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27-20-11

Coyotes-Kings Preview

AP - Sports

Mike Smith's stellar play in net carried the Phoenix Coyotes during their longest winning streak of the season earlier this month. Now, he'll try to help them bounce back from a tough loss.

Smith is expected to be back in goal Thursday night when the Coyotes try to pull even in the standings with the host Los Angeles Kings.

After sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference on Feb. 3, Phoenix moved into playoff position by winning five straight. The Coyotes (27-21-9) had their run snapped with a 2-1 shootout loss at Vancouver on Monday.

Smith gave up six total goals while playing the entirety of the winning streak - culminating in a shutout Saturday against Chicago - before getting the night off Monday. Jason LaBarbera stopped 21 of 22 Canucks shots in regulation and overtime, but yielded four goals in the six-round shootout.

Coach Dave Tippett now is expected to turn back to Smith, the NHL's first star of last week. The goaltender is 6-2-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average against the Kings, although he's just 1-1-1 in the matchup this season despite a 1.64 GAA.

Smith, who has stopped 119 of 122 shots over his last four starts overall, said he doesn't expect to get too many nights off going forward.

"There's no time for rest now," he said. "It's 'Go time' all the way to the end of the season."

He'll have a chance to help the Coyotes match Los Angeles with 65 points if they can get a regulation victory. The Kings are coming off a 4-2 win over Dallas on Sunday to complete their longest road trip of the season.

Los Angeles (27-19-11) went 2-3-1 on its trek. It totaled three goals in the four losses, but on Sunday received sparks from surprising sources as Jordan Nolan and Dwight King both scored their first NHL goal.

The two were called up from the minors Friday. Nolan was playing in his second NHL game and King his eighth, but their teammates said they have quickly provided some energy for the league's lowest-scoring team.

"They bring excitement and everyone feeds off of that," said forward Justin Williams, who added a late empty-netter Sunday. "They've played great the last two games, given us a lot of spunk and a new look."

Los Angeles is at home for the next two before heading back on the road beginning at Phoenix next Tuesday. The Kings have won their last two home games, and while they average just 2.1 goals overall, they have scored three or more in four of their last six at Staples Center.

Williams thinks they can build off their latest result.

"We've struggled to score goals," Williams said. "This was a four-point game against a team right behind us in the standings. Everything seems so important at this time of the season."

While Jonathan Quick received an unusual amount of support Sunday, he has dealt with less while going 3-0-1 against the Coyotes this season. Three of the four games were decided by one goal and two in overtime.

Quick has two shutouts in those games - a 2-0 road win in October and a 1-0 overtime victory Jan. 5 over Smith, his third straight home win against Phoenix.

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