Phoenix Coyotes Must Learn How To Win Critical Games

Mark BrownContributor IMarch 27, 2011

Coyotes celebrate Mikkel Boedker's fourth goal of the season March 26 against the Sharks
Coyotes celebrate Mikkel Boedker's fourth goal of the season March 26 against the SharksChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Despite setting a franchise record for consecutive 40-win seasons, it's now time for the Phoenix Coyotes to raise their level of play.

If there is any result from a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks March 26, it is that the Coyotes must learn to elevate their game. Coming into the San Jose game at home, the Coyotes were two points behind the Sharks for the top spot in the NHL's Pacific Division. Now the margin is four, and the Sharks have a game in hand. Plus, the two teams engage in a home-and-home series the final two games of the season.

By the way, the Coyotes played against San Jose on March 26, the Sharks could have had the division crown wrapped up by that point.

"It was disappointing in that we did not leave anything on the ice," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after the San Jose game. "I didn't see enough desperation in this game."

For all his stellar work the past few weeks, Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov clearly was not sharp against San Jose. Leaving rebounds, the opportunistic Sharks capitalized on three goals from pucks left in front. Once Bryzgalov started to leave opportunities in the crease area, the Sharks smelled blood.

"We noticed (Bryzgalov) was not seeing the puck all that well," said the Sharks' Logan Couture, who recorded a three-point effort with two goals and an assist. "On a night like that, we just kept firing as many pucks at him as we could."

In the remaining two weeks of the regular season, the players know what's at stake, and the 16,394 at Arena on March 26 are keenly aware. The bottom line is that the Coyotes have not locked up a playoff spot. They could finish as qualifying for the Stanley Cup postseason or out of the playoff picture.

In games through March 26, the only Western Conference team to qualify for the playoffs was Vancouver. The Coyotes have 93 points, good for fourth in the conference and four points behind San Jose, leaders in the Pacific Division. They face Dallas next at Arena March 29 and the Stars on March 27, who are in 10th place in the conference. Dallas, with 86 points, is just two points behind eighth place Chicago, and three back of Anaheim.

Still, the players easily understand the urgency and their lack of quality play in the San Jose game.

"Every time you lose, it sucks," said Mikkel Boedker, who scored the lone Phoenix goal when he converted a Derek Morris shot into his fourth of the season and second in as many games. "All of us in the (locker) room, we have to come together, and just realize that we are a better team."

The Coyotes have five games remaining to make that point.

Ice Chips

The assist for Morris on the only Coyotes goal March 26 was the 300th assist of his NHL career.

The four goals allowed by Bryzgalov were the most he surrendered since giving up four on March 8 against Vancouver. He also allowed four in the previous game against the Red Wings on March 5. Both contests were at Arena.

After facing Dallas on March 28, the Coyotes finish the season at home with Colorado (April 1), at Los Angeles (April 6), home against San Jose (April 8) and at San Jose (April 9).