COYOTES (34-26-11) at RANGERS (39-29-4)
Season series: It has been almost six months since the Phoenix Coyotes opened the season with a 4-1 home win against the New York Rangers. They play for the second and final time in a rematch that could have major implications with each team marching toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Big story: With a handful of games remaining in the 2013-14 season, the Coyotes and Rangers have each gained a favorable place in the race for a playoff spot. Phoenix holds a two-point lead against the Dallas Stars for the Western Conference's second and final wild-card spot and the Rangers are third in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of the Washington Capitals.
Coyotes: Phoenix opens a three-game Eastern trip Monday at Madison Square Garden and its performance on that swing could ultimately dictate whether or not it makes the playoffs. A travel day Sunday gave the Coyotes, and goaltender Mike Smith in particular, an opportunity to get some much-needed rest.
Phoenix suffered a deflating 4-2 loss to Boston on Saturday after taking a 2-1 lead into the third period. But Head Coach Dave Tippett said eyes must be forward not backward.
"There's no time for that. We're going on a hard road trip here," Tippett said. "You've got 11 games left. You've got to do whatever you can to get as many points as you can if you're going to get in. We get our heads up and let's go. No time to be down right now."
Smith has led the Coyotes' recent surge. He has started 11 straight games, and has a 1.86 goals-against average and .937 save percentage since Feb. 1. The Coyotes' chances of securing the second wild card, which could come down to a season-ending home game against the Stars on April 13, will depend largely on Smith's play.
"When you’re playing well, you want to be in there and trying to win games for your team and give them the best chance," said Smith, whose record for consecutive starts is 15. "I feel confident in net right now."
The Coyotes experienced a momentary scare when forward Lauri Korpikoski, a former member of the Rangers, left Monday's morning skate early after a puck ricocheted off a stick and struck him in the head. Tippett said Korpikoski was fine.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s next goal will tie his career high of 13 (set in 2011-12). Ekman-Larsson has already established new career highs in assists (27) and points (39) this season. Plus, he is tied for most game-winning goals (six) among all NHL defensemen.
The Coyotes boast the best power-play percentage in the Western Conference at 20.8 percent. Phoenix has netted 52 power-play goals, which rank third in the League.
Rangers: Forwards Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan missed the morning skate on Monday because of the flu and could be out of the lineup for this game.
New York enjoyed a day off Sunday after a 3-1 road win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday before beating the New Jersey Devils 2-0 the following night in two games that had a playoff-like atmosphere.
Against a Devils team in desperate need of points, defenseman Raphael Diaz didn't look out of place in his first game with the Rangers, who acquired him from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2015 fifth-round pick on March 5. Filling in for the injured John Moore (concussion), Diaz helped New York's defense hold New Jersey to 11 shots in the first two periods to help goaltender Henrik Lundqvist set a new franchise record with his 50th career shutout.
Defense has been key in the Rangers' quest for a playoff spot. They have allowed two or fewer goals in seven of the past nine games.
"You're in playoff hockey. You've got to play hard at both ends," Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault said after the win in New Jersey. "That's what our guys did."
Who's hot: Ekman-Larsson has two goals and five points in his past six games. Defenseman Keith Yandle has two goals and 15 points in his past 15 games… Stepan has three goals and four points in his past four games. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has a goal and three points in his current three-game point streak.
Injury report: Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko is out with a lower-body injury… Rangers forward Derek Dorsett (flu) missed the game on Saturday, but could be back.
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