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The Wrap: Coyotes Rally for Win, for Leighton

Arizona scores three unanswered goals to secure emotional victory on Leighton's Legacy Night

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes
Final Score: Coyotes 3, Blues 2
Record: 20-20-5
Standings: 4th-place, West Division

Saturday, the Coyotes won one for Leighton.

After honorary teammate and "Hockey Fights Cancer" ambassador Leighton Accardo was inducted into the Coyotes Ring of Honor prior to the game at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes faced an early deficit, down 2-0 after the first period.

"We're going to turn this around for (Leighton) and get a big win for her and her family," Oliver Ekman-Larsson said, at the conclusion of that period.

Video: STL@ARI: Ekman-Larsson calls Coyotes' comeback win

Indeed, the Coyotes rallied for three unanswered goals to beat the St. Louis Blues, 3-2, once again claiming the fourth and final West Division playoff position.

Fans, players and coaches observed an emotional pre-game ceremony as a tribute video was played and "Accardo" and Leighton's hockey number, 49, was unveiled on the arena's upper ring. The Accardo family attended the ceremony, her siblings Larson, LeeAnne and Locke, her mother, Carly, and her father, Jeremy.

Video: STL@ARI: Accardo added to Ring of Honor with ceremony

"There were so many thoughts going through my head," Ekman-Larsson said. "We looked up and saw (the video) showing the kind of impact she had on so many people, and us too. It was emotional to stand on the bench and watch. I had to hold back (tears) a little bit, to be honest. I'm glad we had a chance to celebrate her life."

Darcy Kuemper returned to the lineup to make his first start since March 8. He, too, was emotional during the pre-game ceremony.

"I was fighting back tears," Kuemper said. "Leighton inspired us in so many ways, and she continues to. It was hard to watch emotionally, but we were also very happy to have the chance to celebrate her life, to be able to go out and play for her."

Said head coach Rick Tocchet: "When the ceremony started, you reflect on a lot of different things -- the time she was here with us. When it's emotional and you get teary-eyed, sometimes it takes guys a bit of time to get going."

The Coyotes got going in the second period, and didn't look back.

Alex Goligoski and Clayton Keller scored to tie the game, 2-2. 

Michael Bunting scored the go-ahead - and eventual game-winning - goal early in the third period, redirecting a Jakob Chychrun slap shot past Jordan Binnington.

Ekman-Larsson had a good feeling about the game, even when the Coyotes were down early.

"We didn't want to lose this one," he said. "You could feel it in the room. It was nice to get that win for (Leighton)."

This was more than just another game, said Kuemper, who finished the game with 20 saves.

"Everybody knew who we were playing for tonight. Sometimes the game - as important as this one was - is a little bit bigger than hockey. We just all wanted to go out and make (Leighton) proud. Even with the way the game started, everyone wanted to give a little bit extra for her."

The Coyotes' win was the team's fifth, multi-goal comeback victory this season.

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The Game: 

First Period: The Blues build a 2-0 lead with goals from Sammy Blais (1:23) and Tyler Bozak (8:14).

Second Period: The Coyotes tied the game, 2-2, with goals from Alex Goligoski (1:41) and Clayton Keller (10:34).

Third Period: Michael Bunting scored the go-ahead, 3-2 goal with 16:00 remaining.

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Statistics: 

SOG: ARI - 29, STL - 22

PP: ARI - 1/3, STL - 1/1

Hits: ARI - 17, STL - 30

Blocks: ARI - 24, STL - 11 

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Tocchet's Take: "Tonight was obviously a special night for a special girl. The (Accardo) family being here, I think it was kind of emotional for everybody to see the family, Leighton's parents and siblings.I know we went down 2-0, but I thought we were still playing pretty good hockey. I thought guys had some juice from the night. I think there was something there with Leighton. There were a couple of guys, I could tell, they wanted to really lay it on the line for her." 

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson said: "You kind of know before going into this game where you are in the standings, and how much this game meant to us with everything going on with Leighton. I think that gave us a boost, too. We knew it was a big game. We needed to come up with two huge points and we did. We're just going to keep working and keep getting wins here because we've really put ourselves in a good spot. I'm really proud of the guys."

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Notable:

  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson recorded his team-leading 13th power play point with the primary assist on Clayton Keller's goal.
  • Alex Goligoski scored to extend his point streak to three games. Goligoski has 12 points (2G, 10A) in the previous 13 games.
  • Clayton Keller scored his 13th goal of the year and is tied with Jakob Chychrun for second on the team in goals scored.
  • Michael Bunting scored his seventh goal in 10 games since being recalled from the AHL Tucson Roadrunners. Since his first goal on March 31st, his seven goals are tied for the third-most in the NHL.
  • Leighton Accardo became the first individual who is not a former player, coach, general manager, or broadcaster, to be inducted into a team's Ring of Honor in the Valley and the entire NHL.

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A Closer Look: The Coyotes re-claimed the fourth and final playoff spot, passing the St. Louis Blues for fourth place. Arizona (45) is now one point up on St. Louis (44). The Blues have two games in hand on the Coyotes. Arizona posted a 5-2-1 record in its season series against St. Louis.

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Coyotes Lineup:

Forwards

Keller - Schmaltz - Garland

Crouse - Dvorak - Pitlick

Hunt - Larsson - Kessel

Bunting - Pederson - Fischer 

Defensemen

Chychrun - Goligoski

OEL - Lyubushkin

Hjalmarsson - Demers

Scratches

Brassard

Hayden

Oesterle

Hill 

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Roster Notes: Darcy Kuemper returned from the Injured Reserve list to make his first start since March 8. Kuemper missed the previous 19 games with a lower-body injury.

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What's Next: The Coyotes have a scheduled off-day Sunday. They play the Minnesota Wild Monday night, 6:00 p.m., at Gila River Arena.

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Photo of the Game: Leighton's Legacy. Leighton's mother, Carly, holds back tears while the Accardo family watches the heartfelt, emotional pre-game ceremony as "Accardo 49" is unveiled in the Coyotes Ring of Honor.

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Highlights:

Video: Coyotes come back, top Blues to end five-game slide

Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - NHLI via Getty Images

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