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Coyotes top Canucks, climb out of Pacific cellar

Arizona Coyotes' Radim Vrbata (17) beats Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Miller, left, for a goal as Troy Stecher (51), Alexander Edler (23) and Bo Horvat, right, look on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ever since they fell out of realistic range of the playoffs, the Coyotes’ message has been clear. They were not focused on draft position. They were focused on progress.

Coach Dave Tippett will be the first to say that wins without the pressure of making the playoff are less meaningful. He even labeled them “fool’s gold” on Thursday, but Arizona has certainly stacked up well against the NHL’s other also-rans. Of the 12 teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention, only Winnipeg (39) has more points than the Coyotes (38) since Arizona began a three-game winning streak on Jan. 21 with victories over Tampa Bay, Florida and Vancouver.

The Coyotes improved to 17-15-4 in that 36-game stretch with a 4-3 win over the Canucks on Thursday at Gila River Arena in their second-to-last game of the season. The win pushed them past Vancouver into 28th place in the NHL standings, the first time Arizona has been out of 29th place since Dec 15.

“It’s everything really for us,” said left winger Max Domi, who had two assists on Thursday to reach 29 assists in 58 games. “We’re not in the spot we want to be in right now so to be able to capitalize on some games in the last little bit here has been nice, and we’re done yet.”

Radim Vrbata scored a pair of goals against his previous team to reach the 20-goal mark for the sixth time in his career. Five of those have come with the Coyotes.

“Good thing I got it tonight and don’t have to think about it and press too much in the last game,” said Vrbata, who joked that he would be closer to 30 goals if he had connected on a series of empty nets this season, including one late on Thursday.

Defenseman Luke Schenn scored his first goal of the season and first in his last 100 games to get the Coyotes rolling to a 4-1 lead when he crashed the net and knocked home a rebound of Brendan Perlini’s shot.

“Better late than never,” Schenn quipped. “You watch all the goals, goal scorers go to the blue paint. I had to sneak down there. No one saw me. I guess they thought I wasn’t dangerous.”

Center Alex Burmistrov also potted his fourth goal in his last four games as he continues to make a push for a roster spot next season. Burmistrov, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, has five goals and 14 points in 25 games with Arizona.

“I wish I was here for a full season,” Burmistrov said. “I feel pretty comfortable right now.”

Arizona must finish ahead of Vancouver in points to stay in 28th place. No matter what happens the rest of the season, the Canucks (69 points) would win a tiebreaker with the Coyotes (70 points) based on more wins in regulation or overtime. Vancouver has 26 ROW with two games remaining. Arizona has 24 ROW with one game left.

The Coyotes also pulled into a tie with New Jersey in the standings, but the Devils would likely win a tiebreaker based on goal differential. The top three picks in this year’s NHL Draft will be awarded in a lottery, with the odds of selecting No. 1 based on position in the standings.

“Who knows what management and everyone is thinking,” Schenn said. “If you’re in this situation you probably want to get as high a pick as possible but at the same time as players, you’re not necessarily thinking about the lottery balls. There’s no question you want to continue to win.”

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