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Amid playoff race, Coyotes win thriller for 4th straight victory

Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan (21) celebrates his short-handed goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes won 4-3 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With about 10 minutes to play in the third period on Tuesday, the Coyotes’ game against the Florida Panthers was trending toward a frustrating loss during a crucial homestand.

Instead, Derek Stepan scored his second goal of the game, shorthanded, to tie things at 3-3. The game went to overtime, then a shootout, and Arizona got shootout goals from Nick Cousins, Alex Galchenyuk and Vinnie Hinostroza to seal the 4-3 victory.

It’s hard to believe the game even got to a shootout, since the last few minutes of regulation and all of overtime were jam-packed with scoring chances for both teams. It was an intense game at a critical moment in the season.

“If you’re a fan, that had a little bit of everything,” head coach Rick Tocchet said.

Bigger picture, Arizona is well within the Western Conference wild card picture and has a chance to string together some wins in this seven-game homestand, which is now two games old. They’re 2-for-2 so far.

“We’re in playoff mode. We don’t have a choice,” Stepan said. “We have to continue to push and continue to gather points. Getting one in the overtime is great, but we desperately needed that second one.”

Without question, the Coyotes failed to capitalize on some opportunities on Tuesday. Neither an early breakaway chance, a two-on-none rush nor a 5-on-3 power play resulted in a goal for Arizona. Those seemed magnified when Florida scored two unanswered goals in the third period to take a 3-2 lead.

But the Coyotes also showed resilience, coming back from the late one-goal deficit and then generating offense late in regulation and overtime to try and net the game-winner.

“[The players] rely on each other, they’re really good at that,” Tocchet said. “I was probably the guy yelling the most on the bench. I probably got to shut my mouth a little bit. I thought those guys did a nice job of calming the bench during the twists and turns.”

Arizona went 1-for-5 on the power play, getting its first power play goal in four games. It also won 55 percent of its faceoffs.

The Coyotes got the two goals from Stepan plus the shootout goals, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson lit the lamp in the second period for his eighth of the season. Florida got goals from Mike Hoffman, Jamie McGinn and their star, Aleksander Barkov.

They outshot the Panthers by a whopping 40-27 margin, and Florida didn’t have more than eight shots on goal in any period including overtime.

“I thought that we stuck with it and we’ve seen it so many times this year,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We never give up, we just keep playing and keep finding ways to win hockey games now and that’s what it’s all about.

“I just think that it’s the culture in the room. Everybody knows that we don’t have the skill, the high-skill guys, so we need to battle and we need to show up and bring our A-game every single night if we’re going to have a chance to win. And I think everybody realizes that in the room. It’s a great feeling to have and I think everybody believes in it.”

The Coyotes now sit two points behind Dallas for the second wild card spot. The Stars lost to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, while other wild card contenders in Colorado, Vancouver, Chicago and Edmonton did not play. Minnesota (1st place) beat Winnipeg.

“We’re trying to enjoy it a little bit and trying to have some fun with this time of the year,” Stepan said. “Obviously last year, we weren’t even around [the playoff hunt]. So to be around it, it’s so much fun and the games, they ramp up so quickly. The importance of every little play is magnified.”

LOOSE PUCKS

–The Florida Panthers played both of their goalies. James Reimer started in net but was removed with an apparent injury less than a minute into the second period. Roberto Luongo played for the remainder of the game, playing 44:28 after playing all of the Panthers’ game on Monday night in Colorado.

–Christian Dvorak made his season debut after recovering from injury. He played 13:18, was minus-3, had two shots on goal with two hits, a block and a giveaway. He had five wins and six losses in the faceoff circle.

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