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Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive with shootout win

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- David Schlemko couldn't have picked a better time to score his first goal of the season for the Phoenix Coyotes.

With Phoenix's hopes to make the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs fading fast, it was Schlemko to the rescue, netting the deciding goal to give the Coyotes a 3-2 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.

"Every point's huge now for us," Schlemko said. "We're fighting for our lives. We feel like we've got to get two points every night, so it's huge for us."

To add insult to injury, the loss put a disappointing topper on a game that saw a season-high 22,272 Blackhawks fans in attendance at United Center.

Plus, it brought back bitter flashbacks of last season to many of those fans, as their heavily favored team was upset in the Western Conference quarterfinals by the Coyotes.

And who might be Chicago's first opponent when the playoffs open at the end of this month? None other than the same Coyotes -- but that comes with a big "if": if Phoenix can catch fire and pass the three teams ahead of it in the standings.

"It's great to see us get the extra one in the shootout, but we're just trying to stay alive right now," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We're battling through a few injuries here, but guys are working and desperate and we found a way to get the points tonight."

Schlemko's goal stopped Chicago's seven-game winning streak, while at the same time stopping the Coyotes' own skid -- four losses in five games.

"I think we still did some pretty good things out there tonight," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "Most of the time when it comes down to it at the end, we have a lot of confidence that we can win those tight games, but sometimes it doesn't go your way."

Chicago (34-5-5) still maintains its mark as the NHL's top team, with 73 points. Meanwhile, Phoenix (19-17-8) helped its floundering playoff hopes by climbing to 46 points with four games remaining.

However, three other teams have more points than Phoenix for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot: Columbus (49 points) and Dallas (47), while Detroit also had 47 points heading into Saturday night's late game at Vancouver.

About the only way Phoenix can get the eighth playoff spot is if it wins all four of its remaining games, which would be worth eight points.

And that may still not be enough, as Columbus has three games remaining, while Detroit and Dallas have four left.

The Coyotes and Blackhawks each had only three shots in Saturday's shootout. In addition to Schlemko's goal, Mikkel Boedker scored for Phoenix, with Radim Vrbata being stopped by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

Chicago, meanwhile, was held to center Patrick Kane's backhander past Phoenix goalie Mike Smith after Marian Hossa and Patrick Toews failed to score.

"We knew we had to play our style of hockey," Smith said. "I don't think we were happy with the way it went after two periods but we kind of gained some momentum there in the third and were able to squeak one out."

Saturday marked just the 26th time that Schlemko has appeared in a game for the Coyotes this season, and he made it count. It was also just the seventh career goal for the Phoenix defenseman, as he flicked a close-in wrister past the losing Crawford (18-4-5).

Starting Crawford in goal may have been questionable. First, he was playing in back-to-back games, having struggled to a 5-4 win in overtime Friday night.

Second, Crawford's teammate, Ray Emery, was in goal when Chicago beat Phoenix in its two previous meetings this season, the Blackhawks earning dominant victories by scores of 6-4 and 6-2.

"Tough loss in the shootout," Crawford said. "I think we wanted to come in this game with a chance to eliminate these guys or give them a little bit of doubt for the playoffs. But we'll just move on from here."

On the positive side, Chicago again dominated on both sides of the power play. The Blackhawks stopped all five of Phoenix's man-advantage situations, increasing Chicago's power-play prowess to stopping 35 of 36 man disadvantages in the last 16 games.

In addition, Brent Seabrook (seventh and eighth goals of the season) scored both of Chicago's goals in regulation on power-play opportunities.

"It means a lot," Crawford said of his teammate's power-play proficiency Saturday. "I think the power play has to score some big goals if you want to move on throughout the playoffs, and I think we're peaking just at the right time. We've been getting chances all year, and I don't think there's a time that we were struggling so much that we weren't putting pucks to the net or getting chances. But now we're able to just bury on them."

NOTES: Chicago outshot Phoenix 38-31. ... Who do you believe? Chicago's game notes for the media said the Blackhawks came into the game holding a 58-46-15-7 all-time record against the Coyotes. But Phoenix' game notes had the record at 57-53-15-3 in the Hawks' favor. ... Michal Handzus' goal in Friday's game was his first as a Blackhawk. He was acquired before the trade deadline from San Jose on April 1. ... The Hawks head out on a two-game road trip with matches at Vancouver (April 22) and Edmonton (April 24). They return to Chicago for their final regular-season home game against Calgary (April 26), and then visit St. Louis (April 27) before beginning playoff action. ... Phoenix plays Monday at Detroit, followed by home games against San Jose (April 24) and Colorado (April 26) before their final regular-season game, on the road at Anaheim (April 27).

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