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Scratchin’ and clawin’ Coyotes beat LA to win 6 of 7 on homestand

Michael Grabner #40 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Brad Richardson #15 after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 09, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Kings 4-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In case you’ve missed it, the Arizona Coyotes have adopted a new mantra of late: “Scratchin’ and clawin’.”

Scratch and claw they have. In a Western Conference that has been flat for most of the season, seemingly everyone has played their best hockey recently as the playoff push intensifies. The Coyotes have kept up with the race.

In a seven-game homestand that ended Saturday in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Coyotes won six games, with the lone loss coming to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. That loss ended a six-game win streak for Arizona, which has now won 11 of its last 14.

“I asked the players two weeks ago — we talked about the importance of, first of all, we want people to come out and support us, and I think we accomplished a two-week run here of fans starting to believe in us with all the injuries and stuff like that,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “And guys are sticking to it.”

The Coyotes were outshot 36-32 on Saturday as Darcy Kuemper — who played all of the goaltending minutes for Arizona on the homestand — made 34 saves and improved to 22-15-5 on the season. He is now 9-1-0 in his last 10 starts.

Arizona nearly gave the game away Saturday, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period before LA would tie it. The Coyotes, of course, tacked on two more for the win.

“It was no Picasso tonight, I don’t think we were that great tonight, but we grinded it out,” Tocchet said. “Last year, we might have lost those games, but this is a game that you’re going to have and we grinded it out.”

But the team has played some of its better hockey recently, including picking up wins against playoff-bound Winnipeg and Calgary. The Flames have had the Coyotes’ number all season, but Arizona got an important win against them on Thursday.

They picked the right time to get hot.

With their win on Saturday, the Coyotes are now in third in the Western Conference wild card race, one point behind the Minnesota Wild, on whom Arizona has a game in hand.

“I don’t want us to put our chests out,” Tocchet said. “I want us to be confident, I don’t mind a little bit of a swagger, but we can’t rest. We can’t pat ourselves on the back. Hey, we gave ourselves a chance to get back in this race, and actually we control our own destiny, believe it or not. But we can’t rest.”

The Coyotes have 14 games remaining in the regular season.

“There’s 14 games. That’s a lot of games left. A ton of games,” Tocchet said. “You just can not rest for one minute. You have to bounce back after a bad period, you have to bounce back after a bad loss and you’ve got to stay humble after a win.”

Bounce back they did as Arizona lost to Anaheim on Tuesday but came back with a big win over then-first-place Calgary on Thursday. Then on Saturday, Christian Dvorak and Michael Grabner — who both recently came back from long absences due to injury — each scored two goals in the win over the Kings. One of Grabner’s goals was shorthanded.

“It’s a playoff atmosphere out there for us, like we’ve got to win every game, that’s how we look at it and it’s been a lot of fun,” Grabner said.

Grabner’s shorthanded goal gave him the NHL lead with five on the season and the Coyotes’ record for most in a season, doing so in only 26 games. An 82-game pace would be 15 for a season, which would be an NHL record.

He provided a big boost to the Coyotes to end their 6-1-0 homestand. Arizona entered the seven-game stretch with a losing home record of 11-14-3.

“I think honestly it started with that first [game],” defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “That first one was big and we kind of talked amongst ourselves. At the minimum we probably needed five of them, five of the seven, and we just needed to establish good hockey and we were able to do that and put ourselves in a great spot.”

Now, it’s time to take the winning ways on the road.

“We’re playing good hockey,” Goligoski said. “We’re in every game, we’re closing games out, we’re getting great goaltending, we’re getting good, solid D, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be confident.”

Next, Arizona will face Chicago and St. Louis on the road in a back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday. Then, they’ll come back home for two against Anaheim and Edmonton.

“We knew it was a huge homestand for us,” Dvorak said. “We had to treat every game like a playoff game and that’s huge. You get 12 out of 14 points, but we can’t get too high here. We’ve got to take that on the road now.”


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