For all intents and purposes Saturday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes meant nothing.
The Ducks were firmly in the No. 2 seed out West, and the Coyotes had already been eliminated from postseason contention earlier in the week.
Still, the two teams treated fans inside the Honda Center to the same kind of matchup they’ve had all season: end-to-end hockey, tons of scoring chances and solid goaltending when necessary.
In the end, Radim Vrbata’s hat trick and Jason LaBarbera’s effort in net proved to be the difference, as Phoenix closed out the 2013 regular season with a 5-3 victory.
Despite nothing to play for and closing out the season on the second game of a back-to-back, the Coyotes came out looking to win in Anaheim.
While the Ducks out-shot the Coyotes in all three periods, Dave Tippett’s squad put pucks on net against Victor Fasth and it paid off.
Vrbata scored in all three periods, one on a pass in front of the net, one on a rebound and one shorthanded, and ultimately it was enough to carry the offensive attack.
Making his final start of the season, LaBarbera was fantastic, as well. The Coyotes backup goaltender stopped 43 shots, including two in the second period where he was forced to block the puck with his pads while on his back.
But the save of the night belonged to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. With the Coyotes up 4-3 and less than 20 seconds to go, OEL blocked a point blank shot off the stick of Cam Fowler. The puck eventually squirted free for an easy empty net goal, but the Coyotes defenseman had to be helped off the ice.
In a meaningless game, he sacrificed his body to prevent a tie score. That tells you everything you need to know about Phoenix’s young star.
The Coyotes played well in all facets of the game, but unfortunately it just came too late in the year.
Phoenix was ravaged by injuries, inconsistent goaltending and notable defensive lapses, and in a lockout-shortened season it was enough to keep the team from making the playoffs for the first time in four years.
He Said It:
“That’s how we have to play to win. I know it was a meaningless game, but we expect our guys to play with a certain level of character and a certain level of grit.” — Head coach Dave Tippett
• The Coyotes finished the season with 51 points. Ironically, last season when they went to the Western Conference Finals, they had 50 points through 48 games.
• Radim Vrbata’s hat trick was the fourth of his career.
• Shane Doan was honored Friday with an award for being the team’s top points scorer. Saturday, he was passed for that mark by Keith Yandle. Yandle finished with 30 points.
• Doan did, however, finish 2013 with 815 points, meaning he’s just two shy of moving into second place in the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
There will be no Whiteout in the Valley in 2013. Instead, the Coyotes head into another summer of rumor and speculation. The team’s ownership situation remains unresolved and the same can be said for Mike Smith’s contract situation. Phoenix’s star netminder is an unrestricted free agent and it’s unclear how much GM Don Maloney will be willing to pay in order to keep him in the desert.