Phoenix Coyotes' Antoine Vermette (50) gets to a loose puck below Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) for a first-period goal during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Pittsburgh Penguins' spot in the post-season is assured. The Phoenix Coyotes are living much more dangerously.
For long stretches during Phoenix's 3-2 win on Tuesday night, it certainly looked like the other way around.
Pouncing on a series of sloppy mistakes by the suddenly erratic Penguins, the Coyotes picked up two vital points in the chase for the eighth-seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Thomas Greiss stopped 23 shots—including all 15 he faced over the final two periods—and received plenty of help as Phoenix rebounded a night after losing starting goaltender Mike Smith indefinitely with a right leg injury in a loss to the New York Rangers on Monday.
David Moss, Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker scored for the Coyotes, who never trailed while dropping the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins to just 6-6-2 since the Olympic break.
"It gives confidence that if you can win in Pittsburgh you can win anywhere," Phoenix forward Shane Doan said.
Jussi Jokinen and Taylor Pyatt scored for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves, but the Penguins failed to clinch a playoff berth and looked lifeless at times without centre Evgeni Malkin, who is out 2-3 weeks after hurting his foot in a loss to St. Louis on Sunday. While he's expected by the end of the regular season, his absence is just the latest setback in a season in which Pittsburgh has lost over 400 man games due to injuries.
It didn't seem to bother the Penguins as they built a seemingly insurmountable division lead. Coach Dan Bylsma isn't sure now is the time to start throwing around blame.
"I don't think injuries had anything to do with today or what you saw on the ice," he said.
More disconcerting for Pittsburgh is its lack of focus. The Penguins held a brief players only meeting after the game and cancelled a scheduled practice on Wednesday.
"I don't think there's anyone feeling sorry for us, but that still doesn't allow us not to have the right type of effort and work ethic," centre Sidney Crosby said.
Phoenix's play had a little bit to do with it.
If the Coyotes were rattled by the loss of their franchise goaltender, it didn't exactly show. Greiss has been effective when spelling Smith this season, though he wasn't sharp while allowing the Rangers to steal two points Monday by rallying for an overtime victory after he replaced Smith with 7:32 left in regulation and the Coyotes holding a one-goal lead.
No matter. Despite a short turnaround in the midst of a three-game road trip that could shape the final weeks of the regular season, Greiss kept the Penguins in check.
"I thought we did a good job of being close to one another," Moss said. "It seemed like if there was a breakdown, there was support. If they had a chance, (Greiss) made a huge save."
Whenever Pittsburgh made a mistake deep in its own zone, the Coyotes were there to take advantage. Moss picked up his seventh goal of the year when great forechecking by Martin Hanzal and Brandon McMillan produced a turnover that ended with Moss all alone in front of the Penguins net.
Jokinen's 18th goal of the season tied it 11:51 into the period, kind of. His wrist shot caromed out of the back of the net so quickly the goal light never came on. Play continued for nearly 3 minutes before a stoppage in play provided time for the goal to be awarded on replay.
Vermette put Phoenix back in front with a power-play goal, poking a rebound between Fleury's legs. Pyatt knotted it at 2 with just 4 seconds left in the first by deflecting in Rob Scuderi's shot from the point.
The back-and-forth play, however, stopped over the final 40 minutes as the Coyotes choked off the Penguins while continuing to effectively counterpunch. Boedker put Phoenix in front to stay 13:18 into the second period by grabbing a rebound in front of the Pittsburgh net and roofing it over Fleury's glove as a penalty to Jokinen expired.
NOTES: Injured Penguins defenceman Paul Martin did not skate on Tuesday morning due to an illness. Martin, who has not played since injuring his hand while playing for Team USA in the Winter Olympics, will have an X-ray on Sunday to determine his progress. ... The Coyotes recalled G Mark Visentin from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup until Smith's status is determined. ... The Penguins host Los Angeles on Thursday while Phoenix wraps up its road trip Thursday in New Jersey.