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Coyotes continue playoff quest against Lightning

by Brian Hunter

COYOTES (29-24-11) at LIGHTNING (34-24-6)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-5-1; Tampa Bay 3-6-1

Season series: This is the second of two games between the Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Radim Vrbata combined for two goals and eight assists as the Coyotes beat the Lightning 6-3 at Arena on Nov. 16.

Big story: The Coyotes lost ground in the Western Conference race Saturday after blowing a two-goal, third-period lead to the Washington Capitals, coupled with a rally by the Dallas Stars against the Minnesota Wild. They'll try to rebound against the Lightning, who are 0-1-1 since the trade of Martin St. Louis and return of Steven Stamkos.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: It took a span of barely over five minutes for everything to go from cruise control to disaster for Phoenix, which sits three points behind Dallas for the second wild-card berth in the West. The Coyotes let a 2-0 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining slip away, giving up three goals in 5:02 for a 3-2 loss to the Capitals.

The Coyotes and Stars each have 18 games remaining, and Phoenix finishes a road trip with games on consecutive nights against Tampa Bay and the Florida Panthers.

"If the message doesn't start getting through here, we'll have an early spring," coach Dave Tippett said in the Arizona Republic. "That's just the way it goes."

Lightning: Since opening the month with a victory in Dallas it's been a rocky road for Tampa Bay, which is winless in four (0-3-1) overall and three points clear of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning have four more dates left on a six-game homestand in which to try to right the ship.

Stamkos, searching for his first point since a nearly four-month layoff due to a broken leg, said he thought the Lightning passed a "character test" in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins on Saturday, despite letting leads of 2-0 and 3-2 get away. His coach warned that only counts for so much, though.

"If you want to be a playoff team, you have to close teams out regardless of who you're playing," Jon Cooper said in the Tampa Bay Times.

Who's hot: Vrbata has three goals in the past two games for the Coyotes. Defenseman Keith Yandle has one goal and seven assists in the past eight games. … Lightning forward Tyler Johnson set up a shorthanded goal by Ondrej Palat on Saturday to extend his point streak to three games (two goals, one assist).

Injury report: Hanzal (lower body) and defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) are day-to-day for Phoenix. Schlemko was with the team in Tampa, but is returning to Phoenix to rest. … Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas (leg) is day-to-day.

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