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Halpern's late goal leads Coyotes past Kings

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- Reporters who entered the Phoenix Coyotes' dressing room were greeted with Keith Yandle and Paul Bissonnette dancing to a loud hip-hop beat. It's not every day that a team comes back in the third period against the Los Angeles Kings.

Celebration was in order after Jeff Halpern's goal with 3:05 left gave Phoenix a 4-3 win Monday night against Los Angeles to silence the Staples Center crowd. Yandle also scored in the third and the Coyotes, down 3-2 to start the period, boosted their chances of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs by climbing past the Dallas Stars into the second wild-card position in the Western Conference.

The Kings had been 21-0-0 this season and 126-1-11 in the past 138 regular-season games when leading after two periods, dating to April 4, 2009.

"I know how good they are here," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "They've got such a great blue line and they've got so many good forwards. Obviously, their record is pretty much perfect. So it was big for us to find points, even in regulation."

Halpern's fourth goal this season was a shot from the left side that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick appeared to stop with his stick; however. replays showed that the puck crossed the line. The crowd was still cheering at the apparent save, and Quick subsequently made an unbelievable blocker save on Doan while prone, until video replay revealed that Halpern's shot was a goal.

Phoenix tied it 3-3 with 10:16 left on an unassisted goal by Yandle, who ripped a slap shot from the blue line that went in off goalie Quick's glove. The comeback embodied the urgency shown by the Coyotes (33-25-11), who have won six of eight to move two points ahead of Dallas, which has two games in hand.

"We were in dire straits going into the third," Doan said. "And the fact that you've got to find points every night. You're down to 13-14 games left. It was big."

The Kings erased a 2-0 deficit, had killed two penalties and were trying to close out the win after Marian Gaborik scored on a snap shot from the slot that ramped off the stick of Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris at 18:19 of the second period.

Instead, Los Angeles (38-25-6) has lost three consecutive one-goal games. The Kings are third in the Pacific Division, five points ahead of the Coyotes

"I thought they were desperate the whole game," Quick said. "That's the time of year it is. Everybody's playing desperate. I thought we played well enough. I don't think I played well enough. You give up four goals, you're going to lose games. I've got to be better."

Defenseman Alec Martinez made it 2-2 with a shot from the left side that found the upper right corner at 6:50 of the second to erase the 2-0 deficit. Martinez, who had seven points in his first 40 games, has seven points in his past eight.

Los Angeles forced Phoenix to spend a lot of time in its own end in the second period, when the Kings had a 15-3 shot advantage and did not allow the Coyotes a shot in the final 15:25. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, in his ninth straight start, looked sharp at the beginning, but then became flustered at times.

But Smith kept the Coyotes in the game early and finished with 36 saves. Smith was somewhat questionable and reportedly felt "down" at the morning skate. He was 3-6-0 in his previous 10 starts against Los Angeles, including the postseason.

"Once you get into the game, I think the adrenaline kind of takes over," Smith said. "I lacked a little bit of energy tonight. But there is no time for feeling down and being sick right now. It was good to get back in there."

The Kings pointed to not putting in more pucks at the start of the game.

"It comes down to having to play a full 60 minutes," Martinez said. "We didn't do that. We had a few breakdowns. We can't have that, especially in the third period against a hockey club like that, so this is a battle here in the West to make the playoffs. Everyone is jockeying for spots. We've got to sharpen up.

"They were a desperate hockey team tonight and we didn't match them."

The Kings' comeback erased an ideal road start for Phoenix, which scored two goals in 63 seconds for a 2-0 lead against a Los Angeles team that looked disorganized at the start.

Mikkel Boedker was left completely free in the slot to lift a backhand into the left side of the net for a power-play goal at 7:36 in the first. Rob Klinkhammer knocked down Radim Vrbata's shot and swiped the puck through the feet of Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr at 6:33.

Los Angeles salvaged the opening period on a terrific play in transition by rookie Tanner Pearson, who sped down the left wing and beat Smith with a wrist shot at 17:02 for his second NHL goal.

Kings captain Dustin Brown missed a second game because of a lower-body injury. Phoenix center Martin Hanzal returned to the lineup from a lower-body injury.

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