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Coyotes suffer painful loss as Darcy Kuemper leaves with injury

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), center Christian Dvorak, second from left, right wing Josh Archibald (45) and left wing Lawson Crouse, right, sit dejectedly on the team bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 3-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – If there were such thing as a worst case scenario for the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, it came to fruition.

Not only did the Coyotes’ primary playoff race opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, win handily over the Edmonton Oilers in regulation, 6-2, but Arizona itself fell at home to the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 and saw its goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, sustain an injury in the process.

Kuemper left the game in the third period after taking a stick to the face. He did not return.

“I just saw him. It looked bad, but I think he’s going to be OK,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I don’t know the status. Just was worried about his eye, but he says he feels OK. But still, I think it’s blurry. I mean honestly I don’t know a ton of it, but he seemed in pretty good spirits.”

But with or without Kuemper, the Coyotes’ playoff chances got a lot thinner.

The loss means that the Coyotes are four points back of Colorado with two games to go. The Avalanche would need to lose both of their remaining games in regulation while the Coyotes win both of their remaining games in regulation for Arizona to advance to the playoffs.

And if that unlikely scenario were to unfold, having Kuemper sure would help.

“He’s been our best player without a doubt,” forward Derek Stepan said. “To see him go down, you never want to see anyone go down, especially with the year we’ve had, it seems like we’ve found guys in every situation go down.”

The loss came as Arizona put up a whopping 50 shots on goal but scored only once, a second-period tally from Brad Richardson. With 0.2 seconds left in the second, the Kings tied it up on a goal by Kyle Clifford.

Tied 1-1 in the third, Los Angeles scored again to take a deflating 2-1 lead. It was on that play that Trevor Lewis backhanded a puck into the net for a goal, and his stick hit Kuemper on the follow through to cause the injury. Backup Calvin Pickard relieved Kuemper for the rest of the game.

“It’s obviously tough when you lose a game like this tonight,” Stepan said. “You’ve got to show up tomorrow and try to do what we can to finish strong here. We’ve been playing good hockey this year and hopefully we can, like I said, it’s two more games and we’ve got to stay positive and see what we can do, and you never know.”

Kuemper has arguably been the most important individual player for the Coyotes this season. That’s the case with many teams’ goalies, but Kuemper has been consistent and reliable after entering the year as the backup. Starter Antti Raanta was injured in November.

Just a day removed from being named one of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week, the 28-year-old Kuemper made his 21st consecutive start. Coming into the game, he owned a .924 save percentage and 2.34 goals against average on the season.

It’s only fitting that a crushing gut-punch to the Coyotes’ season and their playoff hopes came in the same game as an injury to a key player.

The Coyotes have been riddled with injuries like this all season.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s offense couldn’t solve Kings goalie Jack Campbell, who made 49 saves.

“I thought we controlled that game for 58 minutes, something like that. But that’s not how it works in hockey,” captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “Even if you deserve to win, that’s not how it goes. So the team that scores the most goals is going to win and that was the case tonight.”

Mathematically, the Coyotes’ season is not over. But the odds of Arizona making the playoffs aren’t in its favor. That state was reflected by an understandably deflated group of players following Tuesday night’s loss.

The Coyotes will play the Golden Knights in Vegas on Thursday.

“Like all year. Our job is to come in tomorrow, we’ll do the same thing,” Tocchet said. “Guys are down, but we’ve got to worry about winning a game in Vegas. That’s it. And then we’ll go from there.

“You win a game, maybe [the Avalanche] lose a game, then all of a sudden, it changes a little bit. But we’ll see what happens.”

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