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Preview: Flames vs. Coyotes

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

The Phoenix Coyotes used a February surge to climb to the top of the Pacific Division, but March got off to a rough start after a matchup with the Calgary Flames.

Now the Flames are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, while the Coyotes are clinging to seventh place in the Western Conference.

Calgary looks to gain more ground on Phoenix when the teams meet Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Coyotes went 11-0-1 last month in one of their signature late-season runs, though they haven't been able to carry over that success. Beginning with a 4-2 loss to the Flames (33-25-12) on March 1 - ending a six-game winning streak in the series - Phoenix lost six of seven before beating Vancouver 5-4 on Wednesday.

Ray Whitney had three assists and Antoine Vermette had a goal and two assists for the Coyotes (35-25-11), who are one point ahead of eighth-place Colorado and three in front of Calgary, San Jose and Los Angeles, which are all tied for ninth.

Mike Smith, who won all 11 of his February starts with a 1.42 goals-against average, is 2-3-1 with a 3.11 GAA over his last six starts after making 39 saves Wednesday.

"If we play well and get our own points, we can control our own destiny on whether we make the playoffs or not," coach Dave Tippett said. "To come out and get points like this is huge for our group."

The Flames' last victory over the Coyotes began a 5-1-1 run, and they've won four straight after a 3-2 overtime victory over San Jose on Tuesday.

Coach Brent Sutter said each game has a playoff-like feel to it as his team tries to fight its way into the postseason picture.

"You look at the standings and these teams you're playing, they're all emotional games," Sutter said. "They just get bigger as they go along."

Matt Stajan scored the winner to give him two goals and three assists during a four-game point streak.

"The feeling of winning games, the mood in the locker room is contagious right now," Stajan said. "Things happen easier for our team when we're playing with confidence, and it just shows how tight of a group (we have) and how bad we want this."

Jarome Iginla also scored to give him 30 goals in 11 consecutive seasons, becoming only the seventh player in league history to accomplish that feat. He has goals in five straight during his seven-game point streak - which began with a goal and an assist against the Coyotes - while totaling seven goals and six assists during his run.

"I've been very fortunate as a shooter to play with some great passers over the years and I'd love to keep it going, but the biggest thing, definitely, is this playoff run and the win," Iginla said.

Miikka Kiprusoff made 29 saves to improve to 5-0-1 with a 2.60 GAA in a run that began after stopping 29 shots versus Phoenix. He had gone 0-3-1 with a 3.22 GAA in his four previous starts against the Coyotes.

Whitney had a goal and an assist before netting the shootout winner in a 4-3 win in Calgary on Feb. 23, helping Phoenix to its third straight road win in the series.

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