Ducks goaltender Dan Ellis stops a shot by Coyotes center Andrew Ebbett… (Lori Shepler / Associated…)
In a playoff scramble so tight that the slightest stumble can have lasting consequences, the Ducks made too many missteps Sunday.
They could have climbed to seventh in the wildly fluctuating Western Conference standings with a regulation victory over Phoenix. They would have been eighth if they'd won in overtime or a shootout.
Instead, they stayed stuck in 10th after a 5-2 loss to the Coyotes before sparse crowd of 14,326 at Honda Center, counting their regrets and errors.
"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman said, sighing.
The opportunistic Coyotes ascended to fifth, fueled by Ilya Bryzgalov's 36-save performance in net and two goals by winger Lauri Korpikoski. The Ducks remained two points behind eighth-place Calgary with two games in hand but can't be sure of winning those games after committing several inexplicable turnovers and getting a subpar goaltending performance by Dan Ellis that led Coach Randy Carlyle to summon Ray Emery for the third period.
Ellis didn't get much help, but he didn't come up with a big save when the Ducks needed one. "It just seemed like pucks found ways to get through him," Carlyle said delicately but accurately.
All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller remains out indefinitely while battling vertigo, though Carlyle said Hiller has skated for more than 40 minutes several days in a row and has been taking shots. Even if Hiller feels strong enough to practice all-out this week he'd need a few days to regain his timing, leaving the Ducks to rely on Ellis and Emery for now.
Emery, who underwent major hip surgery last April and signed with the Ducks as a free agent Feb. 7, stopped all nine shots at him in his first NHL appearance since Feb. 1, 2010. "I've been waiting to get into the net. I didn't want it to be under that circumstance," he said. "I got my feet wet. I tried to give the boys a chance to stick around in the game."
He entered the game with the Coyotes holding a 4-2 lead on the strength of two goals scored within 21/2 minutes late in the second period. The Ducks pelted Bryzgalov late in the third and pulled Emery to get a five-on-three advantage but the Russian goalie held off his former team and got breathing room when Shane Doan found the empty net with 42 seconds left.
"You're going to drive yourself crazy if you look at the standings that hard every day," Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett said after his team matched the fourth-place Kings with 83 points and moved a point ahead of sixth-place Dallas and seventh-place Chicago.
"We have the focus right now every game could be the game that puts you in the playoffs and we've got to play every game like it's a playoff game and we'll see where it works out in the end."
The Ducks scored the game's first goal, at 3:46 of the first period, when Corey Perry redirected a Bobby Ryan pass. The Coyotes matched that at 5:44, after Andreas Lilja turned the puck over and Taylor Pyatt zipped in to whip a shot past Ellis, and they surged ahead at 17:33. Poor defensive coverage and Lydman's broken stick allowed Korpikoski to skate in on the left wing and take a shot from the top of the left circle that apparently deflected off Ryan Getzlaf's leg.
The Ducks pulled even at 15:46 of the second period on Perry's power-play deflection of a shot by Cam Fowler but the Coyotes took over from there. The puck hopped over Todd Marchant's stick as he attempted a clearing pass and Korpikoski went around him and Lubomir Visnovsky to beat Ellis from close range at 16:47. David Schlemko made it 4-2 at 19:17 on a one-timer from the left circle that got through Ellis' legs.
"It's unacceptable at this time of the year," Marchant said of his mistake, also a precise summation of the Ducks' performance.