Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/23/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even before Coyotes captain Shane Doan's three-game suspension was handed down Wednesday, more than one player mentioned that the looming penalty just meant other guys needed to bring a little something extra. "At the end of the day, it's going to be a chance for other guys to step up coming down the stretch," left wing Raffi Torres said at the time. No one could have known it then, but "other guys" apparently meant "me," as Torres took it upon himself to help fill the void with a two-point game in the Coyotes' 3-2 win Thursday night over the Avalanche. "The guys knew they had to step up," coach Dave Tippett said. "We had some guys step up and take the minutes. That's what makes our team the way we are: We can find ways to do things like that." With Doan serving the first game of his suspension for an elbow to the head of Stars forward Jamie Benn on Tuesday, the Coyotes entered the final playoff push under the gun. Beating the Avalanche, who are also battling for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, was a huge first move. The two-point boost moved the Coyotes from ninth and out of the playoffs to tied for the Pacific Division lead (with the Kings at 86 points) and in -- for now. "We showed some character and grit with our captain out of the lineup," said goalie Mike Smith. "Obviously he's missed, but guys stepped up in his place tonight." Torres has come on strong of late, with goals in four of the previous seven games. Right from the start Thursday night, he set the tone for an aggressive attack. Just three and a half minutes into the game, Torres set up center Daymond Langkow for a goal amid three defenders just in front of the crease, the first time the Coyotes had scored first since March 10. Torres was initially credited with the goal, but further review gave Langkow the goal (his 10th of the season) and Torres the assist. No matter: Torres would get his goal, and it proved the difference-maker. A goal from center Kyle Chipchura near the end of the first period had given the Coyotes a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but that advantage wasn't as comfortable as it seemed against a Colorado team that entered the night hot, with wins in 11 of its last 15 games. Torres took to padding the Coyotes lead in the middle period. With 3:05 remaining in the second period, Torres controlled a rebound off Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov on the left side and fired the puck right back for his 16th goal of the season. "We're just keeping it simple," Torres said. "Just keep cycling pucks, keep using the back and eventually it's going to open up for you. If you keep working the (defense), they're going to fall apart." The third period brought a momentum shift, and the Coyotes watched their lead shrink as Colorado got physical. The Avalanche got third-period goals from centers Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stasny to cut their deficit to one. The Coyotes held on, though, making Torres' goal all the more important in hindsight. Torres' play of late, at a time when things have been especially tight, is exactly what the Coyotes expected when they acquired him in the offseason. They believed his physical style would provide a needed boost come this time of the season, and he's delivered. "He's shooting the puck hard, he's going to the net hard," Tippett said. "He's been a real valuable player for us. If you look at (Torres') history in the playoffs and late in the year, that's when he plays his best. That's what you're seeing right now." Torres' explanation of his recent surge accentuated his understanding that, in the thick of a playoff race, every shot has to matter. That's been the difference lately. "It's shooting to score and not just shooting to get pucks on the net," Torres said. "Trying to put pucks in the back of the net." Little did the Coyotes know when they brought him in that Torres' late-season surge would help make up for Doan's absence. With Doan out for two more games, though -- tough contests against San Jose and St. Louis -- Torres' performance will remain paramount. But he's not alone. Gilbert Brule, too, came up big Thursday with two assists. And Smith notched 39 saves for his 100th career victory. The Coyotes are far from secure in their quest for a playoff spot, but with Torres and the rest stepping up in their leader's absence, they couldn't have gotten off to a better start.
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