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Two points crucial for both Blue Jackets, Coyotes

by Brian Hunter

COYOTES (36-28-14) at BLUE JACKETS (40-31-7)


Last 10: Phoenix 4-3-3; Columbus 5-4-1

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets. Curtis McElhinney stopped all 34 shots he faced as Columbus won 2-0 in Phoenix on Jan. 2. Nathan Horton and RJ Umberger scored the goals.

Big story: They reside in different conferences, but the Blue Jackets and Coyotes both place a lot of importance on this game as they battle for spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Columbus, which moved to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 season, is playing its final regular season game at Nationwide Arena and trying to secure just the second postseason trip in franchise history. Phoenix is attempting to chase down the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: A four-game winless streak (0-2-2) has Phoenix facing a second consecutive season out of the playoffs if it can't turn around its fortunes over this final week. The Coyotes come off a 3-2 shootout loss to the last-place team in the West, the Edmonton Oilers, who tied the score with 40.4 seconds left in regulation.

There's still no timetable on the return of goalie Mike Smith, so the Coyotes will continue to ride with Thomas Greiss, who is 2-2-3 since coming in after Smith was injured March 24 at the New York Rangers. Smith took shots from his teammates during practice Sunday and will accompany the team on this trip. The Coyotes' final road game is Thursday against the Nashville Predators before they play their last two at Arena.

"Anything can happen," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said in the Arizona Republic. "So we're going to believe until mathematically it's not possible that we can get into the playoffs, and we'll keep battling until the last possible minute and keep gaining points and we'll see what happens."

Blue Jackets: This is the final regular season game at Nationwide Arena for Columbus, which also begins a trying stretch of four games in five nights to finish out. That was necessitated by the make-up of a game against the Dallas Stars which was postponed March 10 after Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench. The Blue Jackets will play in Dallas on Wednesday, then continue their road trip in Florida with games Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Saturday against the Florida Panthers.

The Blue Jackets encountered some adversity of their own in recent days, losing a game to the Chicago Blackhawks in the final seconds and failing to gain any points. Behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and a power play that connected three times, they bounced back with a 4-0 win Sunday against the New York Islanders.

"It's a big week," right wing Jared Boll said in the Columbus Dispatch. "But this is fun. We'll be ready to go."

Who's hot: Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura has three goals in his past seven games after scoring twice in his first 69 games. … Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky has one goal and four assists during a four-game point streak. Defenseman James Wisniewski and forward Cam Atkinson each have one goal and three assists during their three-game point streaks.

Injury report: Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal (lower body) is day-to-day. Smith (lower body) and defenseman David Schlemko (foot) are out. … Horton (lower body) felt good after skating over the weekend and will return for Columbus after missing four games. Defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body) is day-to-day.

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