Defenseman Keith Yandle isn’t the only American on the Coyotes roster, but the pregame ceremony that honored the gold-medal winning 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team seemed to resonate just a little bit more with him. Maybe because he’s familiar with some of the players. Captain Mike Eruzione, who stopped to give Yandle a handshake and a few pats on the chest before dropping the ceremonial puck for Friday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, has his mail delivered by Yandle’s aunt. It also could be because Yandle was oh-so-close to being an Olympian himself, one of the last defenseman left off the American roster that will make its way to Sochi. But whatever the reason, Yandle was motivated. And that turned out to be a valuable push for the Coyotes, who used a pair of power-play goals — one of which came from Yandle — and an outstanding 29-save performance by goalie Mike Smith to shut out the Blackhawks 2-0 in front of a season-high 17,525 at Jobing.com Arena. That bumped the Coyotes into the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, giving them a hold on a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 9. “We want to be in a playoff position anytime let alone the (Olympic) break,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “One more game and players know they'll get a rest after this so they know they better bring all they've got tonight.” Smith, who posted his second shutout of the season, third against the Blackhawks and 26th of his career, has now stopped 89 of his past 92 shots, peaking at an important time for the Coyotes and his future Olympic endeavors. Smith will be one of three goaltenders representing Team Canada in Sochi and although he’s widely considered to be the No. 3, no firm decisions have been announced. “It's the time in the season where it's go time and obviously you need to bring your ‘A’ game against a team like that,” Smith said. “So I think it's a great opportunity to rise to the occasion and it was a great atmosphere in the rink tonight . I think that gives you a little extra motivation also.” The Blackhawks were penalized only 1:01 into the first period, and it took Yandle only eight seconds to capitalize with a one-timer from the point. With an assist on the play, center Antoine Vermette pushed his career-best point streak to nine games. Smith doubled his workload in the second period, finishing with 14 saves, and plenty were challenging. After Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp batted a puck out of the air and Smith kicked his pads together to make the save, Sharp just stood in front of the crease. Before skating back up the ice, he simply looked back at Smith and stared. Perhaps a performance like this from the Coyotes wasn’t surprising. They preserved the trend of delivering their best in marquee matchups, and this definitely counted as one. Ten members from that 1980 Olympic team were part of the Olympic send-off for the Coyotes and Blackhawks’ Olympians. This was the Coyotes’ final home game before the break. And with their playoff potential uncertain, the Coyotes played with the urgency that they want to be among the top eight. “I also think anytime you play these guys and finishing on a strong note before the break is huge for us and I hunk we did a good job handling it,” Yandle said. “I think everyone felt American tonight.” Actually, the game was reminiscent of a playoff game — particularly of the one against the Blackhawks two years ago when Andrew Shaw collided with Smith behind the net and was tagged with a three-game suspension.
‘Miracle’ team stirs Phoenix Coyotes to shutout over Chicago Blackhawks
Arizona Republic | Feb 8