For the second straight season, a largely unheralded Phoenix Coyotes team appears to be making a bold second-half push toward the playoffs.
This time, they're hoping their surge takes them all the way to the Pacific Division title.
Perhaps the NHL's hottest team, the visiting Coyotes may have a chance to take over first place as they seek their second five-game winning streak of February on Saturday against an Edmonton Oilers team expected to get star rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back.
Phoenix improved to 9-0-1 this month with another comeback victory Thursday, erasing a two-goal deficit in a 4-3 shootout win at Calgary. Two nights earlier, the club was down three before rallying for a 5-4 shootout victory over Los Angeles.
"We're all smiles and happy right now because we keep finding ways to win," captain Shane Doan said. "It might not be pretty and it might not be the way coaches have it drawn up at the beginning, but we've found ways to come back. It gives us a belief system in your game that you know you can do it."
The Coyotes (31-21-9) did something similar last season, when they won eight straight in February and had an 8-1-1 stretch in March to narrowly qualify for the postseason. They lost to Detroit in the first round for the second straight year.
It they can capture the division title, they would be all but certain to avoid the Red Wings. Phoenix and San Jose each have 71 points, although the Sharks - who visit Nashville on Saturday night - have two games in hand.
"We recognize how quickly things can change," Doan told his team's official website. "You talk to us three weeks ago and things were pretty bleak and we were one of the teams on the outside looking in, and now we feel we've got a little bit of a roll and we've talked about keeping it going and building on it."
Each of Phoenix's victories during its current four-game streak has come by one goal over a fellow postseason hopeful. Ray Whitney provided the winning margin Thursday, scoring the lone shootout goal after tallying a goal and an assist during regulation.
Whitney, who turns 40 in May, leads the Coyotes with 56 points. The Edmonton-area native and former Oilers stick boy has 11 points in six games against the Oilers since the start of last season.
The Coyotes have won eight of nine against Edmonton, including a pair of 4-2 victories this season, but the Oilers (24-30-6) have given two other contenders fits this week.
After routing rival Calgary 6-1 on Tuesday, Edmonton shut down high-scoring Philadelphia in a 2-0 win Thursday behind 35 saves from Devan Dubnyk.
"We're a good team," said Jordan Eberle, who combined for five points in those two games to give him a team-high 60. "Maybe our record doesn't show it, but we're capable of playing with the best teams, and beating them, we've shown that we can.
"Our problem is consistency. When we play our game the way we can, we can roll with the best of them."
The Oilers may be rolling Saturday with Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup. The top overall draft pick, who has 35 points in 40 games, was on the ice for Friday's practice and is expected to return after missing seven straight contests and 20 of 22 due to shoulder problems.
Edmonton coach Tom Renney also figures to be back behind the bench after a five-game absence following a concussion he suffered when a puck hit his head during practice.
- Phoenix Coyotes