By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to clinch the first division title in franchise history tonight when they play the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (41-27-13) will enter the game in first place in the Pacific Division standings, one point ahead of Los Angeles and San Jose, who play each other tonight. Simply stated, if the Coyotes beat Minnesota they would be division champs for the first time since entering the NHL in 1979 as the Winnipeg Jets.
"It’s an honor and privilege to play in the playoffs but our goal is to win a division," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle
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Tonight's game is the fourth and final game between these teams this season. The road team has won the first three. Coyotes captain Shane Doan
is hoping that trend continues.
"It's a huge game," Doan said. "We'd love to have that third seed instead of having to go on the road (in the playoffs)."
If Phoenix loses to Minnesota in regulation, the winner of the LA-San Jose matchup would claim the Pacific Division crown. If Phoenix loses to Minnesota in overtime or a shootout, and San Jose beats LA, the Coyotes would still win the division title. However, if LA beats San Jose in regulation or overtime and the Coyotes earn only one point vs. Minnesota, LA would win the division.
Goalie Mike Smith
, who has stopped 167 of 168 shots during the team's four-game winning streak, is expected to start in goal tonight despite playing Friday night in a 4-1 win at St. Louis. Smith is 0-3-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average in his last four starts against Minnesota.
|Photo by Getty Images.
The Wild (35-35-11), who will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season, have won three games in a row and have posted a 4-0-1 record over their last five games - all against playoff-bound teams.
"It's a team that doesn't quit," Wild Coach Mike Yeo told reporters after a 2-1 shootout win vs. Chicago on Thursday.
Minnesota tied an NHL record on Thursday by playing in its 20th shootout of the season.
The Wild will play theri season finale minus defenseman Nate Prosser whom the NHL suspended on Friday for head-butting Chicago's Jamal Mayers in Thursday's game.