Columbus (33-29-11) at Arizona (40-24-11)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011 Puck Drop: 10:00 pm EDT Thu Mar 24, 2011

With three games left against the Pacific Division leader, the Phoenix Coyotes have a good shot to finish in first place. For those games to matter, the Coyotes will likely have to take care of business against the few lesser opponents they have left.

Phoenix continues its season-high six-game homestand with one of those matchups Thursday night, closing out its season series with the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets.

In fourth place in the Western Conference, the Coyotes (40-24-11) have won seven of nine to keep the pressure on division-leading San Jose. The Coyotes host the Sharks on Saturday and the teams conclude the regular season with a home-and-home series.

Phoenix took advantage in the first of two straight games against teams essentially out of the playoff race Tuesday, defeating St. Louis 2-1 to bounce back from a loss to Chicago on Sunday. The Coyotes rallied with second-period goals from Ray Whitney(notes) and Lauri Korpikoski(notes), who helped the franchise reach 40 wins in consecutive seasons for the first time.

After Thursday’s contest, Phoenix’s only remaining game against a team that doesn’t have playoff aspirations is April 1 versus Colorado.

Korpikoski had five goals and six assists in 2009-10, but he’s been a big part of the Coyotes’ success this season. He is tied for the club lead with 18 goals and has 13 more points (38) than he did in his first two seasons combined.

“He’s taken the opportunity and he’s just run with it,” coach Dave Tippett told the Coyotes’ official website. “Really, he’s been one of our best players all year long.”

The Coyotes, trying to hold off six teams that are just a handful of points behind them, can also thank Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) for their place in the standings. Bryzgalov has gone 5-1-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average in his last seven starts and made 29 saves Tuesday, passing Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) for second place on the franchise wins list with 127.

Bryzgalov, who needs two victories to tie franchise leader Bob Essensa, has gone 6-2-0 with a 2.01 GAA in last eight starts versus the Blue Jackets. He has been in net for all three matchups with Columbus this season, making 26 saves in the teams’ only meeting in Glendale - a 4-2 Phoenix victory Jan. 4.

The Blue Jackets, 2-8-1 in their last 11 versus the Coyotes, snapped a five-game skid in the series with a 5-3 home win Feb. 25 behind rookie Matt Calvert’s(notes) first career hat trick.

Columbus, though, has gone 2-6-5 since to fall into 12th place in the West. The Blue Jackets lost out on a much-needed point in a 5-4 shootout loss at Colorado on Tuesday, as they let a 3-1 lead slip away in the final 13 minutes.

“For 50 minutes we played a heck of a hockey game,” coach Scott Arniel said. “Then the last 10 we made some mental mistakes that cost us goals, right up to the last 3 seconds of the game (when Colorado tied it).”

R.J. Umberger(notes) and Derek MacKenzie(notes) scored short-handed goals Tuesday, but the club has gone 0 for 23 on the power play over the last seven games.

Columbus had a season-best three power-play goals in last month’s win over Phoenix.

The Blue Jackets’ Steve Mason(notes), 1-5-4 with a 3.02 GAA in March, made 25 saves in that game to earn his first career victory over the Coyotes in five starts.

Backup Mathieu Garon(notes) yielded four goals in each of the first two games versus Phoenix this season, both losses.

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