Posted January 18, 2013 on AP on Fox
The Phoenix Coyotes had to wait a little longer than expected to build off the most successful season in franchise history. The 113-day lockout, however, was nothing compared to the four years that have passed since the Dallas Stars' last trip to the postseason. With the core of their roster back from last season's historic run, the visiting Coyotes open the 48-game season Saturday night against a Dallas team that hopes its new additions can spark a playoff push. After sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference on March 29, Phoenix (42-27-13) rallied with five straight victories to close the regular season and win the Pacific Division - its first division title in franchise history. The Coyotes followed with their first postseason series victory since moving to Phoenix in 1996, beating Chicago in six games in the first round. They also took out Nashville in five games before losing in five in the conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles. Goalie Mike Smith played well for the Coyotes after replacing Ilya Bryzgalov, who departed for Philadelphia following the 2010-11 season. Smith won 38 games while tying for third in the league with eight shutouts and ranking seventh with a 2.21 goals-against average in his first full season. "He obviously has the talent to be a top goaltender, but the maturity from his experience as a No. 1 in the playoffs I think will bode well for him," coach Dave Tippett said. While defensemen Michal Rozsival and Kurt Sauer were not retained, Phoenix is expected to remain strong with Rostislav Klesla and newcomer Zbynek Michalek (trade via Pittsburgh) on the blue line. The Coyotes made an attempt to boost their attack with speed, signing forward Steve Sullivan in July and trading for center Matthew Lombardi on Wednesday. Sullivan had 17 goals and 48 points for Pittsburgh last season, while Lombardi had eight goals and 10 assists with the Maple Leafs after missing most of 2010-11 with a neck injury. Lombardi had a career-high 53 points for the Coyotes in 2009-10. "He plays with speed, he can play center or wing," Tippett said. "Some players have a knack for fitting in places and when his name came up, we thought it was a guy that we could add to our lineup was a real plus for us." Tippett hopes Lombardi and Sullivan, along with the return of captain Shane Doan (22 goals, 50 points) and Antoine Vermette in the middle, can help make up for the loss of wing Ray Whitney. Whitney, who led the Coyotes with 24 goals and 77 points, signed with Dallas in July. The offseason additions of Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy should help the Stars (42-35-5) improve after finishing a league-worst 13.5 percent on the power play en route to a 10th-place finish in the West in 2011-12. Jagr had career lows with 19 goals and 54 points for Philadelphia. Roy finished with 17 and 44, respectively, for Buffalo while battling through a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. The Stars will also rely on captain Brenden Morrow (11 goals, 26 points), Loui Eriksson (26, 71) and Michael Ryder (35, 62) with restricted free agent Jamie Benn (26, 63) still unsigned. Defensemen Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas lead Dallas in front of Kari Lehtonen, who had career bests with a 2.33 GAA and .922 save percentage last season. "We've got to be a harder team to play against," Robidas said. "Last year at times we were hard to play against and at times we weren't. We've just got to be relentless." The Stars went 3-2-1 against the Coyotes last season, with all three wins coming in shootouts.
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