Coyotes hope for rare good showing vs. Wild

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Arizona Coyotes
Apr 17, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Zach Sanford (12) gets sandwiched between Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) during the first period at Gila River Arena. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

April 19, 2021

The Arizona Coyotes have put themselves where they need to be heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.

Now they need to find a way to stay there.

The Coyotes have a narrow hold on fourth place in the West Division heading into their next game, at home Monday night against the Minnesota Wild.

Arizona had climbed into the West’s final playoff spot earlier this month, only to lose five in a row and get overtaken by the St. Louis Blues.

The Coyotes (20-20-5) ended the losing streak and moved back into fourth place in the West with a 3-2 win against the visiting Blues on Saturday night.

“We knew it was a big game,” Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “We needed to come up with two huge points, and we did.”

Arizona needs to focus on creating a wider cushion on the Blues (19-18-6), who have played two fewer games than the Coyotes.

“We’ve just got to keep working and keep getting wins here because we put ourselves in a good spot,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’m really proud of the guys.”

Arizona also needs to show it can beat a playoff-bound team such as the Wild (27-13-3), who have won five of six games against the Coyotes this season.

Minnesota comes in having won three in a row, a streak that began with a 5-2 win against the visiting Coyotes on Wednesday.

“It’s really important to keep going like we are,” Minnesota center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “It all starts in our D-zone.”

Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise are riding three-game goal streaks for the Wild. Parise’s goal on Saturday was his 400th point as a Wild player and his 199th goal for the team.

“We’re all competitive guys,” Parise said. “We want to win and want to be productive.”

Things haven’t gone completely smoothly for the Wild, however.

Kevin Fiala, who is tied for second on the Wild with 14 goals, was benched the last 11 minutes of the second period on Saturday night for turning the puck over.

“Everyone has to do the right things, and it’s not just Kevin,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter where we are in the game, especially if we’re leading a hockey game.

“You have to do the right things to … preserve what you’ve built and then hopefully expand on it. But you can’t do that if you’re turning the puck over and feeding into their push.”

Minnesota goalie Kaapo Kahkonen has started two of the previous games against the Coyotes and held them to a combined one goal on 56 shots.

Kahkonen most recently held the San Jose Sharks to two goals on 28 shots in a 5-2 Minnesota win on Saturday night.

Kahkonen’s 13 wins this season is a single-season rookie record for Minnesota, moving him past Darcy Kuemper, who likely will be in goal for the Coyotes on Monday night after he made 20 saves in the win over St. Louis on Saturday.

–Field Level Media