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Pacific: Deals help Coyotes set record for wins

by John Kreiser
If there were a "Trader of the Year" award for NHL general managers, Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes would be the odds-on favorite.
With his team already solidly (and unexpectedly) in the top eight in the West, Maloney spent Deadline Day making an NHL-high seven trades. The result: seven wins in the last seven games, with the newcomers making key contributions.
Wojtek Wolski got the game-winner in his debut as a Coyote. Lee Stempniak had 5 goals in three games last week, earning Second Star of the Week honors from the NHL. Derek Morris, dealt away at last year's deadline, came back and has provided help on the blue line.
The Coyotes' post-deadline success includes a four-game sweep of a four-game swing through the Southeast, including a 4-3 shootout win at Florida on Thursday that gave Phoenix 44 wins this season, breaking the franchise record set in 1984-85, when the team played in Winnipeg.
"There's a lot of pride in that," center Vernon Fiddler said after Tuesday's 2-1 win at Florida tied the franchise record for victories. "You don't play this game to lose and you want to bring something to the table to help the team win. I think everybody's doing that, and that's why we're so successful this year."

The record-setting win was one to remember. The Coyotes, at the end of a four games-in-six days trip, rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the third period, tied the game on a fluke goal with a minute to play and won in a shootout.

"It was just one of those games where we never quit," said forward Vrbata, who tied the game in regulation and got the shootout winner. "We came back and it was nice to get that."
Captain Shane Doan, the only player whose tenure with the franchise pre-dates the move to the desert, said this season's team in unique.
"We've had some good teams, but I think this is the first time where we've really been kind of climbing at the end of the season," Doan told the Coyotes' Web site this week. "In the past, we've had teams that had some great starts and great first halves and then kind of cruised. We had a decent first half this year, but right now we feel like we're getting better every single game and that's a first at this time of the year."
Though the team's first playoff berth since 2002 is all but assured, coach Dave Tippett is taking nothing for granted.

"We're just going to take it one game at a time," Tippett said before the win over Florida moved the Coyotes within three points of first-place San Jose in the Pacific Division. "We have to continue to improve our game. We're trying to get our game moving forward and there are circumstances and situations in every game that you can learn from and get better from and that's what we're trying to do right now. Obviously we're trying to get wins, but we're trying to get our team to play as well as it can."
New Star shines --
Kari Lehtonen finally showed Dallas fans why the Stars wanted him. Dallas acquired Lehtonen from Atlanta prior to the Olympics, signed the former No. 2 draft pick to a four-year deal and let his back heal some more before finally getting him into uniform after the break.
After two relief appearances and a start in a 6-3 loss at Pittsburgh, Lehtonen got another chance against San Jose and made the most of it. While the offense got lots of attention in the 8-2 rout of the Sharks, Lehtonen was named the game's first star after a spectacular 45-save performance.
"I thought we were really good in all areas tonight. It starts with your goaltender, and that was a terrific performance by Kari Lehtonen," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "I think you see a little bit more of what our organization saw in him. He had a lot more energy tonight. He gave our group confidence."
Lehtonen's performance -- and the offensive support he received, including a first-period lead for the first time in 11 games -- gave him a boost as well.
"That was huge," admitted Lehtonen, who had surrendered nine goals on 54 shots in his first three appearances for the Stars. "I've been here now maybe eight games, and I was thinking before the game that every game, the other team has scored first. It's kind of the mindset -- I really wanted to see us score first and that happened, so I think that helped everybody and gave everybody a boost. That was nice."
No one has ever doubted Lehtonen's talent. It's his body that's given him trouble -- he's played more than 50 games just once, in 2006-07. He indicated that his back, which had troubled him for some time while in Atlanta, felt fine.

"It's the best it's been," Lehtonen said. "I don't know if it's 100 percent. I think it needs a few more games, but it was a huge step in the right direction, and it was nice to see that I'm able to play at this level again, so that was great."
The big night against the Sharks earned him another start on Thursday against Philadelphia as the Stars try to scramble back into the top eight in the West.

"A huge night, he needed that," Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley told the team's Web site. "I think when you get back into it like he has been doing, you can practice well, but it's not the same as getting out there in the game. He just went out there and just made a couple of huge saves early on, which you could see kind of build momentum for him. It was just a great night for him."
'Mo better Freddie -- Fredrik Modin is 35, four years removed from his last good NHL season and has been hampered by injuries over the last few years. Understandably, few people batted an eye when the Los Angeles Kings gave up only a conditional seventh-round pick to bring in Modin from Columbus at the trade deadline -- the "condition" for the Blue Jackets getting the pick is that the Kings win the Stanley Cup.
So far, they've been amply rewarded. Modin -- a two-time 30-goal scorer who was a key to Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup win in 2004 -- has scored three times in the six games since he became a King and looks more like the player.
"I know I'm getting older, but I still think I can play the game," Modin told the Kings' Web site. "I personally feel that what's been holding me back is my injuries, from being able to play the amount of games that I've been wanted. When I have been healthy, getting back, it's been a very tight schedule. It's basically games every other day, so it's kind of tough to get the time to catch up on everything.
"But as a player, you do have confidence in what you can do. I'm just very, very happy for the opportunity I've gotten here, and the chance to play."
Over the last 2 1/2 seasons, Modin appeared in only 97 games because of injuries. Since his arrival in L.A., he's looked much more like his old self.

"I think the good thing with him is that it's been severe bruises and some broken bones, stuff like that," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "It's just unfortunate, and knocks you away from playing the game."
No sweep -- Lots of things have gone wrong for the Anaheim Ducks this season. At least a sweep by the San Jose Sharks won't be among them.
The Ducks, who upset the Presidents' Trophy winners in the opening round of the playoffs last spring, lost their first five meetings with the Sharks this season before avoiding the sweep with a 4-2 win at the Honda Center on Sunday.
"It's not something you would be proud of," captain Scott Niedermayer said after the Ducks ended a five-game losing streak and won for the first time since the Olympic break. "Before this season, we had played that team hard and they played against us hard. This year they have had our number, so it is nice to at least get one off of them."
The game also saw highs and lows for Ducks' star Teemu Selanne. He scored the 599th goal of his career, moving him within one of becoming the 18th 600-goal scorer in NHL history. But he didn't have a chance to get the milestone after sliding awkwardly into the boards in the third period.
Selanne was one of seven Ducks who took part in the Winter Olympics. Forward Corey Perry, another Anaheim Olympian, said playing in the tournament while most of the NHL took two weeks off may have affected his team.

"It's tough when you have so many guys that didn't get that two-week break during the Olympics. There were seven of us there. It takes a toll on a lot of guys." -- Ducks forward Corey Perry

"It's tough when you have so many guys that didn't get that two-week break during the Olympics," Perry said. "There were seven of us there. It takes a toll on a lot of guys. We found something tonight and hopefully we can carry it over."

Around the Pacific --
Dallas' 8-2 win over San Jose was the 500th NHL victory for coach Marc Crawford, who has also been behind the bench in Colorado, Vancouver and Los Angeles. He's the 15th coach in NHL history to reach the 500-win mark. ... Stars center Mike Modano will miss some time after undergoing an appendectomy. .... How are the Phoenix Coyotes doing it? One big reason is that they're superb at protecting leads. The Coyotes are 22-1-0 in games in which they've led after the first period and 29-1-2 in games in which they've led after two. ... Phoenix is also an amazing 24-5-5 in one-goal games. For of those are shootout wins in which defenseman Adrian Aucoin scored the deciding goal. Aucoin had never taken a shootout attempt before this season; he's 4-for-4 and has gotten the winner each time. .... It was a big week for the Los Angeles Kings in the fatherhood department. Goalie Jonathan Quick and defenseman Peter Harrold both became dads in the past seven days. ... Kings forward Justin Williams returned last Friday after missing 2 1/2 months when he broke his leg on the night after Christmas. ... In a scheduling oddity for San Jose, Thursday's visit to Vancouver is only their second meeting with the Canucks this season. The Sharks don't go to Vancouver for the first time until March 27, then visit again on April 8. ... Local boy Jake Newton is the newest Anaheim Duck. Anaheim signed the 21-year-old free-agent defenseman on March 17 after his first season with Northeastern. He's a native of San Jacinto, Calif., about 60 miles from the Honda Center, and played his youth hockey in Southern California.
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