Coyotes vs. Blue Jackets Preview

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COLUMBUS, OH (AP) - The Columbus Blue Jackets have surged into playoff contention. They'll look to draw closer to a postseason spot Friday night and end a five-game skid against the Phoenix Coyotes, who will likely have red-hot Ilya Bryzgalov back in goal.

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Columbus (30-23-6) is in 12th place in the Western Conference, but a 7-1-1 run in its last nine has it within range of playoff position.

"You have to love this time of year," coach Scott Arniel said. "The intensity around the league. You're watching everybody and everybody is on pins and needles, jockeying for spots. It's what the players live to play for."

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book have made the Blue Jackets -115 money line favorites for Friday's game against the Coyotes. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 55% of more than 1,091 bets for this game have been placed on the Coyotes +106.

Steve Mason has posted a 1.58 goals-against average in winning six of his last seven starts, as he looks to be regaining his Calder Trophy-winning form of two seasons ago. Star winger Rick Nash has amassed nine points in helping Columbus go 4-0-1 in its last five.

The Coyotes (33-20-9) will probably start Bryzgalov after backup Jason LaBarbera allowed eight goals on 39 shots in an 8-3 road loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday. Phoenix had its eight-game win streak snapped and gave up more than six goals for the first time.

"It's flat embarrassing,'' captain Shane Doan said.

Bryzgalov started every game of the win streak, registering a 1.60 GAA. He's gone 6-1-0 with a 1.58 GAA in his last seven starts against Columbus.

Coach Dave Tippett rested Bryzgalov on Wednesday with two games against West contenders left on a five-game trip that ends Sunday against Chicago.

Phoenix is in fourth place in the conference, trailing Pacific Division leader San Jose by one point.

"We go back to the Western Conference games now," Tippett said. "They're going to be tight games. We need to get back to playing the way we can and make sure that we take care of our spot in the standings."

Columbus has gone 0-4-1 in its last five against Phoenix and 0-5-1 in its last six at home in the series. Mason is 0-4-0 with a 3.31 GAA in four starts versus the Coyotes while backup Mathieu Garon is 0-3-1 with a 3.48 GAA in his last four against them.

The Blue Jackets have won a franchise-record six straight on the road, but a 4-0 victory over Nashville on Tuesday was their third in seven tries at home.

"You get the forecheck established," Nash said. "You get lots of turnovers. We haven't really had that game at home very much. I think tonight was the first time it was really evident."

The Blue Jackets will get a break with Coyotes left wing Scottie Upshall serving the second and final game of his suspension for a hit on Philadelphia's Oskars Bartulis on Tuesday. Upshall is tied with Taylor Pyatt for the team lead with 16 goals.

Defenseman Keith Yandle has six points during the five-game win streak over Columbus. He had six points in a four-game run that ended Wednesday.

Former Blue Jackets winger Ray Whitney, second on the Coyotes with 45 points, is day-to-day after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury.

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