Sharks battle Coyotes, Avs in action in West playoff race

The Sports Network
3/24/2012 11:24:34 AM
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(Sports Network) - Both San Jose and Phoenix still have a shot at winning the Pacific Division. One team's chase of that crown will take a hit tonight when the Coyotes visit the Sharks with an eye on returning to first place.

The Coyotes picked up a victory last time out to match the first-place Kings with 86 points, but Los Angeles owns the current tiebreaker because it has played one less game. Phoenix has seven games left on its schedule, while Los Angeles is also in action tonight against visiting Boston.

The Sharks are also lurking with 84 points, putting them 10th overall in the Western Conference. That is one back of both Colorado and Dallas and those teams are also in action this evening.

Coming off a shootout loss to Dallas on Tuesday, Phoenix picked up a much- needed 3-2 win over Colorado two nights later. Raffi Torres had a goal and an assist -- giving him five goals in his past eight games -- while Daymond Langkow and Kyle Chipchura also scored.

Mike Smith made 39 saves and allowed two goals in the third to make things interesting for the Coyotes, who moved to 4-1-3 in their past eight contests.

"We need to grab all the points we can get and this was a big one tonight," said Torres. "Didn't want to give up those two in the third, but we got out of here with the win and that's all that counts."

Smith notched the 100th victory of his career, while Ray Whitney had an assist to give him 70 points on the season. The 39-year-old has nine points over a six-game point streak and is just four shy of reaching 1,000 points in his career.

The Coyotes were without captain Shane Doan, who served the first of a three- game suspension for an elbowing penalty that occurred in the shootout loss to the Stars. That ban continues tonight against a Sharks club that snapped a two-game slide with Thursday's 2-1 win over the Bruins.

Antti Niemi made 16 saves, while Daniel Winnik and Joe Pavelski added goals. Winnik -- a former Coyote -- notched his first tally in 13 games since joining San Jose in a trade with Colorado.

"There was lots of energy in the building tonight," said Pavelski. "That's probably our most complete game in a long, long time."

San Jose picked up a win in the opener of a three-game homestand and had lost eight of 11 before besting Boston.

The Coyotes have won three straight versus the Sharks -- two by shutout -- since losing their first encounter this season with their division rivals. Phoenix also snapped a six-game slide in San Jose with a 3-0 win on Nov. 12 behind a 31-save shutout by Smith.

Vancouver Canucks at Colorado Avalanche

(Sports Network) - The Vancouver Canucks will try to become the first team in the NHL to clinch their respective division tonight with a sixth straight win over the Colorado Avalanche.

The Canucks have 97 points on the season, 12 ahead of the second-place Avalanche in the Northwest standings. With Colorado only having six games left on its schedule, a point this evening by Vancouver would wrap up its fourth straight division crown.

Vancouver also trails St. Louis by four points for the top seed in the Western Conference with a game in hand and won for only the fourth time this month with Thursday's 2-1 victory in Dallas.

Backup Cory Schneider made 25 saves, Mason Raymond scored in the first period and Kevin Bieksa had the winner early in the third for the Canucks as they picked up their first victory on a four-game road trip that ends tonight.

"This was a big win for us because we are that much closer to clinching now," said Raymond. "We're starting to click again and it's good to get on a roll heading into the playoffs."

The Canucks were playing their first game since forward Daniel Sedin was sent back to Vancouver after taking an elbow to the head from Chicago's Duncan Keith in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Blackhawks. Keith was suspended five games for the hit on Friday.

Vancouver may be just fine without Sedin tonight given that it has won five straight and is 13-0-2 in its past 15 versus Colorado. The Canucks haven't lost in regulation in this series since Oct. 3, 2009 and have taken six of their past seven trips to Colorado.

These two clubs wrap their six-game series on Wednesday in Vancouver.

With virtually no chance at a division title, the Avs shift their focus to the final playoff berth in the West. Colorado's 85 points match eighth-seeded Dallas, but the Stars have the current tiebreaker because they have two games in hand.

The Avs are also just one point ahead of the Sharks in the standings and two in front of the Flames. San Jose also has two games in hand over Colorado, which had points in six straight (5-0-1) before suffering a 3-2 loss to the hosting Coyotes on Thursday.

Colorado trailed by three goals heading into the third period, but made things interesting with goals from Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny, whose 20th goal of the season came with 5:39 to play.

"It's one of those games where we had a few turnovers and they took advantage of it," said Stastny. "But this time of year we have to find ways to win and tonight we didn't."

Semyon Varlamov gave up all three goals on 25 shots in the loss.

Erik Johnson missed his second straight game with back spasms for the Avalanche, who begin a three-game road trip on Monday in San Jose before playing their final two games of the season at home.

Antoine Vermette, Joe Thornton (Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
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