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Smith, Coyotes win 3rd straight, 2-1 over Panthers

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2014 at 12:47 am •  Published: March 21, 2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Phoenix Coyotes have won three in a row for the first time in 4½ months, and they've done it just in time for the stretch run to the playoffs.

Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette scored first-period goals and the Phoenix Coyotes held on for a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had a shutout until Chris Gomez scored with 4:08 to play. Smith had 22 saves.

The game was no thing of beauty.

"They all can't all be masterpieces," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We got up two goals and we won. We'll leave it at that."

The victory, coupled with Dallas' loss to Philadelphia, put the Coyotes four points ahead of the Stars for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Phoenix has won five of six and seven of nine.

"Maybe desperation," Vrbata said when asked what was driving the recent success. "We know where we are in the standings and that we need every point we can get. We lost too many games before, games we should have won. "

Smith's play has been central to the recent wins and he was strong again Thursday.

"Before they got that goal, he was outstanding," Tippett said, "and then he got some after that."

There weren't many shots, Tippett said, but several were difficult saves.

Robert Luongo had 20 saves for the Panthers.

The Coyotes scored their first goal on a power play after Florida's Jimmy Hayes was sent to the penalty box for holding.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson's shot from directly in front of the net glanced off Martin Hanzal's skate and was knocked into the net by Vrbata for his 20th goal of the season.

Phoenix killed two penalties the rest of the period, then made it 2-0 when Vermette hit the puck into a virtually empty net off a deflected shot by Mike Stone. Stone's shot bounced off Luongo's midsection and right to Vermette. Luongo complained that the goal should have been disallowed because Mikkel Boedker had knocked the goalie to the ice, creating an opening for the goal, but the score stood and it was 2-0 after two.

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