Coyotes look to snap skid, keep playoff hopes alive

In need of a victory, Radim Vrbata and the slumping Coyotes visit the Predators on Thursday night.


The Phoenix Coyotes are mired in their longest losing streak of the season, but their latest defeat could have been worse.

The Coyotes will try to end a five-game slide Thursday night in their final road game as they meet the Nashville Predators, who have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Phoenix (36-28-15) fell 4-3 in overtime at Columbus on Tuesday but was headed for a regulation defeat before Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with less than 15 seconds left in the third period to rescue a point.

"Every point is huge for us," he said.

The Coyotes are seeking to catch Dallas for the Western Conference's final wild-card spot. They host the Stars to close the season Sunday.

Phoenix totaled four goals over a 0-2-2 stretch prior to Tuesday. The Coyotes were feeling better about themselves after Martin Erat and Shane Doan scored first-period goals and the club finished with a 32 shots - its most since registering 33 in a loss to Boston on March 22.

"Pucks going to the net and finding a way in is what we were preaching and the first couple goals were a by-product of that so we'll have to continue that moving forward," coach Dave Tippett said.

Top goalie Mike Smith missed his seventh straight game with a knee injury, and is unlikely to return against the Predators. Backup Thomas Greiss has gone 2-2-3 with a 2.34 goals-against average in his place. Greiss played well early as Smith's replacment, but has faltered recently as he tries to prove he can be a No. 1 goalie entering a free-agent year.

"Greiss has got to go in and do the job for us," Tippett said.

The Coyotes are enduring their longest slide since going 0-5-2 from March 14-27, 2013.

They didn't receive any help Tuesday from Nashville (35-32-12), which saw its faint postseason hopes end with a 3-2 shootout defeat on the road versus the Stars, but the Blue Jackets did the Coyotes a major favor when they defeated the Stars, 3-1 on Wednesday to keep the Coyotes within two points of the Stars with a game in hand.

Erat, who played for the Predators between 2001-13, will play his first game as a visitor in Nashville. He is second in franchise history with 163 goals, 481 points and 723 games.

Nashville's Shea Weber and the Coyotes' Keith Yandle each have 53 points to rank among the leaders of NHL defensemen.

Nashville winger Patric Hornqvist came up empty in Dallas after amassing 14 points in a seven-game streak.

These teams have split two meetings, with the Predators missing an injured Pekka Rinne both times. Rinne is healthy now and his five shutouts against the Coyotes are his most versus any opponent.

Coyotes at Predators

When: 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: KMVP 860 AM
Records: Nashville 35-32-12; Phoenix 36-28-15
Season series: Tied 1-1
Scouting the Predators: Nashville was officially eliminated from the playoff chase on Tuesday with a shootout loss in Dallas. Once the model for small market teams, Nashville has struggled ever since falling to the Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals and then losing defenseman Ryan Suter to the Wild in free agency while F Alex Radulov went back to Russia. The Predators have always struggled to score goals and this season is no exception with 200 (tied for 22nd in NHL), but Nashville has been uncharacteristically bad at the other end, allowing 234 goals (23rd) for the fifth-worst goal differential in the NHL. D Shea Weber leads the club with 21 goals (that's a blessing and a problem) and 53 points. G Pekka Rinne has a 2.79 GAA and a disappointing .902 save percentage. Rinne, who is in the second year of a seven-year, $49 million deal, has been inconsistent since returning from a hip injury in early March. F Patrick Eaves (lower body) is questionable.


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