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Division title still possible if Coyotes keep winning

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One goal at a time, one game at a time, the Phoenix Coyotes are closing in on their second straight berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But even with seven games to go, nothing is assured.

With a win against Columbus tonight and a San Jose loss against Los Angeles, the Coyotes can creep within one point of the Pacific Division-leading Sharks -- with half of their final six games of the regular season consisting of head-to-head battles with San Jose.

But on the other end, the Coyotes are only five points ahead of ninth-place Dallas, a team that has played two fewer games. Nothing is assured.

"We want to make sure we put ourselves in a situation where we have a chance at a division title against San Jose, but you can't do that if you don't take care of your business," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to focus on the team we've playing next, and the two points in front of us are the two most important points of the season."

The Blue Jackets are in position similar to the St. Louis team that came to Arizona on Tuesday: still mathematically in the playoff race but reduced to the spoiler role. The Coyotes struggled early against the Blues before pulling out a 2-1 win thanks to second-period goals from Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski.

The one-goal win has become a Coyote signature under Tippett. Since arriving in Phoenix in October of 2009, the Coyotes are 48-14-18 in one-goal games, collecting 114 of a possible 160 points (71 percent) in tight finishes. Phoenix is 7-1-1 in its last nine games and 15-5-2 in the last 22, but has to keep winning as the other West playoff contenders continue to pile up points themselves.
"We want to make sure we put ourselves in a situation where we have a chance at a division title against San Jose, but you can't do that if you don't take care of your business. -- Phoenix coach Dave Tippet
The game will feature the Phoenix return of popular former Coyotes Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto, who were dealt to Columbus in return for veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla. Upshall was tied for the team lead in goals at 16 when he left and has since tacked on four more with the Blue Jackets.

"We made the trade we said we liked both players, but the (orbital bone injury) to Ed Jovanovski really curtailed us and we needed a veteran defenseman," Tippett said. "We like Scotty and he was a very good player for us, but we had some depth at center and it was one of those hockey trades you have to make. We had to give up something good to get a guy like Klesla."

Jovanovski is skating on his own with hopes of playing in the final week of the regular season, when the Coyotes have three games -- one with the Kings and a home-and-home with the Sharks.

"The doctors won't let him play for six weeks or have any contact. We're hoping that we'll have him for that first week in April and get him into a few games and hopefully be ready if we're in the playoffs," Tippett said.
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