Vrbata’s late goal lifts Coyotes past Sabres
GLENDALE, Ariz. — After two lackluster periods following a pre-game trade, Radim Vrbata and the Arizona Coyotes came to life.
Vrbata scored with 18.9 seconds left to cap Arizona’s three-goal third period and lift the Coyotes over the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Sunday night.
Vrbata took a pass from Alex Goligoski to the left of the Buffalo net, skated halfway between the blue line and the left faceoff circle, hesitated for a second and fired a shot through traffic and past goaltender Anders Nilsson.
“I knew we had a power play coming (on a delayed call) and was waiting for the extra guy to jump in,” Vrbata said. “As soon as I saw our guys in front of the net, I let it go and see what happens.”
Vrbata’s goal came at the end of an emotional day in the Arizona dressing room.
Less than two hours before the game, the Coyotes traded their leading scorer, center Martin Hanzal, along with center Ryan White and a 2017 fourth-round draft pick to Minnesota for the Wild’s first-round pick this June, a second-round pick next year, a 2019 conditional pick and a minor leaguer.
“Saying goodbye two hours before the game isn’t a fun thing to do, but the guys battled through,” said Jamie McGinn, who also scored during Arizona’s rally.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said the trade was about economics.
“He’s an unrestricted free agent. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “With the position our group is in and the process we’re going through, these are the steps you have to take.”
Vrbata also had an assist, and Max Domi also scored for the Coyotes, who snapped a two-game skid. Louis Domingue made 31 saves.
Vrbata, who signed as a free agent in August, also is eyeing the upcoming trade deadline with care.
“There’s a couple of days left and I haven’t heard anything so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “If this is the last season for me, I’d like to finish it here.”
Jack Eichel had a goal and an assist, and Evan Rodrigues also scored for the Sabres, who have lost three straight. Nilsson stopped 26 shots.
“It’s one of those frustrating things,” Eichel said. “We play good, then we get the lead and decide we’re going to sit back. These are the ones we need to have.”
Eichel opened the scoring at 18:01 of the first period, carrying the puck through center ice into the Arizona zone, stopping at the top of the left faceoff circle and beating Domingue with a hard wrist shot.
Rodrigues made it 2-0 at 9:53 of the second, taking a pass from Jake McCabe between the circles and scoring to cap a 3-on-1 break. Eichel, who had just served a two-minute minor for high sticking, started the break moments after stepping out of the penalty box. Rodrigues got his second career goal a night earlier against Colorado.
Domi cut the lead to 2-1 with 13:18 left, pouncing on an errant clearing pass that bounced off Vrbata, turning and one-timing the puck between Nillson’s pads.
Arizona tied the game with 6:19 to go. Joe Jooris centered the puck from the right side of the net and it rolled untouched through the crease to the waiting stick of McGinn on the left doorstep for his first goal in 14 games.
“To say it was a sigh of relief is an understatement,” McGinn said. “It’s been the longest drought of my career.”
NOTES: Hanzal, who had a team-best 16 goals this season, leaves the Coyotes ranking third on the franchise’s lists in games played (608) and fifth in goals (117), assists (196) and points (313). White had seven goals, six points and 70 penalty minutes in 46 games. … Eichel extended his point scoring streak to six games. … Vrbata’s assist extended his point streak to nine games, the longest active streak in the league. His goal also was his 600th career point. … McGinn’s goal was the 100th of his career.
Sabres: Host Nashville on Tuesday night.
Coyotes: Begin a three-game trip at Boston on Tuesday night.