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Coyotes beat Canadiens for first time since '98

by Jerry Brown /

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes beat the Montreal Canadiens for the first time in more than 15 years. It hadn't been that long since they scored five goals in a game -- it just seemed that way.

Radim Vrbata scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season and combined with Lauri Korpikoski and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a three-goal first period, and the Coyotes beat the Canadiens 5-2 on Thursday night at Arena for their first win against Montreal since Dec. 9, 1998.

With the Coyotes lead trimmed to 3-2, Vrbata's second goal at 11:43 of the third period was the backbreaker. He took a pretty feather pass from Kyle Chipchura on the rush and beat goalie Peter Budaj between the pads to restore the Coyotes' two-goal lead. Shane Doan added a power-play goal 1:45 later for the final margin.

Vrbata has five goals in his past nine games and enjoyed being paired with new Coyote and fellow Czech Martin Erat, who was plus-2 and appeared to give the offense a lift. The Coyotes hadn't scored more than two goals in seven straight games and hadn't scored five since beating the Calgary Flames 6-0 on Jan. 7.

"We had a good first period and then they pushed back. But we played well again in the third and pushed them back so we didn't have to defend as much, Vrbata said. "That fourth goal really helped us. We could breathe a little easier."

The Coyotes (29-23-11) stayed one point behind the Dallas Stars, who beat the Vancouver Canucks 6-1, in the race for the final Western Conference wild-card spot. They moved two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, who lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings.

Ten players had at least one point for Phoenix, with Mike Ribeiro chipping in two first-period assists.

"This was a big game for us. We had to have it before we leave on the four-game trip (beginning Saturday against the Washington Capitals)," said Ribeiro, who played with Erat in Washington last season. "I think Erat is going to be a good fit for us, we play a lot like he did in Nashville. It will be good for Vrby and [injured center Martin Hanzal]; they can go out there and speak Czech and draw up their little X's and O's and have a ball.

"Erat's a tough competitor; he goes in the corners and makes plays. That kind of player is going to help you."

Budaj, subbing for injured starter Carey Price, made 18 saves for Montreal (35-23-7), which is second in the Atlantic Division. Forward Thomas Vanek, acquired by the Canadiens from the New York Islanders at the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, was scoreless, had one shot on goal and was minus-1 in 15:34 of ice time in his Montreal debut.

"I was really nervous and it was a long day for me," Vanek said. "Early on we didn't play great and got down a couple of goals. In this League, if you are chasing it's hard to get a groove."

Montreal beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in a shootout Wednesday and needed time to get going Thursday.

"We played late, traveled all night and we looked like it early," coach Michel Therrien said. "Before we got going we got into trouble. The second period we were skating, moving, finding our legs and this is where we were at our best."

Mike Smith made 24 saves for the Coyotes, who beat Montreal for only the second time since moving to Arizona in 1996 and the first time ever at Arena.

"These are desperate points for us and we need this win bad," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who was disgusted that his team took four second-period penalties that allowed Montreal to get back in the game. "We battled through a poor second period and made sure we played a real disciplined third period and pushed the game along."

The Coyotes scored three times on 15 shots in the first period to set the tone for a big offensive night.

Phoenix got on the board on Erat's first Phoenix shift. David Schlemko took a Chipchura pass and waited for traffic to form in front of the net. Vrbata was able to get a stick on Schlemko's wrist shot and it fluttered over Budaj at 2:08.

Montreal tied the game at 7:13 when Andrei Markov's blast from the left circle beat Smith, struck the right post and popped out of the net so quickly only a few Montreal players reacted. When play halted 30 seconds later, the officials reviewed the shot and Markov was awarded his sixth goal of the season.

The Coyotes kept up the pressure and cashed in at 15:04 after Lars Eller took Montreal's second penalty of the period. Ribeiro set up Michael Stone for a shot from the point and Korpikoski was waiting near the crease to pop the puck over Budaj and give Phoenix the lead for good. It was Korpikoski's first goal since Jan. 11 (18 games) and his eighth of the season.

The lead swelled to 3-1 with 8.5 seconds left, and again Ribeiro made the play. He raced down the right side, curled toward the net and tried to dump a pass to Doan at the right post. Doan couldn't handle the pass but it slid right up the slot to Ekman-Larsson, who rifled a wrist shot over Budaj's glove for his 10th goal.

Montreal dominated the second period, outshooting the Coyotes 12-1 as Phoenix committed penalty after penalty. Erat and Ekman-Larsson went off 15 seconds apart and the Canadiens cashed in 5-on-3 when Alex Galchenyuk deflected P.J. Subban's slap shot from the point past Smith at 14:53 to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Coyotes also lost Schlemko during that penalty kill when he took one of Subban's booming shots off his foot. He did not return and is listed day-to-day.

But Phoenix went back in front by two goals when Chipchura stole the puck in the neutral zone and chipped a pass to Vrbata, who beat Budaj between the pads. Doan's deflection of Keith Yandle's shot put the game away.

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