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Coyotes battle Avalanche for critical two points

by Brian Hunter
AVALANCHE (40-30-5) at COYOTES (36-26-12)


Last 10:
Colorado 7-2-1; Phoenix 3-4-3

Season Series: Fourth and final meeting. The Coyotes have won two of three, including the most recent matchup on Jan. 16 at Arena. Mike Smith stopped 38 shots while Shane Doan and Boyd Gordon each scored twice to spark a 6-1 rout.

Big Story: Both teams are in the position of needing points just about every time out -- the Avs are seventh in the Western Conference, just one point ahead of the eighth-place Kings and ninth-place Coyotes, and will only have six games remaining after Thursday. Meanwhile, Phoenix could rise from out of the playoffs to the Pacific Division lead with a win and losses by Dallas and Los Angeles. But the Coyotes will be without Doan, who was suspended for three games by the NHL after an elbowing incident in Tuesday's game against the Stars.

Team Scope:

Avalanche: Five of Colorado's last six games have gone past regulation, and the Avalanche improved to 4-0-1 in those contests with Tuesday's 2-1 overtime win over the Flames at Pepsi Center. David Jones knocked home the rebound of a Paul Stastny shot with 1:09 remaining in the extra period to snap a nine-game losing streak against Calgary. Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves for his 10th win in 12 starts, allowing Matt Stajan's goal 1:47 into the first and nothing else. Stastny drew the Avalanche even later in the period.

"We owed them that for sure," Jones said of ending the Avs' run of futility against the Flames. "They've played us hard all year. It's only fitting with such a tight race, I guess, with all of us coming down the stretch. It's a huge win. Every game is so important. It's a lot of fun to play right now."

In a showdown where the winner would claim the division lead and the loser would be left scrambling to regain position, Phoenix forced overtime Tuesday with a furious third-period rally, coming back from a 3-1 deficit on a shorthanded goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a power-play tally by Ray Whitney. The game ended up being decided in a shootout, where the Coyotes fell 4-3 as Mike Ribeiro beat Smith for the only score in the tiebreaker.

"It's tough (being down by two goals)," said forward Lauri Korpikoski, who scored the other Phoenix goal in the first. "We've been in that spot too many times. We're spending too much energy chasing from behind."

Who's Hot: Stastny has goals in consecutive games for the Avalanche and 4 points in as many games. Varlamov has a .951 save percentage during his current 10-2-0 run. … Whitney has 2 goals and 6 assists during a five-game points streak for the Coyotes. Ekman-Larsson 4 goals and 2 assists in his last five games.

Injury Report: Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson (back spasms) and forward Chuck Kobasew (strained back) are day-to-day. … Phoenix defenseman Adrian Aucoin (lower body) and forwards Radim Vrbata (illness) and Taylor Pyatt (upper body) are day-to-day.

Stat Pack: Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog became only the second rookie to surpass 20 goals and 200 hits in a season, joining defenseman Dion Phaneuf who did it in 2005-06 for the Flames. … Ekman-Larsson is fifth in goals among blueliners with 12 after scoring once in 48 games as a rookie.

Puck Drop: Colorado is tied for 10th in power-play percentage, with an 18.6 success rate, but its 204 man-advantage opportunities this season are the fewest in the League.

"Hopefully, when we go down the stretch, we'll get some more power plays," said Stastny, whose 6 power-play goals tie Milan Hejduk for the team lead. "As long as we are winning and not getting power plays, that is fine by us."
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