Coyotes shoot for Pacific title in Minnesota
(Sports Network) - The Phoenix Coyotes can claim the Pacific Division title with a victory on the final day of the regular season, as they visit the Minnesota Wild for tonight's battle at Xcel Energy Center.
The Coyotes have never won a division title since entering the NHL as the original Winnipeg Jets back in 1979-80, but they can claim the Pacific crown as well as the third seed in the Western Conference with their 42nd win of the season. A victory tonight would give Phoenix 97 points on the season and that would put the Coyotes out of the reach of both Los Angeles and San Jose.
Phoenix entered Friday trailing Los Angeles and San Jose by one point for the division lead, but with two games remaining in the regular season compared to just one for the Sharks and Kings, the Coyotes could win the Pacific with victories in their final two tests. Meanwhile, the Kings and Sharks will wrap up their regular seasons against each other tonight in San Jose.
The Coyotes took the first step towards winning the division Friday night in St. Louis, posting a 4-1 victory over the Blues for a fourth straight win overall. Mike Smith had his bid for a fourth consecutive shutout halted in the first period, but the Phoenix netminder came up with 31 saves to backstop the Coyotes to the important win at the Scottrade Center.
Mikkel Boedker scored and added an assist, while Keith Yandle, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan lit the lamp. Antoine Vermette added a pair of helpers for the Coyotes, who have won four in a row for the first time since ending February on a six-game winning streak.
"It's a division title, but more importantly it's home ice in the playoffs," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said of what's at stake tonight. "We've been talking about it a long time; we want to build to be a good playoff team. You can give yourself every advantage you can, whether it be home ice or what ever advantage you can find out of it."
Phoenix has a 19-14-7 record as the host this season and has lost five of seven on the road prior to beating the Blues on Friday.
Although the Wild will not be in the postseason this year, Minnesota has been playing solid hockey in recent weeks, going 4-0-1 in its last five trips to the ice.
Minnesota won its third straight home game on Thursday, downing the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout. Devin Setoguchi scored the game-winning goal in the third round of the shootout as the Wild slipped past the Blackhawks, 2-1. Chicago's only goal of regulation came with 8:23 left in the first period and the score remained 1-0 until Cal Clutterbuck tallied with 3:12 left in the third.
In the shootout phase, Setoguchi picked up the puck and went in on goal with speed before ripping a wrist shot past the glove hand of Blackhawks' netminder Corey Crawford. Josh Harding stopped Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp before Viktor Stalberg sent his shot wide of the net to seal the win for the Wild.
Harding posted 22 saves for the Wild, who are 20-16-4 as the host this season.
"We've been really good for the last five games and we just have to keep it going," Wild defenseman Marco Scandella said. "We're building something here, it's a process and we're starting to find our groove."
Minnesota has taken two of three from the Coyotes this season and the Wild have claimed four of six overall in this series. Phoenix has won four of its last five games in St. Paul.
04/07 11:26:20 ET