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Auld gets last laugh in shootout

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we take a breather from the holiday shopping blitz:

Anything you can do, I can do better -- There wasn't a lot of offense to witness when the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs met at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night. It wasn't an indictment on the lack of scoring chances the two teams generated, but rather a testament to the goaltending ability on display.

Vesa Toskala hasn't been enjoying a particularly impressive season in terms of goals-against average or save percentage, but he put on a Vezina-worthy performance in trying to shake the Leafs from their recent doldrums. Toskala stopped 34 of 35 shots through regulation and overtime.

"That was by far Vesa's best game," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "Concentrating, moving, focused and obviously making saves. They've got some great offensive players and he was ready for the task."

Unfortunately for Toskala and the Leafs, the opposing netminder was just a little better. Alex Auld wasn't quite as busy, making 25 saves through 65 minutes of action, but he was better in the shootout. Auld stopped both Toronto attempts while Ottawa converted two of its three breakaway attempts against Toskala, giving the Senators a 2-1 victory.

"Toskala stood on his head but Auldie's just been rock solid for us," Spezza said. "He hasn't allowed too many goals, his numbers are great, he's playing with a lot of confidence and he seems to be a guy who's really seeing the puck well and playing really well for us right now."

Auld, who was making his seventh straight start, helped the Senators win their second straight and jump one point ahead of the Leafs, who have now lost five in a row, in the Northeast Division standings.

A needed two points -- Ottawa fans were undoubtedly thrilled with Thursday's victory in a game viewed as the "Battle of Ontario," but the bigger picture is that edging Toronto was important just to get the team on something of a modest winning streak. The Senators had lost six consecutive games prior to beating the New York Rangers last Saturday.

One positive before the game against the Leafs even got started was the return of Mike Fisher to the Senators lineup. The forward had missed a pair of games due to a knee injury and wasted little time in celebrating his return, scoring 3:54 into the first to get the home team on the board first.

"It's always nice to come back and contribute a little bit," said Fisher.  "We stayed patient and stuck with it. It's been tough going and getting wins so it's always nice to do that. We've got to keep rolling and try and get on a roll and put something together."

Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson converted shootout attempts to make sure the Senators got two points out of a solid team effort.

"We had been looking for a shootout win," admitted Spezza. "Maybe this is the start of a bit of a streak."

Goalie Alex Auld agreed: "Good for all of us (to win the shootout). Those are big points and when it comes down to it you've got to find a way to get the win."

Distributing the accolades -- Michael Cammalleri's star shone the brightest as the Calgary Flames recorded a Northwest Division road win over the Vancouver Canucks, 4-3 on Thursday night at G.M. Place. But the hat trick hero was just as eager to praise his teammates for their role in the victory.

Cammalleri scored three goals for the first time in the NHL, twice tying the score and then giving the Flames a 3-2 lead. But after the Canucks pulled even, it was a goal by Curtis Glencross off a breakaway with 6:31 left in the third that decided the outcome. Cammalleri was complimentary of the move Glencross made to beat Curtis Sanford.

"The finish was impressive, to go to the backhand like that in that situation, game-winner, third period, on the road," Cammalleri said. "That goal says something about his play."

Another player he was quick to credit was the guy who set up the latter two of his goals, Jarome Iginla. Calgary's captain has been distributing the puck with precision for years, and Cammalleri is glad to be on the receiving end after having to defend against Iginla while a member of the Kings.

"He's one of he best players in the world," Cammalleri said. "He draws so much attention and he showed tonight how underrated his passing is. That second goal was one of the best passes I've had ever. He's amazing to play with."


One that got away -- In the week after Roberto Luongo went down with a groin injury, the Vancouver Canucks have survived pretty well without their franchise goaltender. Backup Curtis Sanford stepped in to record three straight wins, including one in overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, and posted a 1.69 goals-against average during that stretch.

The Canucks opened up a five-point lead in the Northwest but saw that total shrink to three with the Flames' win on Thursday. Sanford was solved four times by Calgary, but he'll get an opportunity for payback when the two teams conclude their home-and-home Saturday in Alberta.
"We gave them a couple bang-bang plays that we haven't been giving up, but it would have been nice to make a couple saves for the guys there," said Sanford, who made 29 saves. "We're going to have to make sure we bring a better game on Saturday."
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault pointed to little things his team could have done better -- such as converting a 5-on-3 that lasted nearly a full minute during the second period. The Canucks were up 2-1 at the time and a two-goal lead could have led to a much different outcome.

"That was one of the turning points," Vigneault said. "We had an opportunity to make it 3-1 and our execution was off. They did a good job of killing that penalty. The good thing about this is we get an opportunity to get right back at it Saturday night. It's our first loss in quite some time."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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