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LaBarbera stops late penalty shot as Coyotes win

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- This time the Phoenix Coyotes survived their late-game drama.

Three nights after losing on a goal with :00.1 left in regulation, the Coyotes held on for a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers after backup goalie Jason LaBarbera stopped Stephen Weiss on a penalty shot with 24.5 seconds left -- but only after a sliding puck stopped right on the goal line.

"That's the hockey gods maybe paying us one back for the other night," quipped Coyotes coach Dave Tippett.

The Panthers were awarded the penalty shot after a couple of Phoenix players, Martin Hanzal and Michal Rozsival, deliberately dislodged the net. Weiss went with the exact same move he used Friday night to score the game-winner in a shootout victory over Calgary. That one beat goalie Leland Irving cleanly between the legs. This time, LaBarbera got enough of Weiss' backhand to slow it down. The puck kept moving toward the net while the goalie fell forward, but stopped dead squarely on the line.

"I was laying there, I looked at our bench, there was no reaction, and then I looked at their bench and there was no reaction, and I'm wondering what the heck is going on here?" LaBarbera said. "I looked beside me and saw it, and I obviously saw the replay and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me!'"

LaBarbera was in the game only because started Mike Smith left at 3:26 of the third period when he suffered an apparent groin injury. He stopped all eight shots he faced, including the penalty shot.

"Sometimes it stresses you out a little too much when you have a lot time to think about it," LaBarbera said. "And the faceoff was in our end, too, which made it more interesting. You try to get as loose as you possible can — take a smelling salt and throw some water on you and get ready to go."

For the Panthers, it was yet another one-goal game at home, their 13th in a row. But they left the arena without a point for the first time in nine home games after going 6-0-2 in their previous eight.

"We had good looks, including the penalty shot," forward Kris Versteeg said. "I thought it might have snuck through, but their goalies did a good job keeping it out of the net."

Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata scored power-play goals and each had an assist as the Coyotes built a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Brian Campbell scored for the Panthers, and Jose Theodore stopped 20 shots.

The Coyotes came into the game with the 29th-ranked power play in the League, but were 2-for-7 against the Panthers.

"They did a pretty good job killing it," Whitney said. "Very aggressive. They gave us some problems. But we were able to get a couple of opportune shots that kind of snuck in, and the power play finally won us a game, which hasn't happened in a long time."

The seven power plays allowed represented a season high for Florida.

"I think when I'm screaming like a fool on the bench, I think what you do is set a precedent with the referees," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "So I'll hang myself on that one because what we're trying to do is get a lot of hits to the head out of the game and there were so many plays I felt were dangerous plays. And when you put that into a ref's mind that you're frustrated, the game obviously became lopsided. Very disappointed with the officiating tonight."

The Panthers went into the game without four injured forwards -- Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille — and then lost another, Mikael Samuelsson, in the second period.

Samuelsson left the game after he fell backward awkwardly into the boards after taking an open-ice check from Phoenix captain Shane Doan. Dineen said Samuelsson's back was sore and that he would be re-evaluated Wednesday.

Whitney scored with only 6.8 seconds left in the first period with Phoenix on a 5-on-3 man advantage after Shawn Matthias was sent off for interference and Versteeg for slashing.

After gaining control of the puck off the faceoff, Whitney passed back to the left point to Vrbata, who fed Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the right point. The Swedish defenseman instantly relayed the puck across the ice to Whitney, standing alone to the right of Theodore, and Whitney one-timed the pass for an easy goal.

"The first call on Matthias, that's a hockey play," Dineen said. "You sit there and you watch a guy battling in front and that's what we encourage our guys to do. For something like that to be called and not the high hits is certainly something that the league should take a look at."

Vrbata made it 2-0 at 9:08 of the second when he one-timed Keith Yandle's pass just to the left of the left circle. Vrbata's shot squeezed through between Theodore's glove and his body.

Campbell cut the lead to 2-1 at 17:42 thanks to some deft stickhandling. He took a drop pass from Versteeg at the top of the right circle, then deked Lauri Korpikoski to his left. He fired a wrist shot from about 35 feet that bounced off the post to the left of Smith, hit the back of Smith's legs and barely crossed the goal line.
That turned out to be the game's final goal, thanks to LaBarbera.

"We make it hard on ourselves, that's for sure," Tippett said. "We've been in some tough games that haven't gone our way, so it's nice to see LaBarbera give us a big save there and basically save the game for us.

"Having a penalty shot with 24 seconds left is not ideal. So to trade some of those demons away and get ourselves a win, that should be confidence for our group."
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