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Perfect night at Madison Square Garden

Friday, 01.25.2008 / 10:00 AM / Game-Day Skate

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Brian Leetch made the surprise announcement last night during his number retirement ceremony that the New York Rangers will honor Adam Graves by retiring his No. 9 next year.
Some random thoughts before I wonder why it's warmer in New York than Atlanta:

Two Perfect – It’s not often that the New York Rangers see everything go smoothly on one night, but it sure did on Thursday.

First, the Blueshirts honor Brian Leetch and retire his No. 2 for all eternity. Then, it’s announced – finally – that Adam Graves’ No. 9 will follow suit. And then the Rangers rallied to beat the Atlanta Thrashers in a shootout.

It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

Of course, Leetch’s career as a Ranger will always be connected to his winning of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s Most Valuable Player in 1994 – the only championship the franchise has claimed in 68 years. For his efforts in those playoffs alone, Leetch became a New York sports icon.

“We’ll always share a part in this Garden, represented by that championship banner that hangs from the rafters,” Leetch said. “I've loved living in Manhattan and calling it home for 19 years. I have been honored to skate on this ice at Madison Square Garden before the most loyal and passionate fans in the world.”

Congratulations, Brian. And congratulations are also in order to Mr. Graves. He may not have been the best player in the history of the franchise, but one could argue that he is the classiest.

Back In Business – Nothing was going to stop from the Boston Bruins from avenging Tuesday night’s embarrassing 8-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Marc Savard and Dennis Wideman each had a goal and an assist, as the Bruins skated away with a 4-1 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Thomas

Tim Thomas made 28 saves, and Zdeno Chara added two assists for the Bruins, who have won four of six. Boston heads into the All-Star break seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference. Thomas and Chara will represent the Eastern Conference in Sunday’s All-Star Game at Atlanta.

“We wanted this win big time,” Savard said. “Obviously with the embarrassment of what happened in Montreal, the guys played hard and no matter what happens tonight, we are sitting in seventh.”

Thursday marked the Isles’ first road loss in five tries, but Ted Nolan’s squad has dropped four of its last six overall.

“Guys were thinking about the break before it even started,” Nolan said. “It's hard not to be distracted. It's hard enough to win when you're not, never mind when you are.”

Letting One Slip Away – With a 3-1 lead over the Montreal Canadiens after 40 minutes, the New Jersey Devils seemed destined to pick up another two points in the heated Atlantic Division race.

Instead, the Habs scored three times in the third period at the Prudential Center, rallying to beat the Devils, 4-3. Clearly, Brent Sutter expects more from his club, which is now 18-2 against the Canadiens in their last 20 meetings in the Garden State. Montreal outshot New Jersey 20-3 in the third period.

“I'm disappointed in the whole team and its commitment to win,” Sutter said. “Their play was brutal. They already had their plans to head to (Las) Vegas or wherever the hell they're going before the game was half over. It's totally unacceptable. Everything it takes to win a hockey game, we didn't do. It was a total lack of effort from everyone.”

Capital Gains – Don’t look now, but the Washington Capitals hit the All-Star break just one point out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs put Bruce Boudreau’s club only one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead. Washington is the only NHL team not to lose consecutive games in regulation since Nov. 22, the day Bruce Boudreau took over for Hanlon.

The Capitals were the worst team in the league – with four fewer points than any other team – when Boudreau was promoted from Hershey of the AHL. Asked if he thought he'd be this close to first place so quickly, the coach said: “No, but that's where I want to be.”

And then, he said: “I want to be one point ahead.”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – if the Capitals continue this run, Boudreau deserves serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award as the League’s top coach.

Captain Comeback – On the night when John Tortorella tied Herb Brooks for the most NHL games coached by an American, he probably couldn’t wait to get in his car and go home.

Alfredsson

Tortorella’s Tampa Bay Lightning surrendered seven points to Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had three goals and four assists in an 8-4 decision at the St. Pete Times Forum.

One of Alfredsson’s three tallies came shorthanded, and the veteran forward also notched his 500th career assist in the victory.

“It's a lot of fun, especially the way the whole team played and the big win we needed today,” Alfredsson said. “Right now, the way I look at it, you add it up at the end of your career and you look back and maybe say, ‘Oh, I remember that night in Tampa.’ ”

One that Tortorella would rather soon forget.

Shootout? Just Get Me There – The Edmonton Oilers have proven time and time again this season that if they can get the game to a shootout, they’re in pretty good shape. But it took a somewhat miraculous final two minutes to even get them to overtime on Thursday night.

Thanks to a pair of goals from Jarret Stoll in the final 83 seconds of regulation, the Oilers were able to ultimately pick up a 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center. The victory improved Edmonton’s record in shootouts to 12-3 – tying Dallas’ record for most wins in a season with more than a third of this season to play.

“Thank God for the shootouts,” Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. “(Goaltender) Mathieu (Garon) was great again. Just to be able to be in that shootout, I'm sure the shooters were more relaxed given the circumstances.”

Seriously. It’s like Walter Hudson cleaning his plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Rest, Followed By Relaxation – After dropping a 6-2 decision at Phoenix on Monday, the Buffalo Sabres headed straight to Dallas to clear their heads for three days before facing the Dallas Stars.

The rest paid off.

Derek Roy scored twice, and Ryan Miller made 25 saves as Lindy Ruff’s team won for just the second time in 14 tries with a 2-1 win over the Stars.

The win gives the Sabres some piece of mind as they head into the All-Star break, trying to pick up the pieces of what has been a miserable few weeks.

“To salvage a couple of points here helps us feel good,” Roy said. “This gives us confidence that we can beat any team in the League. It gives us more confidence in our game.”

I’m not so sure a win like this would lead to a win over Detroit, but it’s nice to see the Sabres feeling a little bit better about themselves. Hopefully they enjoy the much-needed break.

Another Shutout For Pascal – The Columbus Blue Jackets came out on the winning end of a 1-0 decision in Chicago on Thursday night thanks to another stellar performance from Pascal Leclaire.

The Blue Jackets’ netminder recorded his League-best eighth shutout of the season as he stopped all 30 shots he faced. Leclaire made brilliant saves against Adam Burish and Robert Lang in a span of less than two minutes in the third period to preserve the victory for Columbus.

Leclaire

“We expect this every night from him,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He gave us a chance to win and the guys up front played well for him.”

Meanwhile, Blackhawks coach Denis Savard was less than impressed with his team’s effort. With the 1-0 loss, Chicago netminder Nikolai Khabibulin fell to 0-7-1 in his last eight games. He hasn’t won since Dec. 26.

“To gain an inch in this League, you've got to want it and want to work,” Savard said. “You might get a cut. You might get bruised. So what? Last time I checked, you're getting pretty good money to do it. And they don't want to do it. It's as simple as that.”

Look at the bright side, Denis. It was a home game, so only the people who headed out to United Center saw it.

Lead After Two? Game Over – The Colorado Avalanche found out the hard way that you just simply can’t go into the third period any worse than tied against the Minnesota Wild.

Jacque Lemaire’s club improved to 20-0-0 on the season when leading after 40 minutes with a 3-2 victory over the Avs on Thursday night. With the win, Minnesota enters the All-Star break atop the Northwest Division.

“We should try to do that more often,” said Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, who improved to 25-0 lifetime when his team is leading after two frames. “We play with confidence when we're up.”

The victory also marked just the fifth time in 20 tries that Minnesota has found a way to win at the Pepsi Center. Granted, Colorado is playing without the likes of Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny and Joe Sakic. But Brian Rolston took advantage by scoring his third goal in as many games, helping his club feel even better about its chances in the second half of the season.

“I knew I had to step up my game,” said Rolston, who was held without a goal for nine games before regaining his touch. “You can't go that many games without producing. It's a difficult thing scoring goals in this league. But it's nice to get back on track. I certainly want to continue that.”

Hat’s All, FolksRadim Vrbata notched just his third career hat trick on Thursday, leading the Phoenix Coyotes to a 4-3 overtime victory against the visiting Nashville Predators.

Vrbata

Zbynek Michalek notched the game-winner in the extra session, but it was Vrbata’s efforts that helped Wayne Gretzky’s club improve to 18-0-0 when scoring at least four times.

“We're finding ways to win games and get big points,” Gretzky said. “So, this is definitely a big win for us.”

Between the emergence of Peter Mueller, the leadership of Shane Doan and the new three-year deal for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, I’d say thinks are looking pretty good in the desert, no?

Fifth Time’s A CharmDerek Armstrong’s goal and assist helped the Los Angeles Kings snap a four-game skid against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night.

While L.A. (19-29-2) enters the break with the worst record in the League, it has won five of its last seven games. It’s also drawn back-to-back sellout crowds at Staples Center – a testament to the passionate hockey fans of Southern California.

“We're winning as a team, which is most important,” Armstrong said. “We played well with a lead. We're buying into the system and our goalie has been great. When you play with a structure, you have a chance to win every night.”

Kudos to the Kings for finishing out the first half of the season on a positive note.

Home, Sweet Home – Looks like the San Jose Sharks have finally figured things out on home ice.

Thanks to a pair of goals from Jonathan Cheechoo on Thursday night, the Sharks won at HP Pavilion for the fifth time in seven games with a 4-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues.

Both of Cheechoo’s tallies came in the third period, as San Jose pulled even with the Dallas Stars for the Pacific Division lead with 61 points apiece. It was his first multi-goal game since April 1, 2007.

“He's worked hard in games and he got rewarded,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said of Cheechoo. “He scored a couple of goals by just being in front of the net and that's a good sign.”

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday