Late-season swoon -- Two seasons ago, Claude Julien lost his job in New Jersey despite having the Devils in first place in the Atlantic Division with three games left in the regular season.
Nobody's suggesting Julien is in any jeopardy this time around, but the Boston Bruins coach realizes his team needs to turn things around as the playoffs approach. The Bruins blew a two-goal lead in the third period Thursday night and fell to the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2, in overtime at TD Banknorth Garden.
At one point the Bruins were 39-8-6 and running away with the Eastern Conference's top seed. Since then, though, they're 6-9-4 and fighting off Washington and New Jersey to hold onto home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.
"We're going to have to start outworking other teams from start to finish like we were earlier in the season," 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."
The playoffs seemed to be slipping away for the Kings as they brought a 3-6-1 mark in their last 10 games into Thursday night, but they might have a final gasp after rallying in Boston. Dustin Brown's goal with 35 seconds left in overtime kept them seven points out of eighth place with 12 games remaining.
"We weren't in awe of the Boston Bruins," coach Terry Murray said. "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."
New coach, same results -- Times have been tough in the Northeast Division, where the Montreal Canadiens are struggling mightily as well. Unlike the Bruins, who are focused on holding onto the No. 1 seed, the Habs are fighting just to make the playoffs.
Jason Spezza scored a pair of first-period goals 52 seconds apart and the resurgent Ottawa Senators went on to a 5-4 victory at Scotiabank Place that dropped Montreal to 1-2-2 since general manager Bob Gainey fired coach Guy Carbonneau and stepped behind the bench himself.
"Our team had been struggling for quite a while and I think the idea of changing the position of the coach was one to attempt to increase our chances in the last 16 games of the season, and I think we can judge how that goes when we finish our final game," Gainey said.
The good news for the Canadiens is they play seven of their final 11 games at home, where they are 21-7-6 this season. But they're in a precarious spot, with ninth-place Florida just one point back.
"We have to stop playing catch-up hockey," said Guillaume Latendresse, who scored a pair of goals against the Senators. The first one put the Canadiens up 1-0 early, but after Spezza's goals they never led again.
Can't please 'em all -- If this had been the National Football League, it's safe to say Alex Ovechkin would have incurred a 15-yard penalty for the show he put on after scoring his 50th goal of the season during the Washington Capitals' 5-2 defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ovechkin, who reached the milestone for the third time in his four NHL seasons, celebrated by dropping his stick to the ice and making motions like he was warming his hands over it. The choreographed "hot stick" move didn't amuse Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, who thought it was disrespectful coming on the St. Pete Times Forum ice.
"I think he's a terrific player (but) he went down a notch in my books after that," Tocchet said. "It's not something I like. It's hard for me to accept, to see something like that in our building."
Even Ovechkin's own coach, Bruce Boudreau, said he planned to have a word with his star player. Teammate Mike Green, who increased his own goal total to 27 with a pair of tallies, could have been part of the act, but respectfully declined.
"He told me he was going to do it," Green said. "He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I'd join in on that. I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does."
Stopping the slide -- Four-game losing streaks are never a welcome thing, but for the Florida Panthers, battling to earn a postseason berth for the first time in nine years, the timing was particularly bad. In the span of eight days they went from climbing to within a few points of fourth place and home ice in the first round to dropping out of the top eight entirely.
Thursday night's 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center didn't lift the Panthers out of ninth in the Eastern Conference, but it did draw them to within a point of Montreal and Carolina, which hold the final two playoff spots. It also was a much-needed boost of confidence.
"We needed a win tonight," Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe said. "We needed to get that monkey off our back. We had a really solid effort tonight. I thought we competed much harder and played the way we needed to play to win."
The opening 20 minutes saw each team score, but the Panthers took control in the second as Richard Zednik and Ville Peltonen beat Leafs goalie Martin Gerber in a span of 1:27 to turn the game around.
"We had chances and we had good puck possession," Gerber said. "In the second period, we just lost the momentum and they were on top of us for a while. We had a tough time getting out of our zone. In the third, we tried everything we could. We had some chances, but we couldn't put it in."
Gagner recorded the first three-goal game of his NHL career and five other players had a goal each as the Oilers blew the Colorado Avalanche clear out of Pepsi Center with an 8-1 victory. The win left them tied with Nashville for the final two Western Conference playoff spots.
"We've been in a few games this year when we've gotten leads and took our foot off the pedal and squandered leads," Gagner said. "That was a big focus for us -- once we got the lead to keep on going. We did a great job of that tonight."
For the Avalanche, the defeat was the franchise's worst since moving from to Denver in a season that will go down as the least successful since the team was called the Quebec Nordiques.
"One word: Ugly," forward Ian Laperriere said. "It's embarrassing. I'm sick to my stomach."
An unintended assist -- Desperate for points, the Anaheim Ducks will accept any help they can get, including from the other team.
CENTER - ANA
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 2 | +/-: 0
"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."
Nokelainen's goal occurred when he skidded into the net just as teammate Todd Marchant sent a pass out in front. Nokelainen blocked off goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Turris inadvertently knocked the puck into his own net. Video review showed Anaheim hadn't kicked it in, and even Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky accepted the final call.
"We didn't feel it was a penalty," 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."
Back in top form -- They were one of the League's coldest teams early in the calendar year, but the Vancouver Canucks have been surging ever since. In Thursday's 3-0 win against the St. Louis Blues at General Motors Place, goalie Roberto Luongo recorded his first shutout since a groin injury sidelined him for nearly two months earlier in the season.
''There's more important things we've got to worry about -- trying to get home ice and catch teams ahead of us,'' Luongo said after posting his sixth shutout of the season and 44th of his career. ''That's all that matters.''
Actually, with the two points they received for blanking the Blues, the Canucks moved past the idle Blackhawks and into fourth place in the Western Conference. Not only that, they're within three points of the Flames for first place in the Northwest Division. Pretty good for a team that lost eight in a row to finish January.
Vancouver also extended its home winning streak to 11 straight, thanks in large part to the stellar play of Luongo, who is 16-2-1 in his last 19 starts.
''He s been one of the reasons we've had success at home,'' said Alex Burrows, who broke a scoreless tie in the second period. ''And tonight he showed everybody that he's the guy and that's what we'll be seeing down the stretch.''
Happy days are here again -- It's scary to consider that as good as the San Jose Sharks have been this season, one of their most potent offensive weapons has been silent for much of the ride.
''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 movements 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.''
San Jose coach Todd McLellan has Cheechoo on a line with playmaker extraordinaire Joe Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau. Thornton was the center when Cheechoo had his career season.
''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, because he's earned it.''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.