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Coyotes finding a winning formula

Sunday, 02.19.2012 / 1:57 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - Columnist

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Coyotes finding a winning formula
The Phoenix Coyotes are hotter than the Arizona desert -- they are 7-0-1 in their last eight games after a 2-1 OT win against Dallas on Saturday.
The Phoenix Coyotes continue to turn a little offense into a lot of points.

The Coyotes managed only one goal in regulation on Saturday against Dallas -- but thanks to the goaltending of Mike Smith, that was good enough to get the game into overtime. Radim Vrbata took over from there, converting a feed from Ray Whitney after a turnover for a 2-1 win than extended the Coyotes' unbeaten streak in regulation this month to 7-0-1.

Smith, who made 30 saves, has been in goal for all seven of the wins.

The game-winner was Vrbata's second in as many games and his 10th of the season, tying him with Detroit's Johan Franzen for the League lead. His 28 goals are a career high -- and a big reason the Coyotes have climbed into seventh place in the West. They've earned 15 points this month despite scoring only 21 goals in their eight games.

In the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders both closed in on the last playoff berth with one-goal wins while eighth-place Toronto was routed in Vancouver.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Saturday's games:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

New York Rangers (79 points) had another day off; they host Columbus at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Boston (72 points) had Saturday off and will visit the slumping Minnesota Wild on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC) to highlight Hockey Day Across America.

Florida (65 points) got a break when Washington lost at Tampa Bay on Saturday, keeping the Panthers in first place entering Sunday's home game against Anaheim.

The next five:

Philadelphia (71 points after Saturday's 6-4 home loss to Pittsburgh) continues to have goaltending problems. Ilya Bryzgalov was hooked after allowing a pair of shorthanded goals on the same penalty, but Sergei Bobrovsky surrendered three goals in the third period. The Flyers did add some help on defense, landing Pavel Kubina from Tampa Bay.

Pittsburgh (71 points after Saturday's 6-4 win at Philadelphia) beat the Flyers for the first time in three tries this season with a big assist from Matt Cooke, who scored twice and had the first 3-on-5 goal in the NHL this season. The Penguins' penalty-killers outscored Philadelphia's power play 2-1.

New Jersey (70 points) makes a rare Sunday visit to Montreal. Expect Martin Brodeur to play against the team he grew up watching -- he's dominated the Habs throughout his career.

Ottawa (68 points) will be well-rested when it finally gets on the ice again Monday afternoon on Long Island. The Senators have been off since Wednesday.

Toronto (64 points after Saturday's 6-2 loss at Vancouver) will be glad to be heading home after being devoured by the Canucks. They've dropped five of six and will have a welcome two-day break before New Jersey comes to Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.

On the outside looking in:

Washington (63 points after Saturday's 2-1 loss at Tampa Bay) had to settle for a split of its two-game swing through Florida after it was unable to come back from a two-goal deficit. Brooks Laich scored midway through the second period. The good news for the Caps is that star defenseman Mike Green was back in the lineup; he's played only 11 games this season due to injuries.

Winnipeg (62 points) had Saturday off after beating Boston on Friday in the opener of an eight-game homestand. Colorado comes to the MTS Centre on Sunday night.

Tampa Bay (58 points after Saturday's 2-1 win against Washington) got goals by Tom Pyatt and Steven Stamkos, then made them stand up to beat the Caps and move within six points of eighth place. Stamkos leads the NHL with 40 goals and became only the third player to hit the 40-goal mark three times before his 23rd birthday.

New York Islanders (58 points after Saturday's 4-3 win against Carolina) completed its first series sweep against the Hurricanes' franchise since it entered the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979. John Tavares had two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist, giving his six goals and 12 points on the 14 non-shootout goals the Isles scored  against the 'Canes this season.

Montreal (58 points) had a rare Saturday off -- and plays an unusual Sunday evening game against New Jersey.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Detroit (82 points) will try to extend its NHL-record home winning streak to 23 games when San Jose comes to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday. The Wings took practice outside on Saturday, delighting about 2,000 fans -- though center Pavel Datsyuk stayed home with a sore throat.

Vancouver (80 points after Saturday's 6-2 win against Toronto) left the home fans with something to smile about as they head out on a six-game trip. The Sedin twins each had four points and Alexandre Burrows scored a pair of goals as the Canucks made short work of the Leafs.

San Jose (69 points) continues its nine-game trip in Detroit on Sunday. The Sharks begin a stretch that will see them play five times in eight days in five cities.

The next five:

St. Louis (79 points after Saturday's 4-0 win against Minnesota) continues to dominate at home. Brian Elliott faced only 13 shots as the Blues improved to 26-3-4 at Scottrade Center. The bad news: Sunday's game at Chicago begins a season-ending stretch that will see the Blues play 16 of their last 24 on the road.

Nashville (72 points) got to sit and wait in Dallas while the Stars played in Phoenix. After that, they come home for four games.

Chicago (69 points after Saturday's 6-1 win at Columbus) wrapped up its nine-game trip on a positive note by burying the Blue Jackets. After losing the first seven games, Chicago ended the trip with wins at New York and Columbus, brightening the mood as the Hawks head home to host St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.

Phoenix (67 points after Saturday's 2-1 overtime win against Dallas) survived two more injuries (Martin Hanzal and Kyle Chipchura) and found a way to win when Vrbata found the net in overtime. Dallas' second-period power-play goal was the first tally allowed by Smith in 171:26.

Calgary (65 points after Saturday's 1-0 win at Los Angeles) managed only 18 shots against the Kings -- but Michael Cammalleri had the only one that counted when he beat Jonathan Quick early in the third period for the game's lone goal. The win moved the Flames into the top eight in the West.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (65 points after Saturday's 1-0 loss to Calgary) continues to find scoring a challenge. The Kings have been blanked 1-0 in back-to-back games and have dropped out of the top eight in the West. They've been shut out eight times this season; five were in games they lost 1-0.

Dallas (62 points after Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss at Phoenix) got a goal by Michael Ryder and a single point by getting to OT but couldn't get the extra point against the banged-up Coyotes. The Stars will again be without All-Star center Jamie Benn (leg laceration) when Nashville comes to the American Airlines Center on Sunday.

Colorado (62 points) visits Winnipeg on Sunday for just the third time since moving from Quebec in 1995; the original Jets moved to Phoenix a year later.

Minnesota (59 points after Saturday's 4-0 loss at St. Louis) was dominated all afternoon by the Blues, who limited the Wild to 13 shots. They'll need a better effort to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Sunday's nationally televised game at the Xcel Energy Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

Anaheim (58 points) continues its eight-game trip with a stop in Florida on Sunday.
Quote of the Day

He's been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn't anybody in the same universe as him.

— Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz on goalie Braden Holtby, who made 33 saves to shut out the Edmonton Oilers 1-0
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