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Coyotes back in action to begin final stretch run

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an anxious three days for the Phoenix Coyotes as they could do nothing but watch the standings as their Western Conference foes attempted to compile points and leave them behind.

Now the Coyotes enter their final five games of the season with a clear mission -- and in control of their own fate. Win four of five and they are likely headed to a third straight NHL playoff berth. Stumble more than once along the way, beginning with tonight's huge game against the San Jose Sharks at Arena, and things get much more uncertain and gloomy.

"You look at the standings, and if we win our games we're fine," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who returns from a three-game suspension tonight. "You'd rather be sitting where Nashville is or Vancouver is, but we're not, so we have to find way to win our way in and earn it. But we control our own destiny and that's all you can ask. It's right there for us."

In addition to Doan, the Coyotes were able to heal over the three-day break. With the exception of winger Taylor Pyatt, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said everyone else on the roster is available for duty, meaning leading scorer Radim Vrbata and defensemen Adrian Aucoin and David Schlemko are prepared to play. Tippett has a lot of different ways he can go lineup-wise and wasn't tipping his hand at the pregame skate.

The Coyotes finish the season against three teams out of the playoff race -- Anaheim, Columbus and Minnesota -- as well as Western Conference-leading St. Louis. So the chance to improve their position and have a direct effect on a competitor ends tonight.

The Sharks lost 3-1 in Anaheim on Wednesday, making this game incredibly crucial for them as well. San Jose finishes its season with two games each against Los Angeles and Dallas -- the other two Pacific Division teams fighting for three playoff spots along with Colorado and Calgary. Not everyone will survive.

"Our players know exactly where we are and what the scenarios are … but this is the last game that we have that we can have an effect on the one of these teams we are battling," Tippett said. "So that makes it of the utmost importance. After that we have to take care of ourselves, but this is a huge game."

The Sharks will be without defenseman Douglas Murray, who suffered a lower-body injury early against the Ducks. Veteran Colin White will replace him in the lineup.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:


Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Colin White - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin
Michal Roszival - Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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