Though the Phoenix Coyotes are not mathematically eliminated from postseason play, their hopes seem to hang on a thread.
Locked with the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, both the Stars and Coyotes have four games remaining. Coming into play Tuesday night, the Stars hold a one point standing edge but should the teams end with the same number of standing points, Dallas gains the final spot because of the tiebreaker.
That’s why the final four games are so imperative to the Coyotes.
If the recent past is any indication, they will likely have a difficult time leap-frogging past Dallas and play in The Second Season.
There remains one factor or consequence which will likely determine the Coyotes’ fate and it's their lack of scoring.
“We need our top nine forwards to step forward here in the last week,” said coach Dave Tippett after the Coyotes lost in a 3-2 shootout to Edmonton last Friday night. “We need more from these players.”
Tippett referred to the Coyotes top three lines, and combined, they scored one goal in their last four games. As a team, the Coyotes have scored just three goals in their last four contests and have withered away an opportunity to push for that final playoff spot.
In their last game Friday against the Oilers at home, Tippett put together the lines of Martin Hanzal between Radim Vrbata and Lauri Korpikoski, Antoine Vermette between Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan, and Mike Ribeiro between Brandon McMillan and David Moss.
In the shootout loss to Edmonton, goals came from defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kyle Chipchura, the Coyotes’ fourth-line center.
Now, the Coyotes face an even more critical segment in their schedule. The specter of elimination hangs like a noose and Tippett, the most successful coach in Phoenix history, stands on the precipice of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Not only do the Coyotes need to elevate their game rather quickly, but they face, on Tuesday night, an equally desperate team.
Opening a two-game road trip Tuesday in Columbus, the Blue Jackets are battling for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Coming into play Tuesday, they hold the final postseason slot but must play four games in four cities within a span of 99 hours. Should they falter, the Devils, Leafs and Capitals are breathing down their necks.
The task for Phoenix appears just as daunting.
With those four games remaining, the Coyotes are in Columbus Tuesday night, in Nashville Thursday night and return home to close out their season with San Jose on Saturday night and the Stars Sunday night.
For Dallas, they are home to play Nashville on Tuesday night, at home for Columbus on Wednesday night, home to St. Louis on Friday night and in Phoenix Sunday night.
Their game with Columbus is unusual at best.
That was the game where the Jackets held a 1-0 lead about seven minutes into the contest and Stars’ forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench. At that point, the game was called.
According to NHL rules, the contest becomes suspended at the point and replayed in its entirety. Yet, the Jackets’ goal stands and when the game is begins, all 60 minutes to play, Columbus holds a 1-0 advantage from the opening puck drop.
Whether that gives the Coyotes an edge is room for speculation. Yet, one thing is certain.
If the Coyotes are serious about a playoff run here in the final days, the offense must pick up and score.
“I mean, it’s obviously going to be a lot harder to get in now,” said Ekman-Larsson after the Edmonton game. “We just have to focus on the next game and do whatever we can to win.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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