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First place, berth on line for Coyotes, Blackhawks

by Phil Coffey
The Phoenix Coyotes are on the verge of what was thought to be seemingly impossible at the start of the season -- taking over first place in the Western Conference.

Beset by financial woes during the off-season and icing a club that didn't inspire much confidence among prognosticators at the start of the season, the Coyotes have been the surprise team of the 2009-10 season and head into Tuesday night's showdown in Chicago tied with the Blackhawks at 97 points.

"We haven't won anything yet," coach Dave Tippett told Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic. "We won some games -- it's great to see us winning some games -- but there's no prize for anything we've done yet.

"We have to continue to get better. There're still some areas of our game that can improve, and we want to be a very good team, we want to be able to compete with the very elite teams in the League."

The Coyotes have won nine-straight games, and with a win against the Hawks and a regulation loss by Calgary, would clinch a playoff berth. Likewise, a Chicago win and a Calgary regulation loss would cinch a postseason berth for the Hawks.

Hence the reason Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville calls it the biggest game of the season.

"Now it's the biggest game of the year," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told Mike Spellman of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. "They've gone on an amazing run. They're a better team than people give them credit for. They've got it going right now."

"Those couple of years it seems when we made it we were trying to just crawl in. Right now we feel like we're getting better, and that's big." -- Coyotes captain Shane Doan

And Chicago has stumbled, losing five of its last seven games (0-5-2).

"It's been frustrating," Chicago's Kris Versteeg said. "It started in Minnesota and I guess it's a good lesson to learn, but now it's time to stop. You can't overlook games at all because everyone's so close (in the standings)."

Or looking you right in the eye.

"Those couple of years it seems when we made it we were trying to just crawl in," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Right now we feel like we're getting better, and that's big."

Phoenix earned a 5-4 home win against the Hawks Saturday, erasing a two-goal deficit in the process.

"It's nice when you get on that kind of roll, finding ways to win," Quenneville said of the Coyotes. "You have confidence from the goalie on out. Confidence is a lot of it."
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