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Red-hot Bruins host surging Coyotes
(SportsNetwork.com) - Four victories in their past five games have the Phoenix Coyotes in the thick of the race for a wild card berth in the Western Conference.
The Boston Bruins' longest winning streak of the season is helping them run away in the Atlantic Division.
The Coyotes conclude a four-game road trip on Thursday night looking to deny the Bruins a seventh consecutive victory.
Following back-to-back wins at home, Phoenix began its trek with a regulation setback to the Washington Capitals. However, the Coyotes have responded with two victories in the state of Florida, leaving them a point behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild card spot.
The Coyotes recorded a shootout triumph at Tampa one night before besting the Florida Panthers by a 3-1 margin on Tuesday. Mike Smith keyed the victory with 31 saves.
Phoenix allowed two goals or fewer for the third time over its past five games.
"As of late we've tightened up more defensively and there's been a lot more shots coming from outside. As a goalie that's all you can ask for," said Smith, who has a 1.81 goals against average and .939 save percentage in his past 11 games.
Mike Ribeiro, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Radim Vrbata lit the lamp for the Coyotes, who did lose forward Martin Erat to an upper-body injury early in the first period.
His status for this game is unknown, while David Schlemko (bruised left foot) and Martin Hanzal (lower body) remain day-to-day.
Vrbata remained on a roll with two assists on Tuesday in addition to his sixth goal in his last 10 games. He leads Phoenix with 46 points.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, a Boston native, has an assist in four straight games, while captain Shane Doan is expected to skate in his 1,300th NHL game tonight.
The franchise's all-time leader in games played, Doan will become the fourth active player and 54th all-time to reach that mark. He is also set to become the 10th player to do so with the same franchise.
The Bruins will wrap a series of games on back-to-back nights after finishing off a three-game road trip perfect with Wednesday's 4-1 win over the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Carl Soderberg, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic tallied in the second period, while Zdeno Chara added a third-period marker as the Bruins beat the Canadiens for the first time in six meetings.
"We wanted to play to our strengths," noted Lucic. "That gave us momentum, especially in the second period. It's nice to get a win against these guys. It was a five-game losing streak before this one."
Tuukka Rask augmented his team's offense with 35 saves.
The Bruins have outscored opponents 25-10 in non-shootout goals over their six-game winning streak and have opened a 13-point edge over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. Boston also has two games in hand over the Leafs, who play in Los Angeles tonight.
Soderberg has tallied five points over his past four games, while Bergeron has two goals and three assists in the last two.
Boston is one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most in the Eastern Conference and will play its next three at home, where it is 25-7-2 on the season.
Tonight is the first of two meetings this season between the Coyotes and the Bruins, who visit Phoenix on March 22. Boston won the most recent encounter on the road 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 28, 2011. That was the first encounter between these clubs since opening the 2010-11 campaign with a split of two games in the Czech Republic.
The Coyotes are visiting Boston for the first time since March 5, 2009 and own a pair of victories and a tie in their last three trips to Beantown.
Smith is 3-6-0 with a 2.54 GAA in his career versus the Bruins and is expected to start tonight.
Rask has split two previous meetings with the Coyotes, but may give way to backup Chad Johnson tonight. Johnson spent last season with the Coyotes, going 2-0-2 with a 1.21 GAA in only four games, and lost his only previous start against them.
03/13 10:50:33 ET