GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With several teams bunched together and the schedule dwindling down, the push to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs takes on a heightened urgency.
That's how the Vancouver Canucks approached their Thursday night date with the Phoenix Coyotes. In the end, the Canucks clearly made the most of their opportunity.
Strong defense in front of goalie Cory Schneider and timely goals from unheralded players lifted the Canucks to a 2-1 victory over Phoenix before a sellout crowd of 17,220 at Jobing.com Arena.
Scoring just his third goal of the season, center Jordan Schroeder popped in the game-winner from a goal-mouth scramble midway through the final period, and the Canucks earned their fourth win in their last six games.
"The defense did a great job in front of me," said Schneider, who turned away 33 of 34 Phoenix shots. "They played well in transition, managed to get pucks deep most of the game and guys away from the net. Yeah, it's real important to get as many wins in regulation time because so many teams are battling for playoff spots."
For his effort, Schneider recorded his eighth win of the season, and second straight.
Losing the game was amplified for the Coyotes because they also lost their goalie. A victim of two collisions in the second period, Mike Smith eventually left the game during the second intermission, and the Coyotes said after the game he was under evaluation.
First, Daniel Sedin collided with Smith in the Vancouver net early in the second period. Smith appeared dazed and Sedin was helped to the Canucks locker room.
Later in the middle session, defenseman Alexander Edler struck Smith behind the Phoenix net. In pursuit of the puck, Smith was elbowed high by Edler, who was given a major charging penalty on the play.
"The league will look at this one," promised Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. "Any time there is a major, they look at the play."
At the start of the third period, Jason LaBarbera replaced Smith, who did not return to the Phoenix bench.
Had they won, the Coyotes would have vaulted into a tie with San Jose for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Instead, they dropped their fourth game in their the last five and the other game was a shootout loss to Columbus.
"Our execution to make a good play is poor right now," Tippett added. "We're not playing hard enough and not playing smart enough."
Just over six minutes into the game, the Coyotes defense left the entire slot area wide open, and Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev took full advantage. Cruising in between the faceoff circle, Tanev took a perfect pass from Mason Raymond and his wrist shot sailed into the upper right corner to beat Smith to the stick side for his second goal of the season.
Coming into Thursday's night game, the Coyotes were shut out in three of their four games. The offense started slowly and through the opening period were a no-show. With just five shots in net for the first 20 minutes, the Coyotes posed little threat to Schneider or the Vancouver defense.
From his view on the bench, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault could see that the game was up for grabs. The contest, he pointed out, was typical of teams struggling for playoff position.
"At ice level, this was a battle and hard-fought game," he said. "There were inch-by-inch battles out there and it was nice to get contributions from guys who don't usually contribute."
After Antoine Vermette tied the game at 1-1 with a power-play goal early in the final period, Schroeder scored his third of the season less than eight minutes later. Schroder's previous two goals were scored in one game and that was Feb. 9 against Calgary.
NOTES: Despite the second-period collision and a visit to the clubhouse, Sedin returned. Thursday's game was Sedin's 611th straight, which ranks seventh all time. ... Vancouver entered the game as the fifth highest scoring team in the Western Conference, two goals ahead of Phoenix. ... Coyotes forward Steve Sullivan is three games from playing in the 1,000th of his NHL career. ... Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek was scratched for the sixth straight game with a lower back injury. ... The Canucks began a three-game road trip, with stops coming up in Los Angeles and Colorado. On March 28, they return home to Rogers Arena, where they have sold out 423 straight games dating to Nov. 14, 2002.