TORONTO (AP) — Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s unlikely goal was a light moment in a difficult season for the Arizona Coyotes. It also was a rough break for Jonathan Bernier and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ekman-Larsson scored off the opening faceoff of the third period, and Arizona snapped a six-game losing streak by rallying for a 3-1 victory over Toronto on Thursday night.
Ekman-Larsson’s 13th goal was a harmless flip from almost his own blue line and seemed to stun the already-subdued crowd. It was the fastest short-handed goal to start a period in NHL history.
“We planned that all the way,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said with a smile. “When you get a break like that, it’s good to take advantage of it.”
Arizona then grabbed the lead when Martin Hanzal banked the puck in off Bernier’s back, and Sam Gagner added a power-play goal with 3 1/2 minutes left.
It was Toronto’s eighth consecutive loss. The Maple Leafs also dropped to 1-10-1 this month.
Bernier stopped 42 shots, but the flurry for Arizona at the beginning of the third was too much for Toronto to overcome.
“Both goals I think were bad goals, one from the goal line, one from their blue line,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “You don’t try to understand it totally.”
Ekman-Larsson said he had never scored a goal like that, but there’s “a first time for everything.” Leafs fans let Bernier know about his mistake.
“It’s tough to stay in, especially when I thought I was playing pretty good and the fans get on you,” Bernier said. “It gets frustrating, but I’ve got to be stronger mentally and stay in it.”
Toronto star Phil Kessel scored his 20th goal at 16:33 of the first. Kessel hadn’t scored an even-strength goal in 18 games.
Gagner’s goal came on a deflection when a point shot from Keith Yandle went off him and might have hit Hanzal in front before going in. But Gagner was awarded the goal.
“It’s about time we got a bounce,” Smith said. “I thought we did a lot of good things and got rewarded for it.”
The Leafs also have been hit by injuries.
Winger Joffrey Lupul returned from an 11-game absence to face the Coyotes, but captain Dion Phaneuf and fellow defenseman Stephane Robidas remained out.
They’ve also scored just 15 goals in the past 10 games.
“We’re finding ways not to win,” Horachek said. “We’ve got to find ways to win now.”
NOTES: Toronto LW Joffrey Lupul returned from an 11-game absence. He played just over 10 minutes in his first game back after being out with a lower-body injury. … Arizona’s 45 shots were its most this season. … The Coyotes visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night and the Leafs visit the Philadelphia Flyers.
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