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Coyotes beat Canucks to complete perfect trip

by John Kreiser
If the Phoenix Coyotes make the playoffs -- and they're in very good shape to do just that -- they'll look back at the last six days as the stretch that made the difference.

The Coyotes completed a perfect 4-0-0 trip on Friday night by beating the best team in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1 at Rogers Arena. After more than 53 minutes of scoreless hockey, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan scored 78 seconds apart during a five-minute power play in the third period to support former Canuck Jason LaBarbera's 46-save performance.

Phoenix finished the season 6-0-0 in Western Canada -- it's the first team in 10 years to win all six games at Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton -- and is solidly in fourth place in the West with 89 points. The Coyotes are just one point behind San Jose for the Pacific Division lead as they prepare for a six-game homestand that begins Sunday against Chicago.

In the East, Carolina rallied to beat the New York Islanders 3-2 in OT and tie eighth-place Buffalo with 76 points, though the Sabres have two games in hand.

Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Friday night's games:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

Philadelphia (94 points) had the day off before visiting Dallas on Saturday, capping a three-game road trip.

Washington (94 points after Friday's 3-0 win at New Jersey) got a 33-save performance from Michal Neuvirth and two goals by Mike Knuble to win in Newark despite managing just 12 shots on goal. Jeff Schultz had his first goal of the season and Alex Ovechkin had a pair of assists as the Caps pulled even with the Flyers, though Philadelphia has two games in hand. The Caps go to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

Boston (88 points) plays Saturday at Toronto in what figures to be an emotional night for one of the newest Bruins. Ex-Leaf Tomas Kaberle, acquired by Boston from Toronto last month, will take the ice at the Air Canada Centre for the first time in a visiting uniform.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (90 points) has been able to use the four-day before Sunday's game against the Rangers (12:30 p.m., NBC) to help some of its newcomers and callups get used to their surroundings. The Penguins must be doing something right -- they are 5-1-2 in their last eight games.

Tampa Bay (88 points) completes a four-game road trip with a visit to Ottawa on Saturday. The Bolts are 1-0-2 so far, and would like to avenge last week's 2-1 home loss to the Senators.

Montreal (85 points after Friday's 6-3 loss at New York) opted to use starter Carey Price in goal against the Rangers -- but he was shelled for five goals in the first period as the Rangers coasted to victory. The Canadiens have Saturday off before a visit to Minnesota on Sunday.

New York Rangers (80 points after Friday's 6-3 home win against Montreal) rode its biggest first period in 11 years to victory over the Canadiens. New York scored five times in the first 20 minutes, the first time the Rangers scored that many in the opening period since Dec. 15, 1999. The only bad news was that Henrik Lundqvist left Madison Square Garden with a stiff neck after a third-period collision -- he says he'll try to play Sunday in Pittsburgh; but if he can't, they'll have to use rookie Chad Johnson.

Buffalo (76 points) opens a big weekend when Atlanta comes to HSBC Arena on Saturday, followed by Nashville on Sunday. Those are the two games in hand the Sabres have on Carolina.

On the outside looking in:

Carolina (76 points after Friday's 3-2 home OT win against the Islanders) was dominated for long stretches by the speedy Isles, but got 35 saves by Cam Ward to stay in the game before Eric Cole tied it late in regulation and Joni Pitkanen won it with 62 seconds left in OT. The 'Canes can only sit and watch for the next three days -- they don't play again until Ottawa comes to the RBC Center on Tuesday.

Atlanta (72 points) has its biggest game of the season at Buffalo on Saturday. A win gets the Thrashers within two points of eighth place; a loss and they're six out.

Toronto (72 points) will be back home to host Boston on Saturday after a 4-0 loss at Florida on Thursday in which veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere started for the first time in a month. Expect rookie James Reimer to be in goal when the Bruins come to Air Canada Centre.

New Jersey (70 points after Friday's 3-0 home loss to Washington) did everything right but score against the Caps. The Devils took 33 shots, limited Washington to 12 and didn't take a penalty. But they couldn't put the puck past rookie Michal Neuvirth, while the Caps beat Martin Brodeur three times. The Devils have lost back-to-back games for the first time since the first week of 2011.

Western Conference

Division leaders:

Vancouver (103 points after Friday's 3-1 home loss to Phoenix) saw its seven-game winning streak end despite outshooting the Coyotes 47-29. Alex Burrows' major penalty for boarding with 8:51 remaining in a scoreless game resulted in two power-play goals for Phoenix. The Canucks have four days off before beginning a four-game trip in Detroit on Wednesday.

Detroit (94 points) should have Brian Rafalski available Saturday night in Nashville -- GM Ken Holland said the defenseman's right knee was OK after he left Thursday's game in the third period. Center Pavel Datsyuk is another story -- he's listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury sustained Thursday.

San Jose (90 points) will be without coach Todd McLellan for Saturday's home game against St. Louis. McLellan will be attending the funeral of his brother-in-law. Assistant Trent Yawney will run the bench.

The next five:

Phoenix (89 points after Friday's 3-1 win at Vancouver) rolled the dice by giving up backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera his first start since he allowed eight goals at Tampa Bay on Feb. 23. LaBarbera responded with a brilliant 46-save outing, and the Coyotes capitalized on a five-minute power play to score twice, breaking up a scoreless game. The 'Yotes have their next six games at home -- though they're 22-12-5 on the road and just 17-11-6 at Arena.

Los Angeles
(85 points) tries to bounce back after perhaps its worst effort of the season, a 4-0 home loss to St. Louis on Thursday in which L.A. was outshot 39-17. The Kings have 11 games remaining -- and three are against archrival Anaheim, which comes to Staples Center on Saturday night.

Dallas (84 points) welcomes Philadelphia for a rare visit to the American Airlines Center on Saturday. The Flyers are making just third trip to Dallas since the end of 2003.

Chicago (84 points) is off until Sunday in Phoenix. The Hawks have two days to recover from one of their worst performances of the season, a 5-0 loss at Dallas on Thursday.

Calgary (83 points) can only sit and hope the other contenders lose -- the Flames don't play again until Sunday, when they visit Anaheim.

On the outside looking in:

Nashville (82 points) will try to beat Detroit for the fourth consecutive time when the Wings come to Bridgestone Arena. It's something they've never been able to do.

Anaheim (81 points) heads up the highway for a visit to Los Angeles on Saturday, then returns home to host Calgary on Sunday before playing three games on the road.

Minnesota (77 points) could make or break its season this weekend. The Wild are home after an 0-4-0 trip for games against Columbus on Saturday and Montreal on Sunday. They probably need to win both to have a chance to make the playoffs.

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