Posted March 17, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Phoenix Coyotes are just off the Pacific Division lead, but they're also near the bottom of the Western Conference. A badly needed win in Edmonton could help them improve their chances for a third consecutive playoff appearance. Phoenix goes for its fifth consecutive victory over the Oilers - and the franchise's first season sweep in this series - as Edmonton tries to play spoiler again Sunday night. The Coyotes (35-26-11) are two points back of Dallas with 10 games to play. While Phoenix can pull even atop the division Tuesday when it caps off its four-game trip against the Stars, the club could also be looking up at San Jose and Los Angeles in the division race - and be outside the playoff picture - when the puck drops at Rexall Place. The Coyotes' ongoing struggles this month haven't helped their cause. Phoenix, which dropped to 2-5-2 in March with a 4-1 loss to Calgary on Thursday, went 11-0-1 in February. "This is desperation time,'' said coach Dave Tippett, one win shy of 400. "For us to come out and play a game like that is unacceptable for our group.'' Phoenix fell behind 17 seconds into Thursday's game, and that could be a bad sign after Edmonton (28-36-7) turned in an energized first period Friday. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle scored in the opening 20 minutes and the Oilers went on to a 3-1 win over the Flames. "It's as close to a playoff game as we are going to have this year," Nugent-Hopkins said after scoring two goals to help slow the playoff push of his team's archrival. The Oilers, 14th in the West, will be trying to win three straight for the first time since Jan. 31-Feb. 4. Edmonton, though, has lost nine of 10 versus the Coyotes and all three matchups in 2011-12. However, history suggests Phoenix may have a difficult time winning Sunday, as the Coyotes/former Winnipeg Jets franchise has never swept the Oilers. The only time Phoenix didn't lose to Edmonton during a season was in 2000-01 when it went 2-0-0 with two ties. Oilers forward Taylor Hall might not be ready for this matchup after suffering a concussion in the opening minute Friday. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins lead the club with two goals and three points apiece versus Phoenix this season. Eberle, the team leader with 31 goals and 69 points, has no goals in seven career matchups with the Coyotes. Mike Smith has struggled to a 2-4-1 record and 3.24 goals-against average this month after powering Phoenix's scorching February by winning all 11 of his starts. Smith has posted a 1.67 GAA in starting all three games against Edmonton this season. The Oilers' Devan Dubnyk owns a 3.42 GAA in those matchups. He made 17 saves in a 3-1 home loss to Phoenix on Feb. 25. Dubnyk may make a fourth consecutive start after stopping 40 of 41 shots during the Oilers' back-to-back wins. He stopped the only two shots he faced in the final 20 minutes Friday. "They had two shots and zero chances in the third period,'' coach Tom Renney said. "That's what we have to be all about if we want to be a winning team." Coyotes leading scorer Ray Whitney, an Edmonton-area native, has five assists in the last three games. He leads the team with five points versus the Oilers this season.
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