Jonathan Cheechoo's shootout goal lifted the struggling Sharks to a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, moving them within one point of Detroit for the top spot in the overall standings. Cheechoo, who hasn't scored in regulation in 13 games and took a penalty that led to the deciding goal in Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Phoenix, beat Pekka Rinne with a backhander for his second shootout winner in six days.
"I've got some chances, but I've been getting chances for a while now, so I've got to start putting them in," said Cheechoo, who read rookie goalie Pekka Rinne's movement and picked a spot for his high backhand. "I'm happy with the way we played. We've just got to keep moving forward, keep building on this."
Following a 4-3 loss at Phoenix on Tuesday, the Sharks eschewed a full practice on Wednesday in favor of a 90-minute team meeting that included the entire hockey department. McLellan downplayed the importance of the meeting, but the Sharks looked much more like the team that threatened to run away from the League earlier in the season.
"You guys and this 90-minute team meeting," he said during his postgame media conference. "If we go bowling tomorrow for 90 minutes, you guys will be talking about it."
In a more serious vein, he added: "It was a good effort. It was reminiscent of the last two periods in Phoenix, so that's five good ones in a row. I'm particularly happy for Cheech, that he could come out and get the winner in the shootout. He took the penalty in Phoenix, so it was nice to see him recover."
McLellan put Cheechoo back on a line with Joe Thornton, and the move had the desired effect.
"Cheech had a spark in him that we've seen throughout the year, but not on a consistent basis," McLellan said. "It makes me excited to come to the rink tomorrow and put him back on that line (with Thornton and Patrick Marleau), because he's earned it."
The single point gives the Predators 77, the same as Edmonton, though the Oilers are seventh in the West because they've played fewer games. Nashville has a three-point lead over Minnesota, Anaheim and Dallas after getting six points in its four-game Western trip.
"I thought we played pretty well, and I thought they played pretty well," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Both teams played with pretty good intensity, we had to go to shootout, and anything can happen.
"We battled real hard against these guys – we played last night – and we’ll take the point. It was a well-deserved point."
All four of the goals scored in regulation came late in the first period, before the goalies took over. Nashville went up 2-1 at 18:04 when Joe Pavelski's turnover at the Nashville blue line gave a breakaway to Vernon Fiddler, who beat Nabokov for his 10th goal of the season. Milan Michalek tied it with 3.1 seconds left in the period, banging home his 20th goal on a rebound after sustained pressure in the Nashville zone.
Both teams had plenty of chances the rest of the way, but were unable to score. Nabokov sent the game into overtime by stopping David Legwand's breakaway in the final seconds of regulation.
"Legwand had the breakaway and got the puck off the rebound and shot it out the back door, sort of," Trotz said. "If we'd scored there, you never know."
The Oilers enjoyed a rare offensive bonanza in Denver, as Sam Gagner scored three times and added an assist to help Edmonton move into seventh in the West.
Edmonton led 2-1 late in the second period before goals by Fernando Pisani and Gagner in a 64-second span made it a three-goal game. The Oilers then blew it open by scoring four times in just under eight minutes in the third period, capped by Gagner's third of the night with 2:40 to play.
"The second period could have gone either way and we ended up getting a couple in the second to go up 4-1," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "They had a pretty good push at the end of the second period that we withstood. It looked like we loosened up in the third, offensively."
After Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau opened the scoring 4:02 into the game, Cody McLeod tied it at 6:28 for Colorado. Shawn Horcoff's power-play goal at 9:38 of the opening period put the Oilers ahead to stay.
"We played pretty smart when we got the lead," MacTavish said. "We have been guilty at times of not managing the situation and not managing the score. But tonight we played pretty unselfish and simple hockey that normally leads to some offense."
It was the first career hat trick for Gagner, the Oilers' first pick in the 2007 Entry Draft.
"It’s a pretty good feeling," he said. "Obviously a pretty big celebration for me. You never want to do that in an 8-1 game, but those are hard to come by in this League. It's a great feeling, especially when it comes to the win.”
The Avs moved closer to being eliminated from playoff contention for only the second time in 13 seasons since moving from Quebec to Colorado. With 10 games left, they are 12 points out of playoff contention.
"I’m embarrassed by the way I played," Colorado forward Ian Laperriere said. "I hope a bunch of guys are embarrassed too. That was ugly."
Avalanche coach Tony Granato was not about to use injuries as an excuse for the worst performance of the season.
"From the drop of the puck all the way through the last second of the game, we didn't play well," he said. "We had a lot of passengers tonight."
For the second consecutive night, the Ducks nearly gave the game away by allowing a late goal in regulation, only to go home with two points. One night after Teemu Selanne gave them an overtime win, Bobby Ryan scored in the sixth round of the shootout to keep the Ducks in the playoff hunt in the West.
Anaheim and Minnesota now have 74 points -- three behind Edmonton and Nashville, which hold the last two playoff berths.
"We were sure lucky about those two points," goalie Jonas Hiller said. "It wasn't pretty, but those are the kinds of things we need right now, just find a way to win."
"I think it's best not to go down having a move in your mind because then if he doesn't react well, you're in trouble," Ryan said, "so I just freelanced it."
As they had been on Wednesday, the Ducks were less than three minutes away from a regulation victory before allowing the tying goal. This time, Lombardi took a cross-crease pass from Scottie Upshall and tucked the puck inside the right post with 2:31 left.
"Every missed check or every bounce of the puck can have a huge effect on the outcome," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "That's what's so difficult for everybody involved in the game when you're in the stretch and you're in the situation we're in."
The Ducks scored just 3:05 into the game on a goal by Drew Miller, who was called up from Iowa of the AHL earlier in the day. But Phoenix dominated the rest of the first period and tied the game at 1-1 when Zbynek Michalek took a pass from Mikkel Boedker and ripped a slap shot past Hiller at 7:57.
Petteri Nokelainen was credited with the goal that put Anaheim ahead 7:01 into the third. He skidded into the net just as the puck was passed in front of the net by Todd Marchant, and Coyote forward Kyle Turris accidentally deflected the puck into his own net. The Coyotes wanted a goaltender interference call, but after an official review, the goal stood.
"We didn't feel it was a penalty," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said, "but we did feel the player did interfere with the goaltender. But it's such a fast-paced game. Sometimes that's going to happen."
Aside from the result, Gretzky had no complaints with his team.
"I thought we had a really solid game," he said.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, their next six games are on the road. Vancouver extended the longest home winning streak in franchise history to 11 games as Roberto Luongo stopped 30 shots for his first shutout in four months.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault credited the Vancouver media for his goalie's performance.
"You guys should be the first star," Vigneault chuckled after a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues. "You (ticked) him off, and look how well he played."
GOALTENDER - VAN
SHOTS: 30 | SAVES: 30
SAVE PCT: 1.000 | GAA: 0.00
Though the Canucks were badly outplayed for most of the first two periods, Luongo kept the Blues off the board until Alex Burrows put Vancouver ahead at 14:54 of the second period. Mason Raymond and Henrik Sedin scored 1:56 apart midway through the third as the Canucks moved past Chicago into fourth place in the West with their fourth consecutive victory. They are 16-3-1 since Feb. 1.
It was Luongo's sixth shutout of the season but first since Nov. 8 -- a week before the groin injury that forced him to miss almost two months.
"It's nice to not have to play on top of my head every night to get a win, but sometimes you've got to do it," Luongo said. "We maybe didn't have our legs early and I had to make a couple of saves, but once we got our first goal we got going."
For Luongo, moving up the standings was more important than posting his 44th career shutout, fifth among active NHL goaltenders.
"There's more important things we've got to worry about, trying to get home ice and catch teams ahead of us," Luongo said. "That's all that matters."
The loss was a damaging one for the Blues, who got back into the playoff picture with a 13-5-5 run after the All-Star break but have lost three of their last four -- including a 2-1 shootout loss in Edmonton on Tuesday night. They fell to four points out of the last playoff berth in the West.
The Blues also lost forward Keith Tkachuk to a wrist injury early in the third period. Tkachuk, third on the team with 21 goals, was hit by Mattias Ohlund's slap shot, went straight to the locker room and did not return.
Blues coach Andy Murray didn't have an update on Tkachuk after the game, but wasn't worried after seeing his team overcome key injuries all season.
"We've dealt with adversity all year and players in and out of the lineup," Murray said. "Obviously (Tkachuk) is a big part of our team and whenever you lose a guy like that it hurts. But we're used to it and continued to play hard."
Vancouver didn't have a second-period shot until more than 11 minutes had elapsed and was being outshot 18-4 at that point. Luongo kept the game scoreless by stopping Patrik Berglund on a 2-on-1 and foiling David Perron on the rebound.
"It wasn't that Vancouver gave us anything, we went out and earned it the first 30 minutes but failed to score on our opportunities and to me that's the tale of the game," Murray said. "Failed opportunities in the first half cost us."
Burrows opened the scoring by knocking down Sedin's pass and snapping a wrist shot under Chris Mason's blocker for his eighth goal in nine games and career-high 23rd of the season.
Raymond doubled the lead with his first goal in 27 games at 8:33 of the third period, And Henrik Sedin converted a feed from twin brother Daniel for an insurance goal.
"It feels like my first NHL goal all over again," Raymond said about his 10th goal of the season. "It's been a battle and struggle here for quite a while."
Los Angeles is on the periphery of the playoff race in the West. But the Kings won't go away -- as the Bruins found out when L.A. rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the final 10:10 of regulation before Dustin Brown scored with 35 seconds in overtime for the win.
The Kings, 13th in the West, now have 70 points after winning the opener of a six-game road trip.
"It's a huge win for us," Brown said. "We've shown we could come back many times this year and this is just another one, but it just happened to be against one of the better teams in the League."
That hasn't been true in recent weeks, though. While the Bruins did become the first team in the East to reach the 100-point mark for the season, they fell to 6-9-4 in their last 19 games after going 39-8-6 in their first 53.
"We're going to have to start outworking other teams from start to finish like we were earlier in the season," Boston coach Claude Julien said, "and your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it."
That looked like it would be more than enough as the clock ticked along in the third period, but the Kings got some life when Aaron Ward took a hooking penalty at the 8-minute mark. The power play had almost expired when Michal Handzus picked up a rebound at the left post and backhanded it into a wide-open net at 9:50.
"We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them," Boston goalie Tim Thomas said.
The Kings tied it on rookie defenseman Drew Doughty's fifth goal. Wayne Simmonds' shot from just in front of Thomas hit the post to the goalie's left and ricocheted to Doughty, who drove to the net and knocked in the rebound before being flattened.
"It's definitely special," Doughty said. "They're the best team in the Eastern Conference. To be able to play with them like that and outshoot them and end up winning the game in overtime just gives us a lot of confidence."
Brown won it when he cashed in a rebound after Thomas stopped Sean O'Donnell's wide-open shot to keep the Kings' flickering playoff hopes alive.
"To start this off with a win in Boston," coach Terry Murray said, "was very important to have that kind of feeling and build some momentum here at the start for the rest of the trip.
"We weren't in awe of the Boston Bruins. We know they're a great team but we know we have to go out and play the game, so playing with composure and playing the right way was what was talked about at the start."
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report