By: Chad Lynch
Photo Credit: AP/Paul Vernon
The Coyotes took to the ice for Thursday's contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a sense of relief as the NHL trading deadline had passed and the Phoenix roster was set for the remainder of the season.
In the opening period, it was the Blue Jackets who came out with the early jump as they pressured the Coyotes net with a relentless attack in an attempt to score the first goal of the game. The task for the Coyotes became tougher just 61 seconds into the period when Keith Ballard was called for tripping, putting Columbus on the first power play of the game. The Phoenix penalty killers, despite surrendering a pair of shots on net, were benefiting for the goaltending of Curtis Joseph, as he turned aside the drives to keep the game scoreless.
Minutes later the Coyotes found themselves between a rock and hard place as Mike Ricci was already in the penalty box for hooking, when Ballard was assessed his second minor penalty of the game as he was called for high-sticking, giving Columbus 1:52 of five-on-three hockey. Curtis Joseph was pounded with shot after shot as the Blue Jackets attacked the net raising their shot total to eight, compared to the Coyotes one. Columbus nearly capitalized on the power play when a shot by Sergei Fedorov went to the front of the net and was tipped at the top of the crease by Blue Jacket forward Rick Nash, but "Cujo" made a great save to keep the game scoreless and eventually return the Coyotes to full strength.
Midway through the opening period, the Coyotes received a boost when recently acquired defenseman Jamie Rivers, who had arrived at the arena about five-minutes into the game, came out of the locker room and went directly onto the ice for his first shift in the Phoenix sweater.
With just over five-minutes left in the first period, the Coyotes found themselves down by a pair of skaters again when Dennis Seidenberg (delay-of-game) and Derek Morris (hooking) were sent to the penalty box. This time the Blue jackets would cash-in on the power play at 16:24 when Phoenix defenseman Keith Ballard turned the puck over in his own end to David Vborny. From there Vborny sent a pass to Rick Nash in the slot where he one-timed a shot past Joseph for a 1-0 Columbus lead.
At 19:49 of the first, the Blue Jackets increased their lead to 2-0 when Jan Hrdina converted off a turnover by Seidenberg deep in the Coyotes zone. Hrdina's ninth goal of the season came just 11 seconds before the period came to an end.
The second stanza end eerily similar to the way the first ended as the Blue Jackets registered an early goal to extend their lead to 3-0. Nikolai Zherdev came into the Coyotes zone on his off-wing along the left hand boards and blasted a shot that went over the shoulder of Joseph for his team-leading 23rd goal of the season.
Phoenix did receive their first power play of the game at 41-seconds of the first when Trevor Letowski was called for interference. However, the Coyotes were still unable to turn the man-advantage into a goal as the power play ended with Columbus still on top by three goals.
At 4:33 of the period, the Coyotes went back on the power play, this time, on an extended version as Zherdev was given a pair of minor penalties, resulting in four-minutes of power play time. The first minor penalty expired without Phoenix cutting into the lead, but shortly after the second penalty took effect, Geoff Sanderson picked up a loose puck at the top of the slot in the Blue Jackets zone and blasted a slap shot past netminder Pascal LeClaire to cut the deficit to 3-1. The goal by Sanderson was his 21st of the season.
The Coyotes found themselves shorthanded at 11:37 of the second when Phoenix was caught with too-many-men on the ice. Keith Ballard tried desperately to get off the ice before the penalty could be called, but nevertheless, the Blue Jackets were going back on the power. However, it was the Coyotes who would cash-in as Derek Morris trailed a rush into the Columbus zone and sent a wrist shot past the glove of LeClaire to make it a 3-2 game.
Shortly after Morris cut the lead to a single goal, Phoenix appeared to have tied the game when the puck deflected off Mike Ricci and entered the net, but the on-ice official quickly waived the goal off saying that Ricci had purposely deflected the puck on-goal. As a result the score remained 3-2 heading into the final minutes of the period.
The final seconds of the period would tick off the clock and the Coyotes skated off the ice after 40-minutes of play trailing the Blue Jackets 3-2.
The third period, the Blue Jackets flexed their offensive muscles again at 5:40 of the third when former Coyote Mike Rupp poked the puck into the Phoenix net to increase the Columbus lead to 4-2.
Just 28 seconds after Rupp's goal, another former Coyote, Jason Chimera, followed up a shot by Manny Malhotra and was able to slide the puck past Joseph to make it a 5-2 contest.
Midway through the period, the Coyotes received a scare as Mike Ricci collided with Columbus' Aaron Johnson, sending Ricci to the ice in obvious pain. After staying on the ice a moment, Ricci left the ice and was attended to on the Coyotes bench by Athletic Therapist Chris Broadhurst.
The Coyotes cut the lead to 5-3 at 5:29 of the third when Mike Comrie's pass to the front of the net from behind the goal was intended for Ricci, but was accidentally swatted into the Columbus net by Zherdev. Comrie received credit for the goal, bringing his season total to a team-leading 22-goals.
Columbus nearly re-took the three-goal lead late in the third period when Malhotra fired a shot to the top of the net, but was robbed by Joseph to keep it a 5-3 game.
With 1:47 left in the contest, the Coyotes closed the gap to 5-4 as Mike Ricci sent a pass over to Dave Scatchard, who one-timed a shot to the top of the Blue Jackets net that beat LeClaire and brought Phoenix back to within a goal.
The Coyotes mounted a fierce attack over the final minute of action, trying to tie the game, but the Blue Jackets were able to hold off the Phoenix rush for the 5-4 win.