|Minnesota got goals from Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu less than two minutes apart early in the second period to break the game open.
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''We've got to start getting dirty, start getting in high-traffic areas, playing our physical style of game and playing our skating game,'' captain Chris Pronger said. ''We're a skating team that has to support one another, and when we don't we've got a lot of holes.''
Wednesday was one of those nights.
Minnesota got goals from Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu less than two minutes apart early in the second period to break the game open. Koivu’s goal at 3:18 sent starting goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the bench for the second straight game. Giguere slammed his stick against the post and chucked his blocker into the bench as he angrily left the ice after stopping just eight of 11 shots.
''He's a great goaltender, and I don't know if they were on top of their game, but I thought we were really on top of our game,'' said Rolston, who opened the scoring 1:22 into the period when his slap shot deflected into the net off Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin. ''Our skilled players played well, not only offensively, but they did a great job defensively.''
''The goals weren't easy to save, but I'm getting paid to make those saves,'' Giguere said.
Giguere is 0-4 with an .863 save percentage and 4.77 goals against average in his last four appearances — though his teammates haven’t helped, producing only five goals in that span.
''I probably would have done the same thing,'' Giguere said of the goalie change. ''I'm not mad at (coach) Randy (Carlyle). I'm mad at the situation. I'm mad because we've lost four in a row. It starts by me. I've got to do a better job and make sure I give my team a chance to win.''
Corey Perry’s goal at 9:40 gave the Ducks a brief spark, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard beat Hiller on a breakaway with 4.5 seconds left in the middle period to make it 4-1. James Sheppard finished the scoring with 43.8 seconds remaining in the game.
The victory kept Minnesota in first place in the Northwest Division.
''With the second half here, you want to get off to a good start,'' goalie Nicklas Backstrom said. ''You look at the standings, you can't have a bad game, bad week. You have to be ready after the break. It's always tough to be five, six days without a game, so it's a big challenge for our team. I think we were ready in the first period and we had a good game.''
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Kovalchuk, who scored his 38th goal of the season at 16:42 of the first period to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead, was injured in a knee-on-knee collision with Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu 3:21 into the middle period. He limped to the locker room, came back briefly for one shift later in the period, then left for good and will be examined by team doctors on Thursday.
''You can't keep him off the ice,'' Thrashers general manager and coach Don Waddell said. ''He was determined to come out and at least test it.
''These kind of injuries, you always wait until the next day and see how the swelling is and just see how he reacts from it.''
Ruutu defended the hit as an intended routine check.
''I meant to finish my check,'' he said. ''He ducked away and I barely hit him. I didn't change direction. I just went for a hit.”
Atlanta defenseman Steve McCarthy said Ruutu was ''a good teammate'' when the two played together in Vancouver, but went after Ruutu because, he said, the Pittsburgh forward had to answer for the hit on Kovalchuk's knee.
''When he takes a liberty like that, it's unacceptable,'' McCarthy said. ''He plays his game well, but when he takes advantage of one of our best players, that's unacceptable.''
Pittsburgh, which won Tuesday night at New Jersey, fell to 2-2-1 since Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain.
Bobby Holik and Kovalchuk scored first-period goals, and Eric Perrin and Jim Slater added goals in the third to give Atlanta a 4-0 lead. Kari Lehtonen made 29 saves for the Thrashers, losing his shutout bid when Ryan Whitney scored with 8:42 remaining.
Holik knocked a rebound past Ty Conklin 7:08 into the game. Kovalchuk ripped a slap shot from the left point past Conklin during a power play, ending a four-game pointless streak and a stretch of five games without a goal.
"He's been our horse all year, and scored that big second goal for us," Waddell said. "Then we have to play the rest of the game without him. I thought our guys did a good job."
Perrin and Slater scored in the first 3:46 of the third period, sending Conklin to the bench after allowing four goals on 20 shots.
Sabres 1, Panthers 0 | Video
The Sabres are using their trip to Florida to get well. One night after winning at Tampa Bay, they got a rare power-play goal from Thomas Vanek and a 32-save performance by Ryan Miller to beat the Panthers, who continue to struggle at home.
''We've had a little bit of bad luck,'' said Jason Pominville, whose shot was stopped by Tomas Vokoun before Vanek scored on the rebound 40 seconds into the middle period, ending an 0-for-39 power-play drought on the road. ''We've been moving the puck well. We got one tonight and we're happy about it.''
|One night after winning at Tampa Bay, the Sabres got a 32-save performance by Ryan Miller to beat the Panthers, who continue to struggle at home.|
Miller did the rest. His best stop came early in the third period, when he stuck his leg out and robbed Stephen Weiss’ tip-in try on a shot by Nathan Horton. He had to be perfect because Vokoun was superb, making 40 saves.
''Vokoun looked really good,'' Miller said. ''He made some great saves. Our team was buzzing early on. I'm glad we got the two points.''
The Sabres have won three in a row, including both games in Florida, after losing 12 of their previous 13.
''We're going to continue to climb,'' Vanek said. ''We got ourselves in a hole, now we've got to get out of it.''
The Panthers are going the other way — the loss was their 11th in their last 15 home games. Florida went 10 minutes, 13 seconds without a shot in a span of the first and second periods.
''We're a team. We're going to have to find a way to win,'' Vokoun said. ''There's no sense in pointing fingers — it's not going to do us any good.''
The Panthers played the last two periods without captain and leading scorer Olli Jokinen, who was battling flu symptoms.
''He's our big shooter,'' Weiss said. ''It's tough when you lose a guy like that. That stuff happens. We have to find a way to score goals without him.''
Florida coach Jacques Martin said the loss stemmed from the inability to finish.
“We did a lot of good things right,” he said. “In the second and third periods, we matched them but didn’t capitalize on our chances.”
Flames 5, Sharks 4 | Video
Former Shark Owen Nolan burned his old team with his first three-goal game in more than eight years, enabling the Flames to hold off the visiting Sharks for their fourth consecutive victory.
Nolan hadn’t scored three times in a game since Oct. 4, 1999, when he got three for San Jose against Chicago.
“I can’t remember the last one I had,” he said, “but it’s nice to get one. I always try to play hard against the Sharks — I try to play hard against everyone.”
Nolan completed the hat trick at 10:45 of the third period, going to the net and knocking a rebound past Evgeni Nabokov to make it 5-2.
“I drove to the net and hoped for a rebound, and I got one,” Nolan said.
That goal looked like it might be window dressing, but it became the game-winner when the Sharks rallied within one on goals by Patrick Rissmiller with 2:00 remaining and Jonathan Cheechoo with 1:01 to play. Cheechoo’s power-play goal gave the Sharks hope, but they were unable to get another good chance against Miikka Kiprusoff.
“We got some pucks on the net and made it interesting,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “We had a chance to tie it up.”
The Sharks, who blanked Edmonton 3-0 on Tuesday, looked nearly perfect again in the first period, limiting the Flames’ chances and scoring the game’s first goal at 10:39 when Patrick Marleau fired his own rebound past Kiprusoff.
“We had a pretty good start,” Pavelski said. “We got a goal right away. In the second period, we sat back and they got a few bounces.”
Nolan got his second of the night 57 seconds into the third period when Nabokov misfired on a pass attempt and put the puck right on his stick for an easy shot into the vacant net, offsetting rookie Tomas Plihal’s first NHL at 2:44.
"He's the ultimate professional, in my opinion," Sharks center Jeremy Roenick said of Nolan, a former teammate. "He's been a true ambassador to the game, and even to come back after missing a couple of years, I can't say enough about Owen. He's a good friend of mine, and Calgary's lucky to have him. He's a tremendous leader and tremendous competitor. He killed us tonight, too."
Avalanche 6, Blackhawks 3 | Video
The scoring-challenged Avs had their biggest night in more than seven weeks as they buried the slumping Blackhawks, who were routed in the opener of a seven-game trip.
Colorado put the game away early with three first-period goals. Milan Hejduk fired a wrist shot over Nikolai Khabibulin’s glove at 9:13. Milan Svatos got the first of his two goals at 11:18 when he drove to the net and finished off a pass from Tyler Arnason, and Brad Richardson’s one-time between Khabibulin’s pads at 18:29 made it 3-0.
|The scoring-challenged Avs had their biggest night in more than seven weeks as they buried the slumping Blackhawks.|
“Tonight was the best first period we had all season,” Svatos said. “We came out flying, and the forecheck was great. If we had a first period like that every game, we would be very tough to beat.''
That gave the Avalanche their most goals in a period since they scored five in the second against St. Louis on Dec. 9. The six goals represented their highest output since that night, when they scored nine against the Blues.
''We lost a lot of battles,'' Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski said. ''The puck didn't bounce our way, and they found the back of the net every time. It wasn't just one thing. It was everything that went wrong. It's mind-boggling. How could we let this happen with their top three forwards out?
''There are no easy games in this league any more. You can't expect to pelt teams. You have to show up and play.''
Robert Lang scored for Chicago at 3:17 of the second period, but Andrew Brunette restored the Avs’ three-goal lead when he scored at the 12-minute mark. Arnason and Svatos scored in the third to make it 6-1.
''We're playing well together,'' Arnason said of his line that includes Svatos and Wojtek Wolski. ''We just have chemistry right now. I don't know why. No one can explain it, but it's going well.
''When you get down 3-0, it's very difficult to come back,'' Chicago coach Denis Savard said. ''When you turn the puck over as many times as we did you're not going to get success. That sums up the game. Too many turnovers. The first goal came off a turnover. We got clobbered in the first period. Way too many turnovers.''
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.