NHL Hockey

Coyotes take on Devils in sprint to the playoffs

The Arizona Coyotes can move back into playoff position with a win over the New Jersey Devils Saturday afternoon. But the Coyotes know they will need to play much better against the Devils, and maintain that level of play, to make their pursuit of a long-awaited postseason berth less complicated than it has become this week.

Toward that end, the Coyotes will play the first of a pivotal set of back-to-back games when they visit the Devils in Newark, N.J.

Both teams will enter with a three-game losing streak that was extended Thursday night, when the Coyotes fell 4-2 to the host Florida Panthers and the Devils dropped a 5-1 decision to the visiting Boston Bruins.

The losing streak is a much more urgent matter for the Coyotes (36-32-6), who have fallen out of sole possession of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Arizona and the Colorado Avalanche each have 78 points, but the Avalanche occupy the last playoff spot by virtue of a 20-goal advantage in goal differential.

By Saturday morning, with the fluidity of the standings, both the Coyotes and Avalanche could be on the outside looking in. The Minnesota Wild, which have 77 points, can move into the eighth spot with a win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

More movement is likely Saturday, when the Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks two hours after the Coyotes face off against the Devils and the Wild visit the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. ET.

And Arizona will play another big game Sunday, when it is scheduled to visit the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.

But all the scoreboard-watching in the world won't matter if the Coyotes don't play better than they have during a skid in which a 4-1 loss to the Presidents Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning has been sandwiched with losses to the lottery-bound Panthers and Edmonton Oilers, who beat Arizona, 3-2, in overtime last Saturday.

The Coyotes have not made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season, when they reached the Western Conference finals.

"These are big stakes, and I know pressure's there, and we're going to have to handle pressure," Coyotes head coach Rich Tocchet said following Thursday's loss. "There's going to be higher-pressure games than this."

High-pressure games are a thing of the past for the Devils (27-39-9), who are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and have the fourth-fewest points in the NHL.

Each of the Devils' past three losses - they fell to the Avalanche 3-0 on Sunday and 4-1 to the Capitals on Tuesday - have been at the hands of teams either all but assured of reaching the playoffs or fighting for a postseason spot. But head coach John Hynes said he believes the losses can serve as building blocks for New Jersey, which has just four players age 30 or older on its roster.

"We've played some real strong opponents and some stars in the league, guys that have won Cups and won numerous awards in the NHL the last two nights," Hynes said after the loss to the Bruins. "It's a great experience for our guys and I give them credit. I think we've competed very hard in both games. We haven't found a way to win the games and done enough to win those games, but I think when you look at the game in general, guys have come up, they showed up to play, they've competed hard. Guys are making progress. I think we're getting a real strong evaluation of our players and our team against difficult teams to play against. And those are all positive things moving forward."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 22, 2019

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