GLENDALE, Ariz. – For Brad Richards, the waiting was the hardest part.
But for the Phoenix Coyotes, it was the result that was the toughest to swallow.
In one of the wildest finishes to an NHL game, Richards' whirling backhander glanced off Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle's leg, found just enough air to get over goalie Mike Smith's pad and banked off the post and over the goal line with one-tenth of a second left in regulation, giving the New York Rangers a 3-2 win at Jobing.com Arena on Saturday night.
The game appeared headed to overtime when Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh beat Radim Vrbata to a puck in the corner and threw it backward blindly with less than two seconds left. Richards was in the right spot and whipped the puck toward the net – which glanced off the leg of Yandle and off the post as the horn sounded.
The referees washed out the goal on the ice, but when reviewed in Toronto replays showed the puck fully crossed the goal line with one-tenth of a second left. That led to a delayed celebration by the Rangers, who had won only one of their last five trips to Arizona.
"I was at the mercy of everyone else. It's not a good feeling," Richards said. "I knew it was going to go upstairs and you have to wait. You just hope you get on the right side of it. Timing-wise, you don't win many games like that."
The goal capped a forgettable final period for Yandle, who fanned on a pass that Marian Gaborik turned into his 300th NHL goal to tie the game at 2-2 just 1:09 in. Gaborik had two goals, his 16th and 17th of the season for New York, and now has 13 goals in his last 12 games against the Coyotes.
"We get lucky. I think it hits the kid's skate and we get lucky," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "That one goal at the beginning of the period helped us get back in, and again we just tried to stay with it. I'm glad it went our way and we found a way to win a game."
The Coyotes have now allowed 15 goals in the last two minutes of a period this season and seven in the final five minutes of regulation – but never this late.
"Pretty frustrating when we've seen a number of them like that before," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Mistakes keep piling up and you're giving away points like that. It's not good."
Phoenix had been a perfect 14-0-0 leading after two periods this season, but a 2-1 lead evaporated thanks to a goal that set the stage for what was to come for a team that is now 3-6 in December.
Yandle attempted to start a rush up ice, but fanned on a pass from behind his net. Gaborik was all alone on the slot to collect the crawling giveaway and while Smith stopped his first shot, Gaborik still had time for a second whack to tie the game with No. 300.
"It seemed like a year ago when I started in the NHL," said Gaborik, who reached the milestone in his 670th NHL game. "I was a little surprised by it. I was all alone right in front of (Smith) and I was as surprised as he was."
The injury-plagued Rangers played without center Artem Ansimov due to the flu and lost defenseman Steve Eminger to an injury in the second period, leaving them with five blueliners the rest of the way. New York did get center Mike Rupp back after he missed 22 games due to arthroscopic right knee surgery.
Lauri Korpikoski scored shorthanded in the final seconds of the first period and Cal O'Reilly scored his first goal as a Coyote in the final minute of the second for Phoenix. The Coyotes took seven minor penalties in the game – five of them in the first period – and asked their penalty kill, which has imploded over the last two weeks, to bail them out.
They didn't get off to a good start. Just 19 seconds after Taylor Pyatt was sent off for hooking, Michael Del Zotto found Gaborik on the rush with a two-line pass. Gaborik split Phoenix defensemen Adrian Aucoin and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, skated in alone and beat Smith at 8:34. It was the 12th power-play goal allowed by Phoenix in the last eight games – after giving up only eight in the first 20 games.
But the Coyotes killed off a 5-on-3 power play with Shane Doan and Michal Rozsival in the box and went one-better with Raffi Torres serving a double-minor at the end the period. Boyd Gordon won a faceoff to Korpikoski, who stickhandled around a sliding Ranger and beat Biron with a wrist shot at 19:51. It was Phoenix's third shorthanded goal of the season and the second of Korpikoski's eight goals this season.
The 29th-ranked Phoenix power play, which had just three goals in their last 52 chances coming in, finally got a chance thanks to penalties to Ruslan Fedotenko and Anton Stralman of the Rangers just 1:09 apart. Just after Fedotenko left the box, Doan tried to bull his way to the net and set off a scrum in the slot. The puck squirted to O'Reilly, who was all alone at the right post and we swept in it the exposed net at 19:08 to give Phoenix their first lead.