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Kings, Coyotes jockey for positioning in West

by Brian Hunter
COYOTES (42-25-12) at KINGS (45-28-6)

TV: FS-A (HD), FS-W (HD)

Last 10:
Phoenix 7-2-1; Los Angeles 6-3-1

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Pacific Division rivals. Phoenix has won three of the first five matchups. Lee Stempniak leads all scorers with 6 goals, including a hat trick in a 4-2 win by the Coyotes on Oct. 21. Both games played in Los Angeles have been decided by shutouts, with Ilya Bryzgalov's 36 saves leading the Coyotes to a 2-0 win on Jan. 20 and Jonathan Bernier stopping all 25 shots in a 1-0 victory for the Kings on March 3, the last time these teams met.

Big story: Phoenix and Los Angeles enter Wednesday's action tied at 96 points with three games remaining for each club. Although the Kings have 45 wins to 42 for the Coyotes, the tiebreaker would currently go to Phoenix because it has one more non-shootout win -- 37 to 36. This game is key not only to help decide which team finishes higher in the standings, but the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still up for grabs.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: It's been five days since Phoenix played its last game, a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss on home ice to Colorado, but afterward coach Dave Tippett said he expected three injured players to make their return when the Coyotes face the Kings. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who hasn't played since suffering a broken orbital bone Feb. 18, is likely to be activated from injured reserve, while forwards Lauri Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt, sidelined with upper-body injuries, should also be back in the lineup.

"I think the rest certainly did some good for us," Tippett told the Arizona Republic after Monday's practice. "I think you see Korpikoski and Pyatt and Jovanovski out there, looked like they're going full speed, a big positive for us."

Kings: Any possibility of Los Angeles or Phoenix making a late charge to wrest the Pacific title away from San Jose evaporated Monday night when the Kings were soundly defeated 6-1 by the Sharks. Michal Handzus provided brief hope when he cut a 2-0 deficit in half with a goal 1:57 into the second, but the Sharks chased Jonathan Quick with two goals in the next four minutes and scored four times in the middle period.

"We're trying to make it interesting, I guess," captain Dustin Brown said. "I say this every game, but you've just got to keep looking forward. Whether this was a 2-1 loss or a 6-1 loss, it's still a loss. Move on from there, and we have Phoenix on Wednesday."

Who's hot:
Ray Whitney followed up scoring the shootout winner against the Stars last week by adding a goal and an assist in the Coyotes' loss to the Avalanche. … Matt Greene scored the game-winning goal for the Kings in their win last Saturday and added an assist on the Handzus goal against the Sharks.

Injury report: Assuming the Coyotes get Jovanovski, Korpikoski and Pyatt back, the only significant injury remaining is forward Martin Hanzal (lower body), who is out indefinitely … Los Angeles is down a pair of game-changing forwards, as Anze Kopitar (ankle) is out for the season and Justin Williams (shoulder) is out at least until the playoffs.

Stat pack: Despite missing 10 games this season, captain Shane Doan paces the Coyotes with 19 goals. His 58 points are one behind defenseman Keith Yandle for the team lead. … Bernier hasn't given up a goal in two appearances for the Kings in this series, turning aside all 13 shots in a 30-minute relief outing on Dec. 29.

Puck drop: Both teams were in position to clinch a playoff berth Tuesday night if the Stars lost at home to the Blue Jackets. The Coyotes and Kings both ended six-season playoff droughts in 2010.

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