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Smith carries Coyotes to 4-1 win vs. Avs

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Mike Smith is making the most of his opportunity to show he can carry the load as a No. 1 goalie.

The six-year veteran signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent on July 1 as a replacement for Ilya Bryzgalov, whose rights were traded to Philadelphia a month earlier, and he's beginning to make a name for himself.

The 29-year0-old stopped 39 shots Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center and the Coyotes ran their winning streak to three games with a 4-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche.

The Coyotes have gone 4-0-1 in their past five games to move within two points of first-place Dallas in the Pacific Division heading into Thursday night's home contest with Nashville.

"They come at you hard," Smith said of the Avalanche. "There were a lot of pucks at the net there and from behind the net; they like to bring it out front. It wasn't an easy game to play, but we found a way to get two points."

Smith used all of his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame to frustrate the Avalanche, but he's been doing that for a while. Smith has been in goal during the Coyotes' five-game streak and allowed just 12 goals.

"Strong goaltending," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We didn't play as well as we would have liked, but our goaltender hung in there and battled hard for us and we found enough to win. Our goaltending has been solid and our special teams have been pretty solid, so it's a whole team effort."

The Avalanche, meanwhile, still can't figure out how to find success on home ice. Wednesday's defeat was Colorado's fourth in five home games this season. The Avalanche has outscored teams 26-15 while posting a 6-1-0 record on the road and has been outscored 15-6 at home.

"We put a lot of rubber on him," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said of Smith. "It's disappointing. I don't know what it is. The league's full of great goaltenders and they seem to be playing well in our building. We just have to stay with it."
Lauri Korpikoski scored what proved to be the backbreaking goal for the Coyotes 24 seconds into the third period when he put the rebound of David Schlemko's shot into the net for a 3-1 advantage. Korpikoski's shot struck goalie Semyon Varlamov's glove, bounced off the crossbar and dropped across the goal line.

"Giving up a goal in the first minute or the last minute of a period is tough," Duchene said. "I mean, we climbed within one there and the next one was very important, and they got it."
The Avalanche had drawn within 2-1 at 18:23 of the second period on a goal by Ryan O'Reilly. Daniel Winnik drove to the net and put a shot on goal from in tight that Smith stopped, but O'Reilly pulled the puck out from near Smith's pads and poked it into the net.
O'Reilly's goal came 26 seconds after Radim Vrbata lifted a rebound over Varlamov's right shoulder, beating him to the short side for a 2-0 lead. The play started in the Phoenix end when Colorado's Milan Hejduk lost the puck near the boards. Ray Whitney led a Coyotes rush into the Avalanche zone and passed to Martin Hanzal for a shot before Vrbata scored.
Vrbata added an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining in the third period, his second consecutive two-goal game. The Whitney-Hanzal Vrbata line has amassed seven goals and 10 assists in the past three games.
"There is good chemistry," Vrbata said. "The line is clicking. We are creating chances and pucks are going in for us."
Taylor Pyatt connected for the only goal in the first period on a scrambled play. Derek Morris took a shot that glanced off the skate of teammate Boyd Gordon skating to the net. The puck caromed to Pyatt and he put it past Varlamov at 7:53.
The Avalanche began the game with the NHL's top-rated power play but went 0-for-4 Wednesday.

"Your goaltender is your best penalty killer, but the details that come with playing well together are in place," Tippett said. "Our guys have really done a good job of pressuring when we've had pressure, making sure were in (shooting) lanes. You don't want to jinx it, but it's been pretty good lately."
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