GLENDALE, Ariz. — Reality taunted the Coyotes before they ever took the ice Tuesday: Dallas Stars 5, Washington Capitals 0.
That result dropped Phoenix into ninth place in the Western Conference and out of the playoff picture.
The must-win mantra is overplayed in professional sports, but the Winnipeg Jets were coming off a demoralizing, 5-4 overtime loss the night before in Anaheim in which they held a 4-0 lead and the Jets had dropped 11 of their last 14 games (3-7-4).
It wasn’t hyperbole to say the Coyotes needed this one after losing their previous home game to Minnesota. And Phoenix owed the Jets after losing both games in Winnipeg earlier this season.
None of that mattered one bit when Andrew Ladd scored the shootout’s lone goal and Winnipeg handed the Coyotes a crushing, 2-1 defeat at Jobing.com Arena hours after the Stars laid down the gauntlet.
"It’s hard to ignore. They played on the East Coast and they finished before we started so I think everybody knew the score and we knew that they won," Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek said of the Stars’ win. "We got a point out of it. I guess we’ll see at the end if it was enough or not."
The Jets got an early break when Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle tried to reverse the play away from pressure with a pass behind the net. The puck struck referee Frederick L’Ecuyer’s skate and ended up on Jets center Bryan Little’s stick. Little fed Ladd, who was crashing the net, and Ladd’s one-timer beat goalie Thomas Greiss to stake the Jets to a 1-0 lead at the 10:01 mark of the first period.
Winnipeg’s lead marked the first time the Coyotes had trailed at home after one period since Jan. 20 (a stretch of 12 games) against Toronto. But the lead didn’t last long.
On a delayed penalty and an odd-man rush, Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker slid a pass across the slot to center Antoine Vermette, who dropped the puck to Michalek for an easy slapshot into an open net. Michalek’s second goal of the season tied the game just 19 seconds into the second period.
The Coyotes carried the play much of the second period, but the problem — an age-old problem — was that they couldn’t finish. Boedker hit a post just like he had against Minnesota and the Coyotes failed to cash in on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime.
"It’s a game of inches," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "There’s an extra point there that you’d certainly like to have but it wasn’t for a lack of trying."
The loss dropped the Coyotes into a tie with Dallas with six games left in the season in the race for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot, but the Stars have a game in hand and own the tiebreaker based on more regulation/overtime wins. The Coyotes host the Stars in the final game of the regular season, April 13.
There will be plenty of games the Coyotes can point to at the end of the season if they miss the postseason by a hair. Getting swept by the lowly Buffalo Sabres will surely top the list, but three losses to the Jets, who will miss the playoffs again, will sting just as much.
Six games remain to avoid that sting.
"It’s tough, especially when you don’t get two points this time of year, but it’s something where you’ve got to push forward," Yandle said. "We really can’t be worried about (Dallas). They’re a good team. They’re going to win games. We’ve got to do our part and win games."