With the sand in the hourglass nearly reaching empty on the Phoenix Coyotes season, every single point becomes of the utmost importance.
Unfortunately, for those of you howling along at home, the Coyotes were unsuccessful in picking up two critical points tonight in Columbus. All was not for naught though, as they did manage to finagle a single point out of the situation, but with time not of the essence, wins are crucial.
Barring a collapse of their own, the Columbus Blue Jackets will be skating for a chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup in just a few weeks time. They are in no way locked into a seed, so both they and their fans came out with a playoff-like fervor.
Once again, the ‘Yotes found themselves behind to start the game as Boone Jenner put the Blue Jackets ahead 1-0 nearly midway into the first period. Almost uncharacteristically, the Coyotes came storming back within the same period. Martin Erat had his goal reviewed before it being confirmed for just his third of the season, and then Shane Doan found the back of the net with about two minutes remaining to push Phoenix ahead going into the first intermission. They had outshot Columbus by a margin of 10-4 and were seemingly in control of a game they had to have.
The raucous Columbus crowd immediately squelched any form of momentum that was established in the first period. Hanging on nearly every pass, the 16,000+ packed inside the Nationwide Arena came to life when Mark Letestu knotted the game up just over five minutes into the new period. For the rest of the vital middle period, the contest became extremely chippy with Kyle Chipchura and Corey Tropp going off for fighting just as the period was coming to a close.
Put on the backburner during the incessant discussions of the playoff run has been the fact that the Coyotes are still employing a backup goaltender throughout this entire process. Nothing against Thomas Greiss, but Mike Smith is the backbone of the roster, with his skill set dictating a majority of the minutes given to players on the squad. He showed his weakness in the third when Blake Comeau’s shot from the point got by him and he slammed his stick to the ground in disgust. The way the ‘Yotes offense has been scoring at a glacial pace, that goal could have done the trick.
With a last gasp of Playoff desperation in their lungs, Oliver Ekman-Larsson found the back of the net with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation. Shooting through a massive crowd of bodies, Ekman-Larsson’s wrister found its way past shoulders, sticks and helmets alike to crescendo perfectly into the netting at the back of the crease.
The worst-case scenario shifted to picking up at least one singular point, but there was a feeling of wanting and needing more. With just 90 seconds remaining in overtime, the Coyotes began to go on the attack. But, one bad pass and a mishandled attempt later, and the Jackets were off and flying. Great goal scorers find ways to get themselves the puck late in the contest and that’s exactly what Ryan Johansen did as he had a near breakaway against Thomas Greiss, burying the game winner and sending the Columbus fans into a frenzy. In the blink of an eye, Phoenix had seen their playoff chances become all the more slim.
News after the game did not get much better as it came across the wire that the Dallas Stars had won at home in a shootout against the Nashville Predators. With their victory, they went ahead by another point of the Coyotes, now up by two with just three games remaining.
If there is a silver lining at this point, it is that the season finale against the Stars should be electric. Both teams may be playing for their playoff lives on Sunday night.
Up next for Phoenix is their final road game of the 2013-14 season. They’ll try to duplicate what the Stars did by taking down the Predators at 5 P.M. on Thursday night. With the Predators already eliminated from playoff contention, two points is an absolute must. The Coyotes are no longer in control of their own destiny, but at the mercy of the Dallas Stars.