Coyotes’ road to playoffs gets a bit bumpier

– Sometimes, the odds are too long. Sometimes, the task is too tall.

The Coyotes knew what they were up against Sunday at Arena. After arriving home at 1 a.m. Sunday morning following an emotional 4-3 shootout loss to Pacific Division rival San Jose, the Coyotes had the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues lying in wait for an early Sunday evening start.

Back-to-back games are tough enough, but if there is a more difficult team to play in the NHL than the Blues, we have not seen it. When St. Louis gets a lead, it sucks the life out of opponents and the game of hockey itself.

St. Louis was 31-8-2 when scoring first entering Sunday’s game.

Making matters worse for the Coyotes was the fact that they were without captain Shane Doan, who was serving the final game of his three-game suspension for elbowing Dallas forward Jamie Benn in the head. Also on the sidelines were leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata, veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin and forward Taylor Pyatt.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, it has reached the time of year when excuses do not matter; just results. The Coyotes didn’t get the one they needed.

St. Louis got goals from four different players while holding Phoenix to 20 shots in a 4-0 win as it pulled ahead of the New York Rangers in the quest for the NHL’s best overall record and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

“Lost opportunity,” coach Dave Tippett said. “When you have this many games left, every opportunity, you have to try to seize. Even though we had a tough turnaround, we’ve got to go out there and find ways to get points.”

We won’t bore you with the details of Sunday’s game. If you watched it once, that was torture enough.

But the fallout from this loss is significant. The Coyotes are still tied with Dallas atop the Pacific with 87 points, but Los Angeles and San Jose are just one point back, and all three of those division rivals have two games in hand.

When the Coyotes finally hit the ice again Thursday to host the Sharks, it’s highly likely they will be staring up at the Western Conference’s top eight teams with five games to play.

“We pretty much have to win four of the five just to get an opportunity to get into the playoffs, and that’s not going to be an easy feat with two of those games on the road,” forward Gilbert Brulé said.

Here’s how it breaks down. After hosting San Jose on Thursday, the Coyotes host Anaheim on Saturday and Columbus on April 3 before concluding the regular season with games at St. Louis on April 6 and Minnesota on April 7.

The good news is that Doan will return for Thursday’s game. Aucoin could be ready, too. And if Vrbata can lace up his skates, he’d better do just that on Thursday.

The Coyotes need all hands on deck for this stretch run. There are no more mulligans left in the bag.