If the Phoenix Coyotes are to make the playoffs for a third straight season, they'll have goaltender Mike Smith and forward Ray Whitney to thank.
The duo will try to lift the Coyotes to their first three-game winning streak in a month this evening as they battle the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Smith posted his second straight shutout and seventh of the season on Saturday, making 44 saves in a 4-0 win over Anaheim. Whitney, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist to become the 79th player in league history to reach 1,000 points.
The 39-year-old Whitney leads the Coyotes with 75 points on the season.
"I'm glad it was over with because what we're doing now is something more important," said Whitney of his milestone compared to the importance of the playoff race.
Smith notched his 18th career shutout, Radim Vrbata had a goal and an assist, while both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Antoine Vermette also scored. Phoenix has won back-to-back games and tonight can log its longest winning streak since it closed out February on a six-game run. It also has points in 10 of its past 12 games (6-2-4).
Extending that win streak will be key for the Coyotes making the playoffs. They currently sit seventh overall in the West with 91 points, two back of the Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division. However, Phoenix is also only a point ahead of eighth-place San Jose in the West and two up on ninth-place Dallas. One of those teams is guaranteed two points tonight as the Stars are hosting the Sharks.
Phoenix ends a four-game homestand tonight before ending the season with games in St. Louis and Minnesota. Smith is likely to get the call versus the Blue Jackets and carries a shutout streak of 159 minutes, 59 seconds into the meeting. He was named the NHL's Third Star of the week on Monday and has set career highs this year in wins (35), shutouts (7) and games played (64).
"I've learned a lot along the way. I've always been a guy that wants to play a lot of games and this year I'm getting the opportunity to do that and it feels good to be doing well," Smith said on Monday.
Columbus, meanwhile, can match its longest win streak of the season, a four- game run that opened up the month of March. The Blue Jackets closed out the month with three victories in a row, picking up a 5-2 victory at St. Louis on Saturday.
R.J. Umberger scored twice to give him five goals in three games, while Jared Boll, Derek Dorsett and Vinny Prospal also lit the lamp. With Curtis Sanford and Steve Mason both sidelined, Allen York made his third straight start and made 34 saves to pick up his third career victory.
Columbus has outscored opponents 13-5 over its win streak, with Rick Nash logging a pair of goals and eight points over his last five games.
"Right now we are a very dangerous hockey team," said York. "We've played with a lot of pride and we've competed the last few games."
The Blue Jackets end a three-game road swing on Thursday in Colorado before hosting the Islanders to end the season on Saturday.
Columbus has won all three meetings so far this year versus the Coyotes, snapping a three-game slide in Phoenix with a 5-2 win on March 3.