April 8, 2011
SHARKS (47-24-9) vs.
Coverage begins at 6:30 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California
GLENDALE (AP) -- The Phoenix Coyotes need just one point to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time in 11 years.
The result could be a first-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks, whom they've had little success against recently.
San Jose seeks its ninth straight win over the host Coyotes on Friday night as the teams begin a home-and-home series to close the regular season.
The Coyotes (42-25-13) are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with Nashville, two points ahead of Anaheim and Chicago. One more point - or a Dallas loss - would ensure that Phoenix makes a second straight playoff appearance for the first time since qualifying five consecutive times from 1996 through 2000.
The Coyotes have been involved in three straight shootouts - losing the last two - but they inched closer to the postseason with Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Los Angeles.
"It's a big point. But when you come all the way out here, you want to find a way to get both of them," captain Shane Doan said. "We've been close, we've been around it, but we just haven't found ways to win games."
Phoenix, the NHL's only team without a 20-goal scorer, returned three players from injury Wednesday.
Taylor Pyatt had a goal and an assist after missing one game with a lower-body injury, while Lauri Korpikoski and Ed Jovanovski also returned to the lineup. Jovanovski had not played since fracturing his left orbital bone Feb. 17.
"This is when it's fun - when the games are really important and everything's on the line," said Lee Stempniak, who scored his 19th goal to tie Doan for the team lead. "That's when you want to be out there and playing your best. I think it's good to get into that mindset."
The Coyotes may need a top-notch performance to end their 0-5-3 skid against the Sharks, a potential first-round playoff opponent if Phoenix slips in the standings.
San Jose (47-24-9) has outscored Phoenix 17-7 in winning four meetings this season, scoring at least four goals in each one. Patrick Marleau has four goals and two assists in those games, while Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski have three goals and four assists each.
The Sharks struggled Wednesday in a 6-2 loss at Anaheim, but they remained one point ahead of Detroit for second place in the West. San Jose fell in regulation for the first time since March 14 and is still 26-5-4 since Jan. 15.
REWIND: Sharks suffer letdown to Ducks in Anaheim, 6-2
"I thought our guys gave themselves permission, after a long, really good stretch, to take the night off. We're all disappointed about that," coach Todd McLellan said. "I expect it to be a one-time event."
Antero Niittymaki made 28 saves in place of Antti Niemi, who had started the previous 34 games. Niemi is 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average against the Coyotes this season and 4-0-1 with a 1.97 GAA in his career.
The Sharks also may get a boost from the potential returns of Ryane Clowe and Scott Nichol. Clowe missed Wednesday's game after suffering a lower-body injury Monday in a win over the Kings, while Nichol has missed 20 straight games with an upper-body injury.
San Jose has won four straight in Phoenix, last losing there Dec. 12, 2009.