Friends and foes -- It was a bit of a weird situation Monday night when longtime former teammates Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, members of the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, met as opponents for the first time. Richards was sent to the Dallas Stars last season in a deal that brought back goaltender Mike Smith.
Lecavalier scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with 5:06 to play, and Smith got the last laugh with 23 saves against his old team as the Lightning won 4-2 at St. Pete Times Forum, the first time in 13 years they beat the Stars on home ice.
"We're fighting to get back in (the playoff race)," Smith said. "It's just a bonus to beat my former team. That makes it just sweeter."
The Stars were trying to gain ground in the Western Conference playoff picture, but remained four points out a postseason berth. Richards gained some early revenge by scoring a power-play goal 1:53 into the contest, but his team came away empty in the end.
"I had fun out there until five minutes left in the third, and obviously it was a bad ending," Richards said.
Lecavalier actually opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal 20 seconds before Richards evened things up. The Stars went ahead 2-1 on a Loui Eriksson goal in the second, but rookie Steven Stamkos tied the score in the third and Lecavalier put the Bolts ahead before a Vinny Prospal empty-netter sealed it.
"It was pretty strange," Lecavalier said. "To play against (Richards) tonight was pretty special. It was fun. It was a great two points for us."
A sigh of relief -- Losing five straight took its toll on the Carolina Hurricanes and their coach Paul Maurice. Relief didn't come until after the final horn sounded in a 2-0 win Monday over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.
"When I was walking off the bench and neither of the referees were waving that we had to come back, that's when I knew it was over," Maurice said.
Cam Ward stopped all 35 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season and the Hurricanes got goals from Joe Corvo and Chad Larose 3:29 apart late in the second period. The two points left them one behind Florida for second in the Southeast Division. Florida and Pittsburgh are currently tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
"The way things have been going these past five games those pucks probably would have went in," Ward said. "It was nice tonight to be rewarded with some good bounces and get the win. This was a big win for our hockey club and hopefully we can build off it."
Ward led the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup less than three years ago, but he's still a young goalie prone to losing confidence in the midst of struggles like the ones that had plagued the team recently.
"He needed to have this game for his own career," Maurice said. "He's going to have to play a lot of games (and) he's going to have to learn how to conserve on certain nights. Being good for him will never be good enough for our franchise or his talent. He's going to have to be better."
If at first you don't succeed -- It's not often a goaltender sees the same guy twice in the same game in penalty-shot situations, but that's exactly what happened Monday as Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller squared up against David Booth of the Florida Panthers.
Booth got the scoring started when he was hauled down by Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman late in the first period. He skated in and beat Miller with a deke to the forehand. But hours later, the game was in a shootout and Booth headed down the ice against Miller once again. This time he was denied.
Miller also stopped Nathan Horton and the Sabres got goals in the shootout from Ales Kotalik and Derek Roy for a key 3-2 win at BankAtlantic Center in a battle between teams jockeying for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference.
''He made a nice move,'' Miller said about Booth's goal. ''I see him all summer, but I didn't see that one. I was happy to come through later on.''
With 53 points, the Sabres opened up a three-point lead for seventh over Florida and Pittsburgh. The Panthers let a 1-0 lead slip away but were able to take some solace in overcoming a 2-1 deficit on Horton's goal with 3:24 left in regulation.
''At least we're getting the point,'' Booth said. ''We're coming back, down a goal or two late in the game, so that's a positive. Now we've got to get to the next level and start to win those games.''
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky netted a pair of power-play goals and Niklas Backstrom was solid all night long with 40 saves as the Wild handed the Blackhawks only their second regulation loss of the season at United Center.
''We were just able to play our game and that's huge,'' Backstrom said. ''We got lucky and we got the bounces. Usually, though, to get the bounces you have to work hard.
''The biggest thing was we played a solid game and fought for every puck. We battled intensely and were on their body all the time. They're a fast, skilled team so you have to be on them all the time.''
After the Wild went ahead 3-0 in the second, their attack stalled. But thanks to Backstrom, the Blackhawks managed only Martin Havlat's goal midway through the period.
''I thought we were fine until the middle of the second period,'' Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''The momentum shifted. They pushed it a little more and we started to give them the puck.
''We got nervous and started to flip pucks in the air. It was the biggest play we had. Even guys I haven't seen flip pucks all year, they were flipping pucks. But it's OK, we won and we'll take it.''
Back with a vengeance -- Brendan Shanahan cautioned against too much excitement after his return to the New Jersey Devils went better than most would have expected. The veteran scored the 651st goal of his NHL career and played key minutes late in the third period of what ended up a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators.
"I didn't know if things would come back right away," said Shanahan, who was drafted by New Jersey in 1987 but hadn't played for the organization since the end of the 1991 playoffs. "I probably played a little more than I expected. I still think I have a lot of work to do. This is a game that has a lot of adrenaline. It is just one game. There is a long way for me to go and a lot of building for me yet."
Still, it was so far, so good as the Devils concluded a six-game road trip with five victories. They're in first place in the Atlantic Division with one game left before the All-Star break and can look forward to having Shanahan acclimate himself even further in the second half.
"The way things have been going these past five games those pucks probably would have went in. It was nice tonight to be rewarded with some good bounces and get the win. This was a big win for our hockey club and hopefully we can build off it." -- Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward"Shanahan played very well in his first game, obviously getting the big goal for us," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "You can see his experience. He has played in a lot of key situations throughout his career."
Beating the clock -- How close did the Boston Bruins come to escaping TD Banknorth Garden with two points Monday afternoon? Within about a second on the clock and maybe a couple inches out on the ice.
David Backes tied the game at 19:59 of the third period, deflecting in a puck that appeared on video to be just above the crossbar, and the St. Louis Blues went on to a 5-4 shootout victory on the strength of goals by T.J. Oshie and Brad Boyes.
"I tried not to watch the replay too many times. But no matter what I saw, I had a bias toward that one," Backes said. "I'm going to have my bias toward that one and say it was a good call."
Boston coach Claude Julien saw things a bit differently, but in the end the Bruins only had themselves to blame after blowing a two-goal lead in the final 1:20 after they had rallied for three goals in a span of 1:39 earlier in the third.
"I guess the best way to describe it is everyone involved except for the people in charge don't happen to think it was a goal," said Julien, who later went on to add, "we got what we deserved."
Differing opinions -- A controversial call also played a deciding factor at Nassau Coliseum, as the Washington Capitals prevailed 2-1 in overtime on a power-play goal by Alex Ovechkin. The man advantage occurred after Ovechkin drew a slashing call against Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders.
"It was a penalty," Ovechkin said. "He broke my stick."
"I didn't break his stick," Witt said. "I got him with one hand. It was a pretty weak call."
Either way, putting the Capitals a man up in a sudden-death situation seemed like a surefire way for the Islanders to ensure themselves of an eighth straight loss, and that's exactly what happened on Monday. Ovechkin, who had already scored his 30th of the season on a first-period power-play chance, had a wide-open left side of the net to shoot into after a feed from Alexander Semin.
Despite remaining winless, Islanders goaltender Yann Danis had a strong outing with 36 saves. The team got a point when Kyle Okposo converted on a 5-on-3 situation in the third.
"We've got to keep working hard," Okposo said. "We just have to get some breaks. We're getting chances."
Material from wire services was used in this report.