LOS ANGELES – Adrian Aucoin, now in his 15th NHL season, has raised quite a few eyebrows with his surprising ability in shootouts. The veteran defenseman had reason to smile again on Thursday after once again serving as the Phoenix Coyotes’ closer.
Despite having nothing to play for, the Coyotes rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, then got the deciding goal from Aucoin in the fourth round of the shootout for a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Anze Kopitar scored in the opening round of the shootout, but after Quick and Jason LaBarbera combined to stop the next four shots, Radim Vrbata scored on a backhander to send the shootout to a fourth round. Aucoin, who had never taken a shootout attempt before this season, won it when he zipped a wrister over Quick's glove for his sixth goal in eight attempts -- all six have been game-deciding goals.
“I figured that this goalie hadn’t seen my special move, my secret,” Aucoin said with a smile after scoring the same way he had in his previous five successful tries -- skating to within 10 to 15 feet of the net and ripping a high wrist shot past the goaltender's glove.
The Coyotes are locked into fourth place in the West, but refused to quit even after the Kings went ahead 2-0 on Jack Johnson's goal 9:16 into the third period -- they scored twice in 80 seconds to pull even.
Shane Doan won a draw in the Kings’ zone and Wojtek Wolski chipped the puck to Matt Lombardi, who put it past Jonathan Quick at 12:43 to get the Coyotes within one. Taylor Pyatt tied it when he tipped in a long shot by Zybnek Michalek to tie the game at 2-2.
“We wanted to play hard and go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence, feeling like our game is really coming together,” Pyatt said. “We seem to win (close) games all year long, to be able to pull out games in shootouts.”
For the Kings, the failure to close the deal stung.
“The (Pyatt goal) was my fault,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “I was blowing coverage there off the draw. I should be up on my winger there, and it’s a tip that goes in so that’s bad play by us, mental miscues.”
Despite being locked into fourth place in the West, the Coyotes played like the game meant something more than a mere playoff tune-up..
“We’re professionals,” Aucoin said. “We’ve been playing the same way all year.”
The Coyotes improved to a League-best 14-5 in shootouts and 29-6-6 in one-goal games. They've won three in a row and are 13-3-1 in their last 17 games, with seven of those victories coming in shootouts.
“We got down by a couple of goals and in the third period we kind of threw everything at them,” Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett said. “There’s not a lot of quit in these guys. They enjoy working hard and they want to work hard for 60 minutes – or 65 minutes – whatever it takes.”
Both teams will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 -- the single point gave the Kings 98; they are eighth in the West but could finish as high as fifth by winning their last two games, which would earn them a first-round matchup with the Coyotes.
The game was scoreless until a spectacular goal by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty at 7:48 of the second period. Justin Williams passed the puck out of his own zone to Kopitar, along the boards at center ice, who sent it to Doughty. The second-year defenseman split the defense, deked LaBarbera and slid the puck along the ice past the sprawling goaltender's blocker to make it 1-0.
The assist was Kopitar’s 46th of the season, a career high.
Johnson started the play that led to his own goal by feeding Ryan Smyth along the boards. Smyth carried the puck into the Coyotes’ zone and passed back to a trailing Johnson, who skated in across the faceoff circle to the right of the net and backhanded a shot over LaBarbera’s glove.
But the late rally dropped the Kings to 29-0-2 when leading after two periods. Both losses have come in the last week.
“(The Kings are) playing well and we knew they’re playing well,” captain Shane Doan said. “We’ve got to get better every single night and that’s what we’ve been talking about all year long.”
The Coyotes failed to take advantage of five full man advantage opportunities (plus a sixth that lasted just 9 seconds).
“It was evident that it’s not working right now,” Aucoin said of the Coyotes’ power play, now 0-for-20 in the last four contests. “We’re not in sync, we’re not getting shots. You’ve got to be persistent and stick with it. It’ll come.”
The Coyotes have gone 8-4-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season, 16-7-2 total. In addition, the Coyotes improved their divisional record to 13-7-3. Phoenix faces San Jose on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
It was Quick’s third consecutive start; he was pulled after allowing three goals on eight shots Tuesday night in Anaheim. Quick’s 71st start matched Felix Potvin’s club record set in 2001-02.
"I liked his game," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "I thought he was alert, he was sharp, he made some good stops.”