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Coyotes off to bright start under new ownership

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PHOENIX -- Radim Vrbata rang in the new season the way he rang out the old, with a hat trick. This one was a lot more fun

Vrbata and the Phoenix Coyotes treated their new ownership group to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers in the season opener for both before an emotionally charged sellout crowd of 17,125 at Jobing.com Arena.

"The crowd was electric, and we fed off it," said Vrbata, who scored the final three goals of the game, two in the third period, after finishing the 2012-13 season with a hat trick against the Anaheim Ducks in April.

Members of the new Coyotes ownership group, IceArizona, were introduced on the ice before the game to thunderous applause. The group purchased the team for about $170 million on Aug. 5 after years of uncertainty as to whether the franchise would stay or relocate. The league operated the franchise since it declared bankruptcy in 2009.

"For the group of guys who have been here for four years going through it, it was really exciting for us to see how excited those owners were," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who signed a new contract in the offseason.

"When they walked back off in front of the bench there, they looked like they were living their dream, just like we live our dream with the jobs we have. That's a good mix. It made you feel good about what we've done in the past to keep the organization moving forward and what the future holds."

Vrbata broke a 1-1 tie when he pushed his own rebound past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist early in the second period, and he scored twice early in the third period to ruin Alain Vigneault's coaching debut with the Rangers.

Vrbata scored eight seconds into a power play just 1:10 into the third period for a 3-1 lead, and he put the game away when he forced a turnover behind the Rangers net before scoring on a rebound 7:23 into the period.

"They had some quality chances," Vigneault said. "They caught us tired, and they scored. We had some opportunities. We had to make some plays with the puck."

Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith turned away 23 shots while facing little pressure. Smith signed a six-year, $34 million contract July 1 after going 15-12 with five shutouts and a 2.58 goals-against average while battling injuries in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

"It was unbelievable. It felt like a playoff game again," Smith said. "It was kind of an emotional time for (the fans), too. They had been hanging around for four years, not knowing what this franchise was going to be up to and where it was going to be.

"It was a nice way to start the game, and obviously we responded. That first period, I thought we were on top of it. We were skating hard. We were in the right position and got a big goal, and that carried us through the rest of the game."

Defenseman Marc Staal scored a power-play goal to tie the game early in the second period for New York, which finished 26-18-4 last season.

Kyle Chipchura scored in the first period for the Coyotes, who were 21-18-9 last season and missed the playoffs after making the Western Conference finals the year before.

Martin Hanzal contributed two assists.

"The third (period), we have to play a lot better, obviously," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "We did some good things to get to 1-1, we just didn't sustain it and keep the momentum. The overall game, we weren't quite on."

Vrbata, who had 12 goals last season, recorded the franchise's first opening-night hat trick since Igor Korolev accomplished the feat for Winnipeg on Oct. 7, 1995, the Jets' last season before relocating to Phoenix.

NOTES: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the Coyotes' ownership group met the media before game. The league spent $140 million to rescue the team from bankruptcy in 2009. "In any case, the end result certainly made the journey worthwhile," Bettman said. ... Rangers captain Ryan Callahan (left shoulder) opened the season on the injured list while recovering from offseason surgery. Callahan, who had 16 goals last season, is expected to miss between two and four weeks, the Rangers said. ... Coyotes LW Paul Bissonnette served the first game of his three-game suspension in the season opener. Bissonnette originally was given a mandatory 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to join an altercation in a Sept. 13 exhibition game against the Los Angeles Kings, but the league reduced the suspension after determining Bissonnette took the ice legally. ... Because of renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers play their first nine games on the road this season, four in eight days in the Pacific time zone. Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim are next.
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