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Arizona Coyotes getting taste of playoff competition in season’s home stretch

Dallas Stars' Vernon Fiddler (38) and Arizona Coyotes' Boyd Gordon (15) battle on a face off during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As the Coyotes wind down their season, they are getting a taste of what playoff competition looks like, courtesy of the NHL schedule makers.

Eleven of the Coyotes’ final 13 opponents, including the final six, are teams that have qualified for the NHL playoffs.

In Saturday’s final home game at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes will take on the Washington Capitals, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy for the most points in the league

“They’ll be tough games against teams so it’s a good evaluation for a lot of players,” coach Dave Tippett said.

Arizona is 3-3 in the first six of those matchups with playoff teams. They have wins over San Jose, Dallas and Philadelphia, and losses to Tampa Bay, San Jose and Dallas.

The Coyotes had hoped to be in contention for a playoff spot, but a post-All-Star break record of 3-11-1 from Feb. 3 to March 3 doomed those hopes. Arizona was officially eliminated from the playoffs with Thursday’s 4-1 loss in Dallas, but the players and coaches insist there is still meaning in the remaining five games.

“Although it’s not important in the standings, I think it’s important for each player individually and as a group to finish on the right note,” said goalie Mike Smith, who will start against the Capitals. “I think it’s just important that every player, including myself, finish going into the summer feeling good about where their game is at; building confidence whether it’s on a personal level or as a team.

“The ultimate goal is being a playoff team on a consistent basis. We need to keep pushing forward. The guys that are here, we can’t accept losing.”

Games against teams gearing up for the playoffs can also be instructive for the young players on the team like rookies Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and Louis Domingue.

“Most of these kids get what they need to do to play at this level,” Smith said. “But playing those teams like Chicago or St. Louis — teams that have been in the playoffs it seems like every year, and competitive, I think it is a little bit of an eye opener to know where this team need to get to be a consistent winning team.”

Following Saturday’s home finale, the Coyotes conclude their season with a four-game road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville and San Jose.


— The NHL fined center Martin Hanzal $2,000 diving/embellishment. The league issued Hanzal a warning after the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department identified an incident in a Dec. 6 game against Carolina. The department issued a second citation after Hanzal received a minor penalty for embellishment against Edmonton on March 12.

— The Coyotes recalled center Laurent Dauphin on Friday from Springfield of the American Hockey League.

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Capitals at Coyotes

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

Season series: Capitals lead, 1-0

Probable goalie: Capitals — Philipp Grubauer. Coyotes — Mike Smith.

Injury report: Capitals — F T.J. Oshie (undisclosed) and C Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) are day to day. Coyotes — D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ill) and C Martin Hanzal (upper body) are day to day. D Michael Stone (left knee), G Anders Lindback (Achilles) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out for the season.

Scouting the Caps: Entering Friday’s game in Denver, Washington goalie Braden Holtby was two wins shy of matching the single-season wins record set by Martin Brodeur during the 2006-07 season, when he won 48 of his 78 starts with the New Jersey Devils. … Washington has clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s No. 1 overall seed. … F Evgeny Kuznetsov leads the team with 54 assists and 74 points. F Alex Ovechkin leads the Caps in goals with 44.

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