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Pens blank Devils 2-0, clinch playoff berth

Wednesday, 03.26.2008 / 12:57 AM / Roundup

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Ryan Malone scored what proved to be the game-winner in the first period, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury took care of the rest as the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched a playoff spot with a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. WATCH: Highlights from the Pens' 2-0 win
The New Jersey Devils picked a bad time to lose their scoring touch — just when they were battling the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division.
   
The Penguins got a 31-save performance by Marc-Andre Fleury on Tuesday night to beat the Devils 2-0 at Prudential Center, completing a two-game sweep of the Devils and putting Pittsburgh four points ahead in the division race.
   
The Penguins bounced back after a 4-1 loss to the last-place New York Islanders — a game in which they let the Isles take charge over the last 40 minutes. They beat the Devils by a 7-1 score in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
   
''We've been doing this all year, bouncing back after a poor performance,'' said Ryan Malone, whose first-period goal proved to be the game-winner. ''I think that shows a lot of character.''
   
The victory also moved Pittsburgh within one point of Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference.
   
''Everyone is thinking about trying to finish on top,'' said Malone, who has six goals against New Jersey this season. ''We have to keep striving in that direction.''
   
It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Devils, who limited the Penguins to just 20 shots but were shut out for the 10th time this season. They’ve scored just three goals in the four losses. But unlike Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh, in which the Devils surrendered five goals in the third period, New Jersey appeared to get stronger as the game went on. The only thing the Devils couldn’t do was beat Fleury.
   
“We had opportunities,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We just didn’t capitalize on them — again. We didn’t give that team a whole lot tonight, we played a pretty sound game and we seemed to get better and better. But again, no goals.”
   
The Penguins got the only goal they needed 5:18 into the game when Malone beat Martin Brodeur from the slot for a power-play goal. Malone was wide-open about 15 feet in front of the net when he took Ryan Whitney’s pass and whipped a shot into the net.
   
The Devils actually did get a puck past Fleury — but what looked like a power-play goal by defenseman Sheldon Brookbank midway through the second period was waved off by referee Eric Furlatt, who ruled that Arron Asham had run into Fleury in the crease, preventing him from playing the puck.
   
Fleury agreed that he’d been run over.
   
''The guy ran into me,'' said Fleury, who is 7-1 since returning from a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss 35 games. ''It was obstruction, I guess. They said I couldn't play the puck.”
   
The Devils, naturally, saw the play differently.
   
“I wasn’t crazy about the call,” Sutter said. “But it was the ref’s decision, his call. I’m not going to blame the officials.”
   
He should blame Fleury, who was especially good in the third period. New Jersey outshot Pittsburgh 16-5 but couldn’t beat the former No. 1 overall pick. His best stops came on deflections by Zach Parise and Patrik Elias with about nine minutes to play.
Marian Hossa sealed the win by scoring into an empty net with 42 seconds remaining.
   
''This was huge for us,'' Fleury said of the victory. ''The race is really tight. The Devils are a tough team to beat. This was a good win for us.''
   
The Devils need to find some offense in a hurry.
   
''Right now we just have to stay with it,'' Elias said. ''I thought we played pretty good tonight and got better as the game went on. In the third, we had the game on our sticks. We created opportunities and shots. We have to stay with it. The puck will go in eventually.''
   
Capitals 3, Hurricanes 2, SO | Video
   
Alex Ovechkin scored his team-record 61st goal, but Viktor Kozlov got the one that really mattered — his successful shootout attempt gave Washington a vital victory as the Caps chase a playoff berth.
   
Kozlov, one of the NHL’s best at the shootout, roofed a wrist shot after the first five shooters failed against Washington’s Cristobal Huet and Carolina’s Cam Ward.
   
''His law of averages was pretty good, and he's pretty sharp right now. We'll keep running with him,'' Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.
   
After Carolina’s Eric Staal hit the post on the Hurricanes’ third chance, Kozlov then ended things by beating Ward. He remained perfect in three chances when shooting third, and with 16 goals in 31 chances is the only player on Washington's roster to score in more than half of his shootouts.
   
''It's an honor if the team trusts you for the shootout,'' Kozlov said. ''It's a little bit easier for us shooting when (Huet) has stopped the three before you. It takes some of the pressure off.''
   
The ninth-place Caps have won seven of their last eight and now have 84 points, two behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the East.
   
''All we can do is win,'' Boudreau said. ''We've just got to keep winning and hope for the best.''
   
Jeff Hamilton and Erik Cole scored power-play goals for Carolina, which picked up a point to move closer to clinching the Southeast Division title. The Hurricanes hold a four-point lead over the Caps with five games remaining.
   
''We've really got to bear down here,'' Ward said. ''We've done an excellent job to put ourselves in a good position here, but we don't want to let our foot off the gas. We want to continue to press and strive to win the division. To be able to do that, you've got to be able to bear down these last five games.”
   
Hamilton scored a fluke power-play goal with 14 seconds left in the first period when his pass hit Boyd Gordon’s skate and deflected 45 feet into the net. Alexander Semin tied it with a power-play goal at 7:15 of the second period and Ovechkin got No. 61 at 9:41, taking Nicklas Backstrom’s pass and beating Ward from 10 feet. He surpassed the team mark of 60 set by Dennis Maruk in 1981-82.
   
''It's fun to score goals, especially when you break some records,'' Ovechkin said. ''Records are records, but it's still about winning, it's still about team and it was a big victory for us, a big goal for my team.''
   
Cole tied the game at 16:21 when he went hard toward the net and threw a backhander as he was bumped into Huet by defenseman Shaone Morrisonn. No immediate signal was made by the referee, and after a lengthy video review, Cole was awarded his 22nd goal.
   
Lightning 3, Panthers 1 | Video
   
Filip Kuba of the Lightning celebrates his third period goal with teammate Jussi Jokinen during Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
The Lightning, last in the East, dealt a blow to their in-state rival’s playoff hopes as Jeff Halpern had a goal and two assists. Florida fell five points behind eighth-place Boston and lost in regulation for the first time in 10 games.
   
Halpern set up Michel Ouellet’s goal three minutes into the game, then broke a 1-1 tie when he beat Tomas Vokoun at 1:11 of the third period. Rookie Karri Ramo made the lead stand up until Filip Kuba, assisted by Halpern, scored into an empty net with 51.2 seconds remaining.
   
''Some people weren't good enough,'' Panthers coach Jacques Martin said of his team’s performance. ''That's the bottom line. We had one line. Stephen Weiss' line produced nine scoring chances for us. Other people have to pull their weight.''
   
Lightning coach John Tortorella had no qualms about putting a near devastating blow on the Panthers’ playoff chances.
   
''I'm not crazy about (their) organization,'' Tortorella said about hurting Florida's playoff chances.
''I don't mind at all. Just fine with me.''
   
Ramo made 34 saves while filling in for Mike Smith, who injured his knee during practice on Monday. The only shot to get past him came at 2:58 of the second period, when defenseman Dan Boyle gave away the puck. David Booth took it and beat Ramo with a wrist shot.
   
The Lightning outshot Florida 11-7 in the first, but were outshot 16-4 in the second due to numerous turnovers.
   
Vokoun stopped 23 shots for the Panthers, though center Olli Jokinen wanted to take the heat for the go-ahead goal from Halpern.
   
''I was lost on the second goal they scored,'' Jokinen said. That probably cost us the hockey game. If there's somebody to blame, I take the blame.''
   
The Panthers, coming off a 6-0-1 homestand, didn’t show the same urgency in their first road game in three weeks.
   
''For whatever reason, for such a big game, we didn't come out like we needed to,'' defenseman Bryan Allen said. ''And (we) didn't have that jump and that desperation. It's amazing how the first five minutes can dictate the whole game.''
   
Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 2 | Video
   
The cracking sound at Air Canada Centre was 19,562 hearts breaking as the Leafs saw their playoff chances all but ended at the hands of the Bruins. Six players scored as the eighth-place Bruins improved to 86 points, six more than Toronto. The Leafs have five games remaining, including a rematch in Boston on Thursday.
   
To have any hope, they can’t spot the Bruins another 3-0 lead, as they did this time.
   
''That's a tough one,'' forward Matt Stajan said. ''You get behind that team and they just clog up the neutral zone and you find yourself doing things you shouldn't be doing like turning pucks over. ''
   
The Bruins maintained their two-point lead over Washington for eighth place.
   
'There was a lot at stake,'' coach Claude Julien said. ''My message to the guys was that we needed to enjoy this experience. 'If you guys give everything you've got, we'll deal with the consequences later. But lay it all on the line tonight.'''
   
The Leafs had gone 12-4-1 before Tuesday, despite playing the last four games without captain Mats Sundin, their leading scorer. Boston was also without its leading scorer, Marc Savard, who was out with a back injury. The Bruins also lost forward Chuck Kobasew with a leg injury early in the first period.
   
Boston grabbed the lead 3:57 into the game when Matt Lashoff’s point shot hit Glen Murray and deflected into the net. David Krejci made it 2-0 at 1:12 of the second period when his backhander beat Vesa Toskala, then set up Marco Sturm’s goal at 8:20.
   
Jason Blake gave the Leafs some hope when he scored at 15:30. But Shawn Thornton restored Boston’s three-goal lead at 3:05 of the third period.
   
Alexei Ponikarovsky slid home a shot from the slot with 5:16 left to make it 4-2 before Phil Kessel scored on a one-timer with 3:44 remaining and Jeremy Reich scored into an empty net to complete the scoring with 17 seconds left.
   
''I can't say enough about the guys tonight — especially after losing Kobasew early like that,'' Julien said. ''Guys really stepped up.''
   
The Leafs know their situation is dire, but they’re not giving up.
   
'I don't feel that at all,'' Ponikarovsky protested when asked if his team's season was over. ''We have another five games and we'll keep battling for it.''   

Flyers 2, Rangers 1, OT | Video
   
Mike Richards scored on a breakaway 2:16 into overtime to lift the Philadelphia Flyers to a  thrilling 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
For the second time in four days, the Flyers got the extra point from the Rangers. They beat New York in a shootout at home on Friday, then stunned the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden when Daniel Briere tied the game with 12:32 remaining in regulation and Mike Richards scored on a breakaway 2:16 into overtime.
   
The win moved the Flyers ahead of Boston into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They’re within a point of the sixth-place Rangers.
   
''Even when we lost a couple in a row to Toronto, for us it was looking up, looking to catch Boston and maybe even the Rangers,'' Briere said. ''We still believe we can move up.''
   
For more than 40 minutes, it looked like Jaromir Jagr’s goal 1:41 into the game would stand up — until Briere finished off a brilliant passing play with Vaclav Prospal.
   
''I was ready for it, but it kind of still surprised me because I saw him all alone,'' Briere said of the return pass, which set up his 30th goal of the season. ''In my mind I was thinking, 'You've got to score, you've got to score.' Then I see the puck coming back.''
   
Richards then capitalized on a giveaway by Sean Avery in overtime, racing in alone and beating Henrik Lundqvist with a backhander that fluttered into the net.
   
''I was going to go forehand and try to go upstairs, but he was right there,'' Richards said. ''The puck kind of hopped up on me and just trickled over his pads. We got a little bit lucky.''
   
Avery had swooped around Philadelphia's net and back out toward the blue line when his pass into the middle was picked off by Jason Smith, who fed Richards.
   
''I'd say it's more disappointing how it happened,'' Avery said. ''I make a terrible play in the end and they go down and score. It just wasn't a very good play, that's for sure.''
   
The Rangers were 6-0-1 in their previous seven home games, and finished the season series with the Flyers with a 5-1-2 record. But it was the point they didn’t get that bothered coach Tom Renney.
   
''We lost a big point,'' Renney said. ''That's the most important thing to recognize, and how we lost it as much as anything.''
   
Predators 3, Blue Jackets 0 | Video

Goaltender Dan Ellis’ revival has given Nashville’s playoff hopes new life. Ellis stopped 37 shots in a shootout win over Chicago on Saturday and made 36 saves for his fifth career shutout to give the Predators back-to-back wins.
   
Ellis had been pulled in two straight starts before the win against Chicago — a game in which he played instead of Pekka Rinne, who was called up from Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee but couldn’t get to Nashville with his equipment in time for the game.
   
''I think goaltending kind of owed the team after the two games that we had that I got yanked and stuff,'' a shivering Ellis said after receiving intravenous fluids for a game in which he lost 13 pounds. ''Our team will find itself, and we just all need to be responsible for our own jobs.

That's all I want to worry about is giving our team a chance to win right now.''
   
With 84 points, Nashville is two behind eighth-place Colorado in the West as they leave for a three-game road trip.

''It's great especially right now,'' said Jan Hlavac, who scored his first goal since Feb. 27. ''Every point's crucial.''

Jason Arnott and Radek Bonk -- who had just one goal in his previous 41 games -- also scored for Nashville.

Arnott said Ellis kept the Predators in the game in the second when they were outworked.

''If you're going to go anywhere in this day and age, your goalie has to be the No. 1 guy night in and night out, and Elly's been that for us lately. We need him to keep going because it's not over yet,'' Arnott said.
   
Columbus lost its seventh straight game at Sommet Center and its third straight overall. The Blue Jackets weren't available after the game, and coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't happy with the play of his veterans or the weak goals allowed by goalie Fredrik Norrena.
   
''I'm looking forward to Chicago. I want to see how some of these guys play and respond,'' Hitchcock said of his team’s game against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
Red Wings 2, Blues 1
   
The last team the Blues needed to see in their first home game after a nine-game trip was the League-leading Red Wings, who got their 51st victory thanks to a third-period power-play goal by Johan Franzen, one of the NHL’s hottest scorers.
   
Franzen jammed in a rebound with 11:38 remaining in regulation for a tie-breaking power-play goal. It was his 23rd goal of the season — and 11th this month.
   
''Once it starts rolling, the puck keeps coming to you,'' Franzen said. ''That's how it gets once in a while, you get lucky and everything is going your way. Let's hope it stays that way as long as possible.''
   
The Wings won their fourth in a row. With 108 points, they are closing in on the President’s Trophy and the home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Coach Mike Babcock said the tight-checking, hard-hitting game was good practice for the playoffs.
   
''There's no practice that I can run that gives you exactly what it's like in the playoffs,'' Babcock said. ''You're either up one or down one or tied going into the third every single night, that's what it is. That means be poised in your own zone, don't give up anything, be real patient and then drive to the net as much as you can.''
   
Henrik Zetterberg's team-leading 41st goal, a backhand on the rebound of Dan Cleary’s shot at 15:49 of the first period, gave the Wings a 1-0 lead. Zetterberg has five goals and three assists in his past five games.
   
Andy McDonald stole a clearing pass just outside the blue line and skated in alone to beat Chris Osgood at 2:36 of the second for his 16th of the season to tie it at 1-1.
   
The Blues were playing their first home game in 22 days after going 1-6-2 on their marathon road trip. They competed right to the end despite officially being eliminated from the playoffs for the third straight season on Monday.
   
“Our situation is we're out of the playoffs but there's a lot on the line for everyone in this locker room,'' McDonald said. ''We want to play hard for our fans, we want to give them something to cheer about.''
    
For the Wings, it was a good rehearsal for what they hope is a long playoff run.
   
“It was a good game for us to play,” said Osgood, who made 17 saves. “It was hard-hitting, tight-checking. It kept us in a playoff mode. We won the way we have to in the playoffs, and we played the way we need to.”

Flames 3, Canucks 2 | Video
   
Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf, center, celebrates his game winning goal with his teammates.   The Flames rallied back to beat the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2.
Calgary rallied for three goals against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks to move into first place in the tightly packed Northwest Division. The win moves the Flames one point ahead of idle Minnesota and four ahead of the Canucks, who are seventh in the Western Conference.
   
'It feels good, but there's no way are we assured of anything right now with everything being so tight,'' Calgary forward Alex Tanguay said.
   
The Canucks outshot Calgary 21-7 and led 2-0 after one period on goals 12 seconds apart by Markus Naslund and Daniel Sedin. Naslund knocked in a rebound for a power-play goal at 9:29, and Sedin scored at 9:41 when Miikka Kiprusoff tried to block his centering pass but accidentally deflected the puck into his own net.
   
But Calgary cut the margin to 2-1 when Jarome Iginla tapped in a loose puck 2:11 into the second period and began applying more pressure.
   
“We just kept coming,'' Iginla said. “We didn't get discouraged, nobody got frustrated on the bench. We felt like we were going to find a way to get ourselves back in the game.''
   
Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo said the game started to get away from the Canucks in the middle 20 minutes.
   
“It started in the second period; we didn't make smart plays with the puck and kept turning a lot of pucks over and pretty much had to defend the whole second period,'' Salo said. ''We have our next game tomorrow (at Colorado), so we have to forget this one and regroup. It's another huge game.''
   
Vancouver hadn’t lost in regulation when leading after two periods, but the Canucks got into penalty trouble early in the third period and paid the price. They took a bench penalty for too many men at 8:10, and Taylor Pyatt was called for hooking at 9:36. Vancouver survived the first two-man advantage, but gave up another one when Alexander Burrows was called for delay of game at 10:25 after pushing the net off its moorings in the midst of intense pressure by Calgary.
   
Daymond Langkow tied the game 21 seconds later, redirecting Alex Tanguay’s shot behind Luongo. With Calgary still up a man, Adrian Aucoin fed a long pass to Dion Phaneuf, who blasted a 40-foot slap shot past Luongo 41 seconds after Langkow’s goal.
   
''I saw them change and Aucoin made a really good play up and I had a little bit of room to walk into it,'' Phaneuf said. ''He came out and I just tried to get it up as quick as I could over him.”

Coyotes 5, Sharks 4, OT | Video
   
Phoenix kept its flickering playoff hopes alive when Martin Hanzal scored at 3:23 of overtime, enabling the Coyotes to survive a blown three-goal lead and Joe Thornton’s third-period hat trick.
   
Phoenix’s win cooled off the Sharks, who lost for only the second time in their past 16 games. They are 14-0-2 in that span and became the second team in the NHL this season to reach 100 points.
   
''We had 14 good ones in a row, and I guess we had a bad one,'' Thornton said. ''It shows we're only human.''
Phoenix now has 80 points, six behind eighth-place Colorado in the West.
   
The Sharks overcame 3-0 and 4-2 deficits to tie the game when Thornton got his third of the night with 2:46 remaining in regulation. But the Coyotes got the extra point when Hanzal ripped a 20-foot wrist shot from the slot over Brian Boucher’s catching glove.
   
''I got lucky and hit the perfect spot,'' he said. ''It's amazing when you score a goal, and I love it.''
   
Boucher relieved Evgeni Nabokov after Steven Reinprecht scored at 4:05 of the third period to make it 4-2. Thornton made it 4-3 at 4:54, firing Jeremy Roenick’s pass off a defenseman’s skate and into the net, before completing his hat trick with a deflection of Christian Ehrhoff’s shot.
   
After Derek Morris and Enver Lisen scored in the second period, the Coyotes appeared to be on the way to an easy win when Shane Doan scored a shorthanded goal 2:15 into the third period to make it 3-0. But Thornton got his first of the night at 2:51, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic cut the deficit to one goal just 28 seconds later.
   
''We've had some leads in the few games and let them slip away,'' Doan said. ''This time, we found a way to take care of the win, and that's all that mattered.''
   
The Sharks, who hadn’t played since an emotional 2-1 win over Anaheim on Friday night, looked rusty.
   
''Not a very good night for us,'' coach Ron Wilson said. ''We hung in there, and fortunately, we picked up a point. We were caught running around too much, and we did not pursue the puck very well.''
   
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.


Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery