Posted March 21, 2012 on AP on Fox
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Following a nearly perfect February, wins have been hard to come by this month for a Phoenix Coyotes team in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Making matters worse, they'll have to host the surging Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night without their captain. The NHL suspended Phoenix right wing Shane Doan three games Wednesday for elbowing Jamie Benn in the head during Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas. Doan was also suspended three games in 2010, making him a repeat offender under the league's collective bargaining agreement. He has played in all 74 games this season and ranks third on the team in goals (21), assists (26) and points (47). Doan had two goals the last time the Coyotes faced Colorado, a 6-1 home win for Phoenix on Jan. 16. The Coyotes (36-26-12) and Stars entered Tuesday's game tied atop the Pacific Division, but with the shootout victory Dallas took a one-point lead. The loss dropped Phoenix, 3-5-3 in March after an 11-0-1 February, into an eighth-place tie with Los Angeles, though the Kings have a game in hand. "We found a way to get a point and we move on,'' coach Dave Tippett said. The Coyotes didn't look like they were going to get a point when they trailed 3-1 entering the third period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson's short-handed goal at 8:51 of the third got Phoenix within one, and Ray Whitney tied the score with 5:02 remaining with his 23rd goal. It marked the third time in five games the Coyotes rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit to earn at least one point, but the team knows it can't continue to play that way. "We've been in that spot too many times," said Lauri Korpikoski, who scored in the first period. "We're spending too much energy chasing from behind.'' If Phoenix falls behind again Thursday, it might not be able to stage a comeback against a Colorado team that has been stingy defensively, allowing one goal in each of its last three games. The Avs arrive in Arizona with a 5-0-1 record since March 10 and having won 11 of their last 15. They defeated Calgary 2-1 on Tuesday when David Jones scored 3:51 into overtime. Paul Stastny added his 19th goal of the season, and second in the last two games after scoring just once in his previous 12 contests. By beating the Flames, Colorado (40-30-5) moved into sole possession of seventh place in the West with 85 points - one more than the Coyotes and Kings. "A huge win for us and a huge two points," said Semyon Varlamov, who made 31 saves. "We're in a battle for a playoff spot and it's not going to be easy." Varlamov has been instrumental to Colorado's playoff push, posting a 1.91 goals-against average while winning his last five starts. He is 10-2-0 with a 1.48 GAA and two shutouts since Feb. 22. "He's playing great for us," defenseman Shane O'Brien said. "We're going to continue to try and get better in front of him and limit (the opponent's) chances, and if we do that we have a good chance of winning." Varlamov has been in net for all three games against the Coyotes this season. He stopped 25 shots in a 3-2 win Dec. 29, but surrendered nine total goals in losing the other two. Phoenix's Mike Smith was in net for both wins against the Avs - stopping 77 of 79 shots - and is 3-0-1 with a 0.98 GAA in four career starts versus Colorado. He is 3-4-2 with a 3.02 GAA and a shutout in March, however, after recording a 1.42 GAA while winning all 11 of his February starts.
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