|Bryan Murray fired coach John Paddock and opted to go back behind the bench himself.|
Back Behind The Bench – Bryan Murray couldn’t take it anymore.
The Ottawa Senators’ general manager simply has had enough of his team’s losing ways, as the once-comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference completely has evaporated. On Wednesday, Murray fired coach John Paddock and opted to go back behind the bench himself.
"It's shocking, really, that it comes to this," Murray said. "It's disappointing from everybody's point of view."
Ottawa raced to a 15-2 start, and understandably struggled after losing Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson to injuries. But even when two of their top forwards returned, the Sens still haven’t been the same. Paddock was relieved of his duties with a 36-22-6 record – just 21-19-6 since the hot start.
"It's a difficult (decision), but it's the right one at the moment," Murray said. "Really since late December we've seen the team not compete at the level we were close to competing at for most of the first part of the year."
Game 1 of Murray’s latest regime takes place on Thursday night at Philadelphia.
Bernier – acquired 24 hours earlier from the San Jose Sharks in a deal that sent stud defenseman Brian Campbell out West – scored on his first two shots as a Sabre as Buffalo notched an 8-4 win over the Nashville Predators at HSBC Arena.
“All day, I was thinking about the game,” Bernier said. “I had problems falling asleep last night, and I had problems sleeping this afternoon. Everything went well, and I’m glad it went the way I wanted it to go.”
So was Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose team passed the Philadelphia Flyers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo returns to the ice Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
"To have a player step in and have as good a first night, it's almost a dream come true," Ruff said.
The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent had an assist in his San Jose debut – his 39th of the season – as the Sharks skated past the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, 4-2.
''I had fun out there tonight,” Campbell said. “It was nice. I'm always looking for the puck. I thought we worked it pretty good. I'm just kind of sitting back a little and reading plays and seeing what I can and can't do in the system here.''
San Jose coach Ron Wilson was pleased with Campbell’s debut. The newest Shark received 24:34 of ice time.
''He showed that he's a player, that he wants to be on the ice all the time,” Wilson said. “He's generally always in attack mode. You can see he's a sneaky hitter, too. He moves pucks really well. You can see his speed. I think he will really help our power play, obviously.''
He had to deal with defensive breakdowns, too.
One day after being sent away by the Dallas Stars in the Brad Richards deal, Smith made 24 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. One of those stops came on a shorthanded breakaway by Marian Gaborik.
Welcome to Tampa Bay, Mike.
"Probably one of the harder games I've ever played mentally," Smith said. "Everything that has gone on the last couple days. Fighting the nerves a little bit. For the most part, it felt pretty good. Disappointed in the outcome."
Smith was joined by former Dallas teammates Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern. Lightning coach John Tortorella was pleased with his newest players. It was the mainstays that caused the smoke coming out of his ears afterward.
"I have no problems with the guys that were traded for," Tortorella said. "How many breakaways did our top two defensemen give up?"
Reporters didn’t have a chance to answer, as Tortorella ended what was a very short press conference. No truth to the rumor that Lightning beat reporters asked GM Jay Feaster to trade them to Dallas, too.
They Still Believe – Mats Sundin didn’t want to leave Toronto, and played Wednesday night like a man on a mission.
The Maple Leafs’ captain erased a 3-2 deficit with 1:08 remaining in regulation as Toronto earned a 4-3 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers – a victory that, afterward, had the Leafs talking playoffs.
"Six points is not much," said Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle, referring to the gap that separates the Leafs from a playoff spot. "We need to get on a roll. It's wide open if we keep winning."
Sundin will have to score some more big goals like the one he scored on Wednesday in order for the Leafs to have any hope of catching teams like Philadelphia and Buffalo.
"He's the man here, and he's always been," Kaberle said. "Everybody follows him and tries to play like him."
A Long Time Coming – It had been more than a year since Patrick Lalime last recorded a shutout, but the Chicago Blackhawks netminder stopped all 32 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.
Lalime notched a shutout in his first game with Chicago, which took place on Feb. 7, 2007. His second one pulled the Hawks within six points of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
''We know how big the points are right now, and to win is all that matters right now,'' said Lalime, who made half of his saves in the third period. ''The defense let me see the puck and they were taking away the rebounds. It made my job a lot easier.''
The Blackhawks are holding their breath at the moment, though. Forward Martin Havlat suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the victory and will be re-evaluated on Thursday or Friday.
''It's up around the shoulder area,'' Chicago coach Denis Savard said. ''I'm not sure.''
Captain Colorado – Joe Sakic is back.
So are the Colorado Avalanche.
In his third game back after missing the previous 38 due to sports hernia surgery, the Avalanche captain scored with 14.7 seconds left in regulation and again in the shootout as his team rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on Wednesday night.
With Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny back in the mix – combined with the acquisitions of Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei and the signing of Peter Forsberg – the Avalanche are primed to turn some heads down the stretch as they fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“Joe means everything to this organization,” Avs coach Joel Quenneville said. “Having him return and have that jump and quickness he’s demonstrated the last couple of games has everyone excited around here.”
Head Strong – Congratulations to 35-year-old Darwin Head, as the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, native won $1 million Wednesday night in the Chevrolet Malibu Million Dollar Shootout in Vancouver.
The event was televised live on TSN during the first intermission of the Canucks-Avalanche game.
Head scored 15 goals in 24 seconds into an open net from the far blue line. He also won a Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.
"This is just unreal. I can't wait to have a huge party and celebrate with my family and friends back home in Prince Albert," he said. "And it feels so great that my wife and I will be able to look after our kids' futures with this money."
Save as much as you can, Darwin. College could be $1 million a year by the time your kids are ready to attend.
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.