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Preview: Flames vs. Coyotes

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

The Phoenix Coyotes' current winning streak has put them very much in the mix for a Western Conference playoff spot.

Right behind them are the Calgary Flames.

The Coyotes look for a season-high fourth straight victory while trying to continue their recent success against the visiting Flames on Thursday night.

After enduring a stretch where it dropped 12 of 15 games, Phoenix (25-21-8) has bounced back to win three in a row and four of five to move into a tie with eighth-place Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the West.

"When you look at the standings, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 teams want to go (to the playoffs)," said forward Radim Vrbata, who scored his team-leading 25th goal and added an assist in Tuesday's 4-1 victory at Dallas. "We've battled."

Vrbata has totaled three goals and four assists in the last five games for the Coyotes, who have outscored San Jose, Detroit and Dallas 12-5 during their three-game winning streak.

"That's three games we've played how we want to play or how we have to play," coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes' official website. "We've got a lot of people really committed into doing things that make you win hockey games."

Goaltender Mike Smith is one of those players, posting a 1.67 goals-against average in the last three games.

"We're playing well as a group right now, we have good energy," Tippett said. "We're looking very strong. It's given our team some confidence."

The Coyotes should have plenty of confidence against Calgary (25-22-7), which has dropped four straight in the series on the road and overall against Phoenix.

Calgary, however, enters this contest one point and one place behind Phoenix in the West after winning 4-3 at San Jose on Wednesday to improve to 1-0-1 on a three-game trip.

"You look at the standings and you move on quickly and realize that tonight is a night were we need two," forward Michael Cammalleri told the Flames' official website.

Ex-Coyote Olli Jokinen recorded his seventh career hat trick and added an assist while Miikka Kiprusoff made 34 saves for his 300th NHL victory in the building where his career began as Calgary bounced back from a 3-2 shootout loss at Anaheim on Monday.

"Right now (300 is) not that big a deal," said Kiprusoff, the 27th NHL goalie to reach 300 wins. "We have a job to do here. We're fighting for the playoffs, and we need those wins."

Kiprusoff could be back in net during this back-to-back scenario even though he has a 3.39 GAA during a personal three-game skid against the Coyotes.

After going 15 straight games without a goal, Jokinen has four in the last three to go along with two assists during that stretch.

"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Jokinen said of his first hat trick since March 14, 2009. "It doesn't matter who scores the goals. You have to play with the team system."

Jokinen had a goal in Calgary's 4-3 home loss to the Coyotes in the teams' most recent meeting March 15.

This is the first of four meetings between Calgary and Phoenix in the next five weeks.

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