CHICAGO -- The Phoenix Coyotes could use a boost heading into the last five games of the regular season and might get one Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET) at United Center.
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after Saturday’s morning skate that injured goalie Mike Smith, who missed the past two games with a lower-body issue, might return to face Chicago (34-5-4) in a big road game for the Coyotes (18-17-8).
“I haven’t talked to him yet, but there’s a chance he’ll play tonight,” Tippett said. “He’s our No. 1 goaltender. If we can get him in there and get him on a roll, that gives us the best chance to win.”
Phoenix started Saturday in 10th place, three points back of the eighth-place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blackhawks are atop the NHL standings with 72 points and are closing in on the franchise’s first Presidents' Trophy since 1990-91.
Chicago has gotten to such a lofty position in large part because of its play in close games. The Blackhawks are 19-3-4 in one-goal games, have won five games in overtime and triumphed six other times in shootouts.
Now, with the only tangible motivation left being the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s all about fine-tuning and staying healthy for the pending Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After a brief stretch of 10 games where it didn’t get a point in five of the contests, Chicago is nearly back to the form that propelled the Blackhawks to an unprecedented 24-game point streak to start the season.
“It’s a different animal come playoff time, but we feel when the games are on the line -- particularly third periods, late in games [and] in overtime -- that doing the right things are going to make us successful,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after a 5-4 OT win
against the Nashville Predators on Friday night at United Center. “You’re comfortable being out there and you want to be out there. We had a little stretch there that got our attention, [so it’s] nice to see us be more effective and get the job done when it counts.”
Chicago will be without goalie Ray Emery (lower body), who also missed the game against Nashville on Friday night and is listed as day-today. It’s unclear whether Corey Crawford will get the start against Phoenix or if Quenneville will opt to go with Carter Hutton, who was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Thursday and hasn’t played for the Blackhawks yet this season.
Quenneville is scheduled to meet with reporters two hours before puck drop and likely will reveal his starting goalie then.
Smith joined Phoenix goalies Jason LaBarbera and Chad Johnson during the Coyotes’ skate. If he can’t make the start, Tippett will have a choice to make between LaBarbera, who lost 4-0 to the San Jose Sharks on Monday, or Johnson, who took the loss in a 2-1 shootout defeat on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.
Here’s a look at how the Blackhawks and Coyotes might line up on Saturday night:
Radim Vrbata – Martin Hanzal – Shane Doan
Chris Conner – Antoine Vermette – Mikkel Boedker
Rob Klinkhammer – Boyd Gordon – David Moss
David Schlemko – Chris Brown – Kyle Chipchura
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle – Derek Morris
Michael Stone – Rostislav Klesla
Scratched: Jason LaBarbera, Paul Bissonnette, Nick Johnson, Alexandre Bolduc
Injured: Lauri Korpikosi (day-to-day, upper body)
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Daniel Carcillo – Dave Bolland – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Viktor Stalberg
Michal Handzus – Marcus Kruger – Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Sheldon Brookbank
Scratched: Brandon Bollig, Jamal Mayers, Drew LeBlanc
Injured: Ray Emery (lower body, day-to-day), Michal Rozsival (upper body, day-to-day), Patrick Sharp (upper body, day-to-day)