Running down the stretch, there are two words that bring a smile to every contender in the Western Conference: Colorado. Avalanche. Tonight, the Phoenix Coyotes get the privilege of facing off against the league’s coldest team. How cold are the Avs? They haven’t won a game in regulation since February 22nd. Unfortunately, that is NOT part of a larger April Fool’s Day joke.
On the other hand, the Coyotes enter the night as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. With all of the teams fighting for playoff spots (and positioning), Phoenix has gone 9-2-1 over their last 12 games. Some people will look at this as a “trap game” for Phoenix, but currently they’re only a single point ahead of both the Kings and Predators for the 4th spot. For a little perspective on exactly how tight the Western Conference standards are, they’re only two points ahead of the 7th place Anaheim Ducks. Needless to say, every win is important at this time of year. When a team in the Coyotes’ position comes across a team performing like the Avalanche have as of late, they need to take care of business. Two points are two points.
Playoff positioning may be up in the air, but it’s looking increasingly more likely that Phoenix will at least make it into the playoffs. With a win tonight, their “magic number” to make the playoffs would drop to 2. If things break correctly for Phoenix, they hypothetically could have a playoff spot wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon (Stars play a matinee in Los Angeles). It certainly would be a nice feeling for the players in the locker room to have it locked up this weekend. After tonight’s game against Colorado, they won’t play another game until Wednesday against the Kings. A lot can happen in the standings while they’re sitting at home waiting for their next game, but Ilya Bryzgalov doesn’t seem concerned:
“If we’re good enough, we’re going to play good enough, we’re going to make the playoffs,” he said. “If we‘re not going to finish strong, and we’re not going to play good enough, we’re not going to make the playoffs. It’s as simple as that.
“If you’re not good enough to make the playoffs, it’s fair. If we going to play good, and we win some games, finish strong, we’re going to make the playoffs; this is fair, too. Everything is in our hands.”
There’s no doubt that head coach Dave Tippett will have the Yotes ready to go tonight. One of the advantages to having a team that gets contributions from everyone is that they aren’t dependent on a single player or a single line to produce. With only four games left in the season, Phoenix still does not have a 20-goal scorer. However, they do have EIGHT players who have scored 16 or more goals on the season. Balanced scoring and superb goaltending tend to show up every night. That’s exactly what Tippett and Co. expect tonight