Arizona Coyotes increase playoff buffer with win over Ducks

Mar 14, 2019, 11:02 PM
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson celebrates with Darcy Kuemper (35) after scoring a ...
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson celebrates with Darcy Kuemper (35) after scoring a short handed goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the first period during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It can be perilous to get ahead of one’s self. But the Coyotes, with their win over the Ducks on Thursday night, own a three-point cushion in the standings as they hold the second Western Conference wild card spot.

There are 11 games remaining in Arizona’s season.

During Arizona’s 6-1 win over the Ducks on Thursday, the Minnesota Wild lost 4-1 to the Dallas Stars. Minnesota is the next team in the standings behind the Coyotes, but their loss means Arizona keeps a three-point lead overnight, as opposed to just a one-point lead. They also have a game in hand on the Wild.

St. Louis is four points ahead of the Coyotes for the first wild card spot.

But the unique challenge of being in this position is Tocchet must get his players ready for each game; the coach and the team’s leadership is tasked with making sure players don’t rest on their laurels and keep pushing forward.

“People start talking and people get excited and start telling you how great you are, and you’ve got to be careful,” Tocchet said. “I’ve lived it, I’ve hard experience with it. You’ve got to be very careful. You can’t lose that edge. You can not lose that edge, you can’t lift your foot off of the gas pedal.”

The Ducks outshot Arizona 37-24 in the Coyotes win Thursday as Darcy Kuemper made 36 saves. The Coyotes have now won 13 of their last 17 games.

“I think just as a team, our momentum’s kind of snowballing here and even sometimes when we’re not at our best, we kind of have that belief that we’re going to win and find a way,” Kuemper said. “It’s a great feeling, it’s a lot of fun coming to the rink right now and it’s going to be a fun trip down the stretch here.”

But the 6-1 win Thursday wasn’t flawless.

“We obviously filled the net. I’m always going to complain, right?” Tocchet said. “We weren’t perfect.”

The game was scoreless until the first period’s final moments, when Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his 11th goal of the season with 3:35 to go in the frame. It was a shorthanded goal, marking the team’s 15th such goal this year, tying a franchise record. The Coyotes trail only Calgary (16) in that category among all NHL teams.

Ekman-Larsson’s goal on Tuesday night against the Blues means he has scored in back-to-back games. He also has scored 10-plus goals in six consecutive seasons, becoming the second defenseman in franchise history and the third Swedish defenseman in NHL history to do so.

As the game went along, the goals piled up. Vinnie Hinostroza scored his first NHL hat trick to reach 15 goals on the season, and there were also tallies from Jason Demers and Mario Kempe. Hinostroza has career highs this season in goals, points, assists and average time on ice.

“I’m excited obviously,” Hinostroza said. “I haven’t scored three goals in a game since probably junior. That’s something you don’t think about happening, but when it does, it’s definitely something special. And it’s nice that it comes in a win in a special time when we’re trying to hold a playoff spot here. So I’m really happy with the full team effort.”

Demers, Alex Goligoski and Christian Fischer had multi-point nights.

The offense and continued winning are welcome signs for a team that has its sights set on the playoffs.

“I really don’t think that we should feel like we have any pressure on us. I think we’ve been the underdogs all year,” Demers said. “I think you can say that, but I think we just have to embrace that role. It’s great that people are coming out, but no one expected us to be here and no one still doesn’t expect us to make it in.

“So I think that’s the kind of mentality that we have to have, and I think we do have that right now: That whole mantra we’ve started, that scratchin’ and clawin’, we’ve just got to embrace that role and keep playing and not let anything outside distract us.”

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