COYOTES (36-28-15) at PREDATORS (35-32-12)
Season series: This is the third and final game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators. The teams split the first two with Nashville winning the last game 4-2 on Nov. 25 at Bridgestone Arena.
Big story: Although the Coyotes are on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3), they remain in a tight race with the Dallas Stars for the second Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Coyotes currently trail the Stars by two points, but have a game in hand. Phoenix ends the road portion of its schedule in Nashville before playing its final two games at Jobing.com Arena, including a potential showdown against the Stars on Sunday.
"Our margin for error is slim," Coyotes Cead Coach Dave Tippett said. "We’ve got some execution issues that we can improve on a little bit and that would generate some chances for and take away chances against."
The Predators were eliminated from playoff contention following a 3-2 loss to the Stars on Tuesday.
Coyotes: Phoenix was looking at a greater deficit in its race against the Stars before defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson's goal with 15 seconds remaining Tuesday tied the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although the Coyotes fell 4-3, the significance of the goal wasn't lost on Tippett.
"The point we got could turn out to be a very valuable point," Tippett said. "The bottom line is now we're in a situation where we've got to win out. That's just the way it is. The players recognize that, the coaching staff recognizes that and we're preparing accordingly. … We've always been a realistic group and we know exactly where we are."
"It's too tough to gauge," Tippett said. "Every day it seems like he's a little bit better and more confident but he's got to be functional before he can jump into a game and when we figure if he's functional, then we'll revisit whether he's playing or not."
Ekman-Larsson and fellow defenseman Keith Yandle are leading the team in scoring in the 21 games played since the end of Olympic break. Both players have 15 points.
Forward Martin Erat is expected to play in his 800th career NHL game in Nashville, the city where he has spent the majority of his NHL career. The Predators selected Erat in the seventh round (191st overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. He then played 723 games for Nashville from 2001-13.
"I'm not looking in the past," Erat said. 'I'm focusing on what's in front of me right now. I got three games to help Phoenix get to the playoffs and that's what I'm focusing on."
Predators: Nashville made a late push to secure a postseason spot with points in four straight games and eight of nine, but will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02 and 2002-03.
''Played some good hockey, feel like we got better through the season, so we can obviously hang our hat on that,'' center Mike Fisher said. ''But it's still disappointing.''
Predators defenseman and captain Shea Weber was blunt in his assessment following the loss to the Stars.
"Nobody likes losing. It's frustrating," Weber said. "I don't know. I don't know what to say. It [stinks]. I hate it. Everyone in here hates it, and it's not a good feeling. Something's got to change. We have to get better, and we have to find a way to get into the postseason."
Who's hot: Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker has four points (one goal, three assists) in his past five games, and with an assist Tuesday reached 50 points for the first time in his career. Ekman-Larsson has two goals and three points in his past two games. … Predators defenseman Roman Josi has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his past nine games and 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in his past 32. Forward Patric Hornqvist has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his past eight games.
Injury report: Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal (lower body), defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) and goalie Mike Smith (lower body) are out. … Predators forward Patrick Eaves (lower body) remains sidelined.
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