No easy answers -- They snapped a five-game losing streak Tuesday by beating Atlanta, but if the Pittsburgh Penguins thought the slump that dropped them out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference was finished, they found out differently Thursday night.
The Penguins let a three-goal lead slip away to a Nashville Predators squad that came in with mighty struggles of its own. But Ryan Suter's power-play goal midway through the third snapped a tie and led the Predators to a 5-3 win at Sommet Center, snapping their five-game losing streak.
"We were easily doubting ourselves when it was 3-0 and we could have easily called it a night and packed up shop but we didn't," Suter said. "At the end of the game, it was nice to celebrate a win again."
The Penguins haven't won back-to-back games since mid-November, and their inability to close out a game in which they seemed to be in full control was troubling to both coach and captain.
"Right now, we find ways to always let the other team back in the game," coach Michel Therrien said. "I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed with the performance of a lot of guys."
Sidney Crosby was in full agreement: "We didn't deserve to win the hockey game. You can't cut corners and for us we didn't play well enough throughout the whole game."
A starting point -- There seemed to be no stopping the Boston Bruins during November and December, but the East leaders came back down to earth in January with a pair of losses on home ice against Buffalo and Minnesota.
It wasn't their most complete effort of the season, but the Bruins returned to their winning ways Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden by outlasting the Ottawa Senators 6-4. At the halfway point of their season, they recorded their 30th win, the franchise's best start since the 1929-30 season.
"This was really important and to get over the hump was the toughest thing," Boston goalie Manny Fernandez said. "If it's going to be like this for a while, we have to work twice as hard at limiting our mistakes."
The Senators, now 1-13-3 in their last 17 road games, showed plenty of fight in coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to tie the score heading into the third.
But as has happened so often during their current eight-game trek, they came away with nothing to show for their efforts. As a result, rumors are likely to continue to swirl regarding the futures of coach Craig Hartsburg and general manager Bryan Murray.
"We didn't do anybody any favors tonight," goaltender Martin Gerber said. "We want to get out of this whole mess."
Signs of life -- First-year coach John Anderson apparently reached his boiling point after the Atlanta Thrashers sleepwalked their way Sunday through an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay. He questioned whether anyone in the dressing room really cared, and Thursday night he got a resounding answer.
Kari Lehtonen stopped all 29 shots that came his way and the Thrashers erupted for a three-goal second period that led them to a 4-0 win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
"To come in here against a team like New Jersey, that plays so consistently good and are so big and strong, to win like that, we really needed that," Anderson said. "I now know that there is a pulse in our room — that they do care. I appreciate that."
Anderson's counterpart, Brent Sutter, was the one left to shake his head after the Devils were blanked on home ice for the fourth time this season and third in less than three weeks. New Jersey now embarks on a six-game road trip out west. Sutter was hoping to head there off a victory; instead, he saw his team's worst effort of the season.
"You guys saw it as well I did," Sutter said. "I feel bad for anybody who had to come and watch that."
Wild about the Flyers -- While their Atlantic Division rivals head out of town, the Philadelphia Flyers returned home to Wachovia Center after their own two-week road trip. The fans who showed up had plenty of reason to be happy, as their team climbed to the top of the division during its time away.
Mike Knuble snapped a tie with a power-play goal in the third and the Flyers took sole possession of first in the Atlantic with a 3-1 win against the Minnesota Wild. After the Wild scored the only goal of the first period, Scott Hartnell drew the Flyers even in the second and ended Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom's bid for a third-straight shutout.
"It's tough when you get back because you can get complacent after a long road trip when you get back home," Flyers center Mike Richards said. "But we could find our energy from the crowd and had a couple different players step up."
Coming off whitewashings of Colorado and Boston, Backstrom was able to extend his shutout streak to 149 minutes, 9 seconds, but what he really wanted was the two points.
"When you lose you can't be happy. You don't care about the shutouts," Backstrom said. "When you go out there you want to win the game and we lost today and that's the only thing that matters."
The Habs then came back home Thursday to skate against their Original Six and Northeast Division rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Playing on back-to-back nights, they still had plenty of offense left in the tank and used a three-goal first to spark a 6-2 victory.
"We needed a great start," said Maxim Lapierre, who along with Sergei Kostitsyn got Montreal going with goals in the opening five minutes. "We played last night and we knew they were going to be ready so we just kept it simple, put the puck at the net and that's what happened, we got the two points."
They also got a little payback for the previous meeting between the teams — a 6-3 Toronto win at Air Canada Centre in November.
''I think our team remembered that loss in Toronto,'' coach Guy Carbonneau said. ''Now, everything is going good for us. Earlier in the season, we were having trouble against teams below us in the standings and we didn't want that to happen again.''
A rare off night -- Since coming back from injury, Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has been playing some of his best hockey since his stellar postseason run as a rookie led the team to the Stanley Cup three seasons ago.
Ward is still human, though, and despite making 27 saves he gave up a pair of goals early in the third period against the Florida Panthers that led them to a 4-2 win against the Hurricanes at BankAtlantic Center.
"He's been good and solid all the way straight through," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We didn't give him a chance to be the difference in the game. I think we asked him too much tonight."
David Booth and Anton Babchuk traded first-period goals and the game remained tied into the third. Jay Bouwmeester's power-play tally just 31 seconds in put the Panthers ahead to stay and Nathan Horton extended the lead 2:55 later.
"I don't think we were that bad," Carolina's Eric Staal said. "We kept it a close game for a while, but then we gave up the power-play goal and it built up momentum for them. We tried to battle back, but it wasn't quite enough."
House of horrors -- One person who might argue with the saying that there's no place like home is Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco. A former standout for the University of Michigan, he's been treated rather poorly by the Detroit Red Wings during his pro career.
It was no different Thursday night, as Turco lasted just two periods and gave up four goals in what ended up a 6-1 rout by the Wings. It dropped Turco to 0-8-2 at Joe Louis Arena in his NHL career and left him with a 3-11-5 regular-season mark against Detroit.
"I know he went to school here, he's from the Sault (St. Marie) in Canada, which is obviously a border city," said Kirk Maltby, who scored for Detroit. "I don't know. I don't want to presume anything but we just try and go out and for some reason, he hasn't had a lot of success here, which is obviously good for us."
"We were easily doubting ourselves when it was 3-0 and we could have easily called it a night and packed up shop but we didn't. At the end of the game, it was nice to celebrate a win again." -- Nashville defenseman Ryan SuterMarian Hossa opened the scoring in the first when his harmless-looking wrist shot from the right wing boards bounced in off Turco. In the second period, Maltby converted off a rebound and Tomas Holmstrom scored on a blast from the right circle that got through the goalie.
"I have to find and control pucks better," Turco said. "I can't have pucks go through me like that. We are not doing enough things positive and applying pressure the way we have to, and that needs to be changed soon."
Unsung hero -- Once a starter, but more recently the forgotten man in Toronto, it's been an up-and-down career for Andrew Raycroft. The good news is it appears to be hitting an upside again, as Raycroft improved his record with his current team, the Colorado Avalanche, to 8-1 by stopping a career-best 43 shots in a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"He's done a great job," coach Tony Granato said. "He's become what we expected. He's given us solid performances."
Raycroft broke into the League with Boston, winning 29 games in the 2003-04 season, and he had a career year with 37 wins for the Maple Leafs two seasons ago. But the acquisition of Vesa Toskala limited him to just 19 appearance and two victories last season. Now the backup to Peter Budaj in Denver, Raycroft is making the most of his opportunities.
"I've worked hard and developed a good base," Raycroft said. "That allows me to have a clear mind out there ... It's obvious that the more you play the more comfortable you feel out there."
It was the second consecutive start for Raycroft, who has now won his last six decisions.
Full circle -- No one on the Calgary Flames' roster was more eager to play against the New York Islanders on Thursday night than Eric Nystrom.
The Flames' first-round pick in the 2002 Entry Draft is the son of former Isles star Bob Nystrom. He grew up on Long Island, where his father scored the Cup-winning goal in 1980, played 900 NHL games and won four championships.
It was the younger Nystrom's first game against his father's old team, which lost 5-2 to his current club.
"It's obviously a team I grew up idolizing my whole life," he said of playing against the Isles. "I feel to go out and play against the Islander jersey is quite a thrill."
Nystrom was all set to play against the Isles when they came to Calgary last January, but fate had other ideas.
"Right now, we find ways to always let the other team back in the game. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed with the performance of a lot of guys." -- Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien"I was disappointed -- the game before, I got a puck in the mouth and had to miss that game," said Nystrom, who was sidelined with a broken jaw. "But I'm out here playing tonight, and it's a great experience."
Eric wears No. 23, the same number his father wore on Long Island — and which hangs from the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum.
"I just came to training camp and 23 was the number they gave me," he said. "I didn't ask for it or anything. It's kind of a funny coincidence, but at the same time, it's an honor to wear that jersey. He represented it well, and I'm trying to do the same. "
Ironically, Eric Nystrom plays NHL hockey in the same city his father called home as a junior player in the early 1970s.
"It's full circle," he said. "He ended up on Long Island. I'm from Long Island and ended up in Alberta. It's pretty funny how it worked out like that."
Whatever it takes -- Kyle Turris had enough after the Phoenix Coyotes were shut out in back-to-back games. He decided to take things into his own hands against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and managed to make an impact without requiring an emergency trip to the dentist afterward.
Turris scored the game-winning goal 8:09 into the third period as the Coyotes won at Jobing.com Arena, the first time they beat the Lightning on home ice since Dec. 14, 2000.
"Just like Chicago got the bounces against us (in a 6-0 loss Tuesday), we got the bounces tonight," said Turris, who said Tuesday that Phoenix would score "even if someone has to eat a post."
Fortunately that wasn't required. Turris was able to find the net in a more conventional fashion, as he deflected a waist-high shot by defenseman David Hale from the high slot, knocking the puck down and between the pads of Tampa goalie Mike Smith. Turris got his first goal since Dec. 18 and the Coyotes broke a stretch of 138 minutes, 44 seconds without scoring.
"That was a great shot from Haler," Turris said. "It was the perfect height, the goalie stayed up because he didn't want to go down on it, and I got my stick on it."
Strutting his stuff -- The end result wasn't what the Anaheim Ducks wanted, but they got an exciting glimpse of the future as Bobby Ryan wiped out a three-goal deficit by himself in the most brilliant performance of his young career.
The second pick in the 2005 Entry Draft notched his first career hat trick, and the fastest in franchise history, in a game the Ducks went on to lose, 4-3, to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Anaheim trailed 3-0 when Ryan got them on the board late in the second period. He added two more in the first 1:35 of the third to tie the game.
"It's a tough defeat when you have a good night when everybody's not going as well as they'd like to," said Ryan, who now has 11 goals for the season. "We got behind the eight-ball early and gave them too many opportunities. We didn't deserve the two points tonight."
That was through no fault of Ryan, whose third goal was one for the highlight reels, as he used a spin move to shake defenseman Peter Harrold and beat goalie Jonathan Quick. But the Ducks never managed the go-ahead goal and Alexander Frolov scored six minutes later to put the Kings in front to stay.
"We knew how important this game was," Frolov said. "Tonight we played for each other, we stuck to our structure. We had to win this game."
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.