DALLAS -- Tonight's game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center is a contest with high stakes. Not only is the lead in the Pacific Division on the line, but the winner could also begin making a serious push to establish itself as a legitimate playoff team in the Western Conference.
These teams last met on Feb. 4 in Dallas and it was the Coyotes who prevailed 4-1 in a game where 10 different Phoenix players registered at least a point, including four different goal scorers. Getting similar contributions from his entire roster is something coach Dave Tippett knows has been crucial to his club's success all season long.
"Yeah, that's how we have to play. We rely on everybody throughout our lineup to contribute both defensively and offensively," Tippett said. "Usually when we have a situation where we get contributions throughout the lineup, it obviously gives us a much better chance to win."
Phoenix last played on Sunday, beating the Oilers 3-2 in a shootout in Edmonton. Wingers Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt both left that game early with undisclosed injuries. Tippett termed both as game-time decisions, but did say defenseman Adrian Aucoin will miss a third straight game with a lower-body injury.
The last time these division rivals squared off, the Coyotes were beginning a run in February that would see them go 11-0-1 for the month. March hasn't been quite so kind to Phoenix, as it currently sits at 3-5-2 for the month, but Tippett sees definite signs of a turnaround with several recent positive results.
"Well, we lost a couple of games to start the month there. We were banged up and lost a couple defensemen for two weeks and our top four guys really got run down. We got into some games where we got behind early and that's not the way to play when your team's run down," Tippett said. "Lately we've been playing better. We've gotten points in three of the last four games here, so it seems like we're getting back to finding ways to win again and finding ways to get points and that's the way you're going to have to be if you're going to get yourself a spot."
But his Coyotes will be facing a Stars team that has dropped two straight to Chicago and Winnipeg by a combined score of 9-3. These back-to-back losses came after Dallas put together an 11-game point streak that vaulted them to the Pacific Division lead and the third spot in the West standings.
Like the rest of his NHL counterparts whose teams are battling for a playoff spot, Tippett is well aware of how big tonight's game is both from a divisional as well as from a playoff standpoint.
"This [playoff race] is pretty good right here. The Pacific Division, that's as tight as it's going to get," Tippett said. "We always talk about there's two ways to make the playoffs -- win your division or top eight. I never envisioned them both being so close."