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Coyotes shoot for crucial win in Nashville

(SportsNetwork.com) - In the midst of their longest winless stretch of the season, the Phoenix Coyotes have lost control of their own playoff chances.

All the Coyotes can do is take care of their own business on the ice, something the club will look to accomplish on Thursday night against the hosting Nashville Predators.

Phoenix has gone without a victory in a season-high five straight contests, posting a 0-2-3 mark in that span. That has put the club two points back of the Dallas Stars with three games left to play and a game in hand.

The Stars are idle tonight and own the tiebreaker over the Coyotes with five more non-shootout victories.

However, one thing working in Phoenix's favor is the fact that it ends the regular season on Sunday by hosting Dallas. That leaves the Coyotes a solid chance of making the playoffs -- but with a slim margin for error -- as long as they claim victories over the Predators tonight and the visiting San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

"Bottom line is now we're in a situation where we've got to win out. That's the way it is. The players recognize that, the coaching staff recognizes that and we're preparing accordingly," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said on Wednesday.

Tippett's words came one day after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Coyotes forced extra hockey when defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on a wrister from the point with 14.6 seconds left in regulation, but the Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen beat Thomas Greiss up high on the glove side 3:33 into overtime.

Martin Erat and Shane Doan both scored and Greiss ended with 26 saves for the Coyotes, who with another loss would post their longest skid since an 0-5-2 rut from March 14-27 of last year.

"We're incredibly disappointed," Doan said. "We wanted two points."

Greiss has started seven straight games since No. 1 goaltender Mike Smith suffered a lower-body injury on March 24. Though Smith has returned to practice, it appears doubtful he will play tonight.

That leaves another start for the struggling Greiss, who is 2-1-0 with a 3.44 goals against average in four previous meetings with the Predators, including three starts.

Nashville failed to lend Phoenix a hand when it lost a 3-2 shootout decision to Dallas on Tuesday night. Pekka Rinne made 28 saves, but was bested twice in the shootout in defeat.

Gabriel Bourque had both goals in regulation for the Predators, who had won three straight and four of their previous five, but were officially knocked out of the playoff race.

"This group shows a lot of character all the time," said Nashville head coach Barry Trotz. "There is no give up and we have a couple of more games left. I know this team will continue to play hard. That's what they do."

Nashville will miss out on the postseason for a second straight year after having made it in three straight and seven of the previous eight campaigns.

The Predators and Coyotes have split two previous meetings this season, with each club picking up a victory at home.

Phoenix has lost four of its past six in Nashville and will likely face Rinne, who is a solid 9-6-1 with a 2.19 GAA and five shutouts in 17 previous encounters.

Erat is scheduled to play in his 800th career game tonight and will do so against the club that selected him in the seventh round of the 1999 draft. Erat played with the Predators from 2001-13, posting 163 goals and 481 points in 723 games with the franchise.

The 32-year-old was dealt by Nashville to the Washington Capitals on April 3 of last year and the Coyotes acquired him from the Caps in a March 4 deal this season.

04/10 11:13:11 ET

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1:00pm Today
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