GLENDALE, Ariz. – For the first time in his four-year stint in the desert, Dave Tippett's Phoenix Coyotes played a meaningless hockey game. But even with a Stanley Cup Playoff berth out of their grasp, the Coyotes stayed the course and grinded out a typical Tippett textbook win in the spoiler role.
Defenseman Michael Stone and Keith Yandle scored during a dominant first period and goalie Mike Smith did the rest with 33 saves as the Coyotes kept the San Jose Sharks out of a top-four spot in the Western Conference for the moment with a 2-1 win Wednesday.
"Regardless of what the standings say, you come out to play hard and play to win," Tippett said after the Minnesota Wild's win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday officially knocked the Coyotes from playoff contention. "We've established an identity of how our team has to play to be successful, and we expect that identity to carry right through."
Brent Burns scored the only goal for San Jose one night after the Sharks clinched their ninth straight playoff berth with an emotional, come-from-behind win against the Dallas Stars. Burns had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but Smith made an athletic pad save to preserve the win.
The Sharks had a chance to jump past the Kings -- who lost to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday -- and into the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference. Instead, the Sharks and Kings will square off in L.A. in the regular-season finale Saturday. Both teams have 57 points with one game remaining; the St. Louis Blues are one point behind them but have a game in hand and could leap over both teams by winning out.
San Jose outshot the Coyotes 13-5 in the third period and had several good opportunities down the stretch but couldn't get a second puck past Smith.
"We were too casual in the first. Defensively we were too loose, the intensity and the battle wasn't there," San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle said. "I like the effort we came back with in the second and third period. We had a lot of chances. Joe [Thornton] gave me one in the slot [in the third period] and I hit [Smith] right in the crest. I wish I could have put that in."
San Jose goalie Thomas Greiss made his first start since March 6 and played well with 30 saves, but it wasn't enough as the Coyotes avenged a 4-0 loss to San Jose here nine days ago that was the beginning of the end of their playoff hopes.
"These aren't the easiest games to get up for but it shows the character we have in the room," said Smith, one of 10 Coyotes on Wednesday's roster who don't have contracts for next season. "We don't like to be in the situation we're in, but you can either go out there and feel sorry for yourself and get through a game or show some pride and play the way we did tonight."
Sharks goalie Antti Niemi got the night off after making 24 consecutive starts and playing all but 10 minutes between the pipes during the past seven weeks. Greiss made several good early saves early, but didn't get a lot of support in front of him early before the Coyotes broke through.
Shane Doan won a battle in the corner and got the puck back to Radim Vrbata, who reversed it to the weak side where Stone was waiting. Stone's blast whistled past Greiss' shoulder at 11:56 for his fifth goal of the season and the Coyotes, who are 13-1-3 when scoring first, were off and running.
Even the Phoenix power play, which had scored all of four goals in its last 41 chances, got into the act after Matt Tennyson hooked down Doan. This time it was Yandle, whose shot deflected off two Sharks in the slot before skipping into the net at 17:52. It was the 10th goal of the season for Yandle – who had 11 in 82 games last season – and the eighth he's scored in 23 home games.
"[Greiss] really did well for not having played for so long. He had a very strong game," Boyle said. "We just let each other down in that first period."
San Jose showed much more life in the second and cut the lead in half quickly. Oliver Ekman-Larsson was pressured into a turnover by TJ Galiardi in the Phoenix zone and Burns pounced on it. His snap shot from the right circle handcuffed Smith at 3:31 and broke a long scoring drought against the Phoenix goalie -- Smith had shut out the Sharks in each of his past three starts, dating back to March 2012, and had blanked San Jose for more than 208 minutes.
But that was it for the Sharks, who came hard over the final five minutes, but couldn't find the equalizer.
"It's a good sign that the guys made the decision to set things right, tighten up a little more and not give up as many chances," coach Todd McLellan said. "We came out of our end a little cleaner. But in this League you can't just play 40 to 45 minutes and win. Tonight was a good example."