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2019-20: A Look Back at the Season's Most Memorable Moments

Remembering the best of the best from the 2019-20 season

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Karma, upset wins, career bests, fighting spirits, capacity crowds, playoff magic and more, ArizonaCoyotes.com breaks down 10 of the most memorable moments from the 2019-20 season:

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BREAKING A GEOGRAPHIC JINX

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The Coyotes were in Winnipeg on October 15 facing a winless streak dating back to 2011.

Was it finally time?

Arizona had never won a game in Winnipeg. Ever. The Coyotes were 0-8-2 in Manitoba since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated and became the current Jets.

The season was young, and Coyotes were beginning to find a groove. They overcame two losses to begin the year by netting a win over highly touted Vegas and earning a point against up-and-coming Colorado.

But now, they faced history; they had to overcome Winnipeg.

The key to slaying that dragon? Head equipment manager Stan Wilson, who has been with the Coyotes since the team moved to the Valley in 1996 and originally served as the Jets' equipment manager starting in 1990.

Head coach Rick Tocchet had a slump-busting idea: he appointed Wilson to read the starting lineup to players prior to the game.

"We had to break the goose-egg," Tocchet said. "He's never done that before. Stan was the reason we won tonight. I really believe that. Karma."

The Coyotes won, 4-2.

Video: ARI@WPG: Schmaltz rips PPG past Hellebuyck

The Coyotes' "karma" was backed by a season-high 38 saves from Darcy Kuemper. Conor Garland scored in the closing seconds of the first period to erase an early deficit and spark a four-goal outburst. Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz followed with power-play goals early in the second; Dvorak added his second of the game, also in the second.

The Coyotes won seven games in October (7-4-1) for the fifth time in team history -- 1999, 2000, 2009, 2013 -- and strung together a season-long, four-game win streak Oct. 15-22 and six-game point streak Oct. 10-22.

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TAKING DOWN THE CHAMPS

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The Coyotes became the first team to defeat the previous two Stanley Cup Champions in consecutive games with back-to-back wins over the Capitals and Blues on November 11 and 12.

Despite surrendering a three-goal lead to Washington, the Coyotes pushed a powerful Capitals team to overtime and a shootout, where they clinched the game, courtesy of goals from Nick Schmaltz and Conor Garland. Final score over the 2018 champs, 4-3.

Antti Raanta stopped both Washington shootout attempts. He made 31 saves in regulation and overtime.

Video: ARI@WSH: Schmaltz beats Samsonov glove side in SO

The Coyotes traveled immediately to St. Louis to take on the 2019 defending champs. They did not arrive at the team hotel until almost 4:00 a.m.

"Getting in at the hour we did to the hotel, I don't think anyone felt good coming to the rink," said Darcy Kuemper, who made 33 saves against the Blues that night. "So, it was just important that we focused on the details we've been talking about. Even though the legs weren't there, guys were just working through it."

Arizona traded goals with St. Louis in regulation, but it was again Schmaltz and Garland who provided the shootout heroics, both players again scoring to secure a 3-2.

Video: ARI@STL: Garland picks the corner for shootout win

"I'm proud of the guys," head coach Rick Tocchet said after the game. "The circumstances. The tough schedule. Not much sleep. And that's a hell of a hockey club over there."

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IN THE FIGHT

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Eight-year-old Leighton Accardo provided a pre-game pep talk and joined the Coyotes for warm-ups prior to the their 3-0 win over the Calgary Flames on November 16. 

It was the Coyotes' annual "Hockey Fights Cancer" game and Leighton is fighting stage IV cancer. Doctors discovered her germ cell tumors last year. Her cancer is a type that has responded well to chemotherapy, which Leighton continues to undergo.

Leighton was signed to a one-day honorary contract and, in addition to serving as pre-game orator, swapped roles with captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, taking the ceremonial puck-drop face-off.

Video: Cancer fighter Leighton Accardo drops puck in Arizona

The Coyotes responded to her presence -- and her fighting spirit. Literally.

With the clock winding down in the second period and the Coyotes protecting a 2-0 lead, Jason Demers received a cross-check from Johnny Gaudreau after hitting the Flames forward in the corner. Demers continued to receive attention from Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk following the whistle, prompting Darcy Kuemper to take action.

"It's the kind of game you get when you play those guys, it's high tensions and it's a playoff atmosphere, which is great," Demers said. "I thought we stepped up, and it's nice having my security guard back there, Darcy."

Line Brawl: Tensions Rise Between Coyotes and Flames

Kuemper stopped all 37 shots faced to earn his second shutout of the season, the 18th of his career, and his eighth with the Coyotes.

"You never want to see Kuemps get in a fight," head coach Rick Tocchet said. "But his initiative to do that added a lot to our team. The whole bench got juiced up after that."

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FIRST PLACE

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The Coyotes claimed the top spot in the Pacific Division on December 5, following a 3-1 win. The loss was Philadelphia's second regulation loss at home all year.

The division standing marked the first time since 2011-12 that the Coyotes held first place after the first month of the season.

"It feels good, right?" said Phil Kessel, who scored twice in the win over Philadelphia.

Video: ARI@PHI: Kessel deflects home Keller's feed for PPG

The Coyotes spent 23 days in first place during the year, including the holiday break in late December. It also marked the first time Arizona owned the top spot in its division at the holiday break since 1999-00.

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HAYTON STRIKES GOLD

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Rookie Barrett Hayton was loaned to Team Canada for the 2020 World Junior Championship tournament on December 12.

"I have the chance to go over there and play a key role," he said. "It's the leadership aspect, but also just being an important player. Being one of those go-to guys that the team has to rely on."

Indeed, Hayton, who was assigned the top leadership role - team captain -- did play a key role for Team Canada, en route to a gold medal.

The 19-year-old led the team in scoring with six goals and six assists.

Despite suffering a Grade 1 separated shoulder in the semi-final game, Hayton returned to play in the gold medal game against Russia. In made-for-TV fashion, he scored the game-tying goal with eight minutes left. Canada went on to beat Russia, 4-3.

2020 World Juniors: Barrett Hayton's Tying Goal

"He wasn't going to be denied," Team Canada GM Mark Hunter said. "We were going to have to use handcuffs to handcuff him to the dressing room. That's how much he wanted to play."

"Winning gold is just the best feeling in the world," Hayton said. "Coming together like this as a group in just 29 days is phenomenal. We have such a close group. Everybody bought in and came together, and that showed."

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NO. 100

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Rick Tocchet earned win No. 100 as Coyotes head coach February 29.

The Coyotes scored five unanswered goals to erase a two-goal deficit, beating the Sabres, 5-2. It was the final game at Gila River Arena prior to the COVID-19 pandemic pause.

Tocchet didn't celebrate his personal achievement. "I'm worried about Vancouver," he said, looking ahead to the Coyotes' next game.

Tocchet's milestone victory came just over a month after he coached the Pacific Division to a championship at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Tocchet earned the All-Star duty when Gerard Gallant, initially selected to coach the Pacific Division, was fired by the Golden Knights in mid-January. The Coyotes owned first place in the Pacific Division at the time of Gallant's firing.

Wayne Gretzky, the Pacific Division's honorary captain, manned the bench with Tocchet.

"It was a lot of fun, they did a great job here," Tocchet said of the weekend in St. Louis. "It was fun to see some old friends -- Craig Berube and Wayne Gretzky. That was really fun, a lot of good festivities. The players were really great. I enjoyed talking to them."

"I just opened the gate and those guys won. It was fun."

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FULL HOUSE

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The Coyotes hosted nine sellouts at Gila River Arena this season.

Arizona had eight games remaining on its home schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the season. It sold out 20 percent (9-of-33) games played at Gila River Arena.

"They care about hockey here," Taylor Hall said at season's end. "The amount of sellouts that we had, the fan support was awesome. That's something that I wouldn't have known about before coming here."

The Coyotes had six sellouts in 2018-19; they matched that mark this year on January 4.

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GOALS FOR GARLAND

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Conor Garland led the Coyotes with 22 goals this season.

He became the first Coyotes to hit - and surpass - the 20-goal mark since Clayton Keller recorded 23 in 2017-18.

Asked if goal No. 20, which he scored in a 2-1 win over the Islanders on February 17, had any special significance, Garland replied: "I mean I think it's just, you know, it's just, it's just another goal."

Video: NYI@ARI: Garland taps in Dvorak feed from in front

That goal against the Islanders was Garland's team-leading, fifth game-winning goal of the season.

Garland finished the year with the highest shooting percentage (13.9) on the roster despite taking the second-most shots (158).

His four shootout goals -- not counted in his stats, of course - tied him with Nick Schmaltz for the team lead. He was tied for No. 3 in the NHL.

Video: ARI@WSH: Garland seals shootout win for Coyotes

"I haven't really accomplished anything," Garland said. "I think this year I've just proved that I'm an NHL player. I think that was step No. 1. I got to the 20-goal mark. That's fine, but I never was a goal scorer."

Garland finished No. 3 on the roster with 39 points.

"I look at my assist numbers, and I think I have a long way to go," he said. "I want to be a top player in this league, I think everybody does, and I think I have the abilities to do that."

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DOMINANT DARCY

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Darcy Kuemper was in the Vezina Trophy conversation before he suffered a lower-body injury December 19.

Kuemper ranked No. 2 in the NHL in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.17), with a 15-8-2 record, including two shutouts, at the time of his injury. He earned his first NHL All-Star selection on December 30, but did not participate.

Video: BOS@ARI: Kuemper stops pair of scoring chances

He missed nearly two months.

"If he doesn't get hurt (in December), maybe he wins the Vezina," Tocchet said.

Kuemper finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in save percentage (.928) and goals-against average (2.22).

He followed up with a spectacular postseason.

Kuemper set a career-high with nine starts and four wins in the playoffs, surpassing the benchmarks he set in six postseason games with Minnesota in 2014.

He led the NHL in the qualifiers and first round of the playoffs with 305 saves.

Kuemper twice set record highs for saves. He registered 49 saves in the Game 4-clinching win over Nashville, and posted 49 saves in the Game 3 win against Colorado.

Video: COL@ARI, Gm3: Kuemper dominates with 49 saves

He twice finished two saves shy of matching Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record for saves in a playoff game. Khabibulin made 51 saves in the 1996 Western Conference Quarter-Finals against Detroit. 

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PLAYOFF TRIUMPH

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The Coyotes were a team under most experts' radar in their first playoff series in more than eight years. They came through in upset fashion, when they eliminated the heavily favored Predators in four games.

It had been more than 3,000 days since the Coyotes last celebrated a playoff series win.

"It's huge for the organization," head coach Rick Tocchet said. "The resiliency (through) the things that have been thrown at the organization, the team. I'm just proud of the guys and how they dealt with it. I'm just proud of the guys. A lot of the stuff that happened to this team, the guys were resilient. It's a big win for us." 

The Coyotes won Game 1, lost Game 2, and won Game 3 to set up the crowning Game 4.

Unsung heroes abounded in the clinching game.

Michael Grabner was questionable for the playoffs. He opened the scoring in Game 4.

Jordan Oesterle started training camp on the defense's fourth pairing and was not in the playoff top six. He scored the go-ahead goal in the third period.

Vinnie Hinostroza was a healthy scratch the first two games of the series. He set-up the overtime, series-winning goal.

Brad Richardson, who overcame core surgery during the pause and scored the overtime, series-clinching goal, was a mainstay on the fourth line.

Video: NSH@ARI, Gm4: Richardson sends Yotes to next rd in OT

Overall, sixteen of the 19 Arizona skaters to play in the series recorded at least one point. Eleven different players scored at least one goal.

Then, there was Kuemper, whose play defined the team's overall effort and the series.

Kuemper made 152 saves against Nashville, posting a .933 percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average.

He made a career-high 49 saves in Game 4.

"You're always trying to chip away at certain things," Tocchet said. "I remember three years ago, we said we wanted to chip away at playing some important games, and these were the most important games (the organization) has played in a long time."

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