Following a one-point performance against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, the Phoenix Coyotes knew they could not afford to leave any points on the board the remainder of the 2012-13 season.
Dave Tippett’s squad entered Saturday night’s contest against the Chicago Blackhawks firmly on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture and to get back in they needed a top-notch effort against the league’s elite team.
After staying even for 65 minutes with the Blackhawks inside the United Center, Tippett pulled an unconventional card at the most unlikely time.
With the shootout tied 1-1, Tippett called upon defenseman David Schlemko as the team’s third shooter. Schlemko, who hadn’t scored a goal in 69 games, calmly flicked his attempt over the top of Chicago netminder Corey Crawford, and the Coyotes left the Windy City with a much-needed 3-2 victory.
Goaltender Mike Smith returned to the Coyotes’ lineup for the first time since April 12, and he made an instant impact.
On the night, Smith made 36 saves, none better than the two stops he had on Chicago winger Brandon Saad in the first (glove) and second (stacked pads) periods.
The Coyotes’ lone goals came 2:34 apart in the first period, and both were the product of miscues by Chicago.
Rostislav Klesla got the scoring started when his clearing shot from behind the red line took a fortuitous bounce in front of the Blackhawks’ net and then bounced over Crawford and into the goal.
Minutes later, Rob Klinkhammer took advantage of a Blackhawks’ turnover in their own zone and found Radim Vrbata, who finished off the play with a laser from the left circle.
Chicago went 2-of-4 on the power play, with both goals scored by defenseman Brent Seabrook. Seabrook’s first goal had more to do with Smith being blocked in front of the net than the shot itself.
However, Seabrook’s tally early in the second period was a product of the Coyotes playing the man and not the puck. Patrick Kane steamed into Phoenix’s zone, and as he took the puck down the right board, three defenders went to track him. Kane quickly found Seabrook with a beautiful backhanded pass and the Chicago defenseman was all alone for his second goal of the night.
He Said It:
“We are just trying to stay alive right now. We are battling through some injuries, but guys are working hard and our desperate. We found a way to come away with the points tonight.” — Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett
• The Coyotes remain three points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
• Phoenix is 7-4-1 against teams playing the second game of their back-to-back.
• The shootout loss snapped Chicago’s seven-game win streak.
The Coyotes will conclude their three-game road swing through the Midwest on Monday against the Detroit Red Wings. The game is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. MST.