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Coyotes host Predators in potential playoff matchup

by John McGourty

PREDATORS (46-28-6) at COYOTES (48-25-6)

Last 10
-- Nashville 7-2-1; Phoenix 6-3-1

Season series -- It's the last of the four meeting between the two teams. The Coyotes have won two of the first three, with both games in Nashville going to shootouts. Adrian Aucoin's goal in the 10th round gave Phoenix a 1-0 win on Feb. 2. David Legwand scored in the third round of the shootout on March 25 to give the Predators a 4-3 win.

Big story -- The Coyotes' final home game could very well be a preview of a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series as Phoenix is solidly in fourth place in the Western Conference and the Predators are in fifth place. Phoenix set a team record with its 28th home victory Saturday against the Oilers. Patric Hornqvist leads the Predators with 30 goals and 51 points in his first full NHL season. Radim Vrbata leads the Coyotes with 24 goals while captain Shane Doan leads with 53 points despite a 23-game goalless streak.

Team Scope:

-- Predators center Jason Arnott has missed eight games since suffering a head injury on March 20 but may return against Phoenix. Coach Barry Trotz said that playing the last two regular-season games will benefit Arnott in the playoffs because players usually have an off-game in their second game back. Get it out of the way, Trotz is saying about his first-line center.

"The first game back is usually adrenaline driven, if you will, and (players) usually fall back the next couple of games," Trotz told The Tennessean. "We've only got a couple left. I expect him to be pretty good in Phoenix and I expect a little downward trend against St. Louis, and then we're in the playoffs. So there's no wiggle room."

Coyotes -- It's been a magical season in Phoenix, under the direction of General Manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett. Maloney summed up his team this week on

"I know we've had a good season to date and we've set some franchise records, and that's great and wonderful and all that. But really it's meaningless come early April when we wipe the slates clean. What I'm excited about is that we have goaltending - a goaltender that's won in the playoffs (and) an experienced goaltender that's had a fantastic year in Ilya Bryzgalov. We have a mature defense that's played in the playoffs. We shouldn't be intimidated by playing anyone. And I think some of the moves that we were able to pull together at the trade deadline have added secondary scoring to a team that really was offensively challenged through most of the year."

Who's hot -- Coyotes forward Lee Stempniak has 13 goals and 16 points in 15 games since his trade from Toronto. Left wing Wojtek Wolski has 5 goals and 14 points in the same 15 games since his trade from Colorado. Defenseman Keith Yandle has five points in the past five games. ... Hornqvist has 4 goals and 9 points in his past 10 games. Goalie Pekka Rinne is 2-1-1 with a 1.73 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage in his past four games.

Injury report -- Phoenix center Robert Lang has missed 14 games with a lower-body injury but he's skating with the team and his return is imminent. Left wing Scottie Upshall is out indefinitely since injuring his right knee on Jan. 28. Defenseman Kurt Sauer has been out since the second game of the season with an upper-body injury. ... Predators defenseman Denis Grebeshkov has missed 15 games and is sidelined indefinitely with a lower-body injury.

Stat pack -- The Coyotes are 1-for-15 on the power play in their past three games and 2-for-18 in four games. Phoenix has won nine of its last 10 decided by shootout and is 13-5 in the tiebreaker this season. The win over Edmonton Saturday stopped a two-game losing streak. The Coyotes have lost three in a row only twice this season. ... The Predators' J.P. Dumont and Cody Franson are plus-13 on the road this season while Hornqvist and Marcel Goc are plus-11. Coyotes Taylor Pyatt and Wolski are plus-16 at home.

Puck drop -- Defenseman Mathieu Schneider has four assists in the seven games he's played since his trade from the Vancouver Canucks and he leads Coyotes defenseman with an average of 3:41 minutes on the power play. "I couldn't have asked for a better situation to come in to. This team has been playing so well and winning games. It's fun to be a part of. And for me, it's really been about getting my game back to where it needs to be. Each game I've felt stronger and stronger and my timing has been better and better. Having said that, everything right now is about being focused on and getting ready for the playoffs," Schneider told the Desert Dog Blog, which runs on the team's Web site.

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