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Conner comes through as ailing Coyotes top Red Wings

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Associated Press
4/5/2013 2:05:28 AM
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GLENDALE, Ariz. - Goalie Jason LaBarbera was too ill to play. Defenceman David Schlemko tried to go, but spent more time in the hallway than on the ice. So many other players were ailing that the Phoenix Coyotes had to keep buckets on the bench in case someone got sick.

Hit by a virus a day after losing three veteran players at the trade deadline and at a key juncture in the season, the win by the Coyotes on Thursday night might have been their most impressive victory all year.

Chad Johnson stopped 34 shots as a late replacement, Chris Conner scored in his Phoenix debut, and the Coyotes survived the flu — not to mention a late flurry by Detroit — to beat the Red Wings 4-2.

"I don't know what happened over the course of the afternoon, but we had five or six guys who were sick that were questionable to play, throwing up on the way to the game," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "That's the first game I think I've coached with two buckets beside me."

Phoenix kicked off a critical three-game homestand by beating Los Angeles, but went through an emotional ride at the trade deadline, when veterans Raffi Torres, Matthew Lombardi and Steve Sullivan were traded away for a prospect and two draft picks.

The Coyotes made the deals to gain assets for three players who were about to become unrestricted free agents, but also to give some of the young players in their system an opportunity.

That chance came right away.

Johnson got two starts early in the season and was called up when Mike Smith went out with an upper body injury two weeks ago. Johnson didn't find out LaBarbera was too sick to play until about six hours before the game, but was sharp despite the short preparation, turning away 30 shots.

Conner, who played 147 NHL games before signing with the Coyotes, had spent the season with Portland of the AHL before being called up after the trades. He provided an immediate spark with his speed and feistiness, scoring his first NHL goal since 2011 in the second period.

Michael Stone and Shane Doan also scored in the second period, and Martin Hanzal made sure the Coyotes got a point in their fifth straight game with an empty-net goal with less than a second left.

Mikkel Boedker added a pair of assists for Phoenix, which moved up to 11th in the Western Conference, two points behind eighth-place St. Louis will 11 games left.

"We got some timely goals and held on there for the win," Johnson said.

Detroit had the jump on the illness-ravaged Coyotes early, scoring less than two minutes into the game on a power-play goal by Valtteri Filppula. The Red Wings had no answer for Phoenix in the second period and couldn't finish off a comeback following Daniel Cleary's power-play goal with 1:13 left in the third period.

Detroit has lost three of four and is down to seventh in the West, a point ahead of the Blues.

"We see the standings, too. We know what's going on," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We've got 11 (games) left and have to take as many points as possible."

The battered Red Wings — over 200 games lost to injury — limped into Phoenix, playing without centre Damien Brunner, defenceman Kyle Quincey and right wing Mikael Samuelsson, along with Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm, who have been out most of the season.

The good news for Detroit was Zetterberg was back after missing two games with a strained groin.

The Red Wings were sharp early, turning a penalty on Rob Klinkhammer in the opening minute into a power-play goal by Filppula on a rebound.

But after taking a 1-0 lead into the second period, Detroit couldn't match the Coyotes.

Swarming the Red Wings, Phoenix fired 20 shots at Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard in the second period, their most since Feb. 14, 2009, against Calgary.

"We're disappointed in ourselves. We didn't feel like we had the kind of second period we're capable of," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We've got to be better when these opportunities present themselves."

Stone scored less than 2 minutes into the second period, beating Howard stick side with a hard slap shot from above the right circle.

Conner, who didn't arrive with fellow call-up Chris Brown until 5 a.m. Thursday, made it 2-1 midway through the period. He took a nifty pass from Boedker before whipping a wrist shot past Howard high to the stick side.

After sweating out so many close games recently, Phoenix enjoyed a rare cushion when Doan made it 3-1 with his 12th goal of the season late in the period. Yandle set it up, catching the Red Wings on a line change with a long pass to Hanzal, who flipped it ahead to Doan.

The Red Wings pulled within a goal when Cleary tipped in a shot by Johan Franzen, but the Red Wings couldn't get anything else past Johnson. Hanzal sealed it with his 10th goal of the season, giving the Coyotes the kind of pull-it-together win that could provide a spark for the remainder of the season.

"If you only knew what was going on today," Tippett said. "That was one of the more amazing wins in the regular season I've been around."

NOTES: The debut of Detroit rookie D Danny DeKeyser was put on hold until at least Friday because Babcock wanted Brian Lashoff in the lineup for the penalty kill. ... Schlemko didn't play after the first period. ... Howard allowed more than two goals for the first time in seven road starts.

Chris Conner (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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