Coyotes-Flames Preview

The Associated Press

In a tightly packed Western Conference playoff race, a stunning loss by the Calgary Flames drew notice from the Phoenix Coyotes.

The surging Coyotes have won five straight over the Flames, but expect a difficult matchup Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Calgary (28-23-9) fell out of the West's top eight after Tuesday's 6-1 home defeat to lowly Edmonton. The Flames had won nine straight over their provincial rivals and 10 in a row against them at home.

"Now we're in ninth again and we gotta get back next game and climb back up," captain Jarome Iginla said.

Phoenix (30-21-9) is 8-0-1 this month, and has not lost to Calgary since a 2-1 defeat March 31, 2010. The Coyotes remain wary of a backlash by the Flames, who sit four points behind them.

"You look at what happened in Calgary (on Tuesday)," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "If we think that Calgary is going to just tiptoe into that game on Thursday, we've got another thing coming."

The Coyotes moved into a tie with San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division on Tuesday after rallying from a three-goal deficit for a 5-4 shootout win over visiting Los Angeles. Radim Vrbata scored his second power-play goal with 2:27 left in regulation to tie the game, and Phoenix converted twice in the shootout.

"It shows a lot about our team and the way we've been playing of late," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "At the beginning of the year, we were losing games last minute or in overtime. Lately, we've been finding a way to play good hockey and come together - and it's been fun."

Phoenix's league-worst power play (13.7 percent) was a surprising 3 for 7, with Vrbata also assisting on captain Shane Doan's tally.

Vrbata has eight goals and six assists in his last 11 games. He has reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time and is four points shy of his career-high total of 56 set in 2007-08.

"What he's doing right now, not just the amount of goals he's scoring, but the time of his goals and the circumstance in which he scores, he's an elite player in the league right now," Tippett said. "It's great to see him get that recognition, and it's obviously great for our team to have a guy like that that's as hot as he is."

The mood is entirely different for Calgary, which scored first Tuesday before matching its highest total of goals allowed at home all season. Miikka Kiprusoff was pulled from a start for the first time since Nov. 1.

The Flames had not lost in regulation in their previous eight contests and hadn't conceded more than three goals over their previous 13.

"There's really no explanation to it, it is what it is," coach Brent Sutter said. "We were flat, physically, mentally, emotionally."

The Flames failed to convert their lone power-play chance Tuesday, dropping their NHL-worst percentage at home to 12.5. They have come up empty in their last 15 opportunities overall, beginning with an 0-for-3 effort in a 2-1 overtime loss at Phoenix on Feb. 9 in the lone matchup between these teams this season.

It's unclear if the Coyotes will have Antoine Vermette available for his debut after they acquired the center from Columbus on Wednesday for two draft picks and goalie Curtis McElhinney.