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Coyotes bounce back, beat East-leading Penguins

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Zbynek Michalek came to Arena on Saturday determined to make sure Sidney Crosby and his line didn't have a big night for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Not only did Michalek and defense partner Oliver Ekman-Larsson keep Crosby and his linemates off the scoresheet, the former Penguin also snapped his own 83-game goalless drought. Michalek scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the second period and the Coyotes beat the Penguins 3-1 before an overflow crowd of 17,362.

"I almost forgot what it feels like. It's been almost two years," said Michalek, whose last goal was on March 12, 2012, for Pittsburgh; ironically, it came in a win against the Coyotes. "It definitely felt good. Hopefully I don't have to wait as long for the next goal.

Michalek, who left Phoenix for Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2010, was traded back to Phoenix during the 2012 NHL Draft. In addition to the goal, he was credited with four of Phoenix's 20 blocked shots, including one blast from Crosby in the first period that he took in the shoulder.

"This one feels good for me … even sweeter," Michalek said of the goal and the victory. "Any time you play against your former team you want to show up. You want to win that game. For me this one feels great and I'll enjoy it tonight."

Mike Ribeiro scored his 200th career goal and added an assist as the Coyotes (26-19-10) rebounded from a 3-2 loss Thursday to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, to beat the beasts of the East. Radim Vrbata scored an insurance goal in the third.

The win pulled Phoenix (26-20-10) within one point of the idle Vancouver Canucks for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes also have a game in hand.

Coming back from a two-game benching, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made 23 saves, with several of his best coming early in the first period. He also made two big saves on Brandon Sutter during a power play midway through the third period to preserve the Coyotes' two-goal lead.

"It was a win that everyone had a big part in and it was nice to get back in there and play well and gain some confidence," Smith said. "It's frustrating not playing, but (backup goalie Thomas Greiss) deserved to play and I needed to work on some things. Hopefully we can keep pushing forward now."

Evgeni Malkin had the only goal for the Penguins (38-15-2), who lost in regulation for the third time in the past 13 games. Pittsburgh came into the game 11-3-1 against the Western Conference, but never led Saturday.

"I thought we had some good chances. Smith made a few good saves and we didn't capitalize on others." Crosby said. "They play a pretty tight game and if you don't cash in on your chances … they shut it down pretty well there in the third. We didn't make it tough enough against them in the third."

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves but was denied his 30th win of the season.

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