Passing the test — The Detroit Red Wings are the measuring stick for the Nashville Predators. For one night, they measured up.
The Wings eliminated Nashville from the playoffs last spring on the way to the Stanley Cup, so the Preds were pumped up when their Central Division rivals came calling on the night after Christmas. So were Nashville's hockey fans, who sold out the Sommet Center — and went home happy after a 3-2 win.
"They are the measuring stick in the League, they’ve been the symbol of excellence for a long time, so when they come in, obviously they are defending Stanley Cup Champions so I’m sure they see this a lot when teams get ramped up," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We played them in the playoffs last year and they knocked us out, so there was some motivation there. They are a good test and, the Detroit Red Wings bring the best out of a lot of teams in the National Hockey League and tonight I think we paid a lot of attention to detail."
That detail included scoring three goals — something the Predators hadn't done in nearly two weeks — and a 38-save performance by Dan Ellis, who played superbly against the Wings last spring in a losing cause and was glad to get a little revenge.
"They were the reason we finished our season last year, so when you can have a bit of redemption in your first match up against them and for us to come back and play the way we did after two days off is great," he said.
Vernon Fiddler, who scored what proved to be the winning goal, said there's something about seeing the Winged Wheel that gets Nashville's fans get pumped up.
"The emotion levels are probably a bit higher," he said. "There are a lot more fans in the building and when the fans get going I think it creates a lot of emotion."
It's back — It's taken five games, but Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is satisfied that his timing is back. The New Jersey Devils would be the first to agree.
Fleury missed 12 games with a groin problem and was up and down in his first four appearances after returning. But he was flawless against the Devils, who outshot the Penguins 37-18 but were beaten 1-0 — their second straight shutout loss at home.
"I'm feeling better, timing wise," Fleury said. "It's the foot movement. I'm in the right place at the right time now."
Thanks to Fleury, the Penguins left Prudential Center with two points on a night when they were outshot and outplayed.
"It was a rugged first period without a lot of flow," coach Michel Therrien said. "I thought we played really well in the second and got the lead, and defended it well in the third. And the star of the game was Marc-Andre Fleury. He made key save after key save."
Fleury preserved the win in the closing seconds with a pair of pad stops on Jamie Langenbrunner after the Devils pulled goaltender Scott Clemmensen for an extra attacker.
"He played well," Devils coach Brent Sutter said of Fleury. "He made some big saves for them. That being said, we made him look good at certain times too, where we had opportunities and we hit him in the crest."
Good time for a milestone — As captain of a team that was 0-for-December, Bill Guerin was especially happy to reach a milestone in a streak-snapping victory.
Guerin had his 399th and 400th NHL goals in the New York Islanders' 4-1 victory over Toronto, a win that ended a 10-game losing streak. Getting a win and reaching a milestone were a nice daily double.
"It means a lot," Guerin said of the 400th goal. "It means I've been able to stick around this League for quite some time, and had some success at doing it. [Tonight's] goals came at a good time. Everyone kept a good attitude and a good work ethic [during the losing streak]."
Guerin put the Isles ahead in the second period with goal No. 399, a deflection on what was originally credited as first-round pick Josh Bailey's first NHL goal. Guerin became the eighth U.S.-born player to get 400 goals when he drove to the net and converted Chris Campoli's rebound early in the third period.
Even Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson praised Guerin.
"That's a tremendous milestone," Wilson said. "I know Billy, and he's a great guy and very deserving."
Just another highlight-film goal — Another night, another spectacular goal by Alex Ovechkin — and another home win for the Washington Capitals.
Ovechkin is sure to hit the highlight shows again after his highlight-reel goal early in the third period proved to be the winner in the Washington Capitals' 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres (WATCH OVECHKIN'S GOAL).
The reigning Hart Trophy winner pushed the puck through Henrik Tallinder's legs just inside the blue line, got around him and fired a shot past goalie Patrick Lalime while falling.
"He was mad, and he was going to make up for it," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin, who had had a goal taken away earlier in the game due to a penalty. "They were checking him, and he was losing the puck, but he was just determined. It was like, 'They took one away from me, and they're not going to take another one away."
The sellout crowd of 18,277 broke into loud chants of "M-V-P!, M-V-P!" for Ovechkin, the NHL's reigning Most Valuable Player.
"It was a pretty cool goal," Ovechkin said. "I just made some moves. You always want to do some crazy things. It was a great goal, and I'm happy it happened to me."
Defenseman Bryan Helmer got credit for an assist by getting the puck to Ovechkin and watching him do the rest.
"That's why he's the best in the League," Helmer said. "He never gives up on the puck, and the next thing you know it's in the back of the net. It's amazing what he can do."
Day-after-Christmas present — Very little has gone right for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, so when the Bolts blew a two-goal lead in the third period against Florida, it would have been understandable if they'd folded up and found a way to lose — again.
Bryan McCabe's goal with 13.9 seconds remaining forced overtime, and after a scoreless overtime, the Panthers twice took leads in the shootout. But Jussi Jokinen scored in the third round to get the Lightning even, and Ryan Malone connected in the fourth round for a 4-3 victory.
"You don't want to be in that situation in the first place," Malone said. "You've got to give them credit for keeping fighting back, but it's our job to have that desperation to get that other goal."
Instead of a painful loss, the Lightning own back-to-back wins for the first time since winning three in a row from Oct. 28-Nov. 1.
"Letting a two-goal lead at the end disappear kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "But we grinded it out and got the win."
Thrashers get Staal-ed — Eric Staal enjoyed his hat trick a lot more than Bryan Little.
That's because Staal went home with three goals while making sure his Carolina Hurricanes left with two points. Staal got his three goals in a 4:31 span of the third period to give the 'Canes a 5-4 victory at Atlanta.
"The big fellow is one of the great players in the game," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said.
Staal has 8 goals and 12 points in Carolina's last 10 games and appears to be putting it upon himself to make sure the Hurricanes don't miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. It was his sixth career hat trick and second this season.
"You want to get as many as you can," he said. "It's fun to have them."
Little had the first three-goal game of his NHL career, but wasn't able to enjoy it nearly as much after Staal tied the game twice in the third period before getting the game-winner with 8:02 left.
"Everything was bouncing my way tonight," Little said, "but still it doesn't feel great because we lost."
Eight is not enough — The Chicago Blackhawks set a home attendance record when 22,712 fans poured into the United Center to see the Hawks' 5-1 win over Philadelphia.
That record won't make it through another week — more than 41,000 fans are expected to come through the turnstiles on Jan. 1 for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic when the Hawks play the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field. But the fans who turned out Friday night saw some history as well: The Hawks tied a franchise record with their eighth consecutive victory, matching a mark set in 1971 and matched 10 years later.
Forward Martin Havlat credited the rabid Hawk fans with a share of the record.
"It’s a lot of fun to play in front of a crowd like this," Havlat said. "With the fans, we always have six guys on the ice. They are part of the winning."
Chicago heads out for games at Minnesota on Sunday and Detroit on Tuesday before Thursday's game. They'll be eager to get back to their own fans.
"The fans have been awesome the whole year," forward Andrew Ladd said. "We feed off their energy. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
In focus — Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky was proud of his team after the Coyotes' 2-1 victory over Los Angeles — not only for winning the game, but for the way they did it.
"This was a nice effort for us," Gretzky said. "As a player, the hardest game to play is always December 26th because you've been off a couple of days and you have a lot of family and friends around -- and then you've got to travel.
"So, for our guys to be as focused as they were tonight for that game and play as well as they did, I'm really happy for them."
Peter Mueller snapped a 21-game goal-less streak and Shane Doan scored a power-play goal for the Coyotes, who controlled the game for two periods and hung on in the third despite Peter Harrold's power-play goal for the Kings.
The Coyotes and Kings are among seven teams within five points in the race for the last three playoff berths in the West, so winning the opener of a home-and-home series was an excellent way to resume play after the holiday for the Coyotes.
"There's a lot of hockey left. But to be where we are in the standings, we're pretty happy where we are right now," Gretzky said. "Our team has played hard. They're a fun group of kids and they work hard every night. We've had some tough games here and there and have taken our lumps, but all in all, they come to play every game."
Rolling with Rollie — Edmonton goaltender Dwayne Roloson likes to be busy. His teammates were almost too willing to oblige.
The Oilers took a 3-0 lead in the second period against Vancouver, then left it up to Roloson do the rest. He did enough to allow the Oilers to leave GM Place with a 3-2 victory.
Vancouver entered the third period down 3-1 and outshot Edmonton 14-3 in the final 20 minutes, but was able to score just once — Kyle Wellwood's deflection during a 5-on-3 power play. The Canucks couldn't get the equalizer — but not for lack of trying.
"It's pretty hard to explain, but for a goalie it's fun," said Roloson of the activity. "If you ask any player or any goalie, the more you play, a lot easier and a lot more comfortable you feel in that situation."
Roloson has pretty much taken the No. 1 job away from Mathieu Garon and looks like the goaltender who led the Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
"When you see him playing at that level, you know it's going to be very difficult to beat him," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "I mean, they had good looks but he was sensational. He's right back where he was in 2006."