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Coyotes fend off Blues 2-1

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. – On a team for which scoring is a group effort, Lauri Korpikoski is keeping the Phoenix Coyotes on the right track down the stretch and a playoff spot within reach.

Korpikoski scored his career-high 18th goal and assisted on Ray Whitney's fourth goal against St. Louis this season as the Coyotes squeezed out an ugly 2-1 win over the Blues, collecting their 40th victory of the season and improving to 91 points, good for fourth place in the West.

Korpikoski doesn't have a single power-play goal all season, but he does have 7 points in his last eight games and a career-best 38 points after scoring just 11 all of last season. Playing center between Whitney and Radim Vrbata in place of the injured Martin Hanzal, he also won nine of 13 faceoffs and blocked two shots.

Korpikoski shares the team lead in goals with Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan after entering the season with just 11 goals in his first two years in the NHL

"Two more big plays by Korpi, he's really meant the world to us all season," Doan said. "No one is surprised to see him scoring like this. He's an elite player and everyone has been kind of waiting for him to put it together. We count on him to break the game open with his skill."

It's the first time in the 31-year history of the franchise that the Coyotes, who won team-record 50 games last season, have put together back-to-back 40-win seasons. They remained in fourth place in the West, one point behind Pacific Division-leading San Jose, but are just six points clear of the ninth-place Dallas and have played more games (75) than most of the other playoff hopefuls.

Three of the Coyotes' last seven games are against the Sharks, including back-to-back meetings to end the season.

Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves - three of them in the final minute as the Blues stormed the net with a sixth attacker - for his 33rd win of the season and 127th as a Coyotes. Playing for the 31st time in the last 33 games, he passed Nikolai Khabibulin for second place in franchise history and is just two wins behind leader Bob Essensa.

Kevin Shattenkirk scored for St. Louis, which has lost 11 of its last 16 games but was the better team for the first half of this one. The injury-plagued Blues played without defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, (food poisoning) and also lost center Patrik Berglund to a lower body injury in the third period.

"I think every game is a learning process," said Shattenkirk, who scored his first goal as a Blue since arriving in a trade from Colorado 17 games ago. "There are still some things that we're hashing out. Just playing and getting some game time here … that's the easiest way to learn."

In need of a win to stay ahead of the pack in the West, the Coyotes had a miserable first period against the out-of-the-playoff-race Blues. They had three impotent power plays, failed to get a single shot during 45 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey and hardly tested St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak - who lasted only one period in Saturday's loss at San Jose.

Meanwhile, the Blues had 12 shots, controlled play and scored when Shattenkirk roofed a Chris Stewart feed in front of the Phoenix net at 8:52 for his eighth goal of the season.

"They were playing really loose, really offensive, and we were kind of squeezing our sticks a little bit," Korpikoski said. "They have nothing to lose, so it's easy for them to play and wheel around."

Tippett wasn't happy with Phoenix's first six minutes of the second period either -- he called his timeout to deliver his message. The Coyotes picked up the pace almost immediately, forcing the action and squaring the game.

Vrbata found Korpikoski at the left point for a shot, but he caught only part of the puck. It dribbled right to Whitney, who swept it in with a backhander for his 15th goal and fourth in the last nine games. Whitney had a hat trick and tied a career high with five points the last time the Blues came to Glendale on Nov. 13.

At 17:00, Korpikoski put the Coyotes ahead with a shot that deflected off a Blue and beat Halak to the near post. Vrbata's two assists give him six helpers and eight points in the last six games.

"I'm playing with good players and on the top line. I think it's normal when you get more chances to score and you put it in," Korpikoski said. "I think it just comes with the opportunity to play."

Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette, who had only nine fights all season, made the most of his three shifts Tuesday. With his father Cam watching in the stands, Bissonnette squared off with Ryan Reaves just 1:58 into the game. Then in the second period, he sent Roman Polak flying into the boards before getting the best of a fight with young Tyson Strachan - ending it with a hard right hand.

"I thought Biz did a real good job bringing some energy to the building." Tippett said. "It seemed to energize us a little bit, and we kind of went from there."

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