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Vrbata powers Coyotes to win over Panthers

The Canadian Press

3/11/2014 10:38:59 PM

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Radim Vrbata is peaking at the right time.

Vrbata had a goal and two assists to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

Vrbata also had the lone shootout goal in Monday's 4-3 win at Tampa Bay. Vrbata is second on the team with 19 goals, trailing Antoine Vermette at 22, and has six points in the last four games.

"When the puck is finding the back of the net for him, it just seems like he's got that extra step," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Ribeiro also scored for the Coyotes. Mike Smith made 31 saves.

"Sometimes we struggle to score goals, we need our goal scorers to be putting the puck in the net," Smith said. "Vrby has played well as of late."

Phoenix won its second consecutive road game for the first time since Nov. 27 and Dec. 3. The Coyotes are one point behind Dallas for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Brandon Pirri scored and Roberto Luongo stopped 23 shots for the Panthers.

Florida has lost 10 of 13. The Panthers have only six goals in the last four games.

Phoenix opened a 3-0 lead when Vrbata scored at 5:52 of the third. Vermette fed Vrbata in the right circle and he sent a wrist shot into an open net.

"You score that one and you start feeling good about yourself," Vrbata said. "You get a couple of lucky bounces."

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Pirri's power-play goal at 8:54 of the third. Pirri's shot from high in the right circle touched several Coyotes players' sticks and went over Smith's glove high in the net.

It was Pirri's first goal with Florida since he was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on March 2.

Smith had been stellar before Pirri's goal.

"Where we are in the standings and the desperation we should be playing with, your goaltender has to take a big part of that," Tippett said. "But it's great to see everybody else chip in."

The back-to-back games appeared to have little effect on Phoenix.

"They played last night. I think we jumped on them early on," Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski said. "We had our chances, we just couldn't solve their goalie."

The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal in the first. Ribeiro fired a one-timer from above the right circle that got past Luongo on the glove side at 17:43. Keith Yandle got the assist and leads the Coyotes with 45 points. He has seven points in his last seven games.

The Coyotes scored again in the second. Ekman-Larsson shot from just inside the blue line on the left side and it went by a screened Luongo at 9:43.

"They're a very disciplined team, they're patient, they wait for the other team to make mistakes and obviously they're fighting for a playoff spot right now, every game is important to them," Luongo said. "We saw that desperation tonight, guys blocking shot, and finding the net. They did whatever it took to win."

NOTES: Coyotes F Martin Erat left in the first period with an upper-body injury. ... Panthers L Sean Bergenheim left in the second period with a lower-body injury. ... The Panthers recalled F Joey Crabb and D Mike Mottau from San Antonio of the AHL. ... Panthers D Erik Gudbranson and C Jesse Winchester each missed the game with lower-body injuries.