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Surging Coyotes visit red-hot Canucks

by John Kreiser
COYOTES (38-23-11) at CANUCKS (47-16-9)

TV -- FS-Arizona+ (HD); SNET-Pacific (HD)

Last 10 -- Phoenix 5-3-2; Vancouver 8-2-0

Season series -- It's the last of four regular-season meetings in a series that's been dominated by the road teams. Phoenix won 3-2 at Rogers Arena on Nov. 21, but the Canucks beat the Coyotes 6-0 and 4-3 in a shootout in their two visits to Arena.

Big story -- The Canucks are the only team in the NHL guaranteed of a playoff berth -- they locked up the Northwest Division title by beating Colorado on Wednesday for their seventh win in a row. The Coyotes are almost as hot -- they've won four in a row and are trying to sweep a four-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Coyotes -- As goes Ilya Bryzgalov, so go the Coyotes -- and lately, Bryzgalov has been going pretty well. He stopped 35 shots in Thursday's 3-1 win at Edmonton, helping his team win on a night when the Oilers outshot Phoenix 36-17, including 19-2 in the third period.

"I don't think we're going to kid ourselves and think that we played good in any fashion," said forward Ray Whitney, whose second-period goal proved to be the game-winner. "Bryzgalov was good again, but that's kind of been the story the last month."

Canucks -- Vancouver can scratch off the first entry on its to-do list after wrapping up its third consecutive Northwest Division title and fourth in five years. Up next: first place in the West, the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history -- and, ideally, the Stanley Cup.

"That's a goal we set before the season," captain Henrik Sedin said of the division title. "To win it this early feels good. We've got more goals going forward here so we can't sit on it."

The Canucks have a nine-point lead over Detroit in the race for the top spot in the West, and they're nine points ahead of the Wings and Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the standings thanks to a seven-game winning streak.

Who's hot -- Bryzgalov has allowed just six goals in winning his last four starts. … NHL scoring leader Daniel Sedin and twin brother Henrik both have seven-game point streaks. Daniel has 6 goals and 13 points during the streak; Henrik has 3 goals and 12 points. Daniel leads the NHL with 92 points; Henrik is tied for second with 86.

Injury report -- Phoenix is without defenseman Ed Jovanovski (facial fractures) and forward Marin Havlat (lower body). … The only sour note in Wednesday night's celebration for Vancouver was the loss of center Manny Malhotra, who took a puck in the eye and had surgery on Thursday. He's out indefinitely. The Canucks are also without defenseman Kevin Bieksa (foot) and forward Tanner Glass (upper body).

Stat pack -- Thursday's win gave the Coyotes two victories in Edmonton this season, the first time they've won twice in one season at Rexall Place since 1992-93, when the franchise was based in Winnipeg. … Phoenix is 13-3-2 against teams from the Northwest Division. … Bryzgalov has stopped all three penalty shots he's faced this season, including one by Edmonton's Andrew Cogliano on Thursday.

Puck drop -- How good have the Canucks been during the past three months? Consider that on Dec. 21, they were tied for first place with Colorado -- both teams had 42 points. They now lead the Avs by 43. Vancouver has also gone 13-1-1 in its last 15 games against the five Pacific Division teams -- four of which are among the top eight in the West.

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