By Dave Vest SAN JOSE -- The playoff-bound Coyotes will conclude their regular-season schedule tonight with a game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
While the Coyotes are locked into the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference standings, the Sharks will enter their final game of the regular season in second place and looking to move up. San Jose and Chicago are tied with 111 points. The Blackhawks, who own the tiebreaker over San Jose, will conclude their season at home on Sunday afternoon vs. Detroit.
Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to be in goal tonight for the Coyotes (50-25-6), who have won their past three games, including the past two against other playoff-bound teams – Nashville and Los Angeles.
Despite having lost three games in a row to San Jose (50-20-11), Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett is pleased his team is ending the regular season against such a high-caliber opponent.
“It makes it a more meaningful game, “ Tippett said. “… I don’t like going into the playoffs feeling like you just floated through a game. I want to make sure we work at it (and) get something out of it, and the Sharks will definitely test us. We’ll have to work or we won’t be on the right side of the score.”
(Click here to listen to an exclusive in-depth interview with Tippett.)
Evgeni Nabokov, who was Bryzgalov’s teammate with Team Russia at the Winter Olympics, is expected to be in goal for the Sharks, who have reached the 50-win plateau for the second straight season and third in the past four.
“That shows how consistent this team is game in and game out,” Sharks center Patrick Marleau told the team’s Web site. “It means you haven’t had long stretches of losing.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tonight’s game will be aired on the NHL Network and on KFYI 550 (AM).
Coyotes left wing Wojtek Wolski has notched one goal and four assists in the past four games, and leads the team in scoring with 64 points.
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle has notched 11 points in his past 13 games, and he ranks fourth in the NHL in ice time at 26:12 per game.
Coyotes center Robert Lang, who has not played since March 4 because of a nagging lower-body injury, had hoped to play in a game before the playoffs started. He skated again on Friday and could return tonight.
This likely will be a close, low-scoring game. Not counting shootout goals, these teams have combined to score just 15 goals in the first five games they've played against each other this season.
As they did on Thursday at Los Angeles, the Coyotes, who have nothing to gain or lose with regards to their playoff positioning, likely will rest a few regulars tonight so they can heal from various "bumps and bruises."
“They’ve got a lot of guys who are game breakers that can score goals and really control the puck in the offensive zone… so I think we need to force them to play in their end.”