The Arizona Coyotes are riding an unusual wave of momentum that, for a downtrodden franchise, is hard to fathom.
After yet another victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, the Coyotes will face a second Atlantic Division powerhouse when they put a three-game winning streak on the line against the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon in a New Year’s Eve matchup.
Since the calendar flipped a year ago to 2022, Arizona has beaten the Leafs — owners of the Eastern Conference’s third-best record — all four times in the last 12 months.
The Coyotes defeated Toronto 2-1 and 5-4 in January and March, respectively. Then they topped the Canadian club 4-2 in Ontario on Oct. 17. In Thursday’s final meeting, the Coyotes piled it on the Leafs, beating them 6-3 at the Central Division team’s tiny rink on the campus of Arizona State.
That victory made it a 4-0-0 mark in 2022 against a group featuring superstars Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
Arizona enters Friday ranked 27th in points percentage out of 32 teams. It was 31st in the league last season with just 57 points.
“We’re winning games against really good opponents,” said Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny, whose squad was 6-1-1 at home in December.
He added that his team constantly tweaked its game to beat Toronto.
“They’re so relentless on the puck,” Tourigny said. “You have no time, no space, everywhere. … Tonight was a working day. We needed to dig in and go deep behind their (defense) and go to work. Lot of credit to our players. They adjusted during the game and were really good in the second period.”
Toronto led 3-2 after 40 minutes, but Arizona responded with a four-goal third. J.J. Moser tallied on the power play, and Jack McBain netted the game-winner at 13:43. McBain and Barrett Hayton put markers into an empty net.
After winning for the sixth straight time at home, Tampa Bay has been well-tested as it prepares for the last game of 2022.
Going 9-3-0 thus far in December, the Lightning won for the first time in five regular-season games against the New York Rangers by rallying for a 2-1 shootout win Friday.
They trailed 1-0 in the third, got a goal from Brayden Point to force overtime and won their second straight on Alex Killorn’s shootout winner and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (45 saves) stopping five of six New York shots in the extra session. Point also scored in the shootout.
By all accounts, it was a hard-fought tilt that resembled a match played with plenty more on the line than two points.
“That was a good hockey game,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “You play 82 of them. It’s NHL hockey, but to me, you could’ve inserted that for any one of the playoff games last year.
“It was wildly entertaining, goalies were making saves, guys were getting chances, posts were ringing at both ends of the ice. It’s pretty fitting that it went to a shootout.”
Against Arizona, the Lightning are 9-5-0 in their past 14 meetings dating back to the 2014-15 season. Overall this year, they are 14-4-1 at home and 6-1 in overtime and shootouts.
–Field Level Media