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

Smith, Coyotes win 3rd straight, 2-1 over Panthers
Phoenix Coyotes' Radim Vrbata, left, of the Czech Republic, pumps his fist after scoring against Florida Panthers' Roberto Luongo (1) as Panthers' Joey Crabb (10), Quinton Howden (42) and Tom Gilbert stand near the goal as Coyotes' Martin Hanzal (11), of the Czech Republic, stays on the ice after getting a puck to the foot, during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
March 21, 2014, 12:38 am

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Radim Vrbata and Antoine Vermette scored first-period goals and the Phoenix Coyotes held on to win their third in a row, 2-1 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.

Phoenix has won five of six and seven of nine.

Vrbata's goal came on a power play.

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.

Robert Luongo had 20 saves for the Panthers.

The Coyotes scored 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 quarter, then made it 2-0 when Vermette hit it 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. It was Vermette's team-leading 22nd goal.

Hanzal and Ekman-Larsson got assists on Vrbata's goal, Stone and Boedker on the second.

Gomez's goal, his first in 36 games, came on a wrist shot that fluttered past Smith.

The three-game winning streak is Phoenix's longest since it won five in a row from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5.

NOTES: Florida ranks last in the NHL in power-play goals and last in penalty kills. ... Entering the night, Smith had a 1.92 goals against average and .936 save percentage in his previous 14 games. ... Phoenix swept the season series 2-0, winning at Florida 3-1 on March 11. ... Phoenix is home against Boston Saturday night. ...The Panthers were on the second stop of a four-game road trip. They are at Los Angeles on Saturday.

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