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Behind Brad Richardson’s 4 goals, Coyotes win 5th in a row

Arizona Coyotes center Brad Richardson (15) celebrates his second goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game with Coyotes center Alex Galchenyuk (17), center Clayton Keller (9) and center Nick Cousins (25) Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Brad Richardson made it look easy on Thursday night.

The Arizona Coyotes enjoyed a 37-save performance from goaltender Darcy Kuemper and won their fifth consecutive game 5-2 over the Vancouver Canucks, but the story ended up being the 34-year-old center whose career high in goals was 14, which he scored 12 years ago.

It all started when Richardson skipped an important staple of many NHL players on game day: the pre-game nap.

“I was pissed when I got here. I hadn’t napped. Maybe I’ll keep the trend going,” he said, later adding the reason why he didn’t sleep: “I got punched in the face last game and I can’t breathe out of my nose. So, I think it was something with that.”

As if his hat trick in the first two periods wasn’t enough, Richardson tacked on a fourth goal of the night in the third period to take the team lead in the category and set a new career high. Earlier in the game, he hit the inner corner of the crossbar, meaning he nearly had five goals on the evening.

“Six would’ve been nice,” he joked. “I thought Vinnie [Hinostroza] and ‘Pans’ [Richard Panik] had quite a few chances, too. It was a good night, it could’ve been really good, but the two points [in the standings] is the big thing.”

Richardson’s third goal gave him the team lead with 15 on the season, but Alex Glachenyuk scored only a few minutes later for his own 15th tally. The two forwards shared the Coyotes goal lead for 10:28 of gameplay until Richardson got No. 4.

He became the first Coyotes player since Keith Tkachuk in 1997 to score four goals in a game.

Richardson’s last hat trick was on Oct. 23, 2010, when he scored three goals against the Avalanche while playing for the Kings. Both the Avalanche and Thursday’s opponent, the Canucks, are former teams of Richardson’s.

“Coyotes better not trade me,” he said.

Richardson scored 14 goals in 2006-07 when he was playing for the Colorado Avalanche, and until Thursday, that was his career high. He has tied Teppo Numminen (12 years) for the second-longest span in NHL history that a player has gone between setting career highs in goals, behind Harry Howell (13 years).

Richardson had never scored more than 11 goals in a single year until this season.

With Richardson’s prowess on the penalty kill, defensive acumen, faceoff work and veteran leadership, he’s undoubtedly one of the team’s most important players. Even if he doesn’t score four goals a night.

“He’s a pro. You talk about those guys who are pro, he’s a pro,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “He acts like a pro, talks like a pro, practices hard every practice. When it’s a 10 o’clock gym session, he’s there at 10 doing it. Those are the guys you want in that locker room. Those are the guys that change cultures, those are the guys you want.”

Besides sharing the team lead in goals, the Ontario native also leads the Coyotes in faceoff win percentage (55.2 percent) and is tied for second on the team with three shorthanded goals. This is despite having only played 48 games this season, which is fewer than 13 other Coyotes.

“It was so much fun,” said Vinnie Hinostroza, who had three assists. “We just had a blast today. We weren’t thinking about scoring, we were just thinking about playing hard. That’s all we’ve been trying to do lately. Some games you’re not going to score, and sometimes they’re all going to go in.”

The fun came with the caveat that Derek Stepan, a top-six center who has played a vital role for the Coyotes this season, went down with an injury in what appeared to be severe pain.

Losing Stepan for any lengthy period of time would be a significant loss for Arizona, which now sits one point back of a playoff spot (barring a win by Dallas, who was playing on Thursday night at time of this story’s publishing).

The Coyotes have been decimated by injuries this year, particularly at the center position, where Nick Schmaltz is done for the year. Christian Dvorak just returned to the lineup for the first time this season on Tuesday.

“You try to stay positive,” Tocchet said. “We’ve been trying to stay positive all year, but hopefully we get some good news on him.

“[Richardson] and Step’, one-two punch. Whether it’s he goes out there or Step, that’s really the reason why we – those two guys, being able to go against the top lines and do a great job of shutting them down.”

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