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Erat's return lets Coyotes assemble all-Czech line

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes finally will have the all-Czech line they envisioned when they acquired forward Martin Erat prior to the NHL Trade Deadline healthy and together when they play against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Erat, center Martin Hanzal and right wing Radim Vrbata all took part in practice Wednesday for the first time since Phoenix traded for Erat on March 4. Hanzal was out with a lower-body injury at the time of the trade. By the time he returned, Erat had sustained a head injury.

Now the trio is intact, allowing Coyotes coach Dave Tippett to shuffle the lines in search of more offensive punch. Hanzal was a physical force in his return to the lineup, a 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, which moved Phoenix past the Dallas Stars into the second wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference.

Tippett warned against expectations of instant chemistry.

"Let's get the line out there, see how they work out," he said. "Obviously they understand each other and understand how they play. But sometimes it takes a while to get going."

The Coyotes lead the Stars, who have played one fewer game, by two points. Dallas plays the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Phoenix is looking to win three straight games for the first time since winning five in a row from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5. The Coyotes have won six of their past eight.

Goalie Mike Smith will start his NHL-leading 59th game of the season for Phoenix.

Goalie Roberto Luongo, coming off 52 saves against the San Jose Sharks, will start for Florida. The last time he was in Arizona was March 4, preparing for a game against the Coyotes only to learn he had been traded to the Panthers hours before the game.

Here are the projected lineups:


Scottie Upshall - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Joey Crabb - Vincent Trocheck - Tomas Fleischmann

Quinton Howden - Brandon Pirri - Jimmy Hayes

Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Garrett Wilson

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert

Dmitry Kulikov - Ed Jovanovski

Dylan Olsen - Colby Robak

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Injured: Jesse Winchester (lower body), Aleksander Barkov (lower body), Erik Gudbranson (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Tomas Kopecky (upper body), Alex Petrovic (upper body), Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body)


Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker

Martin Erat - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Brandon McMillan - Jeff Halpern - Shane Doan

Kyle Chipchura/Rob Klinkhammer - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris

Chris Summers - Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Brandon Gormley, Paul Bissonnette

Injured: David Schlemko (foot)

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