COLUMBUS, Ohio - As long as they continue to get goaltending like this from Curtis Joseph, the Coyotes aren’t about to abandon hope of a playoff berth. “You look at what he’s done for us, he’s incredible,” Shane Doan said. “We need to get our power play going and we’ll be OK.”
Led by Joseph’s 50th career shutout, Phoenix maintained its sliver of a chance for the postseason Tuesday with a 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
The Coyotes’ push later received some help from Dallas as the Stars beat Minnesota Tuesday night to allow Phoenix to pull within 10 points of the final postseason spot.
Steven Reinprecht, Doan and Mike Zigomanis provided the goals as Phoenix’s offense rebounded after being shut out Saturday by the Wild. And Joseph did the rest, stopping 28 shots.
“It helps when guys are back and not giving them a lot of time with the puck and me being able to challenge them and cutting off the lanes,” said Joseph, who has allowed only three goals in his past three starts and is expected to get the call again today in Detroit.
The Coyotes were sluggish early in the first period, which coach Wayne Gretzky said they can’t do if they are to have a successful trip. But in the end, they had the result they wanted, a 1-0 lead on a redirect by Reinprecht.
“We were lucky that our goaltender was spectacular for the first six minutes . . . and we got that all-important first goal and went from there,” Gretzky said.
Phoenix extended its lead in the second when Doan stole the puck from Manny Malhorta in the neutral zone, then beat Fredrik Norrena stick-side from the top of the right circle at 6:03 of the period. Five minutes later Zigomanis finished off a two-on-one rush with Georges Laraque for a three-goal advantage.
The game was delayed by 35 minutes due to a snowstorm that blanketed the city and created significant traffic delays. The team’s bus ride from the hotel, which normally takes 15 minutes, took nearly two hours. The Coyotes didn’t arrive at the arena until 6:20 p.m., 40 minutes before the original start time.
In hopes of igniting a power play that had failed to score on its last 14 opportunities coming into the game, Gretzky added Josh Gratton to the special team’s first unit, placing the enforcer in front of the net.
“I used him against Nashville (Thursday) night, and we had two or three chances in 25 seconds,” Gretzky said.
“We’ve really got to get our power play going,” he added. “It’s something that’s been an Achilles’ heel for us. It’s really hurt us in the last five, six, seven games.”
Gratton, who has just one goal and one assist, said he was surprised by the move but added he was comfortable playing the position.
“It’s the only spot (on the power play) I know how to play, really,” Gratton said. “I played it all my junior career and in the AHL.”
Unfortunately for Phoenix the move didn’t make any difference. It finished 0-for-5.
RETURNING TO THE SCENE
The last time Keith Ballard played here, the defenseman left with a broken hand that cost him 11 games.
“Bad memories,” he said.
He escaped injury free Tuesday and partially credited that to switching lockers.
“I’m not sitting there again,” said Ballard, pointing to his old locker, prior to the game.
After Ken Hitchcock was fired as Philadelphia’s coach in October, rumors swirled that he could take over the same position with Phoenix, which was on the way to a franchise-worst start at the time.
The Coyotes never seriously considered making a change, but Hitchcock said before Tuesday’s game there was an offer extended.
“The offer was to come and play golf. That was the only offer, which was a good one and I was within hours of taking them up on that,” the current Blue Jackets coach joked.
“Quite frankly, until the job came from Columbus, that was the best offer I got.”
Forward Bill Thomas was a healthy scratch for the third straight game and so was defenseman Matt Jones, who was recalled from San Antonio of the AHL prior to the game in case Nick Boynton (muscle strain in his side) couldn’t go.