WILD (37-26-11) at COYOTES (36-26-12)
Season series: The Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes have split two games. The Wild won the most recent, 4-1 on Jan. 9.
Big story: With a regulation win, the Coyotes can jump ahead of the Wild for the top Western Conference wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota has 85 points, one ahead of Phoenix.
Playoff Race Update: Click HERE
Coyotes: Phoenix has lost twice in its past seven games, with one in overtime. The Coyotes woke up the morning of March 15 six points behind the Wild for the top wild-card spot and two back of the Dallas Stars for the second wild card; Dallas and Minnesota each had a game in hand.
Now, after a 2-0-1 road trip against the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, the Coyotes can leap the Wild and win the season series.
"Coming out of the Olympic break, we knew every team was going to be in a sprint and we were going to have to take care of our own business if we were going to give ourselves a chance to be a playoff team," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "For the most part, we've done some things pretty well, played as a group pretty well. Our goaltending's been solid. You're pushing for every point against a team that's right above you in the standings (tonight). It's not hard to say the importance of this game can't be overshadowed."
Backup goalie Thomas Greiss will make his third consecutive start in place of injured Mike Smith. Tippett said Smith's consultation with team doctors on Friday went well and that his lower-body injury is not as serious as first feared.
With a 9-5-2 record in 18 games, Greiss has tied his career high for wins in a season (2011-12) and is 1one game away from matching his career high of 19 (also in 2011-12).
The Coyotes currently lead the NHL with eight players with 40 or more points (Keith Yandle, Radim Vrbata, Mikkel Boedker, Mike Ribeiro, Antoine Vermette, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson).
Wild: Minnesota is reeling, having lost two in a row and four out of five. The Wild are 4-5-4 in March and have been embarrassed in each of their past two games, losing 5-2 Wednesday to the Vancouver Canucks and 5-1 Thursday to the St. Louis Blues.
Minnesota, which has won two of its past eight games, has seen solid footing in the wild-card race become tenuous.
"This game obviously is going to have an awful lot of importance, No. 1, for the standings," Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "But also for us to get our game going here, to get some wins, to get feeling good about ourselves. It's going to be a great challenge. I hope we look forward to this."
Who's hot: Coyotes backup goaltender Thomas Greiss won the final two games of the road trip, stopping 23 of 25 shots against the Penguins before making 26 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against the Devils... Wild forward Zach Parise scored his 25th goal against the Blues. It was his 47th point of the season; each are second on the team behind forward Jason Pominville. Parise has a point in 14 of his past 20 games.
Injury report: Smith (lower body) and defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) are out for the Coyotes. Forward David Moss (lower body) is questionable... Wild forward Jason Zucker (quad), defensemen Keith Ballard (groin) and Clayton Stoner (knee) and goaltenders Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are out.
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