If the Phoenix Coyotes end up missing the playoffs, they may look at their road woes as a reason why.
Trying to build on their first road victory in 6 1/2 weeks, the Coyotes hope to take advantage of a matchup with the lowly Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
With Monday’s 4-3 shootout win over Tampa Bay, Phoenix (30-24-11) moved one point back of Dallas for the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot. Mikkel Boedker snapped a 13-game goal drought and Radim Vrbata notched the lone shootout goal for the Coyotes, who surrendered the tying score with 37.2 seconds left.
”I thought we did a lot of things well tonight,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. ”Even though they got a late one on us, we found a way to get points, and that’s the biggest thing about our season right now. We need points every night.”
The win over a Lightning team that holds the East’s top wild-card spot may be a big boost of confidence for Phoenix, which had lost five straight road games since defeating Edmonton on Jan. 24. The Coyotes are 2-6-4 away from Arizona since Dec. 23, and haven’t won consecutive games on the road since Nov. 27 and Dec. 3.
”We’re right in the hunt,” goaltender Mike Smith said. ”We’re in the thick of things, too, and every point matters right now.”
While Phoenix hasn’t had much success picking up points on the road, Florida (24-33-7) is struggling for wins, regardless of the venue.
The Panthers suffered a 5-2 home loss to Boston on Sunday, their ninth regulation defeat in 12 games. Florida was no match for the surging Bruins, getting outshot 42-22 and failing on all four power-play opportunities while Boston converted 2 of 4 chances with the extra skater.
Panthers coach Peter Horachek said his team aspires to be like the Bruins.
"They don’t have panic to their game, they just keep plugging away. They get contributions from all the lines," he said. "They’re comfortable in that situation, and that’s what we got to get to. We got to be comfortable in those close games, plugging away in the system and working for your opportunities. That’s still got to be a message to our guys to say that’s where we need to be.”
Horachek was impressed with the play of forward Jimmy Hayes, who recorded his first career two-goal game for Florida.
Goals have been hard to come by for the Panthers, who have totaled five in the last three contests and rank 28th with 149.
"He hangs around the net, and he’s willing to go there and be there," Horachek said of Hayes. "We need more of that. We need more, I guess they call them greasy goals or dirty goals, I just call them goals. In the NHL right now, you got to be around the crease if you’re going to start scoring. I don’t think we’re going to score all our goals on the rush. We have to be more diligent about going to the net and getting second chances."
Florida also has to step up defensively. The Panthers are 27th in blocked shots, averaging 12.1, and in five March games, have yielded at least 37 shots four times.
Roberto Luongo stopped 37 of 41 shots against the Bruins in his second start since coming over from Vancouver before the trade deadline. He made three starts against the Coyotes this season, going 2-0-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average.
This will be Florida’s first meeting with Phoenix since a 2-1 loss on Dec. 20, 2011.