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Ekman-Larsson leads Coyotes past Sharks

by Jerry Brown /

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes hadn't won a home game in regulation in nearly three months. As far as the San Jose Sharks are concerned, the Coyotes picked an awful time to break that streak.

Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored twice and had an assist, leading the Coyotes to a 5-3 win Saturday at Gila River Arena.

The Coyotes were 0-7-1 in their past eight home games and hadn't won in regulation in their own building since a 4-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 8. They had been 1-15-2 in 18 home games since; the lone win was a shootout victory against the Vancouver Canucks on March 5.

The loss was a huge one for the Sharks (39-31-9), who fell five points behind the Los Angeles Kings and the Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. San Jose has three games remaining.

"We knew what this game meant to them and that makes it fun to play in," said Arizona captain Shane Doan, who had a goal and two assists. "They got behind and that made it just that much more difficult."

At age 23, Ekman-Larsson leads all NHL defensemen with 23 goals. He now shares a franchise record as well; defenseman Phil Housley had 23 goals in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons for the Winnipeg Jets before they moved to Arizona in 1996.

"I don't think there are too many people in the league I would trade him for," said Doan, now three points shy of 900 in his career. "He's our best offensive player and our best defensive player. He's special and it's disappointing he doesn't get respect nationally that I think he deserves. But what he's doing this year obviously speaks for itself."

Ekman-Larsson said he wasn't thinking about setting any records.

"I just try to play my best every night and try to get better," he said. "Don't expect me to score 23 goals every year."

Mike Smith made 42 saves for the Coyotes (24-47-8) and is 8-2-2 in his past 12 games against San Jose. Mark Arcobello also scored for Arizona and Sam Gagner hit the empty net with 10.7 seconds left.

"We knew they were going to come out with everything they had and they did," Smith said. "The intensity was nice. We treated these two games as a mini-playoff series and played it period by period."

Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton and Chris Tierney scored for the Sharks, who are facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons. Only the Detroit Red Wings (23 straight seasons) have a longer active streak of reaching the playoffs.

"It's not what we didn't get, it's what we gave up," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "When you give up four [goals] to any team in the League, you're not going to win. Throw the empty-netter away, but it's just too much to ask to score five on any given night.

"Our penalty kill let us down, and a couple of breakdowns in our zone up against a hot goaltender … and that's the difference."

San Jose goalie Antti Niemi made 28 saves.

"We've got six points available to us," McLellan said. "So we're going to go and try to get them all and see what happens from there."

The Coyotes used two power-play goals in the first period to take the lead for good.

With San Jose's Karl Stollery in the penalty box, Ekman-Larsson took a crisp cross-ice pass from Arcobello at the left point, waited for David Moss to set a screen and picked the far corner at 11:59.

It was Ekman-Larsson's 10th power-play goal this season, which also leads all NHL defensemen.

The Sharks got even after Ekman-Larsson took down San Jose's Tommy Wingels and was called for interference. Hertl chased down a rebound, carried the puck to the right circle and flipped a backhand past Smith at 16:36 for his 13th goal.

The Coyotes' seventh-ranked power play went back to work after Barclay Goodrow went off for tripping at 17:50. Doan got a stick on Michael Stone's shot from the point; the deflection hit the post and bounced back through Niemi's legs before the goalie inadvertently kicked the puck into the net at 18:37.

"They've got a good power play but we've got to get the kills," San Jose forward Joe Pavelski said. "It hasn't been as strong as it needs to be lately, and it cost us badly there."

Doan's 14th goal of the season was his 368th as a Coyote, leaving him 11 shy of Dale Hawerchuk's franchise record.

Smith made a number of acrobatic stops among his 13 saves in the second period, including a Pavelski deflection, a Patrick Marleau wraparound and Tierney's redirect.

Ekman-Larsson made it 3-1 at 17:46 when he picked up his own rebound with Niemi down and out and wristed it into the wide-open net to tie Housley's record.

"That's a great accomplishment for him," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "He's a top player. We just have to continue to find top players to go around him. He committed to this organization and like a lot of people, he's frustrated with the way the season has gone. He wants to put the work in to make sure this doesn't happen again.

But the two-goal lead lasted all of 19 seconds. Thornton's bad-angled shot from the left corner near the goal line somehow went behind Smith's head and off the far post at 18:05 to bring the Sharks back to 3-2. It was Thornton's 15th goal but his first in 10 games.

The Coyotes regained their two-goal lead 5:30 into the third period when Doan found Arcobello charging down the slot for a wrist shot over Niemi's glove and under the crossbar. It was Arcobello's 17th goal of the season and his ninth in 24 games with Arizona. He has scored a goal in each of Arizona's three games against San Jose since joining the Coyotes.

Once again, the Sharks answered almost immediately. With Stone in the penalty box, Tierney got a stick on Matt Irwin's power-play shot and deflected it past Smith at 6:48. Tierney scored his sixth goal of the season and fourth in the past seven games.

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