GLENDALE, Ariz. – Not even the NHL's best team could cool off the hottest one.
But at least the Vancouver Canucks
can say they denied the Phoenix Coyotes
a point during the month of February. No other team can make that claim after the scorching Coyotes completed their best month ever with a 2-1 shootout win over the League's No. 1 team Tuesday – completing an 11-0-1 month of February that has transformed their season.
Ageless Ray Whitney
tied the game with 10:17 left in regulation and teamed with Mikkel Boedker
for shootout goals to give Phoenix their third shootout win in the last four games. Goalie Mike Smith
did the rest with 39 saves, winning an outstanding duel with Vancouver's Cory Schneider
as the Coyotes ended a month without a regulation loss for the first time since then-coach Jim Schoenfeld guided Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Nikolai Khabibulin and the 1998-99 Coyotes to 10 wins and a tie (21 points) in November 1998.
That group went on to set a franchise record with a 14-game unbeaten streak (12-0 with two ties); these Coyotes are at 12 games without a regulation loss and counting, collecting 23 of a possible 24 points during February. The Canucks took the other one, outlasting the Coyotes 2-1 in a six-round shootout in Vancouver on Feb. 13.
"That was a heck of a month by any team's standards," said the 39-year old Whitney, who has 18 points in the last 14 games and at least one point in 13 of them. "We had to earn the (wins) both home and road. We beat some quality teams and getting three out of four points against the team we played tonight is impressive.
"We realize that if we work hard we can compete with the big boys."
The Coyotes entered February as road kill, a 12th-place team on the verge of holding a trade deadline fire sale. But they leave it as Pacific Division leaders, owners of the longest current overall (six) and home (seven) winning streaks in the League. They aren't scheduled to play on Leap Day, but no one will be sadder to see the calendar turn from February to March.
"We've improved so much as a group and we're just finding ways to win hockey games," said Smith, who extended his own personal and franchise record with his 11th straight win. "(Schneider) is a heck of a goaltender ... I didn't know if we were going to get one by him or not. It was a great game, a big crowd (16,691) and a great atmosphere."
The Canucks, who have had 13 of their last 21 games decided after regulation, are 8-5 in those games. Alexander Elder gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead in the first but Elder and Mason Raymond
came up empty in the shootout as Vancouver finished a six-game road trip 3-1-2.
The Canucks have collected points in 17 of their last 18 games (12-1-5) and ended Detroit's NHL-record 23-game home winning streak on Feb. 23. The longest current streak now belongs to Phoenix. The Canucks begin a seven-game homestand on Thursday against St. Louis and play 13 of their final 18 in Vancouver.
"Considering all the hockey that we've played on the road in February ... this was a challenging trip," coach Alain Vigneault said. "My mom sent me an e-mail and she said ‘eight points out of 12 isn't bad,' so it can't be that bad."
Whitney started the shootout by skating in and snapping a high shot over Schneider's shoulder and just under the crossbar. Boedker ended the game by racing in, making a deke and sliding the puck just under Schneider's stick.
"The last two were the same move so I decided I should try something different," said Boedker, who has scored on three of four shootout attempts, two of them against Vancouver. "Smitty has been unbelievable for us, we have great veteran leadership with Whitney and (Radim) Vrbata and (Shane) Doan and the younger guys are just following the older guys."
The first period was pretty even with each team getting 12 shots and two power plays, but the Canucks held a 1-0 lead in fortuitous bounces -- and on the scoreboard.
With Michal Rozsival
in the box for hooking Daniel Sedin
, Edler's quick shot from the right boards hit two Coyotes -- first Adrian Aucoin
's shin pad, then Chris Summers
-- changing direction twice and fluttering past a helpless Smith to snap an 0-for-10 power-play drought for the Canucks. It was Vancouver's 68th first-period goal of the season, the most in the NHL.
The Coyotes came out firing in the second period, outshooting the Canucks 11-2 over the first 13 minutes. But Schneider, who shut out Phoenix here 5-0 on Nov. 25 and had won seven starts in a row, stopped them all – he had to be especially sharp to deny Doan, Whitney and new Coyote Antoine Vermette
on Doan's rebound.
Vancouver owned the final five minutes of the period, but Smith stood tall and stopped new Canuck Zack Kassian
and Raymond with bang-bang pad saves before robbing Daniel Sedin
with his glove.
"I was nervous to start, but I think I got better as the game went along," said Kassian, acquired from Buffalo in the Cody Hodgson trade Monday and one of three Canucks (Sami Pahlsson and Andrew Gordon were the others) making his Vancouver debut Tuesday. "That first shift skating (on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin
) is something I'll never forget. It was a honor to play with them a bit."
But Phoenix kept coming in the third and, after Martin Hanzal
hit the post on a partial breakaway, finally broke through. Keith Yandle
put a long shot from center ice on net that Schneider blocked down. Whitney outraced the defense, grabbed the rebound and swept a backhander up and over Schneider for his 19th goal of the season, extending his scoring streak to six games; he has 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in the last 15 games.
Smith had the best save of the overtime, robbing Daniel Sedin
on a cross-crease pass from brother Henrik in the first minute to keep Phoenix alive.