That's been the formula for the Phoenix Coyotes during the last two weeks, a combination has produced 15 points in eight games. it worked again Saturday night as Smith made 30 saves and Vrbata scored his 10th game winner of the season 1:15 into overtime as the Coyotes kept rolling with a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars.
Smith had his career-best shutout streak snapped at 171 minutes, 26 seconds when Michael Ryder batted a rebound out of midair into the net in the second period to tie the game 1-1, but he stopped all 10 Dallas shots in the third period and carried his team to overtime.
Vrbata took it from there. The Stars won a faceoff, but Ray Whitney stripped the puck from defenseman Mark Fistric behind the Dallas net and fed Vrbata in the slot. Vrbata had plenty of time to wait for Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen to drop to the ice before roofing his fourth game-winner in the last six games and tying Detroit's Johan Franzen for the NHL lead with 10 game-winners.
"I was running out of room there and I wanted to make sure I had a lane to shoot," said Vrbata, who set a career high with his 28th goal. "I'm just glad those goals are helping our team to get points. That's what we need to get to the playoffs."
A great February is helping again. The Coyotes, who won eight straight from Feb. 5-22 last year, are 7-0-1 in their last eight games. They have allowed only five goals in the last seven games – no more than one in any one game – while outscoring opponents by a 16-5 margin.
With a win before a crowd of 16,604 on "Alice Cooper Bobblehead Night," Phoenix (67 points) remains in seventh place in the West but now leads Dallas by five points and inches within two points of the Pacific-Division leading San Jose Sharks with their fifth straight home win. The Sharks have three games in hand.
Mikkel Boedker snapped a 20-game scoreless drought in the first period for Phoenix before Ryder tied the game with his team-leading 22nd of the season for the Stars.
"This team has grown a lot in the last two or three weeks," said Smith, who now has a 2.26 goals against average and has career-best seven-game winning streak. "After the All-Star Break, we came back rejuvenated and ready to work, and I really think we came a long way."
Lehtonen made 32 saves for Dallas, but it wasn't enough in a game the slumping Stars had to have. They are 1-3-1 in the last five games, losing to the Coyotes twice in the last 11 days, and remain 10th in the West with 62 points.
"We played hard, but we need results," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "It's a results-related business. We need results. We can't make a mistake at the end to give away a point. It was a good hockey game and it's a shame it had to end that way."
Phoenix started the game without four regulars and lost centers Martin Hanzal (lower body) and Kyle Chipchura (wrist) during the game. Already shorthanded on defense, they watched the Stars dominate the second and third period but Smith held the fort and kept his team in the game.
The Coyotes outshot Dallas 12-1 over a 10-minute span of the first period, drawing two penalties and taking a lead. Lauri Korpikoski sent Boedker down the right side after a takeaway, and with Keith Yandle charging down the slot as a pass option, Boedker put a wrist shot off Lehtonen's shoulder and into the net at 13:31 to give the Coyotes the first goal for the sixth time in the last seven games. It was Boedker's eighth goal, but his first since Dec. 29 in Colorado.
The Stars regrouped in the second period, putting more pressure on the Phoenix net and nearly scoring before finally snapping Smith's shutout streak.
An apparent goal by Steve Ott at 7:40 was washed out on the ice – and not reviewable – because Adam Burish knocked down a Fistric shot in the slot with a high stick. But when Phoenix defensemen Chris Summers and Michal Rozsival took penalties 44 seconds apart, the Stars finally broke through.
After Dallas failed to score during the 5-on-3 advantage, Mike Ribeiro's shot from the point was deflected by teammate Loui Eriksson. Smith made the initial save, but Ryder batted the airborne rebound into the net at 14:59 to tie the game. It was the first goal Smith had allowed since Olli Jokinen of Calgary scored on Feb. 9.
Dallas dominated the first 10 minutes of the third period, hemming the Coyotes in their zone shift after shift. But the Stars were able to get only five shots on Smith and he stopped them all before Phoenix finally leveled the ice.
"We had some good chances and then it became a battle of the goalies," Lehtonen said. "When you get that close it's always hard, but I think it was promising the way we played. We were gritty and we worked hard. If we keep going like that I'm sure we're going to get some wins."