Ducks-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 30, 2012
The Phoenix Coyotes are locked in a four-team race for the Pacific Division title. To pick up two more valuable points, they'll have to avoid a fourth consecutive lopsided loss to their next opponent. The Anaheim Ducks have earned three straight decisive victories over Phoenix, which will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena. In a tight battle with Dallas, Los Angeles and San Jose for the division crown and the third seed in the Western Conference, the Coyotes (38-27-13) earned a critical victory Thursday by beating the Sharks 2-0. Phoenix avoided a third straight defeat and earned at least a point for the ninth time in 11 games as it continued its push for a third consecutive postseason appearance. "It's got to be a momentum game for us that makes us hungrier for that next game," said coach Dave Tippett, whose team last won two straight during a season-best six-game run Feb. 16-28. "We're going to have to play well the last four games to get ourselves in." More solid performances in net from Mike Smith could make that happen. The veteran recorded his sixth shutout and 34th victory with 38 saves Thursday. "Smitty finds a way to win - that's what he's done for us all year," Tippett said. That was true in the first two meetings with Anaheim in 2011-12, as Smith turned aside 48 of 54 shots. However, he was also in goal for the last three matchups as the Ducks outscored the Coyotes 14-4. Andrew Cogliano recorded a hat trick in the most recent one, a 4-1 Anaheim road win Jan. 31. Another victory would give the Ducks (33-33-11) their first season series win over Phoenix since 2008-09, although they may not be nearly as motivated this time around. Anaheim, loser of five of six on the road, was eliminated from postseason contention Wednesday. It can still have an impact on the West playoff picture, as the club also has contests against Vancouver and Calgary remaining. "These games we are just trying to finish strong and see what happens," veteran forward Teemu Selanne said. "... It's a tough situation. But we are playing well." Anaheim has won three of four and gone 23-11-5 in its last 39. Jonas Hiller has posted a 1.97 goals-against average while starting 37 of those, and he should be in net on Saturday after stopping 28 shots against San Jose in his team-record 70th start. Hiller, one win shy of reaching 30 for the second time, was in net for the last three games against Phoenix and posted a 1.33 GAA. Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata could prove to be an obstacle to Hiller reaching that milestone. After missing two games due to an allergic reaction to penicillin, Vrbata netted his 31st and 32nd goals Thursday. His 33rd would give him the franchise's highest total since Nelson Emerson had that many for the Winnipeg Jets in 1993-94. Ray Whitney, who assisted on both of Vrbata's goals against San Jose, needs one point to reach 1,000. He has three goals and nine assists during a 10-game point streak in this series. The Ducks' last four-game winning streak against Phoenix was Jan. 4-March 22, 2009.
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