GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mike Smith just needed a few days to decompress. Michael Stone just needed a chance to impress. Together they teamed up to give the Phoenix Coyotes just what they needed – their first win in March.
Smith, who had allowed 13 goals in four starts to open the month, bounced back with this fifth shutout of the season and his second over San Jose as the Coyotes rode Stone's first NHL goal and an assist to a 3-0 win over the Sharks on Saturday night to snap a five-game winless streak.
Snake-bit forward Mikkel Boedker and grinder Raffi Torres sandwiched goals around Stone's tally during a seven-minute span of the second and third periods for the Coyotes, who were 0-4-1 in March. Smith, the NHL's First Star in February, sat out Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota to work with goalie coach Sean Burke. Whatever Burke did must have worked -- Smith looked confident and in control, keeping the swarming Sharks at bay until the Coyotes finally solved San Jose's Antti Niemi.
"It's a huge, gutsy win for our team," said Smith, who was 11-0-0 in February but struggled after the calendar turned to March. "I know I hadn't played my best this last week and it's a tough time not to play up to your potential. It's been frustrating, but I knew tonight was another big win for our team. When everyone plays like we did tonight we're a tough team to beat."
The Coyotes held on to seventh place in the Western Conference with 78 points, while the Sharks fell to 2-8-3 over their last 13 games and dropped to ninth with 75 points -- one behind Colorado, which beat Edmonton 3-2 earlier in the day. It's the first time since early October, when the Sharks started the season 1-3-0, that San Jose hasn't held one of the eight playoff spots in the West.
The Sharks have has scored two goals or less in five of the last six games.
"Their (goalie) played really well and ours probably got outdueled a little bit," San Jose coach Todd McClellan said of Niemi, who made 26 saves. "We can talk about goaltending all we want … but we didn't get our pitcher any runs to play with."
Smith has been especially stingy against San Jose. Since falling behind 6-0 on opening night in San Jose and losing 6-3, he has beaten the Sharks three straight times, allowing just three goals and registering two shutouts. He now has 16 career shutouts.
The Coyotes, who were outscored 10-1 in the first period of the last five games, were outshot 6-0 in the first four minutes, but Smith was sharp and turned away good scoring chances by Dan Winnik and Dan Boyle. Just getting out of the period all even felt like a victory of sorts for Phoenix, who had trailed 2-0 in the first during each of its last five games.
"Smith was excellent though the whole game, but especially early," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "After the last few games, we needed to have something good happen to us and we did."
The "good" came from a makeshift fourth line of Boedker, Marc-Antoine Pouliot – up from the minors to replace the injured Martin Hanzal – and Gilbert Brule along with the third defense pair of Stone and Rostislav Klesla, who was back in the lineup after a 10-game injury absence.
With the game still scoreless in the second period, that quintet cycled in the San Jose zone for more than a minute until Stone pinched from the right point to keep up the pressure. He put a shot on net that was stopped by Niemi, but the rebound dribbled into the slot and Boedker put it up and in at 13:38.
It was Boedker's ninth goal of the season – but just his second in the last 30 games – and gave his team its first lead in exactly two weeks. The last time Phoenix led a game during regulation was seven games ago, when they finished off a 3-1 win in Edmonton.
Less than five minutes later, the same five skaters struck again. Boedker beat the pack to a puck behind the San Jose net to start things and Pouliot spotted Stone starting a shift and sneaking in from the point with a backhand feed. Stone put the shot through traffic and off the far post at 18:10 and the Coyotes had a 2-0 lead.
"I just kind of dreamed about what it felt like. It's nice to get a goal that helps the team win," said Stone, who had 21 goals and 65 points as the WHL Defenseman of the Year with the Calgary Hitmen in 2009-10. "I don't even think I looked at the net. I just hit it as hard and I could and it managed to go in. Nice placement, I guess."
The Coyotes put the game away on the first shift of the third period with another hard-working effort. Niemi made a save on Doan, but another rebound found its way to Torres, who fired it home for his 12th of the season and third in six games.
"The third goal was a very tough one … going into the third period, the belief is that we are coming back," Boyle said. "It seems to be a similar pattern here. We had a lot of Grade-A chances on our end and we didn't put the puck away. Then we make a few mistakes defensively and it's in the back of our net.