Playoff-hopeful Coyotes face critical final 5 games

Mar 27, 2019, 9:02 AM | Updated: 10:31 am

Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes talks with his team during the NHL game against the ...

Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes talks with his team during the NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Gila River Arena on February 24, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Jets 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2011-12.

Despite injuries to key pieces and ranking near the bottom of the league in goals scored per game, the Coyotes’ defense and goaltending has helped carry them to the position they’re in: on the doorstep of a playoff berth with five games remaining in their season.

Though the Coyotes went on a five-game winless streak (0-3-2) on a recent road trip, they beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday to match the point total of the Colorado Avalanche, who had the second Western Conference Wild Card spot on Wednesday morning. Now, the Coyotes and Avs will face off in the first of five remaining games for Arizona.

Here’s what lies ahead for the Coyotes as they seek a playoff berth:

March 29 at Colorado Avalanche (occupies second wild card spot)

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

This is a big one.

“Friday night’s the most important game in the last, what, how many years — right?” head coach Rick Tocchet said on Tuesday. “So this is something that we’re looking forward to. This is a big, big game for us on Friday.”

The Avalanche (34-29-13, 81 points) hold the second Wild Card playoff spot, a place in the standings that the Coyotes occupied not long ago. Arizona also has 81 points, but the Avalanche own the tiebreaker with a game in hand. Colorado will play on Wednesday night against the Golden Knights before hosting the Coyotes on Friday; Arizona will be idle until then.

If the Avalanche lose to Vegas on Wednesday, then a Coyotes win on Friday will give Arizona a two-point lead over Colorado in the standings.

March 31 vs. Minnesota Wild (2 pts. out of playoffs)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Even if the Coyotes earn a big win on Friday in Denver, they still have the Minnesota Wild to worry about.

Perhaps no team has spent more time neighboring with the Coyotes in the standings in the latter portions of the season than the Wild (35-33-9, 79 points), who are two points back of Arizona entering Wednesday.

Like the Coyotes, Minnesota doesn’t play again until Friday, when it will play Vegas. The Wild can win that game and still trail Arizona by at least two points, as long as the Coyotes beat Minnesota on Sunday.

April 2 vs. Kings, April 4 at Knights, April 6 vs. Jets

As of Wednesday, the LA Kings were the second-worst team in the league, the Winnipeg Jets had already clinched a playoff spot and the Vegas Golden Knights were right on the cusp of doing so. For this reason, the playoff implications of these three games is less than those of the games that precede them, but they’re still three opportunities for the Coyotes to pick up two points in the standings.

If Arizona is fortunate enough to clinch a playoff spot, it’s likely that it will have to win most or all of these games to do so. Expect this race to come down to the wire.

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