For the second time in less than one week, the Phoenix Coyotes started the third period with a 2-0 lead, only to falter defensively in the game’s 20 minutes and lose, leaving valuable points on the table in a tight race for the NHL Western Conference‘s final playoff spot. The Washington Capitals erupted for three unanswered goals and skated off with a 3-2 win over the Coyotes at the Verizon Center on Saturday night.
Everything went right for the Coyotes in the first two periods. Winger Brandon McMillan lit the lamp for the first time this season after a recent call up from the AHL. Radim Vrbata continued to take advantage of newly found chemistry with Martin Erat (whom the Capitals traded to the Coyotes just last week) and scored his third goal in the last two games. Goaltender Mike Smith continued protecting his net and allowed nothing past him. Capitals scoring machine Alexander Ovechkin, currently fourth in the NHL in total goals scored, was visibly flustered. The Coyotes only committed one penalty early in the game and killed it off with ease. They retired to the visitors’ locker room at the second intermission with a comfortable 2-0 lead, and they kept denying the Capitals at the final period’s onset, and with just over 10 minutes to play, their two goal advantage was still intact, and things appeared promising.
However, it only took 32 seconds of clock time for momentum to snap in the opposite direction. At 9:45 of the third period, blueliner Karl Alzner put the Capitals on the board after he whooshed a snap shot past Smith from just left of point. Before the Coyotes could regroup, their lead went up in smoke after Brooks Laich beat Smith with a wrist shot at 10:17 to tie the game at two goals apiece. Then, at 14:47, the Coyotes failed to kill their second penalty of the game (a tripping call on forward David Moss) when Troy Brouwer banged a rebound past Smith to propel the Capitals ahead for good. Barely more than five minutes had ticked off the clock before the Coyotes again had a two goal lead snatched away from them.
Last Sunday, the Coyotes also coughed up a 2-0 lead in the final period during a home game against the St. Louis Blues, allowing four unanswered goals. Although the carnage wasn’t quite as bad in the nation’s capital, the Coyotes allowed another two points to sail out of their reach. They are now three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference after the Dallas Stars fared better and notched a key win at home over the Minnesota Wild.
Things aren’t about to get any easier for the Coyotes as they sink further into desperation mode when it comes to salvaging their postseason chances. After back-to-back games in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Coyotes venture up the eastern seaboard and conclude their four game road trip on Thursday against the Boston Bruins.
Normally, it is extremely difficult to play from behind in the NHL. However, the Coyotes are suddenly making it easy for opposing teams when they can least afford to do so.