LOS ANGELES -- Every team in the playoff race says they are involved in playoff hockey in terms of hard-fought, chippy, stingy defensive affairs. Few clubs demonstrate it quite like the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes did on Thursday night.
The teams combined for four fights and 40 penalty minutes in the opening period alone, and when the tempers settled down Phoenix earned a 1-0 victory that leapfrogged it past L.A. for seventh in the Western Conference.
Mike Smith stopped 28 shots to make Radim Vrbata's second-period goal stand up for his fourth shutout this season.
The Coyotes, who were in 12th place in the West on Feb. 3, extended their season-high unbeaten streak in regulation to seven games (6-0-1). Both teams have 65 points in 58 games, but the Coyotes have three more non-shootout wins.
"We're deserving to win right now," Smith said. "At the start of the season maybe we didn't deserve to win some games. We lost some games that we deserved to win. Right now we're finding ways to win but we're doing it the right way. That makes it that much better in the room here."
Phoenix won despite having only five defensemen after Rostislav Klesla left with an upper-body injury in the first period.
L.A. had only four shots in the first 15 minutes of the third period and couldn't convert on a 6-on-4 advantage in the final 90 seconds when Michal Rozsival and the L.A. pulled Quick for an extra attacker.
Smith has allowed six goals in six games in February and has stopped 147 of 150 shots in his past five starts. He has surrendered only five goals in four games against L.A. this season.
"We knew it was probably going to be a low-scoring game, and we knew how good Smith's been playing and how focused our goaltenders have been and we've counted on them huge and tonight was no different," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said.
Vrbata's 27th goal came with Jack Johnson serving a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass. It was the first power-play goal allowed by the Kings in eight games.
Ray Whitney found Vrbata in the right circle and Vrbata wristed it home at 15:59. His 27 goals match his career high from 2007-08, and he's tied with Scott Hartnell of Philadelphia and Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers for seventh in the League.
More impressive is that 19 of Vrbata's 27 goals have come on the road.
"He's phenomenal," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "He's one of the few skilled guys that we have on our team right now and he's really using his skill to have an effect on our team."
L.A. would love to have a player like Vrbata. Its scoring issues are well-documented, and this latest shutout comes amid reports that the Kings are interested in acquiring Rick Nash of Columbus.
But L.A.'s problems appear to be beyond bringing in Nash. The Kings have scored only 16 goals in Quick's 15 regulation losses. They have scored one or fewer goals 22 times this season and have been shut out seven times.
Quick has typically stood up for his offensively-challenged teammates but said that "in a game like tonight, we have to find a way to tie that game up and push it into overtime. We weren't able to do that …. It just makes these next 20-24 games a little tougher. It's going to be a tough run and we have to find a way to win games."
The scoreless opening period featured three official fights and a scrap between Smith and Anze Kopitar behind the Phoenix net that prompted Quick to skate all the way out to the Coyotes blue line for a potential goalie fight.
Kopitar appeared to be pushed into Smith.
"Wires crossed," Smith said. "I got hit really hard the second time. I don't know what happened. I didn't know who it was. I felt bad after that. I saw it was Kopi -- he's usually a pretty good guy. He got pushed and I didn't see that. I kind of lost it a little bit."
Doan fought Kings counterpart Dustin Brown for after Brown knocked Klesla out of the game with a hard check.
Tippett said "we'll call that an upper-body (injury) and we'll see where it goes with" Klesla.
Doan didn't take issue with Brown's hit and said it was just emotions kicking in.
"Brownie plays that way all the time," Doan said. "He hits hard. Obviously with the way that Rosti got hurt, it's a big game for us and both sides are trying to set the tone. He was more willing."
There were actual scoring chances in the first, as Drew Doughty hit the post and Justin Williams missed on a breakaway during L.A.'s first power play.
But it was the same story for L.A.
"We knew it was a big game," Kopitar said. "Obviously at this time of the year, you want to create some separation and we failed to do that today. It is disappointing, especially at home."