Hard work pays off -- It didn't look good for a while, but somehow, some way, the Vancouver Canucks are atop the Northwest Division with six games remaining in the regular season.
The Canucks moved ahead of the Calgary Flames for the division lead, thanks to Henrik Sedin's goal with a minute remaining in overtime Tuesday night in a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.
''Back in January not many people thought we'd be in the spot we are, but we've worked hard for where we are,'' said Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves and reached the 30-win plateau for the fourth straight season. ''We need to make sure here in the last few games that we keep pushing and try to get that third seed.''
As solid as Luongo has been since returning from a serious groin injury, he is not the sole reason for Vancouver's resurgence. Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been sensational, as the pair, along with linemate Alex Burrows, have combined for 19 goals and 41 points in the last 11 games.
''The twins this past month when we've had 15 games to play have been our top production guys,'' Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ''They've done it in pressure moments, and that's good for us with the playoffs around the corner."
If Vancouver keeps it up, the playoffs will feature home-ice advantage at the start. A couple of months ago, that was nothing more than a pipe dream.
"Now we're in charge of our own destiny,'' forward Ryan Kesler said. ''The division is up to us to have now. It's not up to whether Calgary wins or loses. It's been a long time since we've had a hold of it.''
But that doesn't mean Manny Fernandez can sit back with his feet up.
With just a handful of games remaining in the regular season, Fernandez brought his "A" game, making 24 saves in Boston's 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Banknorth Garden. Boston could clinch home-ice advantage through the conference finals as early as Thursday night if both Washington and New Jersey lose Wednesday. The Capitals host the Islanders, while the Devils visit Pittsburgh.
''Guys have got to feel confident, no matter what happens, that another goalie can help them win,'' Fernandez said after leading Boston to its fourth straight victory. ''I've got to make sure my game is there whenever I come in.''
Fernandez had lost five straight before eking out a 7-5 victory against Toronto on Saturday. He was much sharper Tuesday night, as he denied the Lightning on a first-period five-on-three to protect a 1-0 lead en route to his second win since Jan. 8.
''He looks a lot more confident, a lot more poised,'' Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ''It's important to have your backup goaltender ready for anything if called upon. It's only fair to our team, to make sure he's as sharp as he can be. We're getting ready for that.''
Stayin' alive -- The Anaheim Ducks picked a heck of a time to play their best hockey of the season.
Scott Niedermayer had a goal and 2 assists and Jonas Hiller made 28 saves as Anaheim earned a 5-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. The Ducks, who have won seven of their last eight games, share the last two Western Conference playoff berths with the Nashville Predators -- both have 84 points.
"We were not in the playoff picture for a while," Niedermayer said. "We're just kind of focusing on playing well right now. We're just putting everything else aside, forgetting about the standings and things like that. Forget about who's doing what and just plugging away, and that's what we have to keep doing."
The Oilers were doomed late in the game, when coach Craig MacTavish accused Teemu Selanne of using an illegal stick. The move did not pay off, and Edmonton -- which was trailing by a goal -- was nailed for a bench minor. Rob Niedermayer secured the victory with an empty-net tally.
"You better be 100 per cent sure," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "The curve is really something you can't call any more because it's three-quarters of an inch and it's a big curve. Teemu is right on the edge. We make sure, and its part of our trainers' responsibility that he plays with a legal stick."
MacTavish, whose team is now three points behind Anaheim and Nashville, only could blame himself afterward.
"We had what we thought was some reliable information," he said. "On a visual it didn't even look close to me. I was so sure that I made the call and it was obviously a terrible mistake. You have to be sure and I thought I had enough information so it's a terrible feeling. It sabotaged what was looking like was going to be a heck of a comeback."
Lucky charm -- A note to Western Conference playoff teams: If Raffi Torres scores, you're in deep trouble.
With the victory, the Blue Jackets improved to 11-0 when Torres scores.
''To be honest with you, I think it's a fluke,'' Torres said with a chuckle. ''I didn't even know about it. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully we'll keep going.''
One person who was not surprised to see Torres score such a timely goal was Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock. Torres beat Pekka Rinne 4:05 into the third, as he backhanded Michael Peca's rebound past the Nashville goaltender for his 12th goal of the season. Torres has 4 goals in his last six games.
''He scores big goals all the time,'' Hitchcock said. ''He's had a huge impact on a lot of games in the last month.''
''I saw Peca coming to pick it up, two-on-one,'' Torres said. ''I knew he wasn't going to be able to pass it; their defenseman did a good job of taking the pass away. I just went to the net with my stick on the ice. It worked out perfect.''
I miss you, man -- Carey Price was just a rookie last season, so he needed someone to rely on whenever he had questions about the life of a professional athlete.
Cristobal Huet was that someone.
On Feb. 26, 2008, however, the Montreal Canadiens shipped Huet to the Washington Capitals, knowing Huet was going somewhere else once the free agency period opened July 1. For Price, it was the rookie's first real look at the business side of things.
''It was a pretty sad day for me when he got traded,'' Price said. ''He was like an older brother to me.''
Just over a year later, Price found himself sharing the same sheet of ice with Huet, now a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Price bested his former teacher, making 28 saves in Montreal's 4-1 win at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
Price probably could have used Huet in the locker room this season, one that has been tough on the sophomore. But Price has played better recently, as he is 3-0-1 in his last four games. It's a main reason why the Canadiens still are in the playoff picture.
Still, he misses his former teammate.
''He was always that guy that I could look up to,'' said Price, who went 24-12-3 last season as a 20-year-old rookie. ''He was always there for advice, and if I was going through a rough time, he was there to help me out of it. He was everything I needed out of a partner and a veteran guy.''
A different look -- After losing three straight games and with his team on life support, Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer decided it was time to replace goaltender Tomas Vokoun with Craig Anderson.
Just like that, the Panthers are in the thick of things.
Anderson made 30 saves and the Panthers' power play scored two goals in a 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators at the BankAtlantic Center on Tuesday night. The loss officially eliminated the Senators from the playoffs.
''He's been great over the past three games,'' Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe said of Anderson. ''Given us an opportunity to win every night. Even when we've had slow starts, he's shut the door.''
Anderson did a tremendous job in the third period as he stopped 12 of 13 shots to protect Florida's lead. Chris Campoli's 10th goal of the season was Anderson's lone blemish in the final 20 minutes.
"I thought Andy did a great job shutting the door for us in the third period," DeBoer said. "They came at us with everything in the third with nothing to lose. Those are tough situations to handle as a team, and your goaltender has to shut the door. He did that for us. Tonight he was right on and he allowed us to regain our composure in the third period."
As for Anderson, the "backup" goalie is thankful for receiving a chance to keep the Panthers in the postseason mix.
"It's been a great opportunity," he said. "The guys are rising to the occasion. They're getting some big goals and I'm stopping the puck."
The 29-year-old defenseman made his Stars debut Monday with 2 assists at Phoenix, then got to play in his home town Tuesday. He saw 18:59 of ice time in the Stars' 3-2 victory against the Kings, the team he grew up watching as a youngster.
For Stafford, who's spent most of his six pro seasons in the AHL, getting to play in his hometown against the team he grew up watching was a dream come true."
"My parents and my sister still live here," said Stafford, who played two games with Detroit last season and signed with the Stars organization as a free agent in the summer. "It's really surreal. It's something you dream about your whole life. For it to actually come true, you have to pinch yourself -- it's not a dream; it's really happening."
Contact Brian Compton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.