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Phoenix Coyotes vs. Edmonton Oilers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Phoenix Coyotes (21-33-18-6) at Edmonton Oilers (34-27-12-5).

TIME: Sunday, 4 p.m. EST.

The Edmonton Oilers began their run to the playoffs early, and it seems to be paying off.

One of the league's hottest teams, the Oilers hope to take another step closer to a playoff berth when they face the Phoenix Coyotes in their final home game of the regular season.

Edmonton appeared to be too far back in the Western Conference standings to make a run at the postseason just one month ago, but a 15-game point streak (9-0-2-4) has put them in the thick of the race with Nashville and St. Louis.

The Oilers, battling the Predators and Blues for one of the final two playoff spots, close the season with road games against St. Louis, Dallas and Vancouver.

Fernando Pisani and Ryan Smyth scored first-period goals and Ty Conklin stopped 18 shots, leading Edmonton to a 3-1 victory over fading Los Angeles on Friday.

The win was the sixth in seven games for the Oilers, who haven't lost in regulation since Feb. 25.

"We're in a must-win situation and it just goes to show what kind of character players that we have on this team," Pisani said. "We have to win games and that's the way we have to play."

One of the moves that has helped Edmonton become a legitimate playoff contender was the acquisition of center Petr Nedved and goalie Jussi Markkanen from the New York Rangers on March 3.

Nedved scored his 300th career goal Friday, giving him four goals and six assists in 12 games with the Oilers.

"A great goal, a goal scorer's goal," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "Petr, I thought, played well again tonight. That's why we were as excited as we were to get him - that reason right there."

The Coyotes were shut out for the second straight game, 3-0 by Vesa Toskala and red-hot San Jose on Friday.

Phoenix failed to score despite registering 14 shots in the second period.

"That's a great hockey club over there," Coyotes coach Rick Bowness said. "That's not a fluke. When we had them on the run a little bit in the second period, and we had those chances to get back into it, their goalie made some huge saves and kept us off the scoreboard."

The loss dropped the Coyotes to 1-10-4-3 in their last 18 games, and 1-9-3-3 since Bowness became the team's interim coach.

Brian Boucher, who set an NHL record earlier this season with five straight shutouts, is winless in 13 starts (0-10-3) since Feb. 14.

STANDINGS (through March 26): Coyotes - 66 points, 5th place, 32 PB, Pacific Division. Oilers - 85 points, 4th place, 9 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Coyotes - Shane Doan, 25 goals, 41 assists and 66 points; Andrei Nazarov, 125 PIM. Oilers - Smyth, 22 goals, 35 assists and 57 points; Georges Laraque, 97 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 26): Coyotes - Power play: 14.7 percent (50 for 341), 24th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (318 for 387), 23rd. Oilers - Power play: 12.6 percent (40 for 317), 29th. Penalty killing: 81.0 percent (272 for 336), 28th.

GOALTENDERS: Coyotes - Boucher (9-18-10, 5 SO, 2.70 GAA); Brent Johnson (5-7-2, 1, 2.51). Oilers - Conklin (16-13-4, 1, 2.39); Markkanen (9-13-3, 2, 2.44).

SEASON SERIES: Oilers, 2-0-1.

LAST MEETING: March 2; Oilers 5-4, OT. At Edmonton, Alberta, Smyth scored his second goal of the game 2:26 into overtime to lift the Oilers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Coyotes - 11-14-11-2 on the road; Oilers - 21-12-4-3 at home.

Associated Press
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