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Coyotes' win ninth straight, move into first in West

by Brian Compton
Adrian Aucoin did it again on Sunday night.

Only this time, his shootout winner put the Phoenix Coyotes atop the Western Conference.

Aucoin scored in the fourth round of the shootout and the Coyotes matched a franchise record with their ninth straight victory with a 3-2 decision against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. Aucoin is 5-for-5 in the shootout this season, all game-winners. Phoenix has won 12 of 16 shootouts.

"I just go in there and shoot it," Aucoin said. "I don't want to deke or lose the puck."

"He's our closer," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett confirmed.

The Winnipeg Jets, who moved to Phoenix in 1996, also won nine in a row from March 8-27, 1985. Closing in on their first playoff berth since 2002, the Coyotes have 97 points to match Chicago for the most in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks have two games in hand.

Combined with San Jose's 5-2 loss at Edmonton, the Coyotes have sole possession of the Pacific Division as they moved one point ahead of the Sharks.

"For a team that not supposed to have a lot of skill, we're finding ways to win, especially in a shootout,'' said Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera, who made 30 saves. ''We just have so much confidence in this room right now and I think that's the big difference. The confidence right now is unreal and you just want to compete hard for the guy next to you and it's working well.''

Brad Richards scored in the first round for Dallas, but the Stars' next three shooters came up short against LaBarbera. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson scored and Turco stopped 33 shots for Dallas, which fell to 3-6-2 since the Olympic break.

The Stars have 76 points with 10 games left and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season. That hasn't happened since 1987 and '88 when the franchise was in Minnesota.

''Give our guys lots of credit,'' Stars coach Marc Crawford said. ''No quit in them. They kept fighting. They battled hard. We got a point out of it, but at the same time, those things just crush you.''

Phoenix had a two-goal lead as Petr Prucha scored on the power play in the final second of the first period before Radim Vrbata converted with the man advantage at 2:23 of the second.

But Dallas responded as Benn beat LaBarbera just 1:22 later, when he poked his own rebound home to make it 2-1. Eriksson ended a seven-game scoring drought when he tied it 7:11 into the third for his 26th goal of the season.

''We got it back in the third, but we need all the points we can get and we lost one today,'' Eriksson said.

A snowstorm wreaked havoc on the Coyotes' trip to Dallas, as they didn't arrive until 3 a.m. on Sunday. But they still found a way to win.

''What can you say about this group that hasn't already been said?'' said Tippett, fired by the Stars after last season.

''Every night I say I'm concerned about this or that, and they just keep coming up with big efforts. To get in here last night at 3 o'clock...and get very little sleep, and the emotional hard game we played last night, we played very well.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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