Coyotes top Blues, one win away from Pacific title

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:50 AM

ST. LOUIS -- The Pacific Division title is there for the taking, and the Phoenix Coyotes are eager to grab it.

Goals by Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan 2:10 apart in the second period broke open a tie game, and the Coyotes move within a victory of winning the division title by beating the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center on Friday night.

The Coyotes (41-27-13) jumped a point in front of both Los Angeles and San Jose, and a win Saturday in Minnesota guarantees Phoenix its first division title since the franchise entered the NHL as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979. They were assured of a playoff berth when Dallas lost on Thursday, but they want more.

"It's an honor and a privilege to be in the playoffs but our goal is to win the division, which we've never done here in Phoenix," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's something that we have to embrace and get those two points.

"I think we did a better job of playing in their end and getting pucks through the neutral zone. When you're playing in the offensive zone, it limits their chances."

Added coach Dave Tippett: "It's a division title but more importantly, it's home ice in the playoffs. We've been talking about this for a long time that we want to build to be a playoff team. We put ourselves in a position to do that."

The Coyotes also avoided being swept in the season series against St. Louis (48-22-11), winning for the first time in four tries.

Mikkel Boedker had a goal and an assist, Yandle scored and Antoine Vermette added a pair of assists for the Coyotes. Mike Smith made 31 saves for the win despite having his shutout streak snapped at 234:25. He has allowed just one goal in his last 13 periods of play.

"He's been so big for us," Doan said of Smith. "We haven't played so well in the last three games. We wanted to give him a little break. It was nice to give him more than one goal to work with.

"The PK was good tonight. It's really the driving force around the league, shutting down the other teams power play makes you that much better. It was good tonight for us."

The Coyotes, who have never won a division title in franchise history, which includes the franchise being in Winnipeg from 1979-96, "It's a huge game," said Doan, who's been with the franchise since its last season in Winnipeg. "We'd love to have that third seed instead of having to go on the road."

The Blues, who are winless in four straight (0-2-2) for the first time all season, saw their hopes of winning the Presidents' Trophy evaporate with the loss. They still remain in the hunt for first place in the Western Conference but now need a win at Dallas on Saturday night along with a Vancouver loss in regulation to Edmonton to get it.

"There's still a chance, there's still something to play for," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got a lot of fighters on this team and we're going to keep doing what we do."

The Blues, who ended their home slate with a 30-6-5 mark, the most wins in franchise history, are talking about how to get their game back with the playoffs just five days away.

"It's just not enough guys going," center David Backes said. "Playoff teams have every guy committed to the team game and contributing one way or another whether it’s just starting a faceoff in your end and ending up in another team’s end, that's progress. We don’t have that buy-in and that accountability, and we haven’t in the last few games where we're willing to let the role players play their roles and there's little wins and little details to make sure that we have advantages in all game and we haven't done that consistently enough to win."  

Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, and Brian Elliott stopped 28 shots. St. Louis hurt itself by going 0-for-6 on the power play.

Coach Ken Hitchcock was brisk and to the point during his press conference. He made one statement and walked off, noticeably displeased. The Blues are 3-4-4 in their last 11 games.

"This is what happens when you play with skill ahead of work," Hitchcock said. "This is what happens when you don't want to put your work boots on and the other team doesn't want to have anything to do with it. They pushed us out of the game competitively-wise. They made us play and act as individuals. They started with the puck off of faceoffs. They defended well, they blocked shots, they did all the things that we do as a team, and they did them very well.

"Their level of defensive checking commitment confused and frustrated our players. We wanted the game to be easier, and it wasn't. We lost 4-1 because of it."  

Phoenix started the scoring when Yandle's bullet from the top of the left circle, a shot Elliott never saw thanks to a screen by Raffi Torres, hit the top upper right corner just 2:13 into the game to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead. Yandle fired home his 11th of the season after getting the puck from behind the net from Daymond Langkow.

"It got us going a bit," Tippett said.

After the Blues killed off the third Phoenix power play of the period, T.J. Oshie came out of the box and St. Louis wound up with a 4-on-1 rush that ended with Berglund hammering home a loose puck from the crease with 5:34 left in the period to tie the score. It also ended Smith's shutout streak as well as his streak of 161 consecutive saves. Oshie took two shots that Smith stopped but the puck lay in the crease and Berglund rifled it in with Smith out of position.

But the Coyotes scored off a pair of second-period rushes after quick transitions. Vrbata whistled a shot past Elliott from the high slot 5:44 into the second after taking a Ray Whitney pass, and Doan tucked a shot into the net after taking Vermette's feed at 7:54 for a 3-1 lead.

Later in the period, Smith was knocked down by an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Rostislav Klesla after getting tangled up with Oshie but remained in the game.

The Blues wasted a huge chance to get back in the game when they had 1:48 of a two-man advantage late in the second period and came away with nothing.

Boedker gave Phoenix a comfortable lead when he skated across the ice past Kevin Shattenkirk, then fired a wrister past Elliott 10:19 into the third period. it's the first time Elliott allowed four goals in a game since Feb. 22 in a 4-2 loss to Boston.

"I thought tonight we're right where we want to be at finding our identity," Yandle said. "Tonight was big. ... Tonight we did a good job and everybody contributed. It was a fun game to be a part of."
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