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Caps stay hot with 3-0 win at Florida

Sunday, 03.30.2008 / 12:02 AM / Roundup

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Alex Ovechkin scored his 62nd goal of the season for the Capitals, who have won eight of their last nine.
WATCH: highlights from the Capitals' win
The Washington Capitals’ playoff hopes have survived a six-game road trip. The Caps hope they can seal the deal at home.

The Caps, next-to-last in the East at the All-Star break, continued their revival with a 3-0 victory at Florida on Saturday night. Cristobal Huet stopped 32 shots as the Capitals finished up their trip with a 5-1 record and head home for their last three games two points out in both the Southeast Division race and the scramble for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.

''It was very challenging to go six straight,'' said Huet, who has given the Caps a boost in goal since being acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline. ''We're 5-1, we're very happy. We have a couple of days to charge the batteries. It doesn't mean it's going to be easy playing at home, but we look forward to the next game.''

That next game is Tuesday night against Carolina at the Verizon Center.

The Caps are also two points behind Boston and three behind Philadelphia in the race for the final playoff berths in the East.

''I know if we keep winning, something good will happen,'' said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who took over on Nov. 22 with the team in last place in the East. ''We can only do what we can do, and if it takes 95 points to make the playoffs, so be it. I believe if we continue to play like we play, somebody is going to falter once — and we’ll be there to jump on them.''

Viktor Kozlov scored once and set up goals by Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin as Washington won for the eighth time in nine games. Kozlov picked up a loose puck in the slot and ripped a wrist shot past Tomas Vokoun 2:48 into the second period. Green converted Ovechkin’s cross-crease pass at 14:42 for his first goal in 14 games, and Ovechkin got his League-high 62nd of the season at 11:32 of the third period when he beat three Panthers to a loose puck and snapped a wrist shot over Vokoun.

Huet's best stop came early in the second period when the game was still scoreless. With Washington on the power play, Jozef Stumpel had a breakaway, but Huet made a pad save on his wrist shot.

''He's a good breakaway guy and he's scored on me in the power play,'' Huet said. ''I challenge him a lot. He shot it and I was fortunate it got a piece of my glove.''

The Panthers were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. Florida went 8-1-1 at the start of the month to get back into the playoff race. They were three points out of eighth place entering Tuesday’s action but dropped three games in five days — including their home finale.

''It doesn't feel very good,'' Florida center Stephen Weiss said. ''You play 82 games to make the playoffs, to win the Stanley Cup. You put a lot of effort into it. When you don't make the playoffs, it's very disappointing.''

Lightning 2, Hurricanes 1 | Video
The Lightning are going nowhere except home for the summer after next weekend, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to roll over for teams that have Stanley Cup aspirations. Karri Ramo made 38 saves and Jeff Halpern broke a 1-1 tie 5:43 into the third period, reducing Southeast Division-leading Carolina’s margin over Washington to two points with three games left for each team.

''I think this team has shown a lot of character,'' Halpern said after the last-place Lightning won for just the sixth time in their last 20 games. ''We're not playing for the same thing the playoff teams are playing for, but it's a tribute to the guys who have been here who have pride in the organization.''

Halpern, who has nine goals and 17 points in 15 games since coming over from Dallas at the trade deadline, put Tampa Bay ahead to stay when he beat Cam Ward from the right circle. Ramo preserved the lead with an in-close save on Eric Staal with 2:10 remaining in regulation.

''We knew the score, and obviously we were really pushing to get that next goal to try and get us back, and it just didn't happen,'' Staal said.

Chad LaRose put Carolina ahead at 17:24 of the first period, but Jussi Jokinen, who came with Halpern from Dallas, tied it 18 seconds into the second period. Carolina outshot the Lightning 39-21 but couldn’t beat Ramo again.

The Hurricanes and Capitals both have three games left, including a showdown Tuesday in Washington.

''We've got to come up with four points,'' Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said of what his team needs to win the division. ''It doesn't matter how we do it, but Tuesday night will be a big one, no question about it.''

Bruins 4, Senators 0 | Video
The Bruins are doing everything they can to show they deserve to be in the playoffs. Tim Thomas stopped 34 shots as Boston stayed in eighth place and moved closer to a postseason berth.

"It's step up or go home," Thomas said after his third shutout of the season gave the Bruins 90 points. "Fortunately, we seem to be stepping up."

While the Bruins are moving up — they’ve won three in a row — the Senators continue to stumble. They are fifth in the East — but have won just 13 of their last 36 games and are threatening to fall out of the playoffs after winning 13 of their first 14 games.

“Thank goodness we had the great start, to be competitive now," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "We're just not playing at that level now, and other teams are playing at a better level than they were early on."

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson acknowledged that the Senators haven’t been playing well for a while. The last three games will be "kind of a test for us to see what character we have as we head into the playoffs," he said.

P.J. Axelsson and Marco Sturm scored 3:31 apart in the second period, and Shane Hnidy made it 3-0 on a shorthanded slap shot past Martin Gerber 73 seconds into the third. Rookie David Krejci, who assisted on the goals by Sturm and Hnidy, completed the scoring with 55 seconds to play.

Krejci has given the Bruins an offensive boost with two goals and five assists in his last three games.

"That's what we need from him," captain Zdeno Chara said. "He doesn't panic with the puck."

The goals were celebrated on the video screen by about a half-dozen U.S. Marines at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq, watching from just west of Fallujah thanks to a video conference set up by the Freedom Calls Foundation. Between the first and second periods, former Bruin Cam Neely answered their questions.

Flyers 4, Islanders 3, SO | Video
Faced with the knowledge that Boston had won and Washington was winning, the Flyers rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force overtime, then weathered two power plays in OT before doing something they rarely do: win a shootout.

''This might be our gutsiest effort of the year,'' Flyers coach John Stevens said.

Daniel Briere scored the only goal of the penalty-shot competition to keep the Flyers one point ahead of Boston and three in front of Washington. The shootout win was just the third in nine tries for the Flyers this season and improved their all-time record to 8-18 — only Ottawa, at 7-17, is worse.

Philadelphia had lost a shootout at New Jersey on Friday night and appeared sluggish in the first period.

''It was tough at the start, since we came off an emotional game last night with a lot of ups and downs, but we fought to the end,'' Briere said.

The Flyers never led despite firing 54 shots at Isles goaltender Wade Dubielewicz. Richard Park capitalized on a bad bounce off the boards to score the only goal of the first period, and Blake Comeau finished off a three-way passing play at 7:43 of the second period to make it 2-0.

''We played a team that has nothing to lose, and we knew they wanted to be a spoiler,'' Briere said.

But Briere cut the margin to one with a power-play goal at 15:24 — Philadelphia’s only goal despite a 23-shot second-period barrage — and tied it at 3:22 of the third period on Joffrey Lupul’s wrist shot from the left circle.

Rookie Frans Nielsen put the Isles back in front midway through the period with a wrister from the lower left circle, but Mike Richards forced overtime with 4:22 left in regulation, knocking a rebound past Dubielewicz.

Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki stopped three shooters and Dubielewicz foiled two before Briere outwaited the Islanders’ goaltender and scored on a backhander.

''It wasn't my prettiest move. I kind of fanned on the puck,'' Briere said.

The injury-plagued Islanders, who have several youngsters splitting time between Long Island and the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, appeared to run out of gas at the end.

"They tried to take advantage of our young defensemen and they jammed the net,” Isles coach Ted Nolan said. “They wore us out a little bit. I give all the kids from Bridgeport a lot of credit. They put a lot of miles and games in the last little while. They give us energy, so give them credit. But the human body can only last so long."

Oilers 2, Flames 1 | Video
One night after a heartbreaking loss in Colorado, the Oilers rebounded with a victory in Calgary that pulled them even with Nashville and Vancouver for eighth place in the West.

The Oilers were 5.9 seconds away from a win in Colorado on Friday, only to see the Avalanche tie the game and win in a shootout. This time, the Oilers were the ones who rallied, getting third-period goals from Denis Grebeshkov and Dustin Penner after Matthew Lombardi put Calgary ahead 5:43 into the final period.

The win gives the Oilers 86 points, even with the Predators and Canucks, both of whom have four games left to the Oilers’ two. Edmonton has 40 wins, Nashville has 39 and Vancouver has 38.

“We’ve got to worry about the stuff in our control,” center Jarret Stoll said after the Oilers improved to 13-4-1 in their last 18 games. “That’s what we’re doing now.”

The Flames are in sixth place in the West, two points behind Dallas. They also remained three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Northwest Division, and play their last four games on the road, including a visit to Vancouver on Sunday.

“We had lots of chances throughout the game, and we got ourselves where we wanted to be at 1-0," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "Things aren't always going to go our way with as many chances. Losses are always hard at this time of year, but we had a couple breakdowns. With a game in hand, we're going to have to get back at it tomorrow."

Calgary had the better chances through two periods, including a long 5-on-3 power play in the first period. But the game stayed scoreless until Lombardi took a cross-ice pass from Wayne Primeau and wristed a shot from the right circle that went past Dwayne Roloson.

But instead of folding, the Oilers tied the game 67 seconds later. Grebeshkov walked in from the left point and got within 15 feet before firing a shot along the ice through a crowd that beat Miikka Kiprusoff.

“We found a way to get the goal, get the lead, and then they tied the game on the shift right after that,” Calgary forward Stephane Yelle said. “We’ve got to bear down.”

Jim Vandermeer took a cross-checking penalty at 9:41, and the Oilers made the Flames pay when Penner took a pass from Ales Hemsky and beat Kiprusoff with a wrist shot from the right circle.

The Flames pulled Kiprusoff in the final minute and thought they tied the game when Alex Tanguay tipped a point shot by Kristian Huselius past Roloson. Sirens blared and lights flashed — prematurely, because the puck hit the post and came back into the crease, where defenseman Tom Gilbert swatted it out of danger.

"I had no clue where it was, all I heard was Tom Gilbert yelling behind me, so I just fell down," Roloson admitted.

When the lights and sirens went off, Oilers coach Craig MacTavish had a flashback to Friday night, when Joe Sakic’s goal with 5.9 seconds left cost his team a victory.

“You can’t have that happen to you twice in two days,” he said. “But that’s probably as close as you can come to having it happen. It was a good break for us.”

The Oilers can only sit and watch until Tuesday, when the Flames pay a return visit to Rexall Place.

“We still believe we’re going to be in the playoffs,” defenseman Steve Staios said. 

Blackhawks 4, Blues 3 | Video
Chicago isn’t giving up on making the playoffs. The Hawks moved within four points of the last postseason berth in the Western Conference as Duncan Keith and Craig Adams scored shorthanded goals and Chicago survived a late comeback by the Blues.

The Hawks now have 82 points entering Sunday's home game against Columbus. Nashville and Vancouver have 86, though the Predators — who play in Detroit — hold the final playoff spot because they have one more victory. Edmonton has 40 wins, Nashville has 39 and Vancouver 38 — but the Predators and Canucks have two games in hand.

''It was a big win,'' Chicago coach Denis Savard said. ''It keeps us in (the playoff chase). We came here to do a job, get two points and we got it. If they don’t get the job done tomorrow and we do, we’re only down two points.''

But what looked like an easy victory nearly turned into a disaster — the Blackhawks led 4-0 in the third period only to see the Blues score three times and nearly tie the game.

''It was a playoff game for us,'' Savard said. ''(St. Louis) wanted to beat us. St. Louis is not going to die. They won (Friday) in Detroit. They had a full house here. They wanted to play well in front of their fans.”

The Blackhawks jumped to a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Andrew Ladd and Jonathan Toews. Ladd scored from a bad angle 1:40 into the game, his 14th of the season, while Toews scored at 15:26 of the opening period on a wrist shot from the right circle.

Keith gave Chicago a 3-0 lead with a shorthanded goal at 15:12 of the second period when his shot from the top of the left circle handcuffed Blues goalie Manny Legace. Adams got his fourth of the season and Chicago’s League-high 16th shorthanded goal 2:04 into the third to make it 4-0, finishing off a 2-on-1 break. A Blues defenseman crashed into the net and knocked the goal off its moorings just as the puck crossed the goal line. After a review, the goal stood.

Keith Tkachuk finally got the Blues on the board 6:11 into the final period, redirecting a pass from Paul Kariya into the net to spoil Nikolai Khabibulin's bid for a third shutout this season. Boyes scored his 41st of the season and third in two nights with 4:58 to play on a feed from David Perron, and Kariya's first goal in 23 games on the power play cut Chicago's lead to 4-3 with 2:40 to play.

''Some good players started to make some good plays and we got some traffic to the net,'' Blues coach Andy Murray said after his team fell to 3-13-3 in its last 19 games. ''We took advantage of our opportunities. I didn't think we generated enough screens and traffic over the first 40 minutes of the game and we seemed to have a lot more traffic to the net in the third period after they scored (the fourth goal).''

Stars 7, Kings 2 | Video
Dallas had been struggling for most of this month, and things didn’t look good when Kevin Dallman scored on the Kings’ first shot of the game. But after Stephane Robidas tied it at 13:29 of the opening period, the dam burst in the second — the Stars scored four goals, outshot the Kings 16-3 and coasted to an easy victory.

The Stars beat Chicago 7-4 on Feb. 28 in their first game with Brad Richards in the lineup after acquiring the veteran center on deadline day. But they scored three or fewer goals in their first nine games in March — and went 1-7-1 in those games — before breaking this one open.

''This is something to build on, and we need more of the same. We're in a lockdown mode,'' goaltender Marty Turco said. ''The beauty of the whole game was not the score, but how the game went down — just the relentlessness of every period and every facet of the game. It's great to see. But that's what we expect, really. Today was a great example of what we need to do every shift from now on.”

Stu Barnes broke the tie 16 seconds into the second period when his centering pass hit Dallman’s skate and went into the net. Brenden Morrow buried a power-play rebound at 6:15 and Loui Eriksson scored twice in less than 3½ minutes to make it 5-1 as the Stars chased rookie goalie Erik Ersberg.

"In the second period we had a good start and the power play was really good from there," said center Mike Ribeiro, who had three assists. "The penalty kill had another good game for us, too. We knew how we had to play today. We had to push all the way through."

Jere Lehtinen and Niklas Hagman added third-period goals against Daniel Taylor, making his NHL debut, before Mike Cammalleri scored for the Kings, who were outshot 35-14.

''Our team hit a wall today,'' coach Marc Crawford said. ''You're playing against a team that is desperate, and that's what happens when those two paths cross. You never want to play like that in front of your fans, but we ran out of gas. We squeezed a lot out of our team, playing three games in 3 1/2 days.''

The Stars now have 92 points entering Sunday night’s game at Anaheim — a potential first-round playoff opponent.

“Today we were a very determined team,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “We created some breaks, capitalized on some chances, and made some breaks for ourselves. We need to build on that and play like this again tomorrow."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.


Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres