Blue Jackets-Coyotes Preview

The Associated Press

The Phoenix Coyotes won nearly every game in February, including some recent comebacks from poor first periods. That formula dried up in their first game in March.

The Coyotes look to bounce back from their first regulation defeat in more than a month when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

Phoenix (33-22-9) went 11-0-1 in February to seize the Pacific Division lead, rallying from first-period deficits in winning three of its final four contests to close the month. The Coyotes, though, fell behind by three goals after 20 minutes Thursday night and saw their comeback fall short in a 4-2 loss to visiting Calgary.

"We've come from behind too many times this season, and when that happens, you tend to get burned,'' captain Shane Doan said.

The Coyotes have a two-point lead in the division race, but know they also have little margin of error to ensure a playoff berth in the tight Western Conference.

Phoenix has three meetings left with league-worst Columbus (19-38-7), which won 2-0 at Colorado on Thursday to hurt the Avalanche's playoff hopes.

"Obviously, they are in a tough playoff push right now, and if we can play spoiler and have a big game like this, then we'll take pride in that," said goaltender Steve Mason, who stopped 33 shots for his first shutout of the season.

The Blue Jackets' previous two wins had been against contenders San Jose and St. Louis. Columbus won 4-3 at home over Phoenix on Jan. 13 in the lone meeting this season.

"We've got a team coming in Saturday in Columbus that beat Colorado (on Thursday) that are playing free and easy and if you're not willing to compete against them, you're going to be on the back side of it," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.

Tippett may be able to gain some extra insight on Columbus because of the acquisition of center Antoine Vermette from the Blue Jackets on Feb. 22 in exchange for goaltender Curtis McElhinney and two draft picks. Vermette has no points in four games for Phoenix, and still ranks fourth among Blue Jackets skaters with 27.

The Coyotes' top scorer is another former Blue Jacket in Ray Whitney, whose six-game point streak ended Thursday. Another former Columbus skater, Raffi Torres, scored Phoenix's lone power-play tally in its last 13 chances.

Columbus ended a three-game slide Thursday as Vinny Prospal assisted on goals by Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin.

"It's not just about the win,'' Prospal said. "It's about the whole game. How many times during the season have we lost a lead in the third period or in the last minute of the game? So for us to finish the game strong, as we did tonight, it's a big plus."

The Coyotes have taken 10 of the last 13 meetings and five of six at home against the Blue Jackets as they look to put forth a better effort than Thursday's.

"When you lose games, it's the same message - it's how you play," Tippett said. "We were winning games because we were playing the right way."

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