GLENDALE, Ariz. – Less than a week ago, the Phoenix Coyotes sat in 12th place in the Western Conference and would have been overjoyed to find themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Six days, four wins and eight points later, that isn't good enough anymore. Now that the Coyotes have a foothold in the playoff race, they're wondering how far they can push their longest winning streak of the season.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan scored on a power-play one-timer with 1:53 left in overtime and goalie Mike Smith made 22 saves to beat his fourth straight playoff contender as the Coyotes jumped over Minnesota into eighth place in the conference with a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames Thursday.
This latest win – coming on the heels of victories against over San Jose Saturday, Detroit on Monday and Dallas on Tuesday -- coupled with Minnesota's 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Thursday left Phoenix two points ahead of the Wild, Dallas and Calgary. The view from above that pack sure beats the alternative.
"Nine days ago we'd lost to Anaheim and we were five points out of the playoffs with, I think, four teams above us," said Doan, whose 16th goal of the season put an end to a long night of grinding hockey. "Now you're back where you want to be, but at the same time we can't be content with that. We have to keep pushing and see how far with can take this.
"We're not looking to just crawl. We're trying to run with this."
The Flames got the tying goal from red-hot Olli Jokinen – his fifth in three games – with 15:59 left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
But Mikael Backlund tripped Daymond Langkow in the corner 2:07 into OT, and the Coyotes hemmed Calgary in their zone for more than a minute before ending the game. With Calgary penalty-killer Blair Jones hit in the foot by a puck and unable to move, Phoenix had an extra advantage and Radim Vrbata sent a saucer pass across the slot that Doan blasted from inside the left circle, beating goalie Leland Irving cleanly.
"You go on the road and get four points out of six, you can look at it and say it was a decent trip," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said of his team's 1-0-2 trip to the West, which included a 4-3 win at San Jose on Wednesday. "We closed the gap a little bit."
The Coyotes meanwhile, used a pole vault. With five wins in their last six games, Phoenix is suddenly just four points behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose (which has four games in hand) and two points behind the second-place Los Angeles Kings, who lost in Florida on Thursday.
"It was a sloppy game, there were pucks bouncing all over the place," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "That's what it's going to be like (down the stretch … you've got to find ways to get points We'll take the points, stick those in the bank and move on."
Irving, playing for just the fifth time all season and the first since allowing six goals in 24 minutes in a 9-0 loss to Boston last month, made 11 of his 34 saves in the first period but was victimized when Kyle Chipchura's takeaway led to a 2-on-1 rush. Taylor Pyatt passed up a chance to feed teammate Gilbert Brule and fired a low shot that beat Irving between the pads at 7:34 for his seventh goal of the season and first in 11 games.
"It feels good to get on the scoresheet. It's been a while," Pyatt said. "I feel pretty comfortable on that line with Kyle and Gilbert. You just want to contribute as much as we can."
Smith, who has allowed just three goals in the last three games, made 10 saves in the first period and several of them were tough. He made a big early stop on Jones, back-to-back stops on Mike Cammalleri and Blake Comeau in the slot and a glove stab on Tim Jackman late in the period.
"He made key saves at the right times," Tippett said. "I didn't think our puck play was very good, we didn't generate very much."
The Flames, playing on weary legs after Wednesday's win in San Jose, briefly lost center Alex Tanguay midway through the first period when he was hit in the face by a deflected centering pass from teammate Jarome Iginla. Tanguay skated off with a trail of blood following him all the way to the bench but returned early in the second period wearing a full facemask.
Though they were better-rested, the Coyotes couldn't get the tempo of the game up where they wanted, and the slower pace allowed the Flames to hang around until they finally capitalized while playing 4-on-4 after Keith Yandle couldn't walk away from a scrum with Calgary's Cory Sarich.
With both foursomes on the ice for almost two full minutes – the Coyotes were unable to clear their zone twice – Mark Giordano's shot from the point hit Jokinen in the upper leg and deflected past Smith. It was the 17th goal of the season for the red-hot Jokinen, who had a hat trick against the Sharks in San Jose on Wednesday.
Moments later, Yandle got into another scrum with Backlund and drew the extra roughing minor when he punched Backlund while they were both being held by the linesmen.
"I didn't want to really fight him. I just wanted to take him out of the game, frustrate him" Backlund said. "He's their best defenseman, the best player on their team. I just tried to hold him down and them he gave me an (expletive) cheap shot."
But the Coyotes killed off the Calgary power play and cashed in when they got a chance in overtime.