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Coyotes keep riding goaltender Smith in playoff chase

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If the Phoenix Coyotes are going to regroup and squeeze their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, goaltender Mike Smith is going to have to regain the form that carried them to the Western Conference Final in 2012.

For the past 15 games, Smith has looked the part. After half a season of inconsistent and frustrating play, Smith has a 1.86 goals-against average and .937 save percentage since Feb. 7 and the Coyotes have responded with seven wins in their past nine games. They now occupy the second and final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Smith will celebrate his 32nd birthday and make his NHL-leading 61st start Saturday against the Boston Bruins. Boston has won 11 straight games and became the first team to top 100 points and clinch a playoff spot when they beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 on Friday.

"I don't think I'd be playing so much if the games weren't so important," said Smith, who has played more minutes and made more saves than any other goalie. "I like to play a lot, especially when you're playing good. You want to be helping the team win games. It's just in our blood, I guess. Once you get into the season, 60 starts is just a number. The body is feeling good now and hopefully I keep feeling well."

Smith and the Coyotes lost 2-1 in Boston nine days ago, falling behind 2-0 in the first period. That's about as close as anyone has come to beating the Bruins in more than a month. Boston has outscored their 11 opponents 43-15 during the winning streak and only two of those games were one-goal wins.

"We did a lot of good things," Smith said. "It's tough to chase from behind against a team of that stature. But we hung around and that should give us some confidence coming into this."

Goalie Tuukka Rask, who watched backup Chad Johnson shut out the Avalanche, will start for the Bruins. With a 2.07 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, he has arguably been the League's most consistent goaltender this season. Boston is 10-2-0 in the back end of back-to-back games this season.

"The Bruins are a good team, but for us there is a lot on the line every game in the position we're in," Smith said. "You want to play your best against every team in the League, but every game is so important right now that you have to win to get in."

Entering action Saturday, Phoenix leads Dallas by four points for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They are eyeing third place in the Pacific Division, trailing the Los Angeles Kings by four points with 12 games to play.

Here are the projected lineups:


Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla

Brad Marchand- Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Torey Krug - Kevan Miller

Matt Bartkowski - Andrej Meszaros

Tuukka Rask

Chad Johnson

Scratched: Jordan Caron, Corey Potter

Injured: Johnny Boychuk (foot), Adam McQuaid (quadriceps), Dennis Seidenberg (knee)


Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker

Martin Erat - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Brandon McMillan - Jeff Halpern - Shane Doan

Kyle Chipchura - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris

Chris Summers - Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Brandon Gormley, Paul Bissonnette

Injured: David Schlemko (foot)

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