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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, March 29th (All times Eastern)
Minnesota Wild (37-26-11) at Phoenix Coyotes (36-26-12), 9 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The current occupiers of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference square off on Saturday night as the Minnesota Wild visit the Phoenix Coyotes.
Just one point separates the Wild and Coyotes in the standings with eight games to play for both teams. Minnesota's 85 points are just ahead of Phoenix as the clubs are trying to hold off a number of teams in the standings, with the biggest threats the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks.
The Stars are three points back of the Coyotes and have played one fewer game than both of the current wild card leaders. The Canucks are five points out of a playoff spot, but have just seven games left on the schedule.
The Stars visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, while the Canucks are hosting the Anaheim Ducks.
The Coyotes have closed the gap with the Wild by going 5-1-1 in their last seven games and 9-3-1 over the past 13. That includes back-to-back wins with backup goaltender Thomas Greiss in net after Mike Smith was hurt in an overtime loss to the New York Rangers on March 24 that began a recently- wrapped three-game swing.
Greiss helped Phoenix notch a regulation victory in Pittsburgh on Tuesday before stopping 26 shots faced and another three in a shootout to top the New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Thursday.
After New Jersey's Damien Brunner came up empty to start the shootout, Mikkel Boedker followed with a nifty backhander over Martin Brodeur before Greiss turned away the final two Devils.
Kyle Chipchura and Chris Summers supplied a goal and an assist apiece as the Coyotes got some needed offensive support after David Moss suffered a lower- body injury during the game.
"We score by committee," Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said, referring to the fact that Chipchura and Summers had combined for just four goals this season coming into the game. "That's who we are. As long as it keeps coming it doesn't matter who scores."
It is unknown when Smith will be able to return to action from a lower-body injury, meaning Greiss could start again tonight. He is 1-1-0 with a 2.53 goals against average versus the Wild.
Minnesota is coming off its ninth loss in 12 games (3-5-4) and was routed 5-1 by St. Louis on Thursday.
Rookie Darcy Kuemper came up with just 19 saves and Zach Parise accounted for the lone Wild goal.
"That's a team we could face in the first round and we wanted to make it tough on them," said Parise. "I don't think we did that, at all, tonight."
Minnesota lost the opener of a four-game road trip one night after suffering a 5-2 loss at home to the Vancouver Canucks.
Kuemper has never before faced the Coyotes, while backup Ilya Bryzgalov is 9-3-1 with a 2.20 GAA in 14 career starts versus his former club.
The Wild and Coyotes have split two meetings this season, with each team winning once on the road. Minnesota has won four of its last five trips to Phoenix.
03/29 10:42:55 ET