A funny thing happened to the Phoenix Coyotes on the way to Jobing.com Arena Thursday.
A group of players on the team came down with an illness, forcing numerous changes and making preparations for the game tough on the coaches.
“I don't know what happened, but we had five or six guys get sick before the game,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “That was the first time I coached with two buckets besides me on the bench.”
Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone and Martin Hanzal each had two points as the Coyotes defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 4-2, before 16,623 at Jobing.com Arena April 4.
“If you only knew what was going on before the game today,” Tippett said. “That was one of the more amazing wins I have been around with all the illness.”
Goaltender Chad Johnson, who found out 1 p.m. that he would get the start for an ill Jason LaBarbera, stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced.
“Finding out that late that I was going to start, it was definitely tough,” Johnson said. “But I just had to go out, do my best and give the guys a chance to win.”
Johnson was strong in goal all game, even if the beginning looked ominous.
Detroit took advantage of a Coyote penalty early when Rob Klinkhammer was called for holding 54 seconds into the game. Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith fired the puck in front from the right point, where Pavel Datsyuk tipped it to the left of the Coyotes net. Detroit's Valtteri Flippula took the puck, skated around a defender and backhanded the puck past Johnson into the back of the net for a Red Wings’ power play goal.
“It was a scramble in front, and a guy whacked it and I didn't see it until the last second,” Johnson said. “It was such a soft shot that I couldn't get momentum to kick it away, and it went to (Flippula) who got it past me.”
The Coyotes had a great scoring chance six minutes into the game when Shane Doan stole the puck in the Red Wings’ zone, skated in front and fired a shot that Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard grabbed with his glove.
“We had some big chances early, and the guys kept attacking all game,” Tippett said. “We kept getting shots, and I knew they would break through eventually.”
The Coyotes tied the game early in the second period when Yandle brought the puck into the Red Wings’ zone and slid a pass across the ice to Stone. Stone took the puck just inside the blue line and fired a shot that sailed past Howard into the net, 1:47 into the second period.
“We were pretty good in the second period,” Tippett said. “We capitalized on some opportunities and took advantage of the chances we got.”
The Coyotes took the lead midway through the second period when Boedker brought the puck up the middle of the ice into the Red Wings’ zone. He then backhanded a pass across the center of the ice, where Chris Conner fired a shot that went top-shelf past Howard.
“I have high expectations for myself, and I just want to play one shift at a time,” Conner said. “The guys on my line were talking to me a lot, and they made it easy for me by telling me what they wanted.”
With just under four minutes left in the second period, Yandle fired a pass from alongside the Coyotes’ goal to Hanzal, who was standing at the Red Wings’ blue line. Hanzal skated in with the puck and slipped a centering pass to Doan, who took the puck and fired it past Howard to put the Coyotes up by two late in the second.
“It was a good game, both teams played really hard,” Johnson said. “Luckily our guys got some great goals and we came out on top tonight.”
Trailing by two with less than three minutes left in the game, Detroit pulled Howard to get the extra attacker. After the Coyotes were called for a delay of game penalty with 1:23 left in the game, they skated 6-on-4.
Henrik Zetterberg got the puck in the corner and fired a pass in front of Johnson, where Daniel Cleary tipped the puck into the back of the net, putting the Red Wings down by one with 1:13 left in the game.
“That was one of those goals where it was just a nice centering pass and (Cleary) got the tip past me,” Johnson said.
After the face-off, Detroit again pulled Howard with a minute left in the game. With less than 10 seconds left, Hanzal took the puck in front of the Coyotes’ goal and flipped it into the empty net, securing the win.
“Johnson was huge, and we got a two-goal lead, which was nice,” Tippett said. “The guys know what's at stake and that we need to get wins.”
After trading away three veterans Wednesday, there was concern that the Coyotes might come out flat Thursday.
While people wondered if the deals would bring a letdown, the Coyotes came out fired up, with big hits, crisp passes and playing their most complete game in weeks.
“It's hard to take three veterans out of your lineup,” Tippett said. “Those guys are friends, their families are friends, and that made it a tough day all the way around.”
The win moved the Coyotes to 16-15-6, into 11th place with 38 points, two points behind 8th place St. Louis.
The Colorado Avalanche come to Jobing.com Arena for a 7 p.m. start Saturday.