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Coyotes focused on final 2 games, despite slim playoff odds

Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes watches from the bench during the third period of the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Gila River Arena on February 16, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Maple Leafs 2-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes’ practice on Wednesday seemed, at least from the stands, business as usual.

That was not the case, however, in the dressing room on Tuesday night after the team’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, 3-1. That defeat dealt serious damage to the team’s playoff hopes, which now rest on Colorado losing twice and Arizona winning twice in the two teams’ final two games.

It’s somewhat of a long shot.

“Obviously, we have to take care of business on our end, but a lot can change in one day,” defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “We go into Vegas and win, Winnipeg goes into Colorado and wins that game, all of a sudden, Colorado’s going to San Jose and playing a good team in their home building and we have a home game against Winnipeg.

“I mean, there’s two games left, we’re still in it, so we’re thinking if we win them both, who knows?”

It’s a display of optimism by one of the Coyotes’ veteran players, just hours after a quiet and difficult reality sat in front of the Coyotes on Tuesday night: There is no more margin for error. The Coyotes are on the brink of elimination.

But they’re also two games — a measly 2.4 percent of their season — of winning and some good fortune from making the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.

So maybe that’s why, just like that, the gloomy mood on Tuesday night had seemingly changed mostly back to normal by Wednesday morning. There’s work to do.

“We were bummed out after last night’s game, it was pretty down in here and it’s frustrating,” Goligoski said. “We put ourselves in, obviously, a tough spot. But today it’s back to work. We’ve done a good job with that all year. The coaches are great with resetting the next day and we’re looking forward to Vegas.”

Next on the agenda is the Vegas Golden Knights at their place in Nevada on Thursday. The Coyotes are 1-1-1 against the Golden Knights this season, with the goal differential in the series favoring Vegas 10-8. The Golden Knights (43-30-7) have already clinched the third divisional playoff spot in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg — which happens to play Colorado and Arizona in its final two games — has more to play for. The Jets (46-30-4) have already clinched a divisional playoff spot, but they could clinch the division title in the Central before the season ends. They’re currently tied in points (96) with Nashville.

So, the Coyotes will be rooting for a Jets victory on Thursday before the Coyotes host those same Jets on Saturday.

“You can tell, last night guys were dejected and maybe some guys didn’t sleep well,” Tocchet said. “But here’s my thing: Like I said today, I thought we had a good practice and the energy was there. We’ve just got to win that game, and then we’ll have to scoreboard watch, obviously. We win and Winnipeg does their job for us, things get a little tighter.”

It helps matters that the Coyotes have faced seemingly insurmountable hurdles all year. They’ve had an uncanny amount of injuries to key players, including both of their goaltenders, a top-pairing defenseman, four centers, their best penalty-killing forward and many others.

“The attitude of this year has definitely helped us in these situations,” Tocchet said. “Whether you win or lose a game, coming back the next day and putting some work in. The overall team aspect, for sure.

“That’s really helped. Now, you’ve got to break away as individuals, we obviously need some guys to play better for us, but overall as a team, attitude, everybody’s coming in here with a good attitude.”

Puck drop for Thursday’s game in Vegas is at 7 p.m. You can hear the game on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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