GLENDALE – The Coyotes headed from Columbus to Nashville today to play their final road game of the regular season on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
They took with them a point they earned via a shootout loss to the Blue Jackets the night before, courtesy of a clutch goal scored by defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with 15 seconds left in the third period.
"The point we got could turn out to be a very valuable point," Head Coach Dave Tippett said Wednesday afternoon, after the team practiced in Columbus. "The bottom line is now we’re in a situation where we’ve got to win out. That’s just the way it is. The players recognize that, the coaching staff recognizes that and we’re preparing accordingly… We’ve always been a realistic group and we know exactly where we are."
And where they are is chasing the Dallas Stars.
The Coyotes will be watching tonight’s Stars vs. Blue Jackets game in Dallas with great interest. That’s because Phoenix is trailing Dallas by two points in the Western Conference standings with three games to go for both teams. Either Dallas or Phoenix will capture the conference’s second wild-card playoff berth.
The Coyotes and Stars will not play on the same day again until Sunday, when they will face off in the regular-season finale for both teams at Jobing.com Arena.
Dallas owns the first tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins, aka ROW), so it has only to tie the Coyotes in points to make the playoffs.
From the NHL: "Tonight’s game between the Blue Jackets and Stars, NHL Game No. 971, will be played for a full 60 minutes of regulation time, plus any potential overtime and shootout. The contest, which was originally scheduled for March 10 but was halted at 6:23 of the first period due to a medical emergency involving Stars forward Rich Peverley, will begin with Columbus ahead 1-0 – the score at the time play was stopped. A goal will be credited to Nathan Horton, with assists to Matt Calvert and James Wisniewski. All other statistics from March 10 are expunged."
Goalie Mike Smith, who hasn’t played since suffering a lower-body injury on March 24, practiced with teammates again on Wednesday. Tippett said Smith would return to the lineup when Smith declares he’s ready.
"He continues to work away at it and everyday we monitor it, and if he thinks he can play he’ll play, but as of right now it doesn’t look like (he’ll play) tomorrow," Tippett said. "…(Smith’s injury) wasn’t as severe as we thought it was going to be, but then again, it just takes time."
Backup goalie Thomas Greiss is expected to again start in place of Smith vs. the Predators after giving up four goals vs. Columbus on Tuesday.
"You seem to only remember when someone makes a mistake, but he made so many huge saves for us throughout that game," captain Shane Doan said after Tuesday’s loss.
• Tippett said he expects center Martin Hanzal to take part in Thursday’s morning skate in Nashville but that it’s too soon to say if Hanzal will be able to play vs. the Predators. Hanzal is nursing a lower-body injury.
• Forward Martin Erat is expected to play in his 800th career NHL game on Thursday at Nashville, the city where he has spent the majority of his NHL career. The Predators selected Erat in the seventh round (191st overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. He then played 723 games for Nashville from 2001-13.
• The Coyotes are 0-2-3 in their past five games: "Our margin for error is slim," Tippett said. "We’ve got some execution issues that we can improve on a little bit and that would generate some chances for and take away chances against."