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Wild try to continue climb, extend Coyotes' woes

by Dan Rosen
WILD (27-19-5) at COYOTES (25-19-9)

TV -- KSTC (HD), FS-Arizona+ (HD)

Last 10 --
Minnesota 6-4-0; Phoenix 4-6-0

Season series --
Fourth and final meeting of the season between the Wild and Coyotes. Minnesota has won the last two, beating Phoenix 3-2 on Dec. 9 and again 6-5 in overtime on Jan. 2.

Big Story -- Minnesota is climbing up the Western Conference standings while the Coyotes have lost two straight to fall below the Wild, who have won three in a row and six of their last seven games. The Wild are 14-6-1 over their last 21 games. It's taken them the better part of a year and a half, but maybe now they've figured out how to execute in coach Todd Richards' up-tempo system.

Team Scope:

Wild -- They're coming off a big 4-3 win over Colorado on Thursday. Not much of it was pretty, but the Wild did something that teams have to do in order to make the playoffs -- they survived. They even did it with only five defensemen in the final 20 minutes because Cam Barker went out with an eye injury. Nevertheless, the Wild hung tough, something they've been doing quite often over the past month to month and a half. They've beaten Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Los Angeles and Colorado in the past three weeks. Their lone loss was by one goal to San Jose. They're 11-3-2 on the road since December.

"We talk a lot about bending and not breaking," defenseman Brent Burns told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We battled through it (Thursday)."

Coyotes --
It's been a different story in the desert. The Coyotes are just 1-4 over their last five games and 2-6 since going on a four-game winning streak from Jan. 10-15. The difference has been their defense, which has been suspect at best lately. The Coyotes have allowed 21 goals over their last five games and 30 over the last eight. Twenty-eight of the 30 goals against have come in the six losses since Jan. 17. This is shocking considering goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the best in the League, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, but his save percentage over his last five starts is .886 (19 goals allowed on 167 shots).

"We have to find a way to better defend," forward Taylor Pyatt told the Coyotes' website. "We have to defend our zone better, especially around the net. We have to limit second chances around our crease. It has to start there."

Who's Hot --
Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard has 5 points over the last four games and 8 points over the past seven. The Wild are 16-9-3 since he made his season debut on Dec. 1. Fellow Wild center Mikko Koivu has 7 points over the past six games, including 2 assists in Thursday's win. Minnesota forward Andrew Brunette scored 2 goals Thursday and has 8 points over the last eight games.

Injury Report --
Barker sustained an eye injury Thursday and his status for Saturday's game was questionable as of Friday afternoon. … Phoenix will be without Vernon Fiddler, who has missed eight games with an upper body injury. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski, also battling an upper body injury, is considered day-to-day.

Stat Pack --
The Coyotes have given up 10 goals over the last four periods they've played. … Wild goalie Jose Theodore made 38 saves Thursday for his first win since Jan. 8, but Niklas Backstrom should be back in the nets Saturday. … The Wild set a franchise record Thursday by scoring twice within the first 61 seconds of the game. It was the quickest Minnesota scored two goals to open a game.

Puck Drop -- Minnesota has put itself in the playoff mix in the Western Conference, but the standings are so tight that it can easily go from seventh to 11th with one loss. That fact isn't lost on Brunette, who said this after Thursday's win:

"I think if you pay too much attention to it, I think it can affect you. The mentality has to be, we need to get points every night."

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