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27-23-2

Vrbata, Smith lead Coyotes past Stars 4-1

AP - Sports
Vrbata, Smith lead Coyotes past Stars 4-1
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Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle (3) celebrates his goal in the first period of an NHL hockey …

DALLAS (AP) The Phoenix Coyotes' playoff push is well under way.

Radim Vrbata scored his 25th goal, former Dallas backup Mike Smith made 28 saves and the Coyotes improved their playoff positioning with a 4-1 victory over the Stars on Tuesday night.

Vrbata gave Phoenix a 2-1 lead at 14:30 of the second period when he tapped Rostislav Klesla's centering pass by goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Keith Yandle, Raffi Torres and Derek Morris also scored for the Coyotes, who have won three straight and four of five - including Monday night's 3-1 home victory over Western Conference-leading Detroit.

Phoenix, playing its third game in four nights, improved to 58 points, good for an eighth-place conference tie with Minnesota. The Wild lost at Columbus 3-1 earlier Tuesday night.

''When you look at the standings, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 teams want to go (to the playoffs),'' said Vrbata, who added an assist. ''So, we've battled.''

The Coyotes and Stars began the night tied for ninth in the conference.

''This was a tight game and points we had to have against a team we wanted to leapfrog in the standings,'' said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, once coach of the Stars. ''Our guys came out and played accordingly.''

Michael Ryder scored for the Stars, who had been off since Saturday night's 2-1 shootout win over Minnesota.

Yandle got the Coyotes on the board first when his shot from the point slid past a screened Lehtonen at 4:43 of the opening period for his seventh goal of the season.

Yandle went to the locker room in the third after taking a puck to the knee and did not return.

Ryder notched his 19th on a wrister from the right circle at 2:34 of the second to tie it at 1.

Lehtonen made the save of the night 18 seconds after Ryder's goal, denying Ray Whitney from close range with a sprawling glove stop.

Dallas generated four shots during a 4-minute power play midway through the second period while Phoenix's Mikkel Boedker was serving a double-minor for high-sticking, but Smith had little trouble stopping all four.

''Our guys got enthused by that kill,'' Tippett said. ''We used that as a momentum-builder. I thought from there, we took the game over.''

Lehtonen, who finished with 20 saves, was struck in the mask by a shot from Phoenix's Adrian Aucoin just more than 2 minutes into the final period. Lehtonen was stunned for a few seconds, but stayed in the game.

Torres scored his ninth of the season from the left circle at 5:41 of the third period. Morris' first at 16:09 provided the Coyotes with a three-goal pad.

The Stars have ridden Lehtonen's strong goaltending to stay on the fringe of the playoff race, but Tuesday night's effort was one of their worst of the season.

''Awful, atrocious. I don't know,'' Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray said. ''We've gotten by on a really good goaltender our last three or four games and it's just not good enough. We can talk about it and try to figure it out and point fingers, but really as a whole, we've really been letting ourselves down, especially as important as this stretch of games is and what it means.''

NOTES: Dallas LW Brenden Morrow (upper-body injuries) missed his ninth game this season and the team captain is expected to sit out at least two more. ... The Coyotes are without D David Schlemko (foot). ... Ryder scored his first goal at home since Jan. 3. ... Dallas won two of the first three meetings with Phoenix this season, both in shootouts. ... The Coyotes said Yandle is day-to-day.

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