A winning show at home has brought the Arizona Coyotes within striking distance of a playoff spot. Now it's up to them to take that success on the road to get over the hump.
By winning six of seven home games during a lengthy homestand, and eight of nine overall, the Coyotes are one point behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild-card spot and boast a game in hand. Arizona is two points behind the Dallas Stars, who currently hold the first wild-card position.
Monday's clash at Chicago is a huge opportunity for a Coyotes team that's overcome an array of injury woes and last made the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2012.
"We knew it was a huge homestand for us," Christian Dvorak told the team's website after the Coyotes claimed a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. "We had to treat every game like a playoff game. It's huge to get 12 out of 14 points, but we can't be too high. We have to take that on the road now."
Six of Arizona's next eight games are on the road.
"We can't rest," head coach Rick Tocchet said. "There's 14 games and that's a lot of games left -- a ton of games. You just cannot rest for one minute. You have to bounce back after a bad period and you have to bounce back after a bad loss. You have to stay humble after a win. Those are the things that good teams do and we've had those traits lately."
Helping the cause is the return of a handful of players. In fact, all four goals against the Kings came from players who returned from lengthy injuries during the homestand -- Dvorak and Michael Grabner each scored twice -- plus defenseman Jason Demers recently returned after missing more than half of the season due to a knee injury.
The Blackhawks are seven points out of a playoff spot, and riding a two-game winning streak, with the latest victory a tight-checking 2-1 win over the Stars on Saturday -- a clash which Chris Kunitz told the Chicago Tribune was "one of our best games all year."
Making the playoffs is a longshot, but they are holding out hope. Winning a low-scoring affair is a step in the right direction for a team that's struggled to keep pucks out of its net.
"It's rewarding because it shows we can win another way," Chicago head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We know we can win scoring goals, but it's hard to do that as the season goes along and against really good teams. You're not gonna get five or six on the top teams. They're stingy, and the games will tighten up."
A healthy Corey Crawford in goal will give the Blackhawks a better chance. Crawford has played three games since returning from a concussion that sidelined him for 28 games.
The Dallas game was by far his best, and beyond stopping 26 of 27 shots.
"It's a process," Crawford told the Tribune. "It's a challenge. This league is fast. You just got to work hard and keep going to try and get the timing, and then it just feels like it gets even harder after that. But that was good, that was a big win for us. We got to just keep doing that."
--Field Level Media
Coyotes, Blackhawks hoping to sneak into playoffs
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