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Coyotes rally for 4-3 shootout win at Florida

by Brian Hunter

The Phoenix Coyotes set a franchise record for victories on Thursday by winning in the most improbable of fashions.

Radim Vrbata scored a fluke game-tying goal with 59.7 seconds left in regulation and added the shootout winner as the Coyotes rallied from three goals down after two periods for a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers at Bank Atlantic Center.

"It was just one of those games where we never quit," Vrbata said after the Coyotes won their seventh in a row and finished 4-0-0 on their swing through the Southeast. "We came back and it was nice to get that."

With its 44th win of the season, Phoenix eclipsed the old franchise mark held by the 1984-85 Winnipeg Jets, who did not have the benefit of the penalty-shot tiebreaker to settle games still tied after overtime. The Coyotes also closed within three points of the Sharks for the Pacific Division lead, though San Jose also has a game in hand.

Martin Hanzal and Lee Stempniak scored 43 seconds apart early in the third to start the Phoenix comeback, which drove another nail into the playoff coffin of Florida.

Tomas Vokoun stopped 43 shots and the Panthers got goals from Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Cory Stillman, but gained only one point on eighth-place Boston and remained seven points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.

The Coyotes outshot Florida 19-6 in the third and came up with the equalizer when Vrbata's dump-in took a funny bounce in front of the crease and hopped over Vokoun's glove into the net.

"For us it seems, Murphy's Law -- whatever can go wrong is going wrong," Florida coach Pete DeBoer said.

Nathan Horton and Lauri Korpikoski traded goals in the second round of the shootout. Ilya Bryzgalov then denied Weiss to begin the third round and Vrbata won it at the other end for the Coyotes.

Weiss got the evening off to a strong start for the Panthers when he opened the scoring on a power-play goal with 6.7 seconds left in the first period. He beat Bryzgalov on a slapper from the left circle.

Phoenix held a 16-8 advantage in shots in the second but watched the deficit grow. Booth scored at 1:03 by deflecting a Bryan McCabe drive from just inside the blue line and Stillman made it 3-0 with a backhander at 7:31. Horton assisted on both goals in his return to the lineup after missing 17 games with a broken leg.

The Coyotes' fortunes finally began to shift when Hanzal converted on a power play 3:56 into the third. They quickly cut their deficit to 3-2 as the red-hot Stempniak scored his sixth goal in as many games since being acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline.

"We kept pushing and took some chances and they didn't take any chances," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We were lucky to get some bounces."

Material from wire services was used in this report

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