GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)The Arizona Coyotes had not been playing like a team fighting for its playoff life, the losses piling up, the distance behind St. Louis growing.
Faced with arguably the biggest game of the season, they played with a playoff-like intensity, halting a long winning streak in the process.
Adin Hill stopped 25 shots and the Coyotes ended the Vegas Golden Knights’ 10-game winning streak while keeping their own playoff hopes alive with a 3-0 win Friday night.
”We played a full 60 minutes tonight,” Hill said. ”Guys played desperate hockey tonight. Played simple, but played the way we have to and got the job done.”
Arizona failed on a chance to solidify its playoff chances over the past two weeks, losing four of five games to drop behind St. Louis for the West Division’s final playoff spot.
The Coyotes played the Golden Knights, the division’s top team, with a playoff-like intensity in a physical, fast-paced game.
John Hayden and Michael Bunting scored, and Arizona shut down a Vegas team that had outscored teams 45-17 during its franchise-long win streak. Hill finished off his second shutout this season – third career- and Christian Fischer capped it with an empty-net goal, allowing the Coyotes to pull within three points of the Blues for fourth in the West.
”Tonight was a lot better, but you’ve got to do it every night,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said of his team’s defense. ”It’s hard to do every night and it hurts, but that’s just the way the game is. You can’t do it every once in a while.”
The Golden Knights were coming off a 5-2 win over Colorado, their closest pursuer in the West Division, and didn’t have the same jump against the hungry Coyotes.
Robin Lehner did his best to keep Vegas in it with 29 saves, but the Golden Knights couldn’t get anything past Hill to see their lead drop to four points after the Avalanche beat San Jose.
”We maybe had a bit of a letdown after playing Colorado and these guys are playing for their playoff lives,” Vegas forward Mark Stone said. ”They played with a lot of intensity.”
The Coyotes played like a team fighting for a playoff spot and the Golden Knights like a team on a 10-game winning streak in a hard-hitting, back-and-forth first period.
Both goalies made spectacular saves before Hayden beat Lehner from the slot on a rebound midway through the period.
Vegas picked up the pressure at the end of the first into the second with a series of rushes and quality chances. Hill stayed sharp and the Coyotes counterpunched the second half of the period to keep a 1-0 lead.
It carried over into the third and Bunting capitalized, punching in a round 1:30 in to make it 2-0.
”Good things happen when I go to the net, so lucky enough to get that rebound,” Bunting said.
Vegas turned up the pressure after that, but Hill made some difficult saves and Fischer closed out Arizona’s must-win game with an empty netter.
”They did some things to keep us out of scoring areas, but we’ve got to solve their goalie,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. ”He’s played well against us.”
Hill has been Darcy Kuemper’s back up with Antti Raanta out, but had played once – in relief – over the past seven games. He was given the start in the first of back-to-back games against Vegas and was stellar, both positionally and with some tough saves.
”It’s just trying to stay detailed and working on the things I was working on before I played,” Hill said after his first start since April 11. ”Just keep that focus in practice and carry it into games.”
Vegas C Jonathan Marchessault was out with a lower-body injury. . Arizona’s Derick Brassard played his 900th NHL game and Nick Schmaltz his 300th. . Vegas D Brayden McNabb played in his 500th career game. . Coyotes F Conor Garland missed his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury. F Tyler Pitlick was out for the sixth straight game with a lower-body injury.
The Golden Knights lead the Coyotes 5-2 heading into Saturday’s season series finale.
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