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Coyotes try to clinch playoff berth vs. Avs

by John Kreiser

AVALANCHE (41-25-7) at COYOTES (46-22-6)

Last 10 -- Colorado 5-4-1; Phoenix 8-1-1

Season series -- It's the fourth and final meeting, with the home teams looking for a sweep. Colorado won 4-1 and 2-1 in Denver, while the Coyotes won 3-1 at Arena on March 4 when Wojtek Wolski, acquired from the Avs a day earlier, got the game winner late in the third period.

Big story -- The Coyotes are so close to clinching their first playoff berth since 2002 that they can taste it. Phoenix nearly wrapped it up on Thursday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit at Nashville to force a shootout and even getting the first goal. But Nashville's Cal O'Reilly and David Legwand beat Ilya Bryzgalov to give the Predators a 4-3 win. The Avs are also closing in on a return to the playoffs -- they're seventh in the West and six points ahead of ninth-place Calgary after finishing last in the West in 2008-09, one slot behind the Coyotes.

Team Scope:

Avalanche -- The teams made a deal at the trade deadline, with the Avs sending Wolski to Phoenix for former first-rounder Peter Mueller. The 21-year-old has given the Avs a shot in the arm offensively, scoring 15 points in 11 games with the Avs after getting just 17 in 54 games with Phoenix.

Mueller looks like the player the Coyotes hoped they were getting when they chose him with the No. 8 pick in 2006.

"He's starting to feel good about himself," coach Joe Sacco said after Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win over Los Angeles. "When you start to feel good about yourself, your game picks up. ... He's starting to regain some confidence."

Coyotes -- Despite losing the shootout in Nashville, Phoenix went home with a point after rallying from a 3-1 third-period deficit with two late goals. Keith Yandle set up Wolski, then hammered home a shot with less than four minutes left to force OT.

"We sort of regrouped before the third period," said forward Lee Stempniak, who scored the Coyotes' first goal. "You need to give yourselves a chance late in the game. We got a big goal from Wolski, and we were able to tie it up."

Who's hot -- Colorado's Paul Stastny has six goals in his last seven games. … Stempniak has scored 10 goals and 2 assists in 11 games since being acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline. He had 14 goals in 62 games with the Leafs.

Injury report -- Phoenix center Robert Lang hasn't played since March 4 due to a lower-body injury. … The Avs are still without forward Brandon Yip (shoulder). Defenseman Ryan Wilson (concussion) and forward Stephane Yelle (leg) have missed the last two games.

Stat pack -- Craig Anderson, Colorado's likely starter in goal, will tie a franchise record when he takes the ice. He'll match Patrick Roy's record of 65 games in a season. With 36 wins, he's four behind Roy's single-season record of 40, set in 2000-01. The Avs broke an 0-for-11 drought on the power play by going 2-for-6 against the Kings on Wednesday.

Puck drop -- Expect many of the fans at Arena to have playoff tickets in their pockets -- the Coyotes are putting them on sale Saturday morning. The 'Yotes would like nothing better than to officially end their playoff drought before what's sure to be a raucous gathering in the desert. But the Avs, who would be the surprise story of the season if it weren't for the Coyotes, may be even more desperate for points.

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