A few thoughts as we prepare for a long and exciting day of hockey -- 11 NHL games plus NCAA tournament action:
A heartwarming comeback -- Alex Ovechkin was at it again Friday night, picking up a pair of goals to give him 53 on the season. However, the superstar had to share the spotlight with a teammate who is now only 52 behind him in the rearview mirror -- and is thankful just to be back in the NHL.
Brian Pothier scored the go-ahead goal 4:30 into the third period as the Washington Capitals held off the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 5-3 win at the Verizon Center. Pothier hadn't scored since the 2007-08 season, which ended when he was checked into the boards in a game against the Bruins and sustained a concussion that nearly ended his career.
"It's been a while and really feels good," said Pothier, who was playing only his fourth game since returning. "I had to hold back the emotion a little bit, but I feel like I'm contributing. To put one in and an important goal was pretty special."
Ovechkin's first goal helped the Capitals build a 3-1 lead, but the Lightning rallied to tie. Pothier's goal came just 1:31 after Vaclav Prospal had evened the score and marked the culmination of a long journey back, according to coach Bruce Boudreau.
"You just think of the mountain the man had to climb. If you guys knew the days he came in -- he couldn't even focus, and he just sat there and he'd bring his kids in and he'd walk around and he'd leave," Boudreau said. "He practiced for two straight months without getting cleared, and he worked so hard, and to see a little bit of success happen to him tonight was really uplifting."
Can 'Miller Time' save Sabres? -- They certainly have their work cut out for them, but the Buffalo Sabres remain alive in the hunt to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and now they have their starting goaltender back.
Ryan Miller returned after missing 13 games with a sprained ankle and stopped 33 shots to spark a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena. The Sabres remained 10th in the Eastern Conference but climbed to within five points of eighth-place Montreal with eight games remaining for both teams.
"You have to win every game," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. "For us, every game's big. You have to play really smart, win the battles and keep it simple, especially in the beginning."
It may be do-or-die time for Buffalo, which travels to Montreal on Saturday night for a game that could see the Sabres cut their deficit down to three points -- or leave town a distant seven points back.
"Miller will play," Ruff said. "I don't think there's any secret there."
Despite the time missed, Miller still ranks in the top 10 among goaltenders in wins (30), shutouts (5) and save percentage (.918). He was happy to finally test the ankle out in a game and reported no problems at the end of the night.
"It felt pretty good throughout the whole night," Miller said. "I'll throw some ice on it tonight, see how it feels and go back at it."
Back where he started -- Joey MacDonald started his NHL career with a brief and undistinguished stint playing for the Detroit Red Wings, going 1-5-1 in eight games two seasons ago.
When he returned to Joe Louis Arena on Friday with the New York Islanders, the goaltender put on a show against his former team. MacDonald faced 42 shots and stopped them all to record his first career shutout -- against the defending Stanley Cup champions, no less.
"That was one of the best games by a goalie I've ever seen," said rookie Josh Bailey, who along with Frans Nielsen scored in the second period. "He won the game for us."
MacDonald's best stop was a diving glove save on what looked like a sure goal by Mikael Samuelsson during a Detroit power play in the second period. His team responded to the stop by coming back and getting a shorthanded goal by Nielsen to open the scoring.
"It's pretty exciting," said MacDonald, who was making his first appearance since March 10 due to a minor knee injury that had sidelined him briefly. "No better thing than to get your first shutout in the building of the team you used to play for."
A little payback -- It's safe to say the Chicago Blackhawks didn't have many fans in the hockey world other than their own rooting for them when they faced the New Jersey Devils on Mar. 17 in a game where Martin Brodeur had the opportunity to set the all-time wins record for a goaltender.
The Devils held off the Blackhawks for a 3-2 win that night at the Prudential Center, but 10 days later the teams met again on Chicago's home ice. And thanks to Brent Seabrook's goal off a screened shot with 1:24 left in overtime, the Hawks won at the United Center by that same 3-2 score.
"It was huge," Seabrook said. "We needed these points. Vancouver is looking at it the same way."
The earlier loss to New Jersey was part of a five-game losing streak that temporarily dropped Chicago out of fourth place in the race for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. With Friday night's win, the Blackhawks maintained a two-point lead over the Canucks, who hold a game in hand. The teams meet in Chicago on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Devils earned one point and trail the Capitals by one for second place in the Eastern Conference, though New Jersey has played two fewer games.
"We're not playing as well as we want to, but we've got a lot of games left," Brodeur said. "We've got to start building a little and get focused on what we need to do."
A quick recovery -- Coming off a tough loss in St. Louis the night before, the Vancouver Canucks had little choice but to put the past behind them and gear up for a game against a Colorado Avalanche squad with little to play for but pride.
The Canucks trailed by a goal after the first period, but Henrik Sedin tied the game in the second and Daniel Sedin put them ahead to stay with a power-play score 37 seconds into the third. Pavol Demitra and Alexander Edler added insurance tallies and Vancouver won 4-1 at Pepsi Center to stay two points behind Chicago for fourth.
"The first period was a little bit challenging, guys were trying to find their legs," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Play picked up in the second and we generated a lot of shots and quite a few chances. We got two quick goals at the beginning of the third and did what we had to do to win the game."
Andrew Raycroft started out looking like he might steal two points for Colorado, stopping 25 out of 26 shots over the first two periods. Vancouver eventually wore him down, however, and capitalized for three goals on just eight shots over the final 20 minutes.
"We were taking pucks to the net and taking a lot of shots," Henrik Sedin said. "We thought if we kept shooting like we were and get a few bodies in front we were going to beat him. And we did."
Stealing the show -- All the tools were there for a big victory. The Anaheim Ducks received nine power-play opportunities. They put a team-record 54 shots on goal, including 24 in the third period. And yet they came out of Friday's game with no points.
The masked man who played superhero for the Edmonton Oilers was goaltender Dwayne Roloson. He denied the Ducks time after time with a 51-save performance in a 5-3 win that lifted the Oilers ahead of them and into seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
"It was just unbelievable goaltending," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, who marveled at one particular stop. "That save on (Chris) Pronger was just incredible. Prongs came in and waxed one from the top of the circle and Rollie just got it."
As unbelievably good as Roloson was, his counterpart was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed a pair of goals in a 37-second span early in the first; then, after the Ducks had battled back to a 2-2 tie, he allowed another two just nine seconds apart in the middle period.
"I'm not going to beat myself up about it," Giguere said. "I'm going to go home, and tomorrow's going to be a new day. The guys did everything they could. I'm sure we would have liked to have a better start. After the first two minutes, I thought we controlled the game. But Rollie really kept them in it.
Great day for upsets -- The seeds didn't mean a whole lot when college hockey's NCAA tournament opened Friday in the East and West regionals. The top seeds in both brackets were sent packing early -- Air Force ousted Michigan 2-0 behind a 43-save performance by Andrew Volkening, and Miami of Ohio got off to a fast start en route to a 4-2 win over Denver.
Third-seeded Vermont claimed a 4-1 victory against Yale. The only higher seed on the day to move on did it in dramatic fashion, as Minnesota-Duluth rallied for a pair of extra-attacker goals in the final 40 seconds of regulation and beat Princeton 5-4 on Mike Connolly's power-play score 13:39 into overtime.
Saturday's action will feature the finals in the East and West regionals, as No. 3 Vermont takes on No. 4 Air Force and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth faces No. 4 Miami (Ohio).
Play will also get under way in the Northeast and Midwest regionals: No. 1 Boston University plays No. 4 Ohio State and No. 2 North Dakota challenges No. 3 New Hampshire in the Northeast at Manchester, N.H., while No. 1 Notre Dame goes up against No. 4 Bemidji State and No. 2 Northeastern battles No. 3 Cornell in the Midwest at Grand Rapids, Mich.
Material from wire services was used in this report.