Going into Friday nights game against the Edmonton Oilers the Phoenix Coyotes playoff aspirations were on life support. After losing to the visiting Oilers a priest is now on standby to give the Coyotes Last Rites.
“Obviously it's going to be a lot harder to get in now,” Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “But we have to focus on the next game and do whatever we can.”
The Coyotes blew a golden opportunity to improve their playoff chances but with 41-seconds remaining in the game Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss misplayed the puck behind the net and the Oilers Sam Gagner scored to tie the game at 2-2.
Edmonton won the shootout, after a scoreless overtime period, and with the 3-2 loss on Friday night the Coyotes now have a one-point lead over the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes lead over Dallas in the playoff race is a misnomer due to Phoenix having two-games in hand.
With four-games remaining mistakes are magnified and there is no room for error for the Coyotes.
Greiss was solid in the cage against the Oilers but did his mistake cost the Coyotes the game?
“Greiss makes some big saves and then an unfortunate mix up,” Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura said. “We let a point slip away again.”
Hockey is a team sport and it's shortsighted to blame one man when he has five teammates with equally important roles and responsibilities.
Greiss has responded with solid performances that have kept Phoenix in most games since filling in for an injured Mike Smith. In the seven-games since Smith went down with a lower body injury Greiss has allowed 15-goals and his offense has scored 12-goals.
Even with solid play in the cage Greiss can still be the victim of a bad bounce or bad luck.
With 45-seconds left in the opening period a shot by Oilers' defenseman Justin Schulz deflected off the Coyotes Ekman-Larsson and floated past Greiss. After one period the Oilers had a 1-0 lead.
At 14:32 in the second period Ekman-Larsson made up for his earlier error and blasted a wrister from the point to tie the game.
The score remained tied until Chipchura put back a rebound a gave the Coyotes their only lead of the game at 12:42 in the third period. Unfortunately for the Coyotes Nation that lead didn't hold up and it was another recent instance of Phoenix blowing a lead.
In a tight a playoff race the Coyotes have picked a most inopportune time to blow leads and lose valuable points in the standings. Phoenix has lost four-straight games and in three of those contests they have blown leads.
“The games are tight,” Chipchura said. “They can go either way. We've got to find a way to make them go our way.”
The Coyotes have four-games remaining in the regular season and Friday night's loss dropped their record to 36-28-14. According to SportsClubStats.com Phoenix has a 25.1% chance of qualifying for the playoffs. Before the Oilers game it was 31.4%.
The Coyotes have a three-day weekend to rest, regroup and watch the out of town scoreboard. At this point the playoffs are a dream and their lead in the standings is ephemeral.
“We sit in eighth place right now,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “You've got Dallas playing two on the weekend. Obviously we're going to watch those scores, that's the way it is.”