Wily Coyotes skate to 3-1 win over punchless Panthers

Joel Auerbach

Brandon Pirri nets his first in Cats' garb to avoid a shutout.

Radim Vrbata scored a goal and set up two others to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers last night in a game featuring two teams heading in the opposite direction.

After beating the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night, Phoenix's second Florida conquest pulled them within one point of the Dallas Stars for the Western Conference's final wild card spot.

Meanwhile, the Panthers dropped their second straight, and have now lost ten of their last thirteen games.

Mike Ribeiro got the game's first score with a nice deflection of a Keith Yandle blast with 2:17 remaining in the opening period. The goal came with defender Brian Campbell serving a minor for tripping.

The Coyotes scored again midway through the second period, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson doing the honors from the blue line. Vrbata and Lauri Korpikoski combined to set up the goal.

In the third period, a streaking Vrbata finished off the Cats, for all intents and purposes, by converting a sweet feed on an odd man rush from Antoine Vermette to put the Coyotes up by three at the 5:52 mark.

Brandon Pirri scored three minutes later, with the Panthers on a power play, to break up Mike Smith shutout bid. Dmitry Kulikov and Nick Bjugstad got the helpers on the Pirri's first with Florida. Hooray youth movement!

Smith, who stopped 10 of 11 shots in the third, held the Panthers at bay the rest of the way, to get the win over Roberto Luongo. Luongo finished the game with 23 saves and fell to 1-2 since rejoining the Cats.

The Cats actually played alright in this one, much better than they did against Boston on Sunday. They had some chances early on, but couldn't beat Mike Smith, who showed why he was a member of the Canadian group that went to Sochi and came home golden. Unfortunately, the Panthers saved their best for the third period, when they were already down by two. I'm not sure what it is about this bunch that takes a two-goal disadvantage to turn their collective light on. Edmonton won again last night, so the Oilers are poised to jump the Cats in the standings, and improve Florida's draft position by one. The Panthers head to Tampa Bay for a road one-off on Thursday before they face New Jersey and Vancouver on home ice. Hopefully, they can give Luongo some goal support and get one against their cross-state rival.

Odds & Ends

  • Sean Bergenheim left the game in the second period with the dreaded lower-body injury and did not return, although it's not believed to be serious. With Jesse Winchester and Erik Gudbranson currently out, it looks like another member of the already depleted Rampage could be on their way to the Sunshine State soon.
  • The Coyotes won consecutive games on the road for the first time in 2014.
  • Nick Bjugstad has a nice little three-game scoring streak going. The super-sized rookie has 7 points in his last 8 outings. I would not be at all surprised to see him finish the season as the Cats leading scorer.
  • Vrbata's three-point game gave him the club lead with 46 points. The winger, who with 6 points in his 4 games is heating up at just the right time for Phoenix.
  • In addition to scoring his first goal with the Cats, Pirri tied Bjugstad with a team-high five shots on goal.
  • Playing out the string and hosting Phoenix on a Tuesday does not make for a good crowd. Attendance was a meager 12,211 last night at the BB&T Center.
  • Check out one of my favorite stops on the SBN network, Five For Howling, for more on last night's game.
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