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Vrbata capped a three-goal rally in the third period by scoring with 18.9 seconds left to give the Coyotes a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Gila Rivera Arena on Sunday.
Vrbata won it for Arizona when he skated out from behind the net to just inside the left point, where he let go a slap shot that found its way through a crowd and past Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson.
The goal was Vrbata’s 600th NHL point. He assisted on Max Domi’s goal to start the comeback and extended his career-best point streak to nine games. He has a goal in four straight.
Hanzal and forward Ryan White were traded to the Minnesota Wild for draft picks a little more than an hour before the game, making for a subdued locker room despite the emotional win.
“It’s not an easy day for everyone in the room and around the team. But we talked before that we still had to play the game and we need to show up and have a good effort,” Vrbata said. “Even when we got down two goals, we stayed with it and got a win.”
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“After the first goal, Louis was really solid and it’s a credit to the players that they worked hard tonight,” Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. “[Vrbata] is a smart player who’s had a really good season. For a guy who wasn’t sure how it was going to go with wholesale jerseys (at age 35) and we weren’t sure how it was going to go, he’s come in and played very well. He’s a consummate pro who shows up and does his job every night.”
Buffalo lost back-to-back games against 30th-place Colorado and 29th-place Arizona and missed a chance to pull within five points of the Toronto Maple Leafs for cheap NHL jerseys and the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
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“It’s tough to swallow,” said Eichel, who extended his point streak to six games with his 14th goal at 18:01 of the first period. “We’ve blown a lot of leads this year, and that’s one of the most frustrating things. It seems like we play good and we get the lead and then we decide we’re just going to sit back. … I don’t know if we played a little too passive, but we don’t push for that next goal, that third goal.”
“I wish that went in. I had some room. Pretty frustrated, but maybe one day one of those will go in,” Ennis said. “I practice it all the time and it works. Sometimes in practices and warm-ups I’m always kind of flicking pucks around with my stick and having fun with it. I tried it another time against Florida and Luongo stopped it so, third time’s the charm, hopefully.”
Ennis had missed Buffalo’s previous 30 games while nursing a sports-hernia injury. He must have been practicing his trick shots while out of the lineup.
“I think we were a little bit stunned on the bench. We didn’t see it, notice it, at first and we were kind of looking around, ‘Did he really try to do that?'” Sabres teammate Jack Eichel said. “He said he kind of just blacked out and tried it. But that’s the element that he brings; that element of creativity and he keeps the opposing team’s China NHL jerseys on their heels.”
“He pulls that lacrosse move off quite often (in practice),” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “To have enough presence of mind to try it in a game when there’s grown men out there trying to crush you, just shows you kind of where the comfort level he’s at.”
Ennis’ off-beat shot attempt harkens memories of Mike Legg’s lacrosse-style goal for the University of Michigan against Minnesota in the 1996 NCAA West Regional Final, perhaps the greatest such goal of all-time.
Legg pulled that move again and scored from center ice when Michigan celebrated the 20th anniversary of its national-championship team in October.