For the third straight game, the Coyotes scored three goals in the first period to take a lofty lead in the early going. If their recent pattern were to repeat itself, they were well on their way to another rout at Gila River Arena.
But the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t allow the Coyotes to follow that script on Friday. They decidedly outplayed Arizona in the second period and managed to tie the game in the third. If it wasn’t for a stellar performance from Antti Raanta and an overtime winner by Michael Grabner, the Coyotes might have suffered a gut-wrenching loss.
While there are certainly several negatives to unpack from Friday’s game — a contest in which the Coyotes (7-5-0) escaped with a 4-3 win, extending their win streak to an NHL-best five games — the game more appropriately served as a testament to the team’s newfound mental toughness.
It’s hard to imagine last season’s Coyotes team, a club that had stretches of proficiency, pulling out a win after falling flat in the game’s final 40 minutes against a high-quality opponent like Carolina.
“You’re always testing your mental toughness,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said. “That’s something we’re always striving toward here is building that scar tissue to learn from our mistakes. I think that, especially these games on this homestand, you’ll play some good hockey but there are some (not so good) stretches there, but we didn’t crumble.
“Last year … we probably would have crumbled. Especially in the first half of the year.”
The Hurricanes (6-5-2) fired 51 shots on Raanta, whose defense entered the game among the league’s best in limiting chances. Tocchet admitted his players looked tired and “lost their legs” in the game’s final periods.
“We knew we didn’t have our legs,” Tocchet said. “Carolina was out-classing us a little bit, but we just kind of grinded it out to get to overtime, which is a good thing.”
It all seemed a little too easy early. Brad Richardson started the scoring with yet another short-handed goal — his third such goal of the season and seventh this season for the Coyotes — thanks to a nifty play by Alex Goligoski.
Then it was Brendan Perlini who converted with a wicked backhand shot to beat Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek on his far side. Less than a minute later, Nick Cousins scored his first of the season to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead at the first intermission, a familiar comfort for the team on their current homestand.
The Coyotes even won the shots battle in the first period against the NHL’s top club in shot differential, but that would not be the case in the rest of the game.
Carolina came out in the second period looking like the team befitting of its high billing entering the game. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour threw Arizona a curveball by shuffling his top line and inserting Andrei Svechnikov — the second overall pick in June’s draft — alongside star center Sebastian Aho and high-scoring winger Michael Ferland.
But it was Jordan Martinook, who spent parts of five seasons with the Coyotes, who got the Hurricanes on the board at 10:34 of the second period. Although Carolina had the home club on its heels in the middle frame, pristine goaltending from Raanta prevented further disaster.
“They’re not all Oscar winners,” Richardson said of the unconventional win. “It was ugly, but we pulled it off. It’s a good thing, but we definitely kind of held on for dear life, got it to overtime, and then won. But we’ll take it.”
Still, the Coyotes could only hold off the storm for so long. Svechnikov made it a one-goal game with an incredible redirection goal and Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal tied the game on a goal that appeared to glance off Goligoski’s leg and past Raanta.
The way the Coyotes looked in the second and third periods, it was hard to imagine them creating many scoring chances at 3-on-3 in the extra period given how ferocious the Hurricanes had been playing.
But all it took was one play, a sequence set in motion by a rejuvenated Clayton Keller winning a puck battle in the Coyotes’ defensive zone. Keller took advantage of the open ice and skated in by himself, ultimately throwing a saucer pass across the ice and to a darting Grabner, timing his crossing route perfectly, who one-timed the puck past Mrazek and into the net just for the winner.
“It was a great play,” Grabner said. “It was (Keller), and I saw him turning the puck over and starting to go the other way. I just tried to go to the net and he made a nice sauce pass that landed right on my tape. Fortunately enough, I put it in.”
Yes, it was an ugly game, and it was probably one the Coyotes could just have easily lost due to their flat-line effort in the final 40 minutes of regulation. But the great teams find ways to win close games, and especially in their own building.
And now that the Coyotes are on a five-game win streak — their longest such streak since Oct. 26 to Nov. 5, 2013 — the Coyotes are beginning to establish that kind of identity.
“You look at great teams,” Tocchet said. “They’re going to win some games that they shouldn’t. It’s nice for us to win those type of games. Second and third, obviously Carolina was the better team, but we grinded it out.
“I thought in the first four or five games of the year, there were some games that we deserved. I think they all even out.”
Richard Morin covers the Coyotes and Diamondbacks for azcentral sports. He can be reached at email@example.com and by phone at 480-316-2493. Follow him on Twitter @ramorin_azc.
The score: Coyotes 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT).
The streak: W5.
The record: 7-5-0, 5th in Pacific.
The 82-game pace: 48-34-0, 96 points.
The player: Antti Raanta.
The moment: Michael Grabner’s overtime winner at 1:17 of the extra period.
The number: 7 — The number of short-handed goals the Coyotes have scored through just 12 games this season.
The quote: “We looked tired. Some guys looked real tired. I thought the veteran guys played well tonight. You go down the list, I thought (Alex Goligoski) was good, and (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) in the third started to get mad out there. And (Antti Raanta) was good, and (Brad Richardson) and (Michael Grabner). I thought the veterans won us the game tonight.” — Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet.
View from the press box: Tocchet admitted that his team played perhaps the worst period of their season in the second on Friday. That the Coyotes were able to weather the storm of the Hurricanes’ high-octane attack — thanks in large part to a prolific performance from Raanta — says a lot about this team’s resiliency on a night where they didn’t have it.
Song of the night: “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions.