There are still eight games left to play in the regular season, but don't tell that to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Their playoffs started a long time ago.
Although the Desert Dogs faltered a little in the 3rd period, the Coyotes managed to keep their postseason hopes alive with a crucial 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. This win gives the Coyotes sole possession of 9th place, just one point behind Detroit for the 8th spot and the final playoff berth.
This game was a must-win for both teams, but Phoenix really needed it badly after a 2-0 blanking in Vancouver in which the team looked listless. That would not be the case in this game, as Radim Vrbata, Chris Conner, and Mikkel Boedker all had terrific scoring chances in the 1st. Devan Dubnyk was on form tonight however, and the score remained 0-0 through 20 minutes.
Fortunately Phoenix managed to avoid the rotten puck luck they ran into against the Canucks. Just 37 seconds into the second period, Boyd Gordon took a shot from the goal line that somehow managed to slip through Dubnyk and into the net, giving the Coyotes that crucial first goal. Nine minutes later, Antoine Vermette would be the beneficiary of a terrific play by Chris Conner to force Dubnyk to make a truly awful clearing pass behind his own net right to the tape of Vermette's stick. Vermette did not miss the empty net and the Coyotes took a 2-0 lead. The Coyotes absolutely dominated the pace of play in the middle frame, and they went into the 2nd intermission still up by two goals.
Things started to get chippy in the 3rd period though. An unfortunate step-up on the blue-line by David Schlemko left the Coyotes defense out of position, and a couple of rotten bounces later Nail Yakupov slipped the puck past Mike Smith to cut the Coyotes' lead in half. At this point, the game started to get unglued. Taylor Hall delivered a tomahawk chop slash to the hands of Zbynek Michalek that somehow managed to slip by the referees. Martin Hanzal would come to his D-man's defense twice; unfortunately the second time was a boarding penalty that put the Coyotes' PK unit out on the ice against a very dangerous Oilers' power play late in the 3rd. The PK did its job however, and a weird power play goal with 10 seconds left in the game sealed a 3-1 win for Phoenix.
Five For Winning
1. Shoot everything. One of the reasons that the Coyotes weren't able to score against Vancouver is very few pucks got on net. The Coyotes should try to throw everything they can on net and hopefully get a few lucky breaks or a good rebound. The Coyotes managed to outshoot Edmonton 32-30, and Boyd Gordon's first goal came off of a goal line shot. Those are the breaks you get when you keep shooting the puck.
2. Power play unit. This has been a problem for the Coyotes for a while, but if the other team is going to go down a man the Coyotes need to make them pay. Dubnyk may be the man to allow the first Coyotes power play goal in what seems to be forever. He let in 2 against LA last Saturday. Although technically Devan Dubnyk gave up a power play goal, it came off of a deflection off Ryan Whitney's stick and occurred in the final 10 seconds of the game. But hey, the stats don't care about any of that, it's a power play goal!
3. Discipline. Edmonton has a talented team that makes other teams pay when they are on the power play (22.7%). The best way to stop them is to not take any penalties. The Coyotes did manage to only take four penalties, and two of them only resulted in 4 on 4 play, but the Hanzal boarding penalty in the last 10 minutes of the third was unnecessary and could have ended the Coyotes' season. There's just no room for error.
4. Tighten up passing. This was one of the biggest problems in the last game, the Coyotes had a lot of sloppy passes. This slowed down the Coyotes game, and it led to the puck being intercepted a few times. For the most part, Phoenix did a good job playing keep-away with the Oilers' front end talent and even managed to push the pace for much of the 2nd.
5. Win. The Coyotes need two points bad if they want to stay in the race. They got them, and in regulation too.
Our Three Stars of the Game
3rd Star - Chris Conner. Conner got stuffed by Dubnyk on a glorious breakaway chance in the 2nd, and was a direct cause of the 2nd Coyotes' goal. He's made a real impact in limited time with the team.
2nd Star - Boyd Gordon. It's a shame Gordon doesn't get the Selke Trophy love that he deserves, because tonight was a terrific performance by the Coyotes' center. He registered a goal and an assist, and went 12 for 19 in the faceoff circle.
1st Star - Mike Smith. Look out everyone, Smitty is starting to play like he did at the end of last season. He had 26 saves tonight and has surrendered two goals in his last three starts. That's how you win hockey games.
The next playoff game for the Coyotes is Friday night against the Calgary Flames. They would like to exact a little revenge for the heart-crushing 5-4 loss they suffered at the Saddledome back in February.