A season-high five-game winning streak has helped vault the Phoenix Coyotes into the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Coyotes have already knocked off two of the conference's division leaders during their run, and they'll look to add the Northwest-leading Vancouver Canucks to the list Monday night at Rogers Arena.
After putting together just one three-game winning streak over the first four months of the season, Phoenix (27-21-8) has opened February with five consecutive victories. The sudden surge, which includes wins over Central-leading Detroit and Pacific-leading San Jose, has helped the Coyotes move past four teams into eighth place in the West.
"We have to put a string together, and we hadn't had a sustained winning streak all year," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after Saturday's 3-0 win over Chicago. "A sustained winning streak can get you right back to where you want to be. These five games have obviously been a great boost to us. We're playing better as a group. We're doing things that make you win."
Goaltending has been the biggest key.
Mike Smith has been between the pipes for each of the five games and has stopped 119 of 122 shots in the last four. He made 38 saves Saturday for his third shutout of the season.
"In the last two, three weeks, the guys in front of me have found ways to tie up sticks and let me see the puck,'' Smith said.
While Smith has been outstanding lately, he was shaky in the Coyotes' lone game of the season against Vancouver on Nov. 25. He stopped 32 shots but allowed goals to Sami Salo, Ryan Kesler, David Booth, Maxim Lapierre and Alexandre Burrows in a 5-0 home loss.
The Coyotes have lost three of the last four games with the Canucks, but have won the past two meetings in Vancouver.
The Canucks (34-15-6) return to Rogers Arena to open a three-game homestand after completing a four-game trip with Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to Calgary, the lone blemish of the trip. Vancouver rallied behind goals from Cody Hodgson and Booth after spotting the Flames two goals, but couldn't complete the comeback. Kesler was denied on his only shot, ending his career-best five-game goal-scoring streak.
The Canucks, who have earned points in nine straight games (6-0-3) and gone to shootouts in four of their last five, still took seven of eight points on the trip.
"It's always nice to get that many points, but it stings a little bit with that last one," Burrows said. "We'll take that and get ready for the homestand."
Roberto Luongo, 4-0-2 with a 2.35 goals-against average since Jan. 21, will likely need to be ready early as the Coyotes have scored in the first eight minutes of their last four games.
Radim Vrbata and Boyd Gordon struck in the first six minutes against the Blackhawks and Kyle Chipchura completed the scoring at 12:59 of the second period. Vrbata's goal was his team-leading 26th, giving him four goals and five assists in his last seven games.
Luongo didn't play in the first meeting with the Coyotes, but is 4-2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and two shutouts in his last six starts in the series.
- Vancouver Canucks