ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Needing a win to capture its first-ever division title in its present state, Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, the Phoenix Coyotes
left no doubt.
scored two goals and Mike Smith
was stellar again stopping 23 shots in leading the Coyotes to a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild
The victory secured the franchise's first division title since the franchise entered the National Hockey League in 1979 as the first incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. It also assured the Coyotes of the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and a first-round date with the Chicago Blackhawks when the Stanley Cup Playoffs commence next week.
"This feels good," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. "Winning your division is one thing, but the key to winning your division is you get home ice in the first round. We've worked hard, gone through some trials and tribulations throughout this year and the guys have hung in there.
"There was some times when it could have turned the other way and our guys grabbed it and kept pushing along. We've finished on a nice streak and hopefully we'll play our best hockey of the season in the playoffs."
Phoenix finishes the regular season riding a five-game win streak and is in the midst of a 20-6-5 stretch since Feb. 1.
Saturday, Phoenix dominated the contest from the opening drop, outshooting the Wild 11-4 in the first period and scoring a pair of goals to open a 2-0 lead after one. Mikkel Boedker
's 11th of the season slipped through Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom
just 5:34 in to give the Coyotes an early 1-0 lead.
"We've talked about finishing the season strong and it was a big game, to finish like that," Smith said. "We played out style of hockey, got a big two points and got a huge home-ice advantage in the playoffs."
Pyatt's blast from the slot eight minutes later ended up being the game-winner.
In the second period, Minnesota had its lone chance to get back into the game when a shot from behind the net by Dany Heatley
bounced off Smith's leg and in to make it 2-1 at 13:53.
But the shift in momentum was short-lived.
Just 31 seconds later, Pyatt scored his second of the night from the right post when he jammed home his own rebound to re-establish the two-goal cushion.
"That was big," Smith said. "Made it a [two-goal] game again and was definitely big for our team. I think it took the wind out of their sails."
Less than two minutes into the third, Phoenix grabbed its first three-goal advantage of the night when Ray Whitney
connected on a long pass to Radim Vrbata
, who cranked a slap shot past Backstrom to make it 4-1.
The Coyotes cruised from there, as the Wild committed a series of penalties in the third and could never seem to get on track.
Smith was strong in goal once again, allowing the Wild few rebound opportunities and shutting the door on the few quality chances Minnesota had. Over the Coyotes five-game streak, Smith has played in all five, allowing just two goals over that stretch and stopping 190 of possible 192 shots. The win was his 38th of the season -- fourth best in the League.
"He's embraced the No. 1 goaltender role with our team and he's played excellent," Tippett said. "He had a few games there where he was basically willing us into the playoffs. His game is top-notch right now. Hopefully it goes into the playoffs and that continues."
Phoenix knows it will host games one and two of the series against Chicago. When and at what time will be decided Sunday at 12 p.m. EST when the NHL releases the playoff schedule.