There is a pretty improbable and unbelievable story unfolding in Arizona right now.
Thanks to their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, the Arizona Coyotes now find themselves in sole possession of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, temporarily moving ahead of the Minnesota Wild with 12 games remaining in the regular season.
The Coyotes are now 12-4-0 in their past 16 games with their next two coming against the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, presenting what should be a prime opportunity to keep collecting points and making a move toward a playoff spot.
It’s such an unbelievable development because this is a team that has not only missed the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but was also the worst team in the Western Conference a year ago.
Not enough of a challenge for them?
Throw in the fact their roster has been absolutely decimated by injuries this season with Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Jakob Chychrun, Michael Grabner, Brad Richardson, Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz, and Jason Demers all missing at least 10 games this season, with several of them missing more than 20.
Maybe there isn’t a superstar among that group, or even an All-Star right now, but that is still a pretty extensive list of players the Coyotes were expected to lean on, while several of them have been unavailable for significant portions of the season due to injury.
They are still currently playing without Raanta (their starting goalie), Stepan (their top center), and Schmaltz (acquired in the big Dylan Strome trade with Chicago earlier this season).
That is not an easy thing to overcome when you are still a rebuilding team that didn’t seem to have a ton of depth at the start of the year.
With all of that added together it wouldn’t have been a shock to see the Coyotes once again near the bottom of the Western Conference. But thanks to Darcy Kuemper‘s ability to take over the starting goaltending duties, and what has become a balanced lineup that now boasts 11 different players with double-digit goals they have managed to not only stay in the race but actually crawl into a playoff spot.
They still have a long way to go before they can actually punch their ticket (Minnesota is still only one point back with a head-to-head game remaining), but if they manage to pull this off you can be sure it is going to make coach Rick Tocchet a serious contender for the Jack Adams trophy as the NHL’s coach of the year.
The Coyotes making the playoffs might be the only thing that could take that award away from Barry Trotz.