5 Players Phoenix Coyotes Need To Step Up In Final Playoff Push

Phoenix Coyotes Still In Playoff Hunt

Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

With back to back road wins over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers already this week, the Phoenix Coyotes remain very much in contention for the eighth and final NHL Western Conference playoff spot, trailing the Dallas Stars by only one point. With only 16 regular season games remaining, here are five key players whose play could very well determine whether or not the Coyotes receive a postseason invite.

5. Martin Erat (Left Wing)

Martin Erat Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

5. Martin Erat (Left Wing)

Martin Erat Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

The Coyotes acquired Martin Erat from the Washington Capitals last week before the NHL trade deadline. The 12-year NHL veteran wanted out of the nation's capital for some time. Coincidentally, the Coyotes have struggled to find a playmaker to skate on the second line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. Erat scored his first goal in a Coyotes uniform in Tampa Monday night and must continue to quickly settle in, making big plays when necessary.

4. Mike Ribeiro (Center)

Mike Ribeiro - Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

4. Mike Ribeiro (Center)

Mike Ribeiro - Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Mike Ribeiro came out on fire at the start of the season, skating on the top forward line and reviving the team's power play to help the Coyotes become one of the NHL's top scoring teams. However, he's also endured several painful scoring slumps and spent far too many minutes in the penalty box. Thankfully Ribeiro is showing signs of life again, scoring a goal against Florida and registering two assists last week when facing Montreal.

3. Radim Vrbata (Right Wing)

Radim Vrbata Phoenix Coyotes
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3. Radim Vrbata (Right Wing)

Radim Vrbata Phoenix Coyotes
Gary A. Vasquez - USA TODAY Sports

Radim Vrbata's season thus far is a tale of spurts and slumps. After numerous scoring dry spells, Vrbata is heating up again, scoring five points in the last four games, including a goal and two assists against the Panthers. He was also the only player on either team to light the lamp in Monday's shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vrbata now leads the Coyotes with 46 points total, coming on 19 goals and 27 assists.

2. Michael Stone (Defenseman)

Michael Stone Phoenix Coyotes
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2. Michael Stone (Defenseman)

Michael Stone Phoenix Coyotes
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Stone showcased his potential as a solid two-way blueliner early in 2013-14. At one time, he tied the league lead in goals amongst defensemen. He then regressed for a period, so much so that head coach Dave Tippett healthy scratched Stone for a string of games until Stone put forth a full effort again. Evidently, Stone got the message and has solidified his defensive play on a blueline currently plagued with multiple injuries.

1. Mike Smith (Goaltender)

Mike Smith Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

1. Mike Smith (Goaltender)

Mike Smith Phoenix Coyotes
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Everyone concurs that solid goaltending is not optional when a team is fighting for an NHL playoff spot. Mike Smith knows this, and he's turning in his best performances of the year down the stretch when they are most needed. So far in March, he's posted a 4-2-0 record and .936 save percentage. The Coyotes will be a very difficult team to beat if Smith continues on this trajectory down the final stretch.

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