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Coyotes need two points before five days' rest

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If the Phoenix Coyotes can beat the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, they will have five days to rest and recharge, restock their roster and complete their final push to a likely second straight Stanley Cup playoff berth.

But if the Coyotes lose, they will have five days to wring their hands, watch the scoreboard and hope that the teams behind them -- with games in hand -- don't make up a stagger they have spent all season building.

With 95 points and sitting fourth in the Western Conference, completing a four-game sweep of the Avs would leave the Coyotes in the thick of the race to secure home-ice advantage in the first round. It would also push them back within two points of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead.

The Coyotes need the win badly because they have a tough final week -- they play just three times and go to Los Angeles and San Jose with a home game with the Sharks in between -- and the points needed to put them over the top will be hard to come by. A loss to the Avalanche, who have dropped 26 of their last 30 games and have scored just two goals in three losses to Phoenix this season, could leave the Coyotes fighting for their lives by the time they take the ice again.

The Coyotes will be without forward Taylor Pyatt, who will be given a week to rest a minor injury. That means three of their top goal scorers -- Pyatt (17 goals), Lauri Korpikoski (18) and Martin Hanzal (16) -- will join defenseman Ed Jovanovski on the sidelines. But Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said all four players could be back by next Wednesday, when the Coyotes return from their hiatus to meet the Kings.

"We're going to give our team Saturday and Sunday off. To get two days off to rest at this point of the season is almost unheard of, but we have a lot of guys who can really use it," Tippett said. "Jovo will be cleared to practice this weekend and he and Hanzal and Korpikoski will all skate and hopefully be ready for two good practices on Monday and Tuesday."

Both Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera have shutouts against Colorado this season, but Bryzgalov will start between the pipes for the 35th time in the last 37 games. Bryzgalov needs one win to break Bob Essensa's franchise record (129) and one shutout to break Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record for shutouts (21). Bryzgalov and LaBarbera have nine shutouts between them this season, one away from breaking the single season record set by Khabibulin and Jimmy Waite in 1998-99.

The Coyotes are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games but their goal production has sagged as the injuries have piled up. The Coyotes need just one goal in regulation to beat Dallas in a shootout on Tuesday and have scored three goals or less in seven straight games -- but thanks to Bryzgalov's stellar goaltending the Coyotes won five of the seven games.

Colorado doesn't score much either. The Avs have just 59 goals in their last 30 games, and have been shut out six times time over that span. But they made things uncomfortable against playoff contenders in their last two games, losing 5-4 to Anaheim on Monday and 3-2 at home to Nashville on Thursday.

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