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.