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Coyotes try to cool off Blackhawks

by John Kreiser /

COYOTES (18-17-8) at BLACKHAWKS (34-5-4)


Last 10: Phoenix 5-2-3; Chicago 9-0-1

Season series: The Phoenix Coyotes are making their only visit of the season to United Center and are trying to avoid a sweep by the Chicago Blackhawks, who won 6-4 and 6-2 in Glendale, Ariz., within the first three weeks of the season.

Big story: The Blackhawks are going after their second home win in as many nights as they move closer to clinching the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion. The Coyotes are trying to keep their scant playoff hopes alive.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: A lot has changed in the year since the Coyotes last visited United Center for Game 6 of their first-round playoff series last spring. Phoenix won that game to eliminate the Blackhawks from the playoffs and trigger the most successful postseason in franchise history.

This time, the Blackhawks are the leader in the overall standings while the Coyotes are likely to miss the postseason for the first time in four years. Coach Dave Tippett says his team isn't ready to throw in the towel, even though the Coyotes likely would have to run the table in their remaining five games just to have a chance.

"Right now we gotta focus on how we're going to play, how we're going to compete," Tippett said Friday. "Obviously, the desperation mode of our club to keep ourselves in the playoff race overshadows whoever we're playing or what happened in the past."

Blackhawks: Chicago can win by shutting down opponents, but the Blackhawks can also win run-and-gun games. They showed off their offensive skills Friday night in a track meet with the Nashville Predators, finally winning 5-4 on Marian Hossa's power-play goal in overtime.

The Blackhawks aren't just marking time while waiting for the playoffs to start. They've won seven in a row and are on another roll as the postseason approaches.

"I'd say we've made strides as the season has gone along every single week. Of course we know we're a better team than we were earlier in the season, but at the same time we're up against better opponents too," captain Jonathan Toews said. "The talk has been that we want to keep improving every single game and turn ourselves into that playoff type team that we want to come postseason and we're doing that.

"Tonight maybe our pace, our speed, wasn't quite there at times but we still made some smart plays and found a way to come out with the two points. We'll be happy with that and we have another one tomorrow night so hopefully we'll be better."

Who's hot: Toews has back-to-back two-point games and has six points in his past four outings. Hossa's overtime winner stretched his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Injury report: Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith (lower body) has missed the past two games but skated at practice on Friday. Forward Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) is out. … Chicago is missing defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body) and goaltender Ray Emery (lower body), though Emery skated at Friday's practice. Forward Patrick Sharp (shoulder) should be ready to return before the playoffs begin.

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