As the month of March passes through, playoff hockey turns on the horizon. While the Arizona Coyotes are battling for a spot in Lord Stanley’s Dance for the first time since 2012, their AHL affiliate is trying to make it to their second straight Calder Cup playoff appearance.
Last year, the Tucson Roadrunners surged for an outstanding 42-win season, clinching first place in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division, as well as the Western Conference. They continued their hot streak — defeating the San Jose Barracuda in the first round — before falling to the Texas Stars in the Pacific Division finals.
This year, the Roadrunners have slowly stumbled outside the playoff picture and are struggling to put together a formidable win streak. But it’s hard when drastic changes are made, right?
The 2017-18 Roadrunners were backed by superstar talent in Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Michael Bunting, and Kyle Capobianco. That has since changed:
Dylan Strome, starting the year with the Coyotes, was the central piece in a trade to the Chicago Blackhawks for Nick Schmaltz. Lawson Crouse has spent the entire season with the Coyotes. Michael Bunting has been bouncing between Glendale and Tucson as a result of a number of injuries; Kyle Capobianco suffered a season-ending lower body injury in his short time called up to the Coyotes.
Not to mention, Conor Garland and Mario Kempe are also up in Glendale. It’s quite safe to say the Roadrunners of today have become heavily depleted.
That said, can the Roadrunners surge back from 5th place and make it back to the Calder Cup Playoffs for their second straight year? It’s not out of the question quite yet. They are still backed by leaders such as Nick Merkley and Dakota Mermis, with Adin Hill and Hunter Miska guarding the nets.
At the time of this writing Tucson is 25-20-5-2 for 57 points. They sit three points behind the expansion Colorado Eagles for the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Riding a five game win-less streak, Tucson’s next four games are against non-playoff opponents: Ontario and Stockton.
It’s been over two months since Tucson has played either team, with wins coming from each of the last games. The team hasn’t lost in regulation to Ontario this season. Should the Roadrunners win both weekends, they (potentially) can find themselves in a playoff position, once more.
They should need those wins to help them build momentum going into their final opponents of the season — four of which hold the Pacific Division’s four playoff spots: Bakersfield, San Jose, San Diego and Colorado. Each game from here on out is very crucial for Tucson.
The Roadrunners will return home this weekend against the Ontario Reign. The first of those games is Friday at 7 p.m.