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Avs' lament: Say it ain't so Joe!

by John Kreiser

Colorado’s captain will undergo hernia surgery and will miss most of the rest of the regular season.
A few thoughts as I savor the memory of my non-hockey-minded teenage daughter telling me how “intense” Wednesday night’s Islanders-Leafs game was after her first trip to the Nassau Coliseum.

Life without Joe — A lot of the talk in the Colorado Avalanche locker room after Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to Detroit was about Joe Sakic. Colorado’s captain will undergo hernia surgery and will miss most of the rest of the regular season.

“It’s a huge loss. He’s irreplaceable,” Avs coach Joel Quenneville said.

Sakic has been idled since Nov. 30 with a groin injury. The Avs have gone 8-4-1 in his absence.

"We know he has been trying hard to get back, and he saw the doctor and things weren't good," said Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth, who returned to the lineup Thursday after missing three games with a neck injury. "It's disappointing, but collectively we have to figure out a way through this together and all step up."

Saving grace — Sergei Gonchar got the game-winning goal in overtime to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 win over Washington — and save him from what would have been a game to forget.

Gonchar was on ice for all three Washington goals, and his misplays led to two of them.

"I had a couple of mistakes, and I didn't feel great about this one, but I scored a goal and I feel a lot better now," Gonchar said after converting Sidney Crosby’s perfect pass. "Sid made a great pass. When he started skating toward the net, both defensemen are paying attention to him and not even looking at me. I had a wide-open net."

Flyers have finish — Philadelphia saw two third-period leads turn into losses in a home-and-home series with Buffalo last weekend, so there were more than few nervous faces in the Flyers’ dressing room after Toronto’s Mats Sundin scored late in the second period Thursday night to make it 2-1.

But this time, the Flyers finished off an opponent, getting two goals in the third period for a 4-1 victory.

"When we got the lead we didn't sit back at all. We went out there and finished," said forward Joffrey Lupul, who scored two goals. "We've had some leads, especially at home, and we've let teams back in the game. Tonight, even when they made it 2-1 we still played as a confident team."

Duck soup — Don’t look now, but the Anaheim Ducks have yet to lose in regulation with Scott Niedermayer back in the lineup. They improved to 4-0-1 since his return with Thursday’s 2-1 win in Edmonton


”We're playing much better than we were at the beginning of the season,” Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said after Anaheim improved to 19-15-5. “I think we finally have our game together and have figured out what we need to win. Having Scott back really helps and you add a guy like Doug Weight and that makes for a strong team.”

Weight got the winning goal with less than four minutes left against the Oilers.

”Obviously since Dougie came over and Scotty came back it's been really good,” Ducks captain Chris Pronger said. “The distraction of what Scotty was going to do and what he wasn't going to do isn't there any more.”

No confidence vote — It’s hard to believe the Tampa Bay Lightning are less than three seasons removed from skating off the St. Pete Times Forum ice with the Stanley Cup in June 2004. The Bolts fell into a tie for last place in the East after a 5-2 home loss to Montreal that left coach John Tortorella shaking his head.

”We have zip for confidence,” Tortorella said after his team’s eighth loss in 10 games. “We can't give our problems to someone else. We need to mentally, first of all, start thinking; 'I need to make a difference. I need to regain my confidence here.' Hopefully a few guys start doing that, and maybe a good thing happens.”

Some good goaltending would help, too. Johan Holmqvist was pulled for the fourth time in five games after allowing three goals on 11 shots.

An even dozen — Why do the Nashville Predators have the Columbus Blue Jackets’ number? Their coach doesn’t even know.

”There is no secret to beating Columbus,” Barry Trotz said after Nashville’s 4-3 win extended its winning streak over the Jackets to 12 games. “And if there was I wouldn't tell you. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us.”

The victory was special in another way for Trotz: It was the 300th win for both the Predators and their coach. Lindy Ruff, who has 377 wins with Buffalo, is the only other coach who has reached the milestone with his current team.

”It's great for the franchise,” said Trotz, the only coach the Preds have ever had. “It says we have been around for a while. It is big for the organization in our 10th year. Every win is a part of Predators history. It is a milestone, but we hope we can carry on and have even bigger milestones.”


One for dad — Jason Spezza’s father can look forward to having another puck to put on his mantle.

"I made sure I got the puck for him," Spezza said of his second-period goal against the Islanders Thursday night that was his 300th NHL point. "It's obviously something that's important, but it's not that important. It's just one of those things you want to get out of the way."

Spezza reached the milestone in his 277th NHL game.

Rarities — It was hard to say which was more unusual: Roberto Luongo allowing three goals in Vancouver’s 5-3 win over Calgary … or the Canucks’ rare offensive outburst.

“We don’t score five goals very often,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We don’t give up three goals very often. I don’t know if we had an offensive outburst of if their goalie had a tough night.”

Luongo allowed three goals at home for the first time since Nov. 1 — the last time the Canucks lost in regulation at GM Place.

“The three goals against Luongo were all tips,” his coach said. “There was nothing he could do.”

Different kind of defense — Giving up 48 shots isn’t usually a sign that your defense played well. But for Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire, it was a major improvement.

The Wild were riddled for eight goals Wednesday night in Dallas, but allowed just two on Thursday in Phoenix. Nicklas Backstrom made 46 saves in a 3-2 victory.

“We were better tonight than last night, even though they had 48 shots,” Lemaire said. “It was hard for us after we got beat like that, and it was probably the best thing for us to play the next night.”

Lemaire said Eric Belanger’s goal early in the first period was a big factor.

“We were a little fragile in the first period,” he said. “Getting the first goal meant a lot for the team. Getting that goal made the team feel better.”


At last — The Florida Panthers got something off their to-do list by beating the Atlanta Thrashers 5-3 on Thursday. Nathan Horton’s first two-goal game since last March 27 helped the Panthers to win at Atlanta for the first time since November 2004.

”We hadn't won here for I don't know how long,” Horton said after the Cats ended an 0-11-1 slide at Philips Arena. “That's why it was so good to win here tonight.”

Captain Olli Jokinen was tired of seeing points his team needed for a playoff push go down the drain.

”We hadn't won here,” Jokinen said. “We've been missing the playoffs by four or six points, and Atlanta's been taking those points away.”


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