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Hodgman, Ekman-Larsson help Coyotes top Panthers

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Justin Hodgman's NHL dream has covered a lot of ground and a lot of years.

But Saturday in Arizona, with dozens of messages blowing up his cell phone and a very special NHL puck in his locker, the long wait seemed well worth it.

Hodgman, 26, made the most of his NHL debut, scoring a power-play goal with 10:09 left in regulation to draw the Arizona Coyotes even with the Florida Panthers. The Coyotes won 2-1 when Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his second overtime goal of the season 2:20 into extra time.

"It's been a long journey," Hodgman said. "I know there have been some longer, where it's taken guys even more time. But I'm 26 and it's been a long road, through the minors, through Finland and Russia, and to be standing here right now feels great. I could be in Belarus or somewhere else in Russia. But I'm here, and it's everything I could have hoped for."

After going undrafted and bouncing around the world in search of a job -- he played the last three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League -- Hodgman came back to North America and won a job with the Coyotes with five points in five preseason games. The Brampton, Ontario, native was sent down to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League after being a healthy scratch the first two games, but he was recalled Friday because of injuries to Martin Hanzal and David Moss.

"I made the decision this year I was going to come back and give [the NHL] a go, no matter what the contract was," Hodgman said. "I figured this might be my last shot with my age getting up there. When I was called up, the long flight here gave me some good reflection time. Everything I've been through was worth it.

"I have a bunch of phone calls to make and texts to return. The support from all over the world has been great. I got a text from my coach in Russia when I made the team out of training camp. To feel that support is incredible, and I want to make sure I return every message and recognize everyone who has helped me and is pulling for me."

The Panthers gave the Coyotes eight power plays in the game, and Arizona capitalized on two of the final three to solve Florida goalie Roberto Luongo and pull out the win. The last one came when Florida forward Aleksander Barkov caught Shane Doan in the face with his stick 1:25 into overtime, giving Arizona a 4-on-3 advantage.

Keith Yandle and Sam Gagner set up Ekman-Larsson, who beat Luongo with a perfectly placed shot to the far top corner for the win. The Coyotes have three wins this season (3-3-1), and Ekman-Larsson has won two of them; he scored in overtime Oct. 11 against the Los Angeles Kings.

"I just one-timed it, and it was a great feeling to see it go in," Ekman-Larsson said. "We talked before about this being a game we had to win. I hope all my goals don't come in overtime, but it feels good to get them when they come."

After two scoreless periods, Florida center Brandon Pirri scored 1:47 into the third period for a 1-0 lead before Hodgman connected on the sixth of Arizona's eight power-play chances.

"It's frustrating when you lose and the penalties did us in," Luongo said. "We have to be smarter. We can't take however many penalties we took today. We'll kill some, but especially in overtime it is tough to kill."

Goalie Mike Smith made 23 saves to help Arizona end a three-game losing streak. Luongo made 39 saves for Florida, but the shorthanded situations finally caught up to the Panthers, who went 2-0-2 on their four-game road trip but missed a chance to get seven points on a four-game road trip for the first time in franchise history.

"We got points in every game of the road trip and played some really good hockey teams," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm disappointed in the way the game ended, but overall it was a great trip. We have to stop reaching with our sticks and start playing harder with the body so we get away from those penalties."

Florida got on the board following a turnover by Yandle behind the Coyotes' net. Jussi Jokinen took the puck away and chipped it to Tomas Fleischmann, who found Pirri streaking down the slot. Pirri went from forehand to backhand and beat Smith for his second goal.

But back-to-back tripping penalties against Sean Bergenheim gave Arizona more time on the power play. It was after the second one that Hodgman made his NHL debut a memorable one.

Lauri Korpikoski deflected a Yandle shot from the point. Luongo made the save, but the rebound went back to Korpikoski, who pushed the puck to an unmarked Hodgman to fire into a nearly open net at 9:51.

The goal snapped a scoreless drought of 127:09 for the Coyotes, who were shut out by the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and hadn't scored since Martin Erat's goal at 7:42 of the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 21.

The Panthers and Coyotes had combined for seven first-period goals in 12 total games entering Saturday. They had 23 total shots in the scoreless first period.

The Coyotes appeared to take a 1-0 lead 2:10 into the first period when B.J. Crombeen batted a Brandon McMillan rebound into the net. But video review found Crombeen's stick was over the crossbar, and the goal was waved off.

Luongo made one of his best saves of the night minutes later, robbing Ekman-Larsson in the slot with the handle of his stick on a power-play chance.

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