The Phoenix Coyotes‘ shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night is certainly a reason to celebrate, but the celebration shouldn’t last too long before the team gets back to work. After snagging a much-needed two points on the second game of a four-game eastern road trip, the Coyotes are right back in action Tuesday night against a Florida Panthers squad that has performed far from stellar this season, yet seems to possess a renewed energy with Roberto Luongo back in net. Furthermore, the Coyotes have not trended consistently for several months, and the team’s recent fortunes are replete with losses to weak teams almost immediately after wins over formidable opponents. As a result, the Coyotes, who could have comfortably settled themselves into NHL Western Conference playoff position some time ago, instead find their postseason hopes hanging by a thread in a tight battle for the final wildcard spot.
Inconsistent play, along with an inability to build off momentum from big wins, plagued the Coyotes in the period leading up to the Olympic break. In late January, a shutout win over the Los Angeles Kings was followed only two nights later by an embarrassing home loss to the Buffalo Sabres. The Coyotes regrouped nicely in their next game and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were previously undefeated all season against the Pacific Division. However, the Coyotes dropped another contest to the Dallas Stars in their next tilt. A colossal confidence boost arrived shortly thereafter with a shutout win over the Chicago Blackhawks, but then the Coyotes lost again to the Stars, a team they are battling neck and neck with for the lone postseason berth remaining out west.
Now is the time for the Coyotes to assemble a successful run as the NHL season enters its final stretch and for the team to string together a winning streak that lasts longer than merely two games, something they haven’t accomplished since early November. There are certainly a plethora of positives the team can build on after dodging a literal Lightning strike Monday night in Tampa. Newcomer Brandon McMillan lit the lamp for the second straight game after a recent call-up from the AHL. Another new face on the roster, Martin Erat (acquired from the Washington Capitals right before last week’s trade deadline) , scored his first goal in a Coyotes uniform. Mike Smith is back to true form between the pipes, denying Andrej Palat, Val Filppula and Ryan Callahan all in a row in the shootout to enable the Coyotes to skate away Monday night with two valuable points.
Can the Coyotes finally continue winning and grind out the final few weeks of the regular season successfully? Unless they want an early start to their vacation, they can’t afford not to.