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Lightning enters break with five wins in seven games

Thursday, 01.22.2009 / 9:00 AM / Game-Day Skate

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

A few thoughts before President Obama is sworn in a third time:

Who are these guys? -- This is what happens when you put forth 60-minute efforts and when 20 players are on the same page.

After months of failing to have either, the Tampa Bay Lightning are turning things around. Even though Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were held off the score sheet Wednesday night, the Lightning still managed to skate away with a 5-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The victory was Tampa's fifth in its last seven games. With the All-Star break here, the Lightning find themselves nine points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot with 35 games to go.

''Vinny and Marty carry this team all year,'' said forward Jeff Halpern, who had a goal and an assist Wednesday night. ''Even if they don't get points or score, I thought those guys tilted the ice for us at times when the other team was pushing. I think the way our team is playing these last few weeks, we're getting goals as a team.''

Interim coach Rick Tocchet was pleased to see contributions from players other than Lecavalier and St. Louis, who combined for 14 goals and 22 assists in the Bolts' previous 12 games.

''It's nice to get other guys scoring,'' Tocchet said. ''Eighty-two game schedule, you've got to have that if you're going to win.''

Who are these guys? Part 2
-- After losing at home about as frequently as Keith Olbermann votes Republican, the Chicago Blackhawks suddenly are struggling in the Windy City.

The Blackhawks were shut out on home ice Wednesday night for the first time since March 12, a 2-0 loss at the hands of Chris Mason and the St. Louis Blues. Chicago, which also lost 4-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Monday, has scored only 13 times in its last seven games.

What gives?

"It seems like all our games lately are a lot closer than that stretch we had (early on)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We expect those types of games being basically like that from here on out. We have to get used to finding ways to win those kinds of games. Low-scoring, tight-checking affairs are how we have to approach it because that's what we should expect."

Nobody expected what transpired in the first period, when the Blues outshot Chicago 16-3. Perhaps the All-Star break is exactly what this young team needs?

"Everybody is not going to be able to score at a regular rate all year long," Quenneville said. "Everybody has stretches where the pucks are going in for them and (then) sometimes you have a hard time buying a goal."

Giving him props
-- Some members of the New York media believe Islanders coach Scott Gordon was being a little hard on goalie Yann Danis in recent games.

So when Danis did everything but balance his teammates' checkbooks in a 2-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks -- he stopped 39 of 40 shots as the Isles earned their first victory of 2009 -- Gordon gave everyone a good laugh when he began his postgame press conference.

"Let me start off by saying that Yann should have had that first one," Gordon joked. "He was excellent tonight. He battled, and it was good to see."

Gordon recently had met with Danis, who began the season as the team's third goalie but due to injuries has been thrust into the starter's role, to give him a much-needed pep talk. The Isles' coach -- a goaltender who appeared in 23 NHL games with the Quebec Nordiques -- wanted to remind Danis that the 27-year-old has been given a tremendous opportunity to prove himself. Danis is the Islanders' No. 1 goalie until Joey MacDonald returns from a groin injury.

"One of the things I try to encourage him to do is to compete harder after he's made the save and his recovery and tracking pucks," Gordon said. "That's what I thought he did tonight. I was in his shoes (once). I told him, 'This is your opportunity, and these are the things that I see that you need to get better at. And until you start to do that, it's going to be hard for you to be able to grab the ball and run with it. You might not get another opportunity like this.'"

Judging by Wednesday's performance, Danis may have gotten the message.

"I'm pretty happy with the result," Danis said. "I've been looking for that first win to break the ice. Now I've got it. Hopefully I can get some more coming back from the All-Star break." 

What a view from the top -- When Martin Brodeur went down with a biceps injury more than two months ago, no one would have expected to see the New Jersey Devils in first place in the Atlantic Division going into the All-Star break.   

Surprise!

 
 
Scott Clemmensen won his 19th game of the season by making 26 saves in a 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Prudential Center. It was New Jersey's fifth straight victory.

''I don't feel like I have to win games by myself,'' said Clemmensen, who probably now has seen the last of the American Hockey League. ''I don't think the team feels they have to work harder to compensate for me, either. The team has confidence in me and I feel if I just play strong, I can let them do the rest.''

Devils coach Brent Sutter is proud of the way his team has handled itself without Brodeur, who  one day will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Brodeur skated with the club Wednesday morning and is on target for a March 1 return.

That's bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Division.

''It's a credit to the players, staying with it and being strong,'' Sutter said. ''Being mentally strong allows you to handle adversity on the ice. We've dealt with adversity in the right way. Guys in that room have been through a lot, and they don't seem to get rattled.''
 
He did it again -- At this point, you have to at least wonder if the Atlanta Thrashers could beat Antero Niittymaki if they iced Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin.

The Philadelphia Flyers goalie improved to 12-0 against the Thrashers with a 5-3 victory at the Wachovia Center. Niittymaki is one of only two active goaltenders with a perfect mark in at least 10 decisions against one team. Detroit's Chris Osgood is 17-0 against Tampa Bay.

''I got a little sloppy in the first 10 minutes of the third period and they got back in the game,'' said Niittymaki, who made 28 saves.

To be fair, the Thrashers played hard and rallied to erase a 3-0 deficit by scoring three times in a span of 6:07 in the third period. But forward Mike Knuble followed with a pair of goals to lift Philadelphia to victory. The Flyers are 13-1-2 in their last 16 home games and have beaten Atlanta 13 straight times.

''It's unfortunate,'' Thrashers coach John Anderson said. ''We hit a few posts, missed on a round of breakaways. We were creating chances. It's disappointing. I thought we played well enough at least to get a point.''

Beasts of the East -- Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas admitted he didn't know what to expect from his club during training camp. Four months and 73 points later, the Bruins are tied with the San Jose Sharks atop the NHL standings.

''When you're in camp you don't know exactly what you got,'' said Thomas, who finished with 31 saves in Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win at Toronto. ''I could have believed it after the first 10 games, but any time before that, if I was a betting man, I would have bet against it.''

He would have lost. Thomas once again is headed to the All-Star Game to represent a team that appears primed to do big things in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Wednesday, the Bruins accomplished the one thing that had eluded them this season -- they finally rallied to a victory when trailing after two periods (1-6-2).

''No, I didn't know (it was coming),'' Thomas said of the comeback. ''The only thing that was in the back of my mind was how well we've responded to almost every situation this year.''

A night to remember -- Dallas Stars forward Mike Ribeiro entered the 2008-09 season with 11 multi-goal games, but zero hat tricks.

That changed Wednesday night.

Ribeiro accomplished the feat in dramatic fashion, too, as his three tallies came in consecutive fashion. He completed the natural hat trick with an empty-net goal, sealing the Stars' 4-1 win at Florida.

''This is my first one,'' said Ribeiro, who is in his ninth NHL season. ''I've had a lot of two goals in the first period and couldn't finish ever. It's a tough thing. I'll take it. Even at the end, when I threw the puck in, I thought it was going to bounce at the side of the net.''

Given everything the Stars have been through this campaign -- from Brenden Morrow's season-ending injury to the Sean Avery fiasco -- coach Dave Tippett believes the All-Star break will serve his team well.

''You can grasp momentum because we're going into the break, the timing of it is good,'' Tippett said. ''But it's more about building the belief system in your team that if you do the extra things that allow you to win it enhances your chances. That's what we did in the second and third periods; that was a tale of two games.''

Learning Quick-ly
-- When the final horn sounded Wednesday night, Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray was confident his team's 6-5 win at Colorado was a game rookie goaltender Jonathan Quick could learn from.

The Kings held a 6-2 lead but were forced to hang on for the victory. Colorado's rally began when Quick turned the puck over to Brian Willsie, who converted for his first goal of the season.

''It's a great game for a rookie goaltender to deal with what's going on -- the emotion in the game, the opposing team jamming the net and whacking away at him,'' Murray said. ''He'll grow from this.''

Quick handled himself the right way afterward. He also made several key saves when the score was 6-5 to preserve the Kings' second straight win.

''It would have been a pretty nice assist if the guy was on my team,'' Quick said of Willsie's goal. ''Unfortunately, he wasn't. he made a nice play and nice shot. The team bounced back. They responded after they scored that fifth goal and they played great defensively. That kind of took a little bit of pressure off me.''

That's hip -- After missing five games with a hip injury, Todd Bertuzzi returned in a big way.

The Calgary Flames' power forward scored in the third round of the shootout to lead his team to a dramatic 5-4 victory against the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets at Pengrowth Saddledome. Knowing full well the Flames are in a dogfight in the Northwest Division, Bertuzzi was aching to get back on the ice.

"I was excited," Bertuzzi said after the win. "It's tough being away from the game, especially with this group. What a terrific group we have here. Every time we're down here, we have fun. It's very enjoyable, and when you're missing that, it's not a lot of fun. I felt pretty good tonight, and it was nice to get the win."

Not known for his stickhandling abilities, Bertuzzi went with his instinct to beat rookie Steve Mason in the breakaway competition.

"It's about being creative," Bertuzzi said. "I'm not a shooter to begin with, so I try to be as creative as I can. I tried to take a backhand (shot), and roofed it on the other side. We battled back and we were fortunate to get the two points."

Contact Brian Compton at bcompton@nhl.com.

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




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