Sunday, March 20, 2011
(AP) -- The Phoenix Coyotes have won five in a row, making a playoff spot seem secure. The Chicago Blackhawks are mired in a bad stretch that included their worst performance of the season in their last game.
These contenders meet for the fourth and final time Sunday night, with the Blackhawks trying to avoid a fifth straight road loss.
Phoenix (39-23-11) is pushing San Jose for the Pacific Division lead, completing a perfect four-game trip with a 3-1 victory over NHL-leading Vancouver on Friday.
"It was a great trip," coach Dave Tippett said. "I give our guys a ton of credit. They battled hard every game."
Chicago (38-25-8) seemed to be solidifying its hold on a third straight postseason berth by winning a season-high eight straight Feb. 20-March 5. The defending Stanley Cup champion, though, has gone 1-2-2 in its last five and lost 5-0 at Dallas on Thursday - getting shut out for the second time this season.
"Tough one to explain. Nothing good about this game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We should all absorb some responsibility on how bad we were. The importance of this game, and they keep getting bigger, we didn't respect the urgency."
The Blackhawks are among a group of teams fighting for the last few postseason spots in the Western Conference.
"We've gotta get prepared for a big game in Phoenix because it's gonna be just as important as this one," defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
Jonathan Toews was held without a point for the second time in his last 14 games. He has 11 goals and 10 assists in that stretch.
Sunday's game figures to be a tight one. All seven matchups between Phoenix and Chicago over the last two seasons have been decided by one or two goals, with four going to shootouts.
The teams split a pair of shootouts in February after the Coyotes won 2-1 at Chicago on Nov. 10 to open the season series.
The Blackhawks have gone 4 for 8 on the power play in those three games and are among the league leaders in power-play percentage at 23.5. The Coyotes are one of the worst penalty killing teams in the NHL at 78.6 percent - just behind Chicago's mark of 78.8.
Phoenix winger Radim Vrbata had a goal and an assist for the second straight game Friday, giving him six points during a four-game point streak. Captain Shane Doan added a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to seven games, with 10 points in that span.
"We've got different guys stepping up every night and that's a huge, huge week for our team to enhance their playoff chances," Tippett said.
Ilya Bryzgalov could be back in goal after Jason LaBarbera got the start Friday and made 46 saves. Bryzgalov had started the Coyotes' 10 previous contests, going 4-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average in his last four.
The Blackhawks have not lost five straight on the road since Feb. 24-March 31, 2009.
"We're going to Phoenix now and we know that we have to be better across the board and we have to prepare better when we're going into a game," Quenneville said.