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Coyotes blank Canucks to end four-game skid

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first game of the post-Roberto Luongo era looked a lot like the past month for the Vancouver Canucks: Once again, the goaltending wasn't the problem.

Antoine Vermette scored his sixth goal in five games against the Canucks this season late in the first period, and it stood up to give the Phoenix Coyotes a 1-0 win at Arena on Tuesday.

Vermette has nine goals in his past nine games against the Canucks. On Jan. 16, the Coyotes won a mirror-image 1-0 game, and Vermette's power-play goal was the difference.

Ten days later, he had a hat trick in Vancouver, but the Coyotes lost in overtime.

"I don't know what it is, scoring against one team, but it's definitely great timing because we needed those points," Vermette said. "You try to play hard every night, but for some reason it works out better on the stat sheets against one team."

Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made 23 saves for his his third shutout of the season – all in his past 12 starts – and the 27th of his career.

The Coyotes snapped a four-game losing streak and moved into ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild-card spot.

Smith outdueled Vancouver's Eddie Lack, who played very well with 31 saves on a pressure-packed night, but his offense didn't provide any help. Lack became Vancouver's No. 1 goalie after the Canucks traded Luongo to the Florida Panthers earlier in the day.

"He continues to impress and he was obviously our best player tonight," Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "A lot of people haven't talked about him with all the Luongo stuff going on and you sometimes forget about what this kid has done. He stood in there tonight. I love the way he battles and he gave us a chance."

Lack said the game was an end to a very strange day.

"I was shocked obviously," he said. "I was getting ready to nap a little before the game and our goalie coach (Roland Melanson) told me I was playing. It's been a very weird day and not very good either. I'm losing a very good friend and a mentor for me. But it's important to get back on the horse here and start winning."

But the once-potent Canucks simply can't score. Playing without the injured Daniel Sedin, the Canucks are 1-9-1 in their past 11 games and have scored 15 goals in that span. They dropped to 10th in the West, two points behind Dallas and one behind Phoenix and the Winnipeg Jets, who have played one more game than the Coyotes.

"I think there's been some games [during the slump] that we've created scoring chances, but tonight we even had problems creating chances," Tortorella said. "I think the trade surprised people, but I don't think we can use that as an excuse for losing. Roberto is very well-liked and respected in that room but as we get near the deadline, players lose some people. We can't use that as an excuse."

In the other dressing room, the Coyotes were energized by a deal. Saying he still believed in the core of the team and its push for a playoff berth, Phoenix general manager Don Maloney acquired wing Martin Erat from the Washington Capitals for Chris Brown and Rostislav Klesla and indicated the team might not be done dealing. The NHL Trade Deadline is 3 p.m. Wednesday.

"This time of year, you want to add pieces that are going to help your team win," said Smith, who allowed four third-period goals in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Sunday, but nursed a slim lead and blanked the Canucks. "Don obviously did that with the move today. We all know how close it is and to beat a team right there with us in the standings is big."

The Coyotes played most of the game without defenseman Derek Morris, who had his eye scratched on a high stick from Vancouver's Brad Richardson on his fourth shift of the game and did not return.

Vermette, who had a hat trick in Vancouver on Jan. 26 and entered the game with eight goals in his past eight games, opened the scoring at 17:04 of the first period.

Brandon McMillan chased down a Michael Stone dump-in behind the Vancouver net and centered the puck to the slot. Lack got a piece of Shane Doan's shot, but the puck sat wound up in the blue paint hugging the post, where Vermette was able to slap it home on a second whack. Eleven of Vermette's 22 goals have come against Canadian teams.

"I didn't think it was going to ever go in. I just keep chopping at it," he said.

The Coyotes appeared to take a 2-0 lead when, after a wild scramble in front of the net with players strewn all over the slot and crease, Mikkel Boedker put a puck into an empty net. But Vermette, who appeared to be pinned to the ice by Vancouver's Jordan Schroeder, was called for being in the crease and the goal was wiped out.

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