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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Saturday, March 27th (All times eastern)

Colorado Avalanche (41-25-7) at Phoenix Coyotes (46-23-6), 9 p.m.

(Sports Network) - On the verge of securing their first postseason appearance in eight years, the Phoenix Coyotes return to Jobing.com Arena tonight to take on the Colorado Avalanche in a matchup of Western Conference contenders.

Phoenix has been one of the NHL's most interesting and unlikely success stories this season, with the franchise declaring bankruptcy in May and subsequently being taken over by the league. The Coyotes' troubles certainly haven't extended to the ice, though, as the club's 98 points are the third- most in the Western Conference and 19 more than its entire total of the previous season.

The Coyotes, who presently occupy the No. 4 seed in the West by virtue of being in second place in the Pacific Division, could have a playoff spot secured before they even step on the ice tonight. Phoenix will clinch a spot if the Flames lose to the Bruins on Saturday afternoon or if it earns a point in this contest tonight.

A franchise record-tying nine-game winning streak from March 4-21 has helped the Coyotes get to this point, but the team has dropped two straight following that surge. After being shut out at Central Division-leader Chicago on Tuesday, Phoenix came up a bit short in Thursday's shootout loss to Nashville in the finale of a three-game road trip. David Legwand scored the winning goal in the third round of the shootout to give the Predators a hard-fought 4-3 triumph.

The Coyotes trailed 3-1 after two periods, but received late goals from Wojtek Wolski and Keith Yandle to force overtime and pick up a point.

"We didn't have as much energy as we would have liked," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. "We were able to sneak a point out of it, so we'll take it."

Wolski was acquired by Phoenix from Colorado on March 3 as one of a whopping seven trades made by the Coyotes prior to the deadline. The former Avalanche first-round pick has made a nice impact with his new team, amassing four goals and five assists along with plus-five rating in 11 games.

Peter Mueller, shipped to the Avalanche along with center Kevin Porter as part of that deal, has benefited from the switch as well. The young forward has generated 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-five rating in his first 11 outings with Colorado, and came up with a pair of assists to help spark Wednesday's 4-3 shootout victory over visiting Los Angeles.

Mueller also scored in the shootout for the Avs, who halted a three-game skid and avenged an overtime loss to the Kings in Los Angeles two nights prior. Chris Stewart came up with the deciding goal in the final phase, while Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny each had power-play tallies for Colorado in regulation.

"We did a great job on the power play, especially at the start of the game," said Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson, who ended with 27 saves. "But we've got to finish. We had a chance to bury them, but (Kings goaltender Erik) Ersberg gave them the momentum."

The much-needed win moved Colorado within one point of the Kings for the sixth seed in the West, with Detroit even with the Avs in the standings as well. Colorado trails first-place Vancouver by five points in the Northwest Division race, but does hold a game in hand on the Canucks.

The Avalanche begin a challenging two-game road trip this evening, with a bout against Western Conference leader San Jose to follow. Colorado has not had much success when visiting Arizona recently, as the Coyotes have won their last three tests as the host in this series.

Colorado's only previous stop at Jobing.com Arena this season came on March 4, one day after the Wolski-Mueller trade. Phoenix came away with an exciting 3-1 decision, with Wolski netting the tie-breaking goal with only 23.7 seconds left in regulation.

The Avalanche have won the other two meetings between the clubs in 2009-10, both of which were held in Denver.

03/27 10:41:05 ET


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