INSIDE HOCKEY » Phoenix Coyotes http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Sat, 20 Sep 2014 02:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Bittersweet Win and a Lot of What-Ifs http://insidehockey.com/a-bittersweet-win-and-a-lot-of-what-ifs http://insidehockey.com/a-bittersweet-win-and-a-lot-of-what-ifs#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:25:10 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58172

Around this time last season the Phoenix Coyotes were unsure if they would be playing their final home games in the desert. They were also fighting for one of the final playoff spots before they were eliminated with just two regular season games to go in the shortened 2012-2013 season. This year it was all deja-vu with a little twist. With about seven games remaining the Coyotes had a chance to control their own destiny. They were five points ahead of the Dallas Stars for the final wild card spot and just a point behind the Minnesota Wild, whom they played for a chance to take over one of the top wild card spots.

Since that Minnesota game, the Coyotes not only forgot how to win, they also forgot how to score. Before the final game of the regular season against Dallas the Coyotes only managed seven goals in six games. With its poor scoring game huge gaps with chances in the net, being outshot tremendously and having enormous shooting droughts. Thomas Greiss, who took over for the injured Mike Smith, felt the pain his top goaltender went through from being dented by so many shots his defense would allow. Too many injuries also plagued the squad, especially near the end of the year watching most of the first and second line taking most of the hits. With all that combined, the Stars kept winning, and it only took less than a week for them to leapfrog and steal the last wildcard spot.

“We have been pretty good all year,” left winger Mikkel Boedker said. “The games we were leading by, especially in two goal games, we needed to find ways to close out. Losing our last few games down the stretch hurts and it piled up on us.”

Sunday’s game would have been a great chance to give its hopeful fans something to cheer for. Instead, it turned into a meaningless game that just under half of the arena’s capacity witnessed. Phoenix closed out the season 1-3-3, and all that they could have done was frustrating to witness. The final game of the season, in which the Coyotes were able to win over Dallas 2-1, would have been a game in which had playoff implications. Instead it was a victory that ended a bittersweet season.

“It’s obviously nice to win,” right winger Dave Moss said, who scored the game winning goal. “Every year after a season like this you look back and think of five to ten games off the top of your head where you had leads and you weren’t able to hold on. It’s unfortunate, but when you are one of those teams that are close it hurts.”

“Looking at this team, there is no way that we should have been out of the running,” captain Shane Doan said. “We had a lot of solid output from everyone, but we needed to find ways to score goals. We had a lot of close games and you always think things through.”

“I woke up awful early [Sunday] morning with a cup of coffee thinking how big this game could have been,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “It would have been so exciting to see what this game could have been. Instead it turned out to be a hollow game.”

Many Coyotes fans though can note a lot of the negative they had to swallow at the end of the regular season. But in all reality, a lot of the fans can agree that they would rather stress over fighting to keep their season alive rather than being in limbo to think that they had witness their very last Coyote game. Anthony LeBlanc, the Coyotes co-owner, had done its job to make sure that the team was to make a deal with the city of Glendale and give it at least five more years to make profit. They still finished last in attendance, but the team had managed to keep its average attendance over 13,000 for the second year in a row. More concerts popped up in the arena, and Westgate Center has looked more alive with new restaurants and entertainment centers. Even with a missed chance at making the playoffs, the owners had done all that they could to produce new life to a city that was about to kick them to the curb but in all reality desperately needed them.

This season did finish with a lot of what-ifs. Take for example the butt goal in Buffalo and the phantom goal in Toronto that cost them at least two points. What about failing to do its job in the third period giving up leads and losing 13 times? Losing Shane Doan to the mysterious Rocky Mountain Fever gave the team another huge blow, but to allow the team to say it was a complete dissapointment is not real fitting. This will be the first season in many that the Coyotes can panic about personnel, fixing up their roster, and making big time moves without worrying if they will be dressing in Sedona Red for another year.

“It’s been a long time for it to happen,” long time Coyote Doan said. “I’m real excited to know that we are away from not having to deal with that.”

Still, the Phoenix fan base is very picky, and it is spread out to all of its professional teams. Take for example the Arizona Cardinals, a team that historically is one of the worst professional franchises. Back in 1999, the Cardinals at the time were the only team to share a venue with a college team. On the verge of moving to most likely Los Angeles, the county was able to narrowly vote on building a stadium solely for them. Its fan base grew for the first few years, but it has them since fluctuated even with a small Super Bowl run in 2008. The Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks have also had its shares of recent frustration, and even their loyal fans have slowly dwindled. Sure there are times in which their arenas see hikes in attendance, but usually it comes from their opposing teams, especially from teams coming from Los Angeles.

Phoenix is safe after this season, but its contingent on what they do in the offseason in order to get over the hump that plagued the end of their campaign. There will be a lot of rebuilding and the team has a lot of potential to improve, but now the team has a lot more time to be serious about what needs to change to make sure that these mistakes become minimal.

“The way I look at it we have some real good young players coming,” Tippett said. “We are going to do a lot of reevaluation over the summer to see what players from our affiliates can play at our level, take a look at any free agents who we may want to re-sign. As an organization, you look at all aspects at how you want to get better.”

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PHOTO GALLERY: Coyotes @ Blue Jackets 4/8/14 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-coyotes-blue-jackets-4814 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-coyotes-blue-jackets-4814#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 10:25:37 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58066

The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in OT Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH.  (Inside Hockey – Rachel Lewis)

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From Riches To Rags In A Week http://insidehockey.com/from-riches-to-rags-in-a-week http://insidehockey.com/from-riches-to-rags-in-a-week#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 01:11:03 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58016

When a team is ahead by a considerable margin in any kind of standings, the one that is up just needs to try and find ways to maintain it. Phoenix worked so hard during their final long road trip, beating three potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference and put themselves five points ahead of Dallas about a week ago. They had returned home to play three of the next four at Jobing.Com Arena starting with a Minnesota Wild team they could leap over in the standings.

Instead of getting the job done, they have now dug themselves in a very deep hole.

Lets start with the game against the Minnesota Wild. Sure they were ahead going into the third period 1-0, but no team can win games if they can’t find ways to balance their attack. They were held shot less for nearly an entire period. Thomas Greiss constantly had to bail the team out as he was beaten up throughout the third period, watching his defense allow easy takes to the net. Minnesota took advantage and scored three goals in the final frame to win 3-1.

The Winnepeg Jets were next, and it was nearly the same story line. A rather strong second period wasn’t carried over, as they were only able to take seven shots in the final third period and overtime. Winnepeg was also on the offensive front, but all they needed was Andrew Ladd’s shootout goal to prevail in a 2-1 victory. Phoenix was able to manage to get a point, but during those last two games, their five point lead in the standings was cut short from Dallas quickly as they took over the final spot.

Things didn’t get any better against the Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick was hardly touched, making just 17 saves while his team little by little picked at the Coyotes defensive collapse. Everything came easy for Los Angeles, and a 4-0 loss did not allow any movement in the standings.

So now, a chance to do some damage awaited them last night when Edmonton came in. The Oilers, who are last place in the Western Conference, were just what the Coyotes needed in order to gain some ground with the Stars idle. They certainly played much better for the first 59 minutes, controlling the puck, finding chances to finally get some scoring, and build some confidence. It was until Greiss misplayed a puck behind the net with the Oilers flooding the back side. Greiss tried to clear it, but Sam Gagner got in front of the clearing puck and knocked it into the empty net. That goal not only stole a point from the Coyotes, as they did manage to lose 3-2 in a shootout, but it summed up what kind of week they have had.

“In this league, mistakes come to bite you,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “When you don’t get enough on the other end, you try to overcome some of those mistakes. I felt like our intentions [against Edmonton] were good, we just couldn’t get anything done. There were times like we looked like a very slow team.”

“Simply put, we let a point slip away,” forward Kyle Chipchura said. “We did have it with 40 seconds left, but even before that they still had some solid chances. Our execution was not there early and we didn’t find a way to snag that extra point.”

So what kind of story line have you seen throughout the month? Take for example your top forwards on the team on a major scoring drought. Each of their top scorers (Martin Erat, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, and Mike Ribeiro) have each scored either three goals or less in the last 16 games.

“”It’s a struggle, because we’re not getting many chances from those guys either,” Tippett said. “We’re not getting many power plays right now, where they were getting their points. That’s an area that we have to continue to address, and we have to try to squeeze more out of those guys.”

What about taking the fact that third period leads seem to vanish in an instant? Sure the team is in the middle of the pack when leading after two periods with a .750 winning percentages, but they are one of three teams that have 10 or more losses when ahead around that time. Or is it just simply what happened in the last four games write out what has been the storyline for the Coyotes all year?

Phoenix is ahead in the wild card standings by one point, but they don’t have another game until Tuesday. Dallas is traveling in the Sunshine State taking on Tampa Bay and Florida this weekend. It will be hard not to scoreboard watch, but with most of their fate out of their hands, all they can hope for is a chance with four games to go and a very crucial date with the Stars the last game of the year.

“You sit in eighth place right now and you’ve got Dallas playing two on the weekend. Obviously, you watch those scores. That’s just the way it is,” Tippett said.

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Coyotes Falter, and Kings Capitalize http://insidehockey.com/coyotes-falter-and-kings-capitalize http://insidehockey.com/coyotes-falter-and-kings-capitalize#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:51:18 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57981

How important was the game Wednesday night between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings in LA? By one measure, pretty important. That was the TV coverage, which saw the teams featured on NBC Sports Network. That it was a 7:30 start probably meant that most East Coasters were about to head to bed right around faceoff time, but no matter. The feeling that the game mattered was something.

On the other hand, those in the LA area whose cable systems demand extra money for the premium channels might have been a little peeved. No matter, the building was full, as it has been every night for nearly as long as anyone can remember.

There were hardly any “foreigners,” ie, fans of the opposite team, in the house. Over the past little while, especially with the Kings having played the Canadian teams, that’s been the phenomenon. But had there been, any hopes they might have had that the Coyotes came to play, roaring out to an early lead, would have evaporated, and the Kings were the ones scoring off of the puck drop. Aside from tiny dogs, I have no idea what Coyotes eat, but this pack wasn’t at all hungry, by the evidence of their play.

Thing is, Phoenix came into the game tied with Dallas in points for the last spot in the Western playoff seedings, but with one more game played, and thus out of it in ninth. In other words, they had to win this one just to stay even if Dallas wins its next. But they had no urgency about them. Now, they had played the night before, at home, and traveled to Wednesday’s game after that. The Tuesday game, by the way, produced an overtime loss, and thus a point. But they had lost the one before that, and the six games preceding the LA contest, had seen two wins, two OT losses, and two outright losses. That’s hardly the kind of performance that might be needed down the stretch in a conference whose two lowest playoff seeds would both be in 6th in the East.

Another way to say it—Phoenix came into the night with 85 points and six games remaining. They could thus top out at 97 points, and many think that 95 is the only sure way to make the post-season. They thus had absolutely no room for error.

But they made one early on, and LA was leading on a steal by Carter that was fed to Tanner Pearson less than two minutes in. The play came when Carter grabbed a puck outside the blueline and worked it into the zone, then slid it across to the youngster, who notched his third goal of the season on a one-timer from one knee.

The game was only so interesting after that until the third, so here’s something other than the non-action on the ice to think about: the Kings’ lineup seems to have solidified in advance of the playoffs, a good thing. But what it is, at least in terms of the forward combos, is a bit bizarre.

The first two trios are put together to score. Duh—what else would they do? Well, not often can it be said that this team has its head wrapped around the need to score more than the need to defend. So to see Toffoli, Pearson, and Carter combining, and Kopitar, Gaborik, and Williams also, is nice.

But behind them is a third line, and fourth one too, that just don’t add up to fit any formula familiar to hockey fans.

Here are the personnel: on line three, Jordan Nolan, Brown, and Stoll. Here’s why that’s weird—Brown is the captain and a first- or second-liner most of the time. Nolan is more or less a fourth-liner. Stoll is the only one who fits into the framework of the checking center who is happier shutting someone else down than scoring himself.

The fourth line is Richards, Clifford, and Trevor Lewis. Why does that make no sense? What the heck are you asking for? I just said Mike Richards is a fourth-line player. He of the 41 points in 71 games coming in. The guy who scores at about a two-thirds a point per game clip over his career, which would put him at about sixty for the year most years. He who had more than thirty goals twice with the Flyers, but whose goal production has gone down steadily since he came to LA.

Aha. There’s the thing. This offense-killing system of Sutter’s has caught up with this player, and he has suffered a demotion because of it. Just for the history of it, note that his goals last year, 12 in 48 games, are thus far more than he’s had (11) in 77 games this season.

Trevor Lewis might be a prototypical fourth-line player, but as a useful faceoff man and a guy who can shadow and pester the opposition and who is almost always really low in terms of penalty minutes despite having to take care of other team’s faster players, he’s a third-liner in the classic mold. And that leaves only one guy on the fourth line who probably ought to be there. Pity Mr. Clifford, or don’t, but he’s got three goals this year, he’s the team’s designated meathead, and if he weren’t playing hockey, it’s unlikely he’d be a high school math teacher. Just saying.

So what’s Sutter doing? Perhaps he’s punishing Richards for something. Perhaps he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that a third line needs to be a checking line made up of the best players available for the job, and indeed, the Kings have done quite well with whatever scheme he’s cooked up to limit other teams’ goal scoring. Not that the goalie doesn’t have anything to do with that. (Like the double-neg there?)

Little of this had anything to do with the listless performance of the Coyotes in this crucial game. The Kings were outshooting them by a factor of almost double after two periods (22-12), and leading 2-0. But it could have been four-zip, and the Kings had an excellent chance on the power play, with a slapshot by Slava Voynov coming through for a save by goalie Thomas Greiss and then the rebound being slammed into his pads by Justin Williams.

Later in the second, Jeff Carter picked up a puck at center and zoomed past a defender to his right and in on net. He deked and shot, and Greiss went with him right to left and got the right pad down to make the save. He was well out on top of the crease at the time. It was lovely to see, but not a great portent for the Coyotes.

The team got no better in the third, putting a pathetic five shots on goal to record their worst total of the year, 17. The Kings, meanwhile, had ten and scored twice more. It was an energized crowd, used to the LA team’s stingy ways on both offense and defense, which really enjoyed the show.

Afterwards, Coach Dave Tippett was glum but willing to explain the events. “We gave up a goal early and got chasing the game, and that probably wasn’t the ideal circumstance to put ourselves in. In the first period we hung around it, but we just couldn’t get anything to go our way. We had a couple of chances that we thought we could . . . get ourselves back in the game, find something.” He later said that they were not good on the power play, “It’s kind of dried up a little bit.” The team had only two chances with the extra man, but they gave up four. The Kings scored both their second and fourth goal on the power play.

Player Keith Yandle had much the same to say. “You’ve got to have a short memory. We’ve got to come back Friday . . . and get two points, that’s for sure. You can’t blame this on the turnaround.” He continued to say that they lost the specialty teams game and that “you hope that you can get the first goal or get something going early,” but when that didn’t happen, “We were still in the game. I thought we played alright, but it’s one of those things where we couldn’t find a way to get to the net. When Quick sees the puck, he’s going to save it, and we didn’t do a good job of getting to him.” He explained the low shot totals by saying, “They did a good job obviously blocking us out.”

The team now has five remaining. Edmonton is in Arizona on Friday. Then the Coyotes find themselves in Columbus and Nashville. Then it’s home for San Jose and Dallas. A pretty tough road, and if Martin Hanzal is right, “We’ve got five games left. We know how important these points [are], and we’ve got to make sure we carry the rest and get in.”

The Kings, meantime, are playing San Jose, then Vancouver, then Calgary and Edmonton back-to-back, and then home for a final tilt with Anaheim in what could be a playoff preview.

Twitter @growinguphockey

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Greiss To the Rescue http://insidehockey.com/greiss-to-the-rescue http://insidehockey.com/greiss-to-the-rescue#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 12:35:41 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57695

It was a partly cloudy, yet frigid day in Manhattan on Monday, March 24, 2014. The Coyotes were in town to take on the New York Rangers to begin a crucial three game road trip that involved three teams vying for playoff position. With the score tied at two with roughly seven minutes to play, Derrick Brassard of New York gets tangled up with Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, falling on top of his right leg backwards against his pads. As Brassard got up, Smith laid on the ice in agonizing pain. All the Coyotes could do was to sit and watch what could have potentially been an injury that changed their season.

“Mike Smith is no doubt our best player,” Kyle Chipchura said. “It is a big loss, but we need to pick up and trust our crew to step up.”

Thomas Greiss came in to replace Smith. Greiss had a 3-2 lead coming in, but that quickly turned around when he gave up goals to Dan Giardi and Ryan McDonagh in the final three minutes and overtime. The Coyotes ended up losing 4-3, but a 2-0 lead was erased yet again.

“The thing we talked about after the first period is we know they’re coming hard. You have to push back,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “When we come out and turn pucks over and don’t compete physically, it allows the other team to turn it.”

So Phoenix went without their starting goalie, hoping that Greiss can help at least hand the team a few more points starting with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had beaten them earlier in February 3-1, but Mike Smith was in front of goal and made 24 saves in a 3-1 victory. Greiss was going to start anyway avoiding a back-to-back start, but in a game where points are valuable, they could not afford to fall back.

It seems like Greiss took lessons from Smith as save after save his poise and position got so much better after a sloppy first period. Greiss let in two goals in the first, but managed to make 15 more saves the rest of the game, and a goal by Mikkel Boedker gave the Coyotes not only a 3-2 win and a series sweep of the Penguins, but two more valuable points that increased the gap from the Dallas Stars.

“I thought we were solid,” Tippett said. “For the most part, it was a hard road game. Greiss made some saves when he had to. I thought our compete level was very good tonight, and it allowed us a chance to win.”

A win over the Penguins also eased the pain forgetting that Smith was gone as they can only hope to sit around and wait as he was thankfully listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.

“Last night is obviously heartbreaking for us,” defenseman Michael Stone said. “I thought we played a good game. We just couldn’t close, but tonight we managed to do that. So, that’s just building our confidence.”

But now with a date with the New Jersey Devils, a team that sits a few points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild card spot, the Coyotes needed to close out the road trip on a high note. Sadly, another two goal lead midway through the second period was erased with Greiss allowing two goals within 10 minutes. But shot after shot against Greiss came save after save. He was flexible, acrobatic, taking every beating within the last five minutes and overtime. The Coyotes offense was quiet up until the shootout, with a shootout goal by Mikkel Boedker. Greiss made three incredible saves when Phoenix could not slip another one past Martin Brodeur. Another 3-2 win closed out the road trip, but more importantly, it gave them a five point cushion over the Stars.

“It’s huge,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “We were disappointed obviously that we got that lead in the Rangers game with three minutes to go. We’d like to get those points. But we didn’t trail on the entire trip. We were able to find ways to get points on this trip.”

This now completely changes the playoff picture. While it is still not a guarantee that Phoenix will make it, they were able to now reach within one point from the Minnesota Wild for the first wild card spot. The Wild are in town this Saturday, but this now turned into a game with heavy playoff implications to quite possibly jumping over another team. All the Coyotes want to do is make the playoffs, but a chance to do even more damage would be great for a team that missed out from the year before.

“Our game, playing well, will get us one of those spots,” Tippett said. “If we play the way we can and the way we hope to; we just want to get ourselves in the playoffs.”

All the team asks for is for the fans to pack the house.

“It’s gonna be as close as playoffs as we can get,” Boedker said. “It’s in our building, so it’ll be good to play at home in front of our fans.”

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Resilient Rangers Rebound, Clip Coyotes http://insidehockey.com/resilient-rangers-rebound-clip-coyotes http://insidehockey.com/resilient-rangers-rebound-clip-coyotes#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 03:36:05 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57806

NEW YORK – It was gut-check time for the Rangers.

After twenty minutes, they trailed 2-0 following a subpar opening period. But at this time of the season, with teams scratching and clawing for every point they can get, the mental side of the house must be just as in order as the physical side.

Perhaps in November, the team closes up shop, doesn’t take the extra energy to battle back and force the action. But this isn’t November, it’s March. This isn’t the 10th game of the season, it’s the 73rd.

Monday night, the Rangers (40-29-4) got what they came for in a 4-3 comeback victory in overtime over a desperate Coyotes team (34-26-12) hanging onto a Western Conference playoff spot by a thread.

“We’ve scored some big goals in the last two months, where in the first [part of the] year it went the other way and we’d seem to lose handle of games when we get down early,” said Brad Richards, who scored the Rangers’ first goal just over six minutes into the second period. “It was tough tonight, they took the building right out of it, it was quiet; we had to gain momentum back. We just battled at it, and kept believing in what we were doing.”

This isn’t a time for feeling sorry for yourself. It’s a time for galvanizing the group together towards one common goal.

The Rangers trailed 2-0 after the first period, and had won just four times this season when trailing after 20 minutes. They tied the game with two goals in less than five minutes, before losing the lead again with 3:09 remaining in the second.

“Down the stretch here, every game is important,” said Ryan McDonagh, who scored the overtime winner at 1:56, slotting home the rebound of Dan Girardi’s shot from the point. “I like how we’ve been taking it period-by-period here, and not looking at the big picture. Just focusing on us, and focusing on finding ways to get points in games.”

In the third period, the Rangers kept coming, outshooting the Coyotes 12-4. But the goals didn’t come, even after goaltender Mike Smith (25 saves) was forced to leave the game with a lower-body injury. On the second shot faced by backup Thomas Greiss (seven saves), Girardi tipped home McDonagh’s point shot, tying the game and sending the Garden crowd into hysterics.

“I didn’t really know what to do,” Girardi said. “I just kind of turned around and started screaming, looking for anyone to come at me. I don’t make it down there too often, it was nice to get one from down there.”

“We talked about winning the second, and then we talked about winning the third period. We didn’t, obviously, execute the way we needed to in that first period,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We found a way tonight. We were probably not as high as we normally are emotionally, and physically on the ice it took us a while to get going, but we found a way.”

Girardi’s goal set the stage for McDonagh’s heroics, as he got to the front of the net for the rebound that sent the Rangers into second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Flyers, who lost in regulation to the Kings and come to the Garden for a crucial matchup Wednesday night.

“I don’t know where we’d be without that pair,” Richards said of McDonagh and Girardi. “It’s fun to be out there with them, you know they’re down around the net, or [McDonagh’s] always jumping into different areas. Four-on-four especially, with Mac’s speed, he has no problem getting down there because he can pretty much beat anyone back.”

“It was a tough test for us in this game, a couple of times,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 18 saves in the win. “We showed so much character, and we sat here a week ago talking about playing really well but not finding ways to win. The last seven, eight days we’re doing that. We’re finding different ways to win hockey games. That’s all that matters right now.”

The night started with cheers, when Lundqvist was honored by the team for his franchise-records 302nd career win and 50th career shutout. His parents joined him on the ice, as did Hall of Famers Mike Richter and Ed Giacomin, who have both had their numbers retired by the organization.

Lundqvist was presented with a photo collage of his work with the in-house charity, the Garden of Dreams foundation, a customized mask, and a guitar.

“Just to experience that, and what the Rangers did for me tonight, I’ll never forget it,” Lundqvist said after the game. “I’ve been saying it for years, they’ve taken care of me so well since I’ve gotten here. What they did for me tonight was so special, for me to get an opportunity to share that with my parents, my wife, and kid, it was hard not to get emotional. You see your mom cry when she walks out there, it was just a very special moment in my career.”

NOTES:

With the win, Lundqvist ties Billy Smith for 24th on the NHL’s all-time wins list at 305.

The Rangers won their 40th game of the season, the first time in franchise history they’ve had seven 40-win seasons in a nine-season stretch.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

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Where Every Point Matters http://insidehockey.com/where-every-point-matters http://insidehockey.com/where-every-point-matters#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:31:12 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57693

How hard is it when you are 12 games away from ending your season and you are on the cusp of snagging one of the last few wild card spots for the NHL playoffs? Or what about knowing that the more games that you win, you have a legitimate shot of even taking of the top three spots in your division?

Ask the Phoenix Coyotes, who just about a week ago they were one point away from the final wild card spot in which the Dallas Stars occupied. All that had changed starting with last Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. Things began to look bleak when they entered the third period down 3-2 and only three shots were taken on goal in the second. Even worse, the Kings then were 21-0-0 when leading after two periods this season and 126-1-11 since April 2009. Of course when you play the odds and a Coyote team who recently has crumpled late in games, one would think the Kings would take this.

Then Keith Yandle gave them hope, knocking a slap shot through from the top of the bule line that tied up the game. Minutes later, Jeff Halpern slaps another one to Quick, who at first made a diving stick save. After a stoppage of play, the referees reviewed determining the save happened just after the puck crossed the goal line. The Coyotes were awared the goal, and later two points putting them ahead of Dallas. It was a hard earned victory in a city that has not been to kind.

“I know how good they are here,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “They’ve got such a great blue line and they’ve got so many good forwards. Obviously, their record is pretty much perfect. So it was big for us to find points, even in regulation.”

Even ask Mike Smith, who yet again was pounded in front of the goal making 36 saves while under the weather.

“There is no time for feeling down,” Smith said. “Yes I was sick, but there were more important business to take care of. Believe me, it felt good to be out there to help the team.”

A win in Los Angeles was not only big in beating their rivals, but understanding that points are more valuable as the season winds down, the intensity has started to build.

“We were in dire straits going into the third,” Doan said. “And the fact that you’ve got to find points every night. You’re down to 13-14 games left. It was big.”

Even after the win against Florida on Thursday, the Coyotes all throughout their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have developed a theme: #everypointmatters. Everyone has noticed how much better the team has gotten, including Dave Tippett, who has been waiting to play with a healthy roster for a while.

“There have been a lot of little things that have fallen into place,” Tippett said. “No doubt that Smith has been our top player since the break. We have gotten healthy with Doan being a huge factor. We always talk about how our margin of error has gotten slim, and sometimes that error can be skewed a little bit by whether it would be scheduling or injuries. We have been trying to do so much good since the beginning of the year, but sometimes things work better than others.”

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Kings, Stars, and Minnesota Wild all played, while Phoenix had Boston in town. The Kings and Stars won their games, while Minnesota was the only team that gave the Coyotes a chance to gain some ground after losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Just a week ago, the Coyotes trailed early and quick, and that was one thing they wanted to avoid after learning their lesson.

“Boston is very patient,” defenseman Derek Morris said. “They don’t give you very much. When they do, they have a great goalie and [Tuuka] Rask to stop the puck. Last time when we were in Boston we had five point blank chances and he made some incredible saves. If you are going to get chances like that, you need to take complete advantage.”

The Coyotes took a 2-1 lead into the third thanks to Oliver Ekmann-Larrson’s power play goal wrist shot from Mikkel Boedker and Keith Yandle. Things changed quicky entering the frame with a slapshot by Jerome Iginla, notching it up 2-2. The hopes of a victory then ended with three minutes to go as Shawn Thornton broke the tie. An empty goal solidified a 4-2 victory.

The Coyotes didn’t get the win they desperately needed, but they currently are two points ahead of the Stars with now 11 games to play. One more long road trip lies ahead of them, taking on the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers. Every point does matter, but it doesn’t matter how they get them. Each game at this point they cannot afford to leave any arena empty handed with a few teams breathing down their necks.

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Rask, Balanced Attack Leads Bruins Past Yotes http://insidehockey.com/rask-balanced-attack-leads-bruins-past-yotes http://insidehockey.com/rask-balanced-attack-leads-bruins-past-yotes#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 13:19:11 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57280

Third line play is pivotal to Boston Bruins hockey. A team that rolls four lines, relies on balanced scoring and the ability to wear down an opponent’s defense, the third line is producing and the Bruins are rolling.

With Carl Soderberg now centering Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson, all three are playing at a high level. Kelly looks faster and stronger after the extended Olympic break, Eriksson looks more comfortable and confident in the Bruins system, and Soderberg, the most impressive of the three, really looks to be coming into his own as a North American hockey player.

On Thursday, in the second night of a back-to-back coming off a spirited win over their hated rival the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins dropped the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 on home ice.

Between the three-zone play and continued elite goaltending by Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, the Bruins sudden surge ensued.

Just over five minutes into the first period, it was Soderberg who dodged a Coyote in the neutral zone and gained possession in the offensive zone. Pressure from both he and linemate Loui Eriksson forced a brutal turnover from Keith Yandle, who set up Zdeno Chara with the perfect opportunity.

Chara skated to slot and ripped the perfect wrist shot by Mike Smith, giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

Just like their game on Wednesday in Montreal, the Bruins third line contributed to the crucial first goal lead.

Postgame, coach Claude Julien attributed much of the Bruins recent success to their commitment to the system; a full team buy in that translates consistency to winning.

“It’s pretty obvious when you play the number of games that you’ve played, and you look at the way you’ve played, there’s a pretty good commitment right now from our guys,” said Julien.

“Even tonight, you could see that maybe we were getting tired there at the end in the third, but I think they had about ten minutes of power plays, and a pretty good power play at that. So we had to use a lot of those same players over and over again, and that’s not usually a good sign, but Tuukka [Rask] was really good for us obviously tonight.”

After killing off a four minute high-sticking penalty to Jordan Caron, who in no way helped himself in return to game action due to the Daniel Paille concussion, the Bruins finished the period on a good note.

Jarome Iginla extended the Bruins lead to 2-0 after tipping home a Johnny Boychuk rocket from the point; and the Bruins spent much of their time in the Coyotes zone to finish off the initial frame. An impressive start considering the circumstances.

Julien praised his team’s ability to build off last night’s emotional victory with another good effort against a rested club.

“Certainly a good effort on a back-to-back night again, and everybody knows we came off of a pretty important game, in our minds, yesterday, about going out there and playing your game, and making everybody understand that it’s not so much the matchup [with Montreal] than it’s been our make-up. All that put together, I’m pretty pleased with our effort, and it’s not so much the streak. It’s the consistency, and the consistency leads into that streak that you’re seeing.”

Captain Chara agreed with his coach, reiterating the importance of a full team effort that allows for consistent play.

“We are finding a way to win games,” he said. “For sure there are areas that we need to improve, but we are just finding a way to win hockey games right now so that’s a big difference.  I mean when you look at it, every game we have somebody who is playing really huge for us.  For sure Tuukka is making big saves, but we have every game some line or somebody really stepping up and making big plays.”

The Coyotes made things interesting late in the third when the Bruins fatigue finally caught up to them.

Pounding shots on net and coming within inches of a tally, Phoenix all but tied things up late in the third period at the garden. The biggest scare came when Antoine Vermette threw a puck at a wide-open net, only to be denied by Soderberg who busted through and broke up the play.

“Yeah, I’m not sure if I got a piece of it,” said Rask postgame. “It kind of felt like my glove hit something but then Carl [Soderberg], well he was the one who passed it back, he got the rebound there. So I’m not sure if I saved it, but whoever saved it did a great job.”

Everyone contributed to Thursday night’s victory.

It’s honestly gotten pretty simple. Redundant. With everyone buying in, and chipping in, the Bruins are rolling at the right time of year. It’s a sprint to the postseason and along with the Pens, the Bruins are taking it to the Eastern Conference.  Blowing away the competition.

From goaltending, to defense, to depth in scoring, Julien once again has a Bruins team playing championship caliber hockey- further establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best head coaches.

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Coming Back the Way They Left http://insidehockey.com/coming-back-the-way-they-left http://insidehockey.com/coming-back-the-way-they-left#comments Sat, 15 Mar 2014 13:14:02 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56997

With the Phoenix Coyotes struggling to find wins before their road trip, their identity began fade away from the playoff picture. The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild have been picking up wins to keep ahead in the wild card race. This left the Coyotes desperate to find something during their four games away from home.

Things didn’t go the way they wanted to at the start. In fact, it seemed as if it was deja-vu all over again as they faced the Washington Capitals. Up 2-0 in the third period and seeming as if they had wrapped up the game, three goals in a span of five minutes for the Capitals crushed the hopes of the Coyotes in a 3-2 defeat.

“To win hockey games in this League, you have to pay the price to win them,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “In the critical times of the game we don’t pay the price to win. We have that and some of the issues with taking bad penalties in the third period, and it has caught up with us.”

Against St. Louis just this past Sunday it was the same scenario. With a two goal lead their defense shut down, putting Mike Smith to work. After a quiet first two periods, Smith had to face a period high 14 shots, allowing the Capitals to succeed.

“It seemed like we stopped playing the way we played in the first and the second periods,” right win Radim Vrbata said. “When you have a 2-0 lead going into the third, you have to find a way to win, and we didn’t.”

They needed to answer quickly as they headed down south to Florida facing Tampa Bay and Florida. While one team is vying to steal a final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the other is looking to rebuild for next year. Both games went in favor of the Coyotes, but in both games Smith had faced over 30 shots. The Coyotes were also wary of how to play out these two games as Tippett had to strategize on how to use his roster.

“We tried to play fast tonight; we put some young legs in the lineup tonight and they play fast,” Tippett said after the win against Tampa Bay “We are desperate for points. You never know how that will turn out, but it turned out alright for us.”

Against Tampa Bay, Mikkel Boedker was able to net one in for the first time since January 24. A player who has been around with the Coyotes all of his career has given him a boost to play much stronger on the ice.

“That was real important for my confidence,” Boedker said. “It feels good. It was coming for me tonight and that always feels good.”

The same goes for Vrbata. In fact, he has become one of the hottest players on the team, scoring four goals in the last five games and has helped the offense remain in games.

Then things change against the top team in the Eastern Conference, facing the Boston Bruins. Its defense tightened up during the third period, but taking shots seemed nearly impossible. Nothing flowed right all game long as the Coyotes only were able to muster 22 shots in a 2-1 defeat. Now the team returns home the way they left: on the outside looking in.

“Obviously, we need more points than we got, and .500 is not what we’re looking for,” Tippett said. “We’ve got to go home and regroup.”

A chance to regroup is possible with three of their next four games at home, two of which have losing records. On Saturday they return to face Calgary, a team that has still struggled in the valley this year. A quick trip to Los Angeles, arguably one of the hottest teams in the lead, is next on their list with home games against Florida and Boston to close out the week.

These games could set the tone to the final game of the year against the Dallas Stars. If the Coyotes still trade wins and losses on their schedule, chances are the last game in Phoenix could determine their fate for the playoffs.

News and Notes

Coyotes Charities will be hosting a Telethon this Saturday at Jobing.com Arena. All of the proceeds will help provide support for the Ronald McDonald house. For anyone that would like to make a donation, call (480) 563-7825. Fans who make a $50 donation will receive a signed puck and two free tickets to the March 20 game against Florida.

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Photo Gallery: Coyotes at Bruins (3/13/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-coyotes-at-bruins-31314 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-coyotes-at-bruins-31314#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 01:46:40 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=57273

The Boston Bruins beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 Thursday night in Boston.

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