GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata had just taken the ninth day of a 10-day penicillin regimen when the allergic reaction began. It was March 14, the first day of the Coyotes four-game road trip in Vancouver.
It was bad enough that Vrbata suffered through a painful and migrating rash that was exacerbated by perspiration and the lack of ventilation caused by his hockey equipment. But that wasnt the worst of it.
You wake up and you cant squeeze anything, said Vrbata, who experienced agonizing joint pain, swelling and severe cramps that forced him to miss five games. Your fist or your shoulder hurts, or your groin. It would feel good one day; the next you wake up with so much pain, and you dont know where it came from or how to get rid of it.
Vrbata wasnt 100 percent on Thursday when the Coyotes took the ice, but he took the ice nonetheless.
The Coyotes are happy he did.
Phoenixs leading goal scorer broke out of a 12-game scoring slump with his 31st and 32nd goals both on beautiful assists from Ray Whitney -- as the Coyotes climbed back into the playoff picture with an absolutely vital 2-0 win over the enigmatic San Jose Sharks at Jobing.com Arena.
"It's good to see him get back on the scoreboard, coach Dave Tippett said. The last couple weeks, it's been a struggle."
Tippett was talking about Vrbata, but he might just as well have been talking about his team. Following losses in four of their last six games, the Coyotes had fallen out of the playoff picture and into fourth place in the Pacific Division.
With five games remaining, they needed a sense of urgency and needed a win over the Sharks in the worst way. Tippett understood this, but he never had to deliver the message. It was apparent that his players also understood.
"I sensed it (Wednesday) in practice, Tippett said. Our preparation was excellent."
Maybe so, but the Coyotes still needed another superhuman effort from goalie Mike Smith, who turned aside all 38 shots he faced to post his third shutout against San Jose in six meetings this season.
Fifteen of those shots came in the first period, with the Sharks desperate to forge an early lead and sit on it after playing a hard and tight-checking game the night before in Anaheim.
He was phenomenal, said captain Shane Doan, who returned to the lineup after a three-game suspension for elbowing Stars forward Jamie Benn in the head. Both goalies were big, but he was unbelievable.
Doan also made his presence felt with four hits, but he admitted his mind wasnt completely right before the game.
"You dont want to be suspended again, but you dont want to overthink the game, because that actually gets you in more trouble and you start doing things you shouldnt do," said Doan, who admitted that striking a balance was difficult. Right after it happens I guess it is, but you get back to being used to it, hopefully.
Forward Taylor Pyatt isnt quite ready to return to the lineup, but with Doan back, defenseman Adrian Aucoin back and Vrbata hopefully back (he was sore after Thursdays game), the Coyotes are nearly at full strength for the stretch run.
That is fortunate, because theyll need every hand on deck for the final four games. With Thursdays win, Phoenix moved back into a tie (in points) with Dallas for first place in the division, but the Stars and L.A. Kings both have games in hand, and the Kings have a favorable schedule.
The guess here is the Coyotes will probably need to beat the three non-playoff teams on their schedule Anaheim, Columbus and Minnesota to win the Pacific Division. It could take even more, but Thursdays win at least put the team in position for a special finish.
"It's got to be a momentum win that makes us hungrier for that next game," Tippett said.