Since then, 10 of the Coyotes' 16 games had been decided by one goal -- and they had lost them all before Tuesday.
"In my history with this team, one-goal games were our forte," Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. "We've taken a lot of pride in it. It got us to the playoffs twice. This year, it's been tough on us and when you're down by a goal it's hard hockey. It's nice to pull one off like that and we're going to need more."
The game marked the Arizona return of center Kyle Turris, traded to Ottawa on Dec. 17 after a contentious four-month saga. Turris, who held out for two months before rejoining the Coyotes for six lackluster games and renewing his request to be traded, was booed every time he touched the puck in the first period. Coyotes fans cheered loudly when Turris was hammered to the ice by Aucoin on his first shift.
"There is always the emotion coming back. I wanted to play well and get the win," Turris said. "I didn't really hear any of (the boos) to begin with, then one of the guys told me ‘Hey, they are booing you.' It's something I expected coming in and it didn't bother me at all."
The Coyotes made it clear there is still no love lost when it comes to Turris.
"He made it very clear he didn't want to be here," Doan said. "So more power to him. See ya."
Aucoin said the booing was appropriate. "The fans have that right after what happened," he said. "I haven't heard too many people booed in this building before."
Playing in their third game in four nights on the road, Ottawa struggled to put passes together in the early going while the Coyotes controlled the puck but had trouble turning that into scoring opportunities.
Finally at 18:53, Mikkel Boedker started as the right circle and skated slowly across the entire slot looking for a shooting lane. The puck finally rolled off Boedker's stick but slid right to an unmarked Brule, who spanked his third goal in seven games with Phoenix past Craig Anderson to put the Coyotes in front.
The Senators turned up the heat in the second period but Smith matched the intensity, stopping Alfredsson at the doorstep and delighting the crowd by stoning Turris on a 2-on-1 rush. Right after Smith fought off a Michalek redirection, the Coyotes capitalized on the lift.
Lauri Korpikoski turned around Senators Bobby Butler and Erik Karlsson on a rush down the ice and powered to net from the right side. Anderson went with Korpikoski and stopped the backhand bid, but left a rebound in the slot that Doan pounced on at 16:08 for his 15th goal and sixth in the last five home games.
But the 2-0 lead didn't last long. Just 1:31 later, Ottawa's captain answered a goal by Phoenix's captain with one of his own. Foligno pulled a puck off the boards behind the net and sent a pass between the legs of defender Rostislav Klesla and right of the slot, where Alfredsson beat Smith over the glove for his 17th goal at 17:39.
The third period began the same way the second period ended – with the Coyotes taking a two-goal lead and the Senators quickly answering.
Phoenix came out strong and pressure on the Senators' net paid off. Anderson stopped a shot by Michal Rozsival, but Ray Whitney grabbed the rebound at the left post and slipped it across the slot to Vrbata, who snapped a four-game scoreless drought at 1:30.
The breathing room was gone in a breath. On the next shift, just 14 seconds later, Neil split the Phoenix defense with an Erik Condra pass and beat Smith with a wrister over the shoulder to again slice the deficit to one.