Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, on being in a must-win situation this week
The time to look back and reflect on what could have been or should have been will come, maybe sooner than later for the Arizona Coyotes.
For the moment, their season and playoff hopes come down to creating a four-game winning streak, and getting help from teams playing the St. Louis Blues this week and next.
Arizona (22-24-6) trailed St. Louis (23-19-7) 53-50 for fourth place and the final West Division playoff spot going into Monday night’s NHL schedule. The Blues have three games in hand, but those won’t matter if the Coyotes lose Monday and Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings and the Blues defeat the last-place Anaheim Ducks on the same nights.
That scenario would give the Blues a seven-point lead, and the Coyotes won’t be able to catch them with just two games left after Wednesday. St. Louis started this week 4-0-1 in its last five games.
The 56-game NHL schedule was supposed to end on Saturday, but the league needed to extend things an extra week to fit in games postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic that were unable to be made up earlier. The rescheduled games mostly involved teams from the North (Canada) and West divisions, but not the Coyotes.
“It’s Game 7 for us. It’s a do-or-die game. You’ve got to treat this as a Game 7, you’ve got to treat this as a playoff game, you’ve got to treat this as whether yourself individually, how you can play in a pressure situation. Your team, how you play in a pressure situation,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said on Monday. “It’s red alert. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
The Coyotes are soon to get back the services of one of their most dynamic players, forward Conor Garland. Garland, who missed the previous six games with a lower-body injury but began skating late last week, took part in Monday’s pregame skate and was to be a game-time decision, Tocchet said.
Garland, despite having missed a total of seven games this season, entered Monday night tied for the team lead in assists with 22.
“He’s an awesome, skilled player. He’s a lot of fun to play with,” Coyotes forward Clayton Keller said of Garland. The pair has formed a high-scoring line for the Coyotes this season.
“It’s a big element to our team.”
Keller said the Coyotes have to take care of business and focus on themselves. Arizona is 3-2-1 this season against Los Angeles, but a 4-3 loss on the road on April 7 has turned out to a crucial loss of two points since the Coyotes led that game 3-1 going into the third period.
Keller has been a part of Coyotes teams that have been in this position before. In 2019, the team entered the final week of the 2018-19 season still alive for the playoffs, only to come up short by four points.
Last season, the Coyotes were in contention again until the stoppage of sports, and qualified for the NHL postseason bubble.
“You want to be playing in these meaningful games, these playoff-like games and just fighting for everything at the end,” Keller said.