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Panthers hope to play spoiler against Coyotes

by Brian Hunter

COYOTES (30-24-11) at PANTHERS (24-33-7)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-5-1; Florida 3-7-0

Season series: This is the first of two games between the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers. They haven't faced each other since Dec. 20, 2011, when Radim Vrbata's power-play goal made the difference for Phoenix in a 2-1 victory in Florida.

Big story: There's not much time for rest when a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is at stake. One night after pulling out a critical shootout win on the road, the Coyotes get right back at it with the potential of taking over the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference with a win and some help.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: Vrbata scored the only goal of the shootout Monday when Phoenix rallied for a 4-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Coyotes, who blew a two-goal lead in the third period and lost to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead on the strength of goals by Martin Erat and Mikkel Boedker in the first eight minutes of the third, only to yield the tying score in the final minute of regulation.

"It was nice to come out and perform well and get a big win. It felt real good after the game," said goaltender Mike Smith, who made 28 saves. "We really competed hard. Even though they came back in the game I think we definitely deserved two points."

The Coyotes pulled to within one point of the Dallas Stars, whose game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was postponed. The Stars, who currently own the second wild-card berth, also play Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues.

Panthers: This is the finale of a three-game homestand for Florida, which nevertheless won't have to leave the Sunshine State again for another week. The Panthers visit the Lightning on Thursday before returning to BB&T Center for two more games.

The acquisition of goalie Roberto Luongo at the NHL Trade Deadline has made the Panthers a potential spoiler down the stretch against teams with playoff aspirations. Luongo shut out the Buffalo Sabres in his first game back in Florida before allowing four goals on 41 shots in a 5-2 loss Sunday to the Boston Bruins.

"We have to stay in the games, keep getting the pucks in," forward Jimmy Hayes said in the Miami Herald. "We can't score and give them right back."

Who's hot: Coyotes forward Brandon McMillan has goals in consecutive games. … Hayes had his first career multi-goal game Sunday, and has three goals in his past four games for the Panthers.

Injury report: Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) isn't ready to return yet and was sent home to rest. Forward Martin Hanzal (lower body) was on the ice Monday morning, but didn't play against Tampa Bay. Defenseman Derek Morris (upper body) also missed the game. … Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson (knee) left the game Sunday in the third period and is expected to miss about two weeks. Forward Jesse Winchester (lower body) is also out. Forwards Tomas Kopecky (concussion) and Aleksander Barkov (knee) are on injured reserve.

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