Sunday Feb. 27, 2011
Things are looking a bit better for the Chicago Blackhawks, but they're far from feeling relaxed.
The Blackhawks look to continue their playoff push and win four straight for the first time in two months Sunday night when they host a Phoenix Coyotes team trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since early November.
After being four points out of eighth place in the Western Conference following a loss to Columbus last Friday, Chicago (32-23-6) has reeled off three straight wins to pull within one point of the final playoff spot.
"It's all up to us what we do with it," defenseman Duncan Keith said after Thursday's 3-0 victory over Nashville.
Center Patrick Sharp and goaltender Corey Crawford again led the way for Chicago on Thursday.
Sharp had a goal and an assist, giving him four goals and three assists in his last four games. Crawford made 31 saves and is 5-1-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average in his last seven starts.
"(Thursday) I thought was a great team effort," Keith said. "That's what it's going to take."
Joel Quenneville was back on the bench Thursday after missing four games because of a bleeding ulcer. The coach is happy to see Chicago close the gap in the playoff race but knows there is still a lot of work to do with eight teams battling for the final four spots.
"I don't think we're ever in a place where we should feel comfortable," Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks, who haven't won four in a row since Dec. 17-26, have earned 12 of 16 points in their last eight games (5-1-2).
One of those one-point outings came in Arizona on Feb. 12.
Taylor Pyatt and Radim Vrbata scored in regulation for the Coyotes, while Ilya Bryzgalov made 31 saves and turned aside all three Chicago shootout attempts in a 3-2 win.
Phoenix is 5-1-0 against Chicago since the start of last season after being outscored 23-5 while losing the previous six meetings.
The Coyotes (33-21-9), five points ahead of the Blackhawks for fourth place in the West, arrive in Chicago to conclude a five-game road trip coming off back-to-back disappointing defeats.
After having a season-high eight-game winning streak snapped with an 8-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Phoenix squandered a 2-0, first-period lead in Friday's 5-3 defeat to Columbus. Vrbata, David Schlemko and Lauri Korpikoski all scored Friday for the Coyotes, while Bryzgalov made 29 saves but lost for the first time in nine games.
An inability to kill penalties has spurred Phoenix's sudden struggles.
The Coyotes allowed the Blue Jackets to convert 3 of 9 power plays after the Lightning had three man-advantage goals on four opportunities. They had killed 26 of 31 penalties during their winning streak.
"You can't get in a game like this and beat yourself," coach Dave Tippet said after the loss in Columbus. "We jumped out early, we're playing a real strong road game and decided we were going to take a bunch of penalties. That's just unacceptable for us right now."
Phoenix, which hasn't lost three in a row since Nov. 5-8, might fare better against a Chicago team that is just 1 for 8 on the power play in its last four games.
Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.