Coyotes-Sharks Preview

The Associated Press

The Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks remain in the thick of a four-team race for the Pacific Division crown that seems likely to come down to the wire.

With each team unable to afford leaving points on the table, the Coyotes visit HP Pavilion seeking a fourth consecutive win over the Sharks on Saturday night.

The Coyotes (37-26-12) and Los Angeles are tied atop the Pacific with 86 points, with Dallas and San Jose (37-27-10) in third and fourth place, respectively, with 85 and 84. Phoenix, however, has played one more game than each of the other three clubs.

"It's a roller coaster. You watch the standings before you go to bed and you get up and look at them again in the morning," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told the team's official website. "That's where we are right now. Seven games left and it's going to be a dogfight right to the end. It's fun."

After concluding a 2-1-1 road trip with a 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas on Tuesday, the Coyotes continued their postseason push with a 3-2 win over Colorado on Thursday. Playing without captain Shane Doan, who was serving the first game of a three-game suspension for elbowing, Phoenix scored the first three goals and Mike Smith made 39 saves for his 100th NHL win.

Raffi Torres tallied a goal and an assist while fellow forward Gilbert Brule notched two assists.

"Guys knew they had to step it up," Tippett said. "As a team, we were stronger earlier in the game but didn't make enough plays in the third. We hung on, picked up the two points and now move forward."

The Sharks also picked up a much-needed two points their last time out, avoiding a third consecutive loss with a 2-1 win over Boston on Thursday. Joe Pavelski scored for the third time in four games and Antti Niemi made 16 saves.

"We'll just take any win," said captain Joe Thornton, who's totaled one assist in four meetings with the Coyotes this season. "It was a good win tonight. We still have eight games to go and have a lot of work to do. We know what's at stake.

"Enjoy this but the next one is the most important game of the year and we'll be ready."

San Jose opened its season with a 6-3 win over Phoenix but has dropped the three meetings since. The Sharks saw their six-game home winning steak in the series come to an end with a 3-0 loss Nov. 12 before suffering a pair of defeats in Phoenix.

Smith has started all four games against San Jose, posting a 1.00 goals-against average and two shutouts over the last three. He made 31 saves Nov. 12 and turned away 42 shots in a 3-0 victory March 10.

Niemi allowed a combined seven goals while starting both road matchups with the Coyotes but has yet to face them on home ice this season. He's 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA at home versus Phoenix while with San Jose.

Niemi has gone 3-1-0 with a 2.20 GAA in his last four home games overall, while Smith is 2-2-1 with a 3.27 GAA over his last six road starts.

Coyotes left wing Ray Whitney, who spent his first six seasons with San Jose, recorded an assist Thursday to give him nine points during a six-game scoring streak. He leads the team with 70 points.

These teams conclude their season series Thursday in Phoenix.

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