Secret weapon -- There's something about playing at Joe Louis Arena that makes Jordan Leopold go from mild-mannered defenseman to scoring sensation.
Leopold's goal in the fifth round of the shootout secured the Colorado Avalanche two points and a wild 6-5 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon. It made sense for coach Tony Granato to look his way, given Leopold had converted on his first career penalty shot to pace a 3-2 victory on Dec. 15 in Detroit.
"Leo is one of the guys we've had in our back pocket for quite a while as the fourth or fifth shooter," Granato said. "He had a penalty-shot goal the last time we were in here and he's good in practice in those situations. We told him to be ready to be one of the extra shooters. He made a nice shot."
Leopold has six goals this season and 28 in 329 career games with Colorado and Calgary.
Five different players scored for the Avalanche during regulation to help offset two goals apiece by Dan Cleary and Marian Hossa of the Red Wings. Although still last in the Northwest Division and seven points out of a Western Conference playoff berth, Colorado has won three straight over Central-leading Detroit.
"Maybe they play a little too wide-open against us. I'm not sure," Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote said.
Troubled times -- Five straight wins to start the season and a 10-2-1 record in October had the New York Rangers atop the Eastern Conference. These days, they're struggling just to hang onto a playoff spot.
Only five points separated the Rangers from ninth-place Carolina at the end of play Sunday after the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Blueshirts 5-2 in a matinee at Madison Square Garden and the Hurricanes shut out the Sabres hours later.
"Losing is no fun. Each and every night it kills you and it eats at all of us," said captain Chris Drury. "We have to find a way to get wins."
Mired in a 1-5-2 skid, New York now trails New Jersey by 11 points in the Atlantic Division and has also seen Philadelphia pass by into second. The home fans are growing restless, and spent part of Sunday's game chanting for the ousters of coach Tom Renney and General Manager Glen Sather.
"I take full responsibility for where this team is right now," Renney said. "My job is to correct this, get us winning, get us feeling better about ourselves, getting a solution. It's as simple as that.
"It's not any one thing. It's going to have to be a collective effort. We have to come back to what makes us a good team."Any way you want it -- Defense may still be their forte, but the New Jersey Devils aren't a one-dimensional team these days. Exhibit A: Sunday afternoon's back-and-forth, 6-5 win over the San Jose Sharks at the Prudential Center.
The Devils struck for three power-play goals in the third period to defeat the top team in the Western Conference. On the heels of Friday night's 1-0 win over Boston, the cream of the crop in the East, it showed the Atlantic Division leaders can be successful playing more than one style of hockey.
"I think it's important that you battle against teams like Boston and San Jose, and win games for various reasons," forward John Madden said. "One being they are the elite teams in the League and everybody measures themselves by them. But also it boosts our confidence so we know we're in the right position to move forward."
Coming off back-to-back shutouts, Scott Clemmensen ran his scoreless streak to nearly 150 minutes before Rob Blake ended it less than five minutes into the first period. San Jose would strike four more times, but New Jersey's offense picked up its goalie by outscoring the second-best offense in the West.
"This shows the versatility and the confidence level that this team has in each other," Clemmensen said. "It also shows we can adapt and respond to adversity. These are all character building blocks we have in place that show how we get wins against different teams, different styles, no matter what."
Back in the spotlight -- It's hard to believe anyone could ever forget about Alex Ovechkin, but the Washington Capitals superstar actually took a bit of a back seat over the past several days as teammate Mike Green broke the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman.
Green's streak was snapped at eight Sunday by the Florida Panthers, but the Capitals still got the two points thanks to -- guess who? -- Ovechkin. All he did was record a hat trick, including the go-ahead goal with 2:31 remaining to spoil the hopes of the BankAtlantic Center faithful.
"I tried to use my speed just a little, use my body and after that I just tried to shoot the puck and it was in," Ovechkin said in describing how he used Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester as a screen and shot between his legs to beat goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Ovechkin, who had opened the scoring with a power-play goal late in the first period, capped it as well with an empty-netter to complete his third hat trick of the season and the eighth of his career.
"Arguably the best player in the game made some big-time plays," coach Pete DeBoer said after the Panthers dropped to 12-4-3 since the start of the new year. "That's what beat us."
Wake-up call -- Not only had they just dropped consecutive home games by a combined 10-1 score, the Carolina Hurricanes were watching the top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff race start to gain some separation from them. One of those teams, the Buffalo Sabres, was on the schedule Sunday and nothing short of a win was acceptable.
Cam Ward and Eric Staal made sure the Hurricanes got it with top-notch efforts. Ward stopped all 36 shots he faced while Staal scored the game-winning goal and added a pair of assists in a 3-0 win at HSBC Arena.
"The bottom line is we had to respond," Staal said. "Any time you have embarrassing home losses, you remember that. And I thought everybody did tonight and responded well."
Staal lit the lamp on a power play 9:20 into the first period and Chad LaRose scored 4:30 later. The two-goal advantage stood until late into the third, when Sergei Samsonov added some insurance with 2:12 remaining. Ward did the rest and Carolina drew to within three points of Buffalo and Florida, which are tied for the last two playoff spots.
"The guys were skating extremely hard and it seemed like we had the jump on them everywhere," Ward said. "It was huge."
Role reversal -- One team is right in the middle of the playoff hunt. The other is fighting to stay out of the basement in the overall League standings. On Sunday night you would have had trouble telling which was which.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a hat trick and the Atlanta Thrashers' offense was clicking on all cylinders in an 8-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Only the Islanders have fewer points than the Thrashers, but it hardly looked that way as they opened up a four-game road trip in solid fashion.
LEFT WING - ATL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 4
SOG: 6 | +/-: +1
The Ducks had won two straight, but these days that hardly guarantees anything. After getting doubled up on home ice, they found themselves in a three-way tie with Dallas and Columbus for the final three playoff berths, just one point ahead of ninth-place Edmonton.
''We shot ourselves in the foot,'' center Ryan Getzlaf said. ''We've got to go back to work. Every bounce ended up on their stick. We're a team that prides itself on not giving up so many shots. We didn't respond the way we needed.''
Working their magic -- Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have been scoring goals and setting them up on the same line for the Vancouver Canucks for years. Their new linemate, Alex Burrows, is perfectly fine with being the third wheel when it comes to The Sedin Show.
''They're awesome players. They're going to make plays all the time. So, for me, I got to keep giving them the puck,'' said Burrows, who assisted on a goal by each twin as the Canucks doubled up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Sunday at General Motors Place. ''They are easy to play with for me. It's just getting them the puck and go to the net and bring some guys with me to open some space for them.''
Daniel Sedin got the scoring started midway through the first period with his 24th goal of the season. Henrik Sedin had what proved to be the game-winner in the final minute of the second. For the season, Daniel now has 55 points and Henrik has 51, the top two totals on the Canucks.
''We played really good defensively and created a lot of scoring chances too,'' Henrik said. ''I thought we played solid, turned the puck over a lot of times and had a lot of 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s. We could have scored a lot more.''
Material from wire services was used in this report.