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Avery at his best as Rangers dump Flyers

by Brian Hunter
Something about wearing the sweater of the New York Rangers seems to bring out the best in Sean Avery.

After a three-month stretch that saw him temporarily jettisoned from the NHL and permanently banished from Dallas despite signing a four-year contract last summer, the mercurial forward has settled back in on Broadway and picked up right where he left off.

Avery continued his recent goal-scoring groove with a pair of power-play tallies Sunday afternoon and the Rangers made the Philadelphia Flyers pay for repeated trips to the penalty box with a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden to split a weekend home-and-home series.

A match penalty to Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn near the end of the second period put the Rangers on a lengthy power play to begin the third, and Avery beat Antero Niittymaki at the 2:45 mark for a 3-1 lead. It marked the first time in his career he had two power-play goals in a game and gave him four goals in his last three games.

"The first couple of games I was just so nervous, kind of playing a little too hard," said Avery, who returned to the Rangers on March 5 and had one assist in his first three games. "I'm just trying to slow it down, think about the plays and where they're going to end up.

"I feel good as far as just being happy that I'm out playing, and trying to play hard and help the team win. I've gotten some good bounces and I've gotten some good passes. It's tough to explain. Obviously, the team playing better is something that helps a lot."

Nik Antropov also had a power-play goal for the Rangers and Fredrik Sjostrom capped the scoring midway through the third. Henrik Lundqvist turned in a strong effort with 24 saves, but there was no question Avery grabbed the headlines.

"He gets the puck, and five guys on their team want to kill him," linemate Scott Gomez said.

Discipline was indeed a problem for the Flyers, who briefly tied the game in the second on a power-play goal by Simon Gagne. They took seven minor penalties as well as Coburn's penalty for hitting Antropov in the head with his stick near center ice after the two had jostled earlier.

"It was retaliation," Coburn said. "I was kind of protecting myself. I thought he was going to come at me again."
In addition to his two goals, Avery also drew a hooking penalty on Jeff Carter in the first period and a charging call on Andrew Alberts in the third.

"His probation period is over and now he's back to his old antics and we got sucked in," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He obviously had a game plan. Give him credit. That's what he does best."

Antropov put New York ahead to stay 8:27 into the second, snapping a shot from the right circle that went in off the post. Avery extended the lead early in the third when he converted off a loose puck in front, and Sjostrom provided a three-goal cushion with 9:49 remaining by scoring off a wraparound for the only even-strength goal of the game.

John Tortorella improved to 5-3-1 since taking over as Rangers coach, in the process tying Peter Laviolette -- fired earlier this year by Carolina -- for first all-time in victories by a U.S.-born coach with 244.

The teams skated scoreless in the opening period until Avery's goal with two minutes left. He tipped a Derek Morris shot under the crossbar and responded with his trademark celebration, pumping his arms while gliding along the ice.

"He's very underrated as a player," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "He's skilled and people are starting to realize how good he is besides all the other stuff.

"Rather than booing us they're chanting 'Avery.' I'll take that any game."

Gagne beat Lundqvist at 4:32 of the second with Sjostrom in the box for slashing. But the Flyers couldn't finish what they started with a 4-2 win in Philadelphia on Saturday, a game in which Martin Biron stopped 39 shots. Niittymaki finished with 35 saves Sunday.

"It's an emotional game every time we play the Rangers," Coburn said. "We were trying to match their intensity and they were trying to match ours."

Islanders 4, Blackhawks 2 | Video

Less than a year ago Peter Mannino was just another undrafted free agent, looking to embark on a professional hockey career. On Sunday afternoon he became the latest surprise star in net for the Isles.

Mannino stopped 40 shots in his first NHL start and defenseman Mark Streit supported him with a pair of power-play goals as New York doubled up Chicago at the United Center.

"I felt good right away," said Mannino, who made one relief appearance for the team in November. "Chicago is an unbelievable offensive team. I wanted to get out the nerves as much as possible and stay focused. When you get a lot of shots, it helps, especially if you're not letting them in right away."

With Rick DiPietro missing almost the entire season due to injury, the Islanders first relied on Joey MacDonald in goal; more recently, Yann Danis had emerged to spark a hot streak. After MacDonald also went down, Mannino was recalled to back up Danis and made the most Sunday when he got the call to start.

The 25-year-old spent four years playing for the University of Denver before signing with the Islanders last summer and spending most of this season playing for their AHL team in Bridgeport.

"He had some big saves," coach Scott Gordon said. "He stopped guys on breakaways. Give him credit. It's a tough situation. He hasn't had a lot of practice time because of the schedule on the road. To go into a building with 22,000 people, it's obviously a great thing for him."

Richard Park and Frans Nielsen scored goals 1:20 apart late in the second to turn a tie game into a 3-1 lead for the Islanders after two periods.

Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane had goals for the Blackhawks, who got goalie Nikolai Khabibulin back from a groin injury. He made 15 saves.

"He'll get better," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.

"We had the puck in the offensive zone," Quenneville added. "With the puck maybe we weren't as crisp as we've been most of the year. I have trust we can simplify it."

Mannino stopped all 12 shots the Blackhawks tested him with in the first period and shined early in the second, denying Martin Havlat and Ben Eager on partial breakaways, Duncan Keith off a 2-on-1 break and Versteeg off a shot through traffic in the slot.

Streit broke the scoreless tie with 7:41 left in the middle period, scoring on a drive from the left circle that beat Khabibulin through a screen on his stick side.

Mannino stopped Kane on a partial breakaway moments later to preserve the lead, but Versteeg tied the score with 4:20 remaining, pushing in a loose puck after Havlat rang a backhander off the post.

Park responded 2:11 before the intermission with a shot from the left circle through Khabibulin's legs and Nielsen converted moments later for a two-goal lead.

"They got a late goal, it changed the momentum of the game," Quenneville said.

Streit made it 4-1 on a high drive from the blue line 7:46 into the third before Kane added a power-play goal with 1:43 to play that closed the scoring. It didn't put a damper on Mannino's day, however.
"The first couple of games I was just so nervous, kind of playing a little too hard. I'm just trying to slow it down, think about the plays and where they're going to end up. -- Rangers forward Sean Avery
"I couldn't ask for anything better. That's the dream come true: to get a start in the NHL and to get a win on the first one with a lot of shots like that," he said. "It's picture perfect."

Red Wings 4, Blue Jackets 0 | Video

Chris Osgood and Detroit got a little payback for an embarrassing loss, clinching a postseason berth and becoming the first team in the League to top 100 points as well.

Osgood stopped all 23 shots he faced for the 49th shutout of his career and the Wings got a goal and an assist each from Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen to win at Nationwide Arena just eight days after Columbus handed the defending Stanley Cup champions an 8-2 loss on their home ice. Osgood surrendered seven goals in that game.

"Anytime you're embarrassed it is (motivation)," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "They're big boys, they're smart. They were up for the game. They suffered humiliation, just like anybody else. We needed to respond here today."

Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Wings, who have 101 points, two ahead of Boston for the lead in the President's Trophy race. They opened up an 18-point gap over Chicago in the Central Division.

"It seems like every (year) we end up in the same spot," said Osgood, who tied longtime friend and teammate Mike Vernon for 11th on the career list with 385 victories. "We've got a good core, a good group of guys. We know how to fight through adversity. We know how to deal with the pressures of playing in Detroit. We always know in the end that we're going to be there and give ourselves a good chance to win in the end."

Detroit also became the first franchise to top 100 points in nine straight seasons, breaking Montreal's mark set from 1974-82.

"Obviously, to set an NHL record, it's phenomenal," Babcock said. "I've only been part of it for four years, (but I'm) proud of the fact that for four years we've been over the century mark."

Hossa got the Wings going 5:09 into the first period when he slid the rebound of his own shot through the pads of Jackets goalie Steve Mason for his 35th of the season. Kronwall made it 2-0 during a 5-on-3 advantage at the 9:02 mark, one-timing a drop pass from Jiri Hudler.

"We gave it to them last time and they showed us why they are the best team in the league tonight," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said.

Samuelsson converted a turnover into an unassisted goal with 1:32 left in the second period and Franzen capped the scoring 9:40 into the third. Osgood took care of the rest, making big saves on R.J. Umberger and Nash to preserve the shutout.

"We played a real solid road game. We played smart, too," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.

Mason made 26 saves as Columbus saw a four-game win streak come to an end.

"This has to do a lot with Detroit, because if they play that way, not many teams will beat them and nobody will beat them in a series, if they play (like they did today)," Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Certainly teams are going to be lucky to win games against them."

Blues 5, Wild 3 | Video

After St. Louis lost to Detroit on Saturday, coach Andy Murray said he was giving his players from the time he left the room until the media came in to feel sorry for themselves. The Blues apparently heeded his message -- they quickly put the past behind them and came up with a key two points Sunday to climb right back into the playoff hunt.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 4 | +/-: -1

Keith Tkachuk and David Perron scored 5-on-3 goals in the second period to build a 3-0 lead and St. Louis held on to tie Minnesota for 10th place in the Western Conference, one point behind Edmonton and Nashville, which are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.

David Backes also lit the lamp on a two-man advantage, Brad Winchester netted what turned out to be the game-winner and Brad Boyes had an empty-netter as the Blues treated the Scottrade Center crowd to a much more pleasing result than what they got a little over 24 hours earlier.

"This is the way we're going to have to play," Blues center Andy McDonald said. "We can't afford to lose hockey games, especially two in a row. We let it go after last night and turned around and got prepared for today."

The Wild fought back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits on goals by Andrew Brunette, Stephane Veilleux and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Chris Mason held them off the board over the final 5:36 and finished with 19 saves.

"I don't want to make any excuses," Wild center Mikko Koivu said. "We just have to get ready on Tuesday (against Colorado) and try to play better at home."

Koivu and Marek Zidlicky took penalties 23 seconds apart in the first leading to Backes' goal with 5:16 left. Backes was able to bat a puck in past Niklas Backstrom, who claimed McDonald slashed at his glove on the play. The only review was to see if McDonald might have touched the puck with a high stick as it went by, but there was no evidence of that and the goal stood.

"It's in the crease. You can't touch the goalie," Backstrom said. "That's goalie interference. You can't slash a goalie when he's trying to make a stop with his glove. There's no excuses for that not to be in the rule book."

A double high-sticking minor to Cal Clutterbuck followed by a delay of game penalty to Zidlicky for clearing the puck over the glass led to Tkachuk's 521st career goal at 6:37 and Perron roofing a wrister from the left circle 1:31 later.

"We had penalties at the wrong time," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We had two penalties and they got three goals. They scored two on 5-on-3 and one 4-on-3. We've got to try and play at our best and make the least mistakes possible."

St. Louis had been in a 7-for-53 slump on the power play before going 3-for-7 on Sunday.

You hardly ever see that against a team like Minnesota, giving up that many penalties and us capitalizing on them," Tkachuk said. That was nice."

Brunette got the Wild on the board when he scored off a backhander with 5:02 left in the second, but Winchester restored the three-goal lead just 30 seconds before the intermission.

"Initially, I was trying to get in the middle of the ice and the puck kind of came back off the skates," Winchester said. "I was able to come back out on the short side there. It was an important second period for us."

Veilleux scored 7:50 into the third and Bergeron made it 4-3 before Boyes secured the two points for St. Louis with 50.7 seconds left after Josh Harding, who stopped all six shots he faced in relief of Backstrom, was pulled for an extra attacker.

Sharks 1, Ducks 0 | Video

Travis Moen scored the only goal of the game in his return to Anaheim and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 34 shots to record his sixth shutout of the season, capping a triumphant weekend return from an upper-body injury.

San Jose reached the 100-point plateau while staying one point behind Detroit for the Western Conference lead with a pair of games in hand.

"The effort was there tonight. It's always good when the effort is there," Nabokov said. "We killed penalties pretty well. It wasn't an easy game but it was a road win."

Moen, a member of the Ducks' championship team in 2007, recorded just four goals in 63 games this season before the Sharks acquired him with Kent Huskins at the trade deadline for a pair of prospects and a draft pick. Anaheim honored him with a video tribute and he received an enthusiastic ovation from the Honda Center crowd.

"Looking back there were a lot of fun times," Moen said.

He got his second in five games with San Jose by positioning himself just outside the crease and deflecting Jamie McGinn's backhander past Jonas Hiller with 1:05 left in the second period.

"It's nice to win, coming back that was the main goal, get two points and have fun," Moen said.

Hiller, who made his third consecutive start, stopped the other 29 shots he saw but Anaheim didn't give him any support and dropped into 12th place in the Western Conference, three points out of a playoff spot. The Ducks are just 2-4-1 in their last seven games and a disappointing 16-16-3 at home this season.

"I think we did everything right except we couldn't score any goals," forward Teemu Selanne said. "Those guys have one of the best records in the league and we had no problem playing against them, so that is a good sign. We just have to stay confident. Wednesday (against Nashville) is another chance. We just have to keep pushing like this and we're going to score a couple of goals."

Nabokov outdueled Hiller one night after beating Los Angeles 2-1 in a shootout. Prior to that, the goaltender hadn't played since a Feb. 25 loss to Detroit.

"You are never fresh, you're always tired, but it's not different than any other game," said Nabokov, who has 46 career shutouts. "It's the end of the season, not the beginning. Everyone else is tired."

Right now, the Ducks are just tired of losing.

"Right now, every loss is bad for us. We didn't deserve to lose today," Hiller said. "I thought we played pretty well. But if you don't score, it's tough to win. They had some chances, but I think defensively we played pretty solid and we had some chances in their end."

Canucks 4, Avalanche 2 | Video

Vancouver won its ninth in a row at General Motors Place, and in doing so beat Colorado for the first time in nine meetings.
"It's in the crease. You can't touch the goalie. That's goalie interference. You can't slash a goalie when he's trying to make a stop with his glove. There's no excuses for that not to be in the rule book." -- Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom
Ryan Kesler set up specialty-team goals by Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burrows in the first eight minutes and finished with three assists as the Canucks moved within two points of Chicago for fourth place and home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Taylor Pyatt also scored in the first period to help Vancouver build a 3-0 lead, and after the Avalanche cut the deficit to a single goal, Alexander Edler ended their comeback hopes by beating Andrew Raycroft on a power play with 1:13 remaining. Roberto Luongo needed to make only 18 saves.

''It's crazy, we couldn't buy a win a month and a half ago, we always found a way to lose every game,'' said Burrows, who also had an assist. ''But we turned it around, and right now we have a lot of confidence in our own building. That's a good thing heading into the playoffs.''

Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker had goals for Colorado, which was coming off wins over Minnesota in a shootout on Thursday and Edmonton in overtime on Saturday.

"We were flat-footed early," coach Tony Granato said. "The positives were we kept battling and had some chances to get back in the game. … They're a team, obviously, that's played extremely well. They were sitting there waiting for us and they came out ready to play, and we did everything we could to try and get back into it."

The Canucks, who still have three games left on their schedule against the Avalanche, snapped an 0-5-3 skid against their Northwest Division rivals, jumping out to an early advantage.

''They dominated us in games past and we wanted to do something about it tonight,'' Kesler said after the Canucks also moved within five points of Calgary for the Northwest Division lead. Vancouver has one more game left than the Flames.

''We wanted to exclude ourselves from the bottom three or four teams that are fighting for a playoff spot,'' Kesler added. ''Now we're trying to catch Calgary and Chicago. We have them worried about us now which is a good thing.''

Wellwood turned a hooking penalty by Milan Hejduk into a 1-0 lead at 2:50 when he scored on a power-play deflection. Edler was in the box for boarding later in the period, but Burrows notched his 22nd of the season at 7:25 after initially hitting the post on a breakaway attempt. Kesler got the puck back to Burrows for another shot that Raycroft stacked his pads to turn aside, but Burrows got to the rebound and deposited it into the open net.

''He generates his own luck,'' Kesler said of the hard-working Burrows, who recently moved from the third to first line and signed a four-year, $8 million contract extension. ''He's working hard and making that line go right now.''

Pyatt's goal came just two seconds after a hooking call to Chris Stewart came off the board. It looked like the Canucks had a rout going, but Smyth started the Avalanche back with a power-play goal 4:36 into the second, then Tucker took advantage of Luongo misplaying the puck behind his net to bank a shot off the goalie as he tried to scramble back into the crease and make it 3-2 just 14 seconds into the third.

''It kind of took a funny hop off my stick and went out of my reach,'' said Luongo, who redeemed himself with a great glove stop off Paul Stastny on a power play a minute later. ''I know you guys will like to talk it up as a bad goal, but I'll consider it an unlucky goal.''

Luongo was flawless the rest of the way, stopping nine shots, and Kesler picked up his third point on the night on Edler's insurance goal.

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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