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Coyotes still chasing West lead as they face Canucks

by Brian Hunter
COYOTES (47-23-6) at CANUCKS (45-26-4)

Last 10: Phoenix 8-1-1; Vancouver 5-3-2

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Phoenix has won a pair of shootouts, including 4-3 in the most recent matchup on March 10 with Adrian Aucoin striking in the sixth round. Alexandre Burrows recorded the hat trick and Roberto Luongo stopped all 31 shots he faced for his 50th NHL shutout in Vancouver's lone win, 4-0 on Jan. 7. Burrows and teammate Mikael Samuelsson each have three goals to lead all scorers.

Big story: With six games left in the regular season, the Coyotes have all but locked up home ice for at least the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first 100-point season in franchise history has them eight ahead of the fifth-place Predators, who have only five games to play. First place in the Western Conference isn't out of the question, as Phoenix trails San Jose by just four points.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: With four road games remaining, Phoenix is only two wins behind the League-leading total of 22 held by Washington, San Jose and St. Louis. The Coyotes lost their two most recent road games, but rebounded back at home on Saturday, delighting the sellout crowd at Arena with a 6-2 rout of the Avalanche. Lee Stempniak, a trade-deadline addition, scored two more goals to give him 12 in as many games with his new club.

"I've only been here a short time but the character in the locker room is unlike anything I've ever seen from another team I've been with," Stempniak said. "Everyone knows their role and embraces it."

Despite having six fewer points than its opponent Tuesday night, Vancouver is one spot ahead of Phoenix in the conference standings by virtue of leading the Northwest Division. However, the Canucks haven't clinched the division -- or even a playoff berth -- just yet. They've lost three of their last four, including a 4-2 loss to the Sharks on Saturday, but still hold a five-point lead over the Avalanche for the Northwest crown.

"There's still seven games left, you never know what could happen," Luongo said. "We have to keep on winning and more importantly we want to get on a roll and go into the playoffs feeling good about ourselves."

Who's hot:
Stempniak is as hot as any player in the League, but the Coyotes are also getting major contributions from fellow newcomer Wojtek Wolski -- two goals and three assists in his last two games, and 12 points in 12 games since coming over from the Avalanche.

Henrik Sedin has seven assists in the Canucks' last four games, eclipsing 100 points for the first time and retaining the League scoring lead by a point over Alex Ovechkin. Daniel Sedin has a four-game goal streak and six points total over that span. Burrows has goals in two straight and a career-high 34 for the season.

Injury report: Phoenix forward Robert Lang is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Forward Scottie Upshall will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery. … Samuelsson is out with an upper-body injury for Vancouver. Forward Pavol Demitra has missed the past three games due to personal reasons. Forward Steve Bernier (sports hernia) and defenseman Willie Mitchell (concussion) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov continues to lead the League with eight shutouts, while placing second in wins (40), fifth in goals-against average (2.28) and seventh in save percentage (.921). … Henrik Sedin not only holds the lead in points but assists with 73, and his plus-33 ties him for third with Washington defenseman Mike Green, trailing two other Capitals: Ovechkin (plus-43) and Jeff Schultz (plus-37).

Puck drop:
"It's special for us as a team," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said of clinching a playoff berth. "Obviously there were a lot of doubts coming into this season by a lot of people. It's nice to answer those doubts and have an opportunity to do even better than that."

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