True to coach Dave Tippett's forecast all season, the race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference could come down the final game, or perhaps a final shift.
Despite setting a franchise record for consecutive 40 game-winning seasons, the Coyotes, with three games to play, have nothing to show for a creditable season. In fact, the campaign comes down to its three games, and the one directly ahead looms the greatest.
At this point, the Coyotes and L.A. Kings are tied for the fourth spot in conference standings, each with 96 standing points, and each with three games remaining. Yet, the Kings have 45 wins and Phoenix has 42, and if these two clubs end the season in a tie, L.A. gets fourth place in the conference, and home ice in the opening round, by virtue of more victories.
Vancouver has clinched the President's Trophy with most points in the league, and San Jose and Detroit have earned Western Conference playoff spots.
When they lost to Colorado on April 1 in a shootout, the Coyotes clearly lost valuable ground. Sure, they gained a point in the standings, but to many players, a win was clearly at hand.
"We had some opportunities, but we weren't good enough in the first period," said captain Shane Doan. "We did get better but should have won it in regulation. Now, we get a few days off, practice hard and get ready for L.A."
After the Kings game, Phoenix concludes the season with San Jose in a home-and-home set. The teams play Friday April 8 at Jobing.com Arena and then tangle at HP Pavilion the next night. Meanwhile, the Kings finish the season with a home-and-home set with Anaheim.
For now, as they have done all season, the Coyotes will rely on the strength of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. One weakness of Bryzgalov is a penchant for giving up goals early in games, so the Coyotes need to be strong in the L.A. end.
Upon more than once occasion, the 30-year-old has put his team in a come-from-behind situation by giving up easy goals. Conversely, Bryzgalov has been brilliant at times, and the Coyotes will definitely count heavily on his effort.
"Before I got here, I had my eye on (Bryzgalov)," Tippett said. "He's top notch, and we rely on him."
If there's one aspect of the game which may be of some concern, it's the Coyotes' lack of a sniper. No player has reached 20 goals for the season, and Doan leads with 19. Lauri Korpikoski, who missed the three games with an upper back injury, and Radim Vrbata each have popped in 18 goals.
Keith Yandle continues among leaders in scoring by defenseman. Coming into the Colorado game April 1, the Boston native was third among defensemen, and trailed only Lubomir Visnovsky of Atlanta and Nicklas Lidstrom in scoring points.
BACK ON THE ICE
The Coyotes hope to get defenseman Ed Jovanovski back in time for the final three games. Jovanovski missed the last 20 games following surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone in left eye. He last played Feb. 17 at home against Atlanta. Earlier this season, Jovanovski recorded the first hat trick by a defenseman in franchise history when he scored three at home against Tampa Bay Oct. 30.
Tippett said he expects Korpikoski and Tyler Pyatt, out with a lower back injury, back in the lineup for the L.A. game. Forward Martin Hanzel, out since March 5 with a lower back injury, is not expected back for the important final three games.