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Coyotes eye top spot in Pacific Division in clash with Blues

The rolling Phoenix Coyotes clinched a playoff spot Thursday without breaking a sweat and they'll aim for a fourth straight victory when they visit the St. Louis Blues tonight at Scottrade Center.

Phoenix wrapped up a postseason berth for a third straight year on Thursday despite being idle. The Coyotes claimed the playoff spot after Dallas lost a 2-0 decision in Nashville.

Although currently seeded eighth in the West, the Coyotes also still control their destiny in the race for the Pacific Division title. Phoenix is one point behind Los Angeles and San Jose for the division crown, but with two games left, the Coyotes have a game in hand over both clubs. The Kings and Sharks have one test remaining and its against each other on Saturday.

The Coyotes have won three straight games, marking the club's longest hot streak since it closed March on a six-game tear.

Mike Smith turned in an amazing performance to lead Phoenix to its most recent victory, as the goaltender set a Coyotes franchise record with 54 saves to post his third straight shutout in Tuesday's 2-0 win over visiting Columbus.

Smith's save total eclipsed the 51-stop performance from Nikolai Khabibulin against Philadelphia on Jan. 28, 1997. Additionally, Smith's eight shutouts this season ties a team record.

Smith, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts against San Jose and Anaheim, has a shutout streak of 219 minutes, 59 seconds, which is the second-longest in franchise annals, well short of the 332:01 run from Brian Boucher during the 2003-04 season.

"It was a big game for us to get two points and move up in the standings," Smith said.

Boyd Gordon and Gilbert Brule scored 2:03 apart in the second period for the Coyotes.

Tuesday's win marked Phoenix's final home test of the regular season. The Coyotes, who are 18-14-7 as the road club this year, will complete their 2011-12 schedule tomorrow night in Minnesota.

The playoff-bound Blues, who have lost three straight and five of their last seven games, are still alive in the battle for the top seed in the West and also have a shot at claiming the Presidents' Trophy.

With 107 points, St. Louis is two behind Vancouver for the conference lead and the Blues have two games left compared to one for the Canucks, who close the season tomorrow against Edmonton. The Blues will finish first in the West if they win their last two games because they hold the non-shootout win tiebreaker over Vancouver.

However, to win the Presidents' Trophy, the Blues will have to post more points than the New York Rangers, who hold the non-shootout tiebreaker over St. Louis. Like Vancouver, New York also has 109 points with one game left on Saturday.

St. Louis has lost twice in shootouts during its current three-game slide and the Blues coughed up a 2-0 lead in the third period of Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss to visiting Detroit. Todd Bertuzzi scored on the final attempt of the shootout to give the Red Wings the 3-2 win.

Andy McDonald and David Perron each had goals to stake the Blues to a 2-0 lead by the middle of the third period. However, Detroit forward Johan Franzen scored with 6:05 left to make it 2-1 and then tied the game with another tally just 3:50 before the end of regulation.

"For the most part it was my fault, on the second goal I had the wrong people on the ice," said St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock. "Got caught on a line change and it ended up in our net."

Brian Elliott, who came into the game riding three consecutive shutouts, gave up two goals on 28 shots.

Tonight marks the final home game of the regular season for the Blues, who have set a club record with 30 home wins in 2011-12. St. Louis, which will visit Dallas tomorrow to complete the regular season, is 30-5-5 as the host this year.

The Blues will try for a sweep of their season series with the Coyotes tonight. St. Louis is 3-0 against Phoenix in 2011-12 and has outscored the Coyotes by a combined 11-3 margin this season.

Phoenix has lost three of four and five of its last seven games in St. Louis.