Coyotes face crunch time in two-game set vs. Golden Knights

NHL

With a half-dozen games remaining and on the outside of a playoff position, the Arizona Coyotes are in a desperate position heading into Friday’s home clash with the league-best Vegas Golden Knights in Glendale, Ariz.

The Coyotes (21-24-5, 47 points) have lost two straight games and are on a 2-9-0 slide that’s put them behind the St. Louis Blues in the chase for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division. They need to win both halves of consecutive-night clashes with the red-hot Golden Knights (35-11-2, 72 points) and get some help.

“We’re going to fight right until the end, regardless of the situation,” goalie Darcy Kuemper vowed. “We’re a little bit behind the eight ball here, but our effort is going to be the same regardless right to the last game. We still believe. We’ve got to win out here and win a lot of hockey games. We want to give ourselves a chance.”

The Coyotes, who are coming off a pair of costly road losses to the San Jose Sharks, including a 4-2 defeat on Wednesday, have four of their final six games at home. After the set with the Golden Knights will be two games versus the Los Angeles Kings before ending this season with a pair of road games in San Jose.

The Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild have already punched their tickets to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both of the Coyotes’ losses to San Jose featured unsurmountable deficits. Arizona trailed 4-0 in the first match before losing 6-4 and then surrendered a trio of first-period goals on Wednesday.

“The starts are killing us. (We gave them) three gifts again,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “A couple of guys making the wrong reads. I don’t understand. And then (the puck) was in our net. You start pushing the pace when you’re down 3-0, but it’s just the start. It’s the start, again.”

The Golden Knights, who have won five of six meetings vs. Arizona so far this season, arrive riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak that’s opened a six-point gap on the Avalanche for top spot in the West Division. Vegas, which boasts a league-best .750 winning percentage, is coming off a convincing 5-2 win over Colorado on Wednesday — a victory which saw William Karlsson break his franchise record for fastest goal to start a game when he opened the scoring at the 10-second mark.

“Still a lot of the season to be played,” said forward Max Pacioretty, who netted two goals and an assist. “With eight games left, we know we’re in a good position right now. However, we know we have to play better when they have their full lineup.”

“We’ve been playing some good hockey, but we want to play the best,” said captain Mark Stone, who also had a three-point game. “It was nice to play them and see where we’re at. I thought we had a pretty good game. There’s things we can clean up, but getting the two points, creating some separation, was huge for us.”

After a big win against a top-level opponent, the Golden Knights must ward against taking a step back against a Coyotes team that’s on the verge of being eliminated, a task coach Peter DeBoer was already preparing for in the aftermath of the victory.

“We’ve still got a lot of business to take care of over the next two weeks,” DeBoer said. “It sets us up where our destiny is in our own hands.”

–Field Level Media

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