Final SO

Series (Game 3 of 4)

Arizona leads 3-1

Game 1: Thursday, November 5th
Game 2: Friday, February 5th
Game 3: Saturday, March 20th
Game 4: Tuesday, March 23rd

Blackhawks 4

(45-19-7, 97 pts)

Coyotes 5

(45-22-5, 95 pts)

Coverage: NHL

9:00 PM ET, March 20, 2010 Arena, Glendale, Arizona

1 2 3 SO T
CHI 1 1 2 04
ARI 0 1 3 15

L. Stempniak (Coyotes - RW): Goals: 2, Assists: 0

R. Vrbata (Coyotes - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

W. Wolski (Coyotes - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Blackhawks-Coyotes Preview


Riding their longest winning streak of the season, the Phoenix Coyotes are suddenly in the mix for first place in the Western Conference.

This shouldn't come as a shock to the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.

The Coyotes, the only team from the West the Blackhawks haven't defeated this season, look to win eight straight for the first time in more than 11 years Saturday night when they host Chicago.

Phoenix (44-22-5) was tied for the conference's second-worst record last season, but surprisingly has already earned 93 points to put it just back of Pacific Division-leading San Jose. The Coyotes, who haven't made the playoffs since 2002, are in this position thanks to a 15-4-0 surge that includes seven consecutive victories.

Phoenix's winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy with the team trailing Florida 3-0 after two periods Thursday, but Martin Hanzal, Lee Stempniak and Radim Vrbata all scored in the third en route to a 4-3 shootout victory.

"It was just one of those games where we never quit," said Vrbata, who scored the winner in the third round of a shootout. "We came back and it was nice to get that."

The Coyotes, who haven't won eight straight since Nov. 16-Dec. 2, 1999, set a franchise record for wins in a season with 44, besting the previous mark set by the 1984-85 Winnipeg Jets.

"We are looking at improving our game, making the playoffs and then doing something in the playoffs," Vrbata said. "It's nice (to set the record for wins in a season), but that was not our goal. We still have lots of work ahead of us."

Ilya Bryzgalov has made six starts during the winning streak, posting a 1.30 goals-against average and two shutouts. In his only start of the season against Chicago on Nov. 5, Bryzgalov stopped 31 shots in a 3-1 win.

The Blackhawks and Phoenix have met once since then with the Coyotes winning 2-1 in a shootout at the United Center on Feb. 5.

Chicago (45-19-6) is poised to win its first division title since 1993 and also is in the mix for first place in the West, but the team hadn't been playing with its normal composure lately. It dropped back-to-back games last weekend to Philadelphia and Washington in heartbreaking fashion, and opened a three-game trip Wednesday with a 4-2 loss to Anaheim.

The Blackhawks bounced back with a 3-0 win over Los Angeles on Thursday to avoid losing four straight for the first time this season.

"I think the team showed that we really wanted to win," goaltender Antti Niemi said.

Tomas Kopecky scored twice in a 3:20 span and Troy Brouwer notched his 20th goal, but it was the defense that paved the way. Despite losing a defensemen to an injury in each of the previous three games, Chicago overcame the absence of Kim Johnsson, Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook and limited the Kings to only 17 shots.

"We focused on defense," Kopecky said. "Everything starts with the defense."

Niemi, who recorded his fifth shutout of the season, could make his first career start against the Coyotes with Cristobal Huet still recovering from the flu. Niemi had to make only three saves in the second period Thursday, but might be a little busier facing a surging Phoenix offense, which registered a season-best 46 shots Thursday.

These teams meet again in Chicago on Tuesday.