By Sergey Kocharov
Photos by Norm Hall
David LeNeveu is here to stay and he's playing like it.
LeNeveu made 37 saves in his first start since being recalled from the AHL and Geoff Sanderson scored the go-ahead goal in the third period as the Phoenix Coyotes earned their third consecutive victory - this time a 4-3 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks at Glendale Arena.
"We played hard the last five games and I was very pleased with our effort tonight," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky, whose team climbed back to the .500 mark on the season at 33-33-4. "(Steven) Reinprecht's line was outstanding tonight and when we broke down, Lenny was there."
Gretzky stopped short in guaranteeing who will get the majority of starts in remaining games of the season, but did indicate that LeNeveu would start his second consecutive game on Saturday against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
"It was great," said LeNeveu. "I settled down after a little while and I felt really solid and on top of my game. There are always nerves after coming back from being out so long, but I got over it real quick and felt great. They really came at us all game."
Paul Mara, Shane Doan and Reinprecht all scored for the Coyotes, who withheld a late Blackhawks rally in the final minutes of the game. With Zbynek Michalek in the box and Chicago inching to tie the game, Jamie Rivers blocked two shots to preserve the win for the Coyotes.
"That's the way we have to play," said Reinprecht. "We need to give it our all if we want to win the remaining games."
Mara opened the scoring for the Coyotes with his 15th goal of the season at the 11:15 mark of the first period. Chicago countered just 48 seconds later when James Wisniewski sent a swift shot past LeNeveu.
Doan made it 2-1 with 6:03 left in the period when he connected with Reinprecht on a nice two-on-one play. Doan, who's been primarily playing with Reinprecht, extended his goal-scoring streak to three games in notching his 26th goal of the season. Michael Holmqvist's shot beat LeNeveu with 3:23 left to tie the game for the second time in the period.
Reinprecht scored the lone goal in the second period and Sanderson added his 23rd of the season with 5:26 left in the third before Kyle Calder capped the scoring for the Blackhawks.
70 AND COUNTING
With the Coyotes win on Thursday night, the team's season point total reached 70 (33-33-4), eclipsing the point total of 68 points (22-36-18-6), set forth during the 2003-04 season.
Phoenix will now shoot for eclipsing two more franchise marks; 40 wins - set in 2001-02, the most wins since the franchise moved to Phoenix and 43 wins - franchise record for victories in a season set while in Winnipeg during the 1984-85 season.
It didn't take long for newly acquired forward Josh Gratton to stir things up and get into a fight in his first game with the Coyotes. Gratton, who made his Coyotes debut two weeks after the team acquired him from Philadelphia, fought Chicago's Mark Bell for nearly two minutes at 13:26 of the first period.
"It was not one of my better ones, but a good one to get back into it," said Gratton. "I felt a lot better than I thought I would conditionally. It was nothing, just a fight. One of my normal ones I guess."
The Coyotes return to Glendale Arena on Saturday night to continue a brief three-game homestand against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The game time is set for 7:00 p.m. Phoenix will conclude the homestand on Tuesday night when they host Nashville.