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Big rally saves Predators' playoff hopes

by Brian Hunter
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, the Nashville Predators were staring an early summer vacation right in the eye.

Jason Arnott wouldn't have it. The team captain scored his 31st of the season to trigger a two-goal rally that was completed by J.P. Dumont's goal with one minute left to force overtime, then added the decisive shootout tally to cap a stunning 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Ville Koistinen also came up huge for the Predators, answering a goal by Jiri Hudler to begin the third round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker with one of his own to send the contest into a fourth round, where Arnott scored.

Nashville pulled into a tie in points with St. Louis. Both teams have 88 but the Blues hold down the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference because they have two regular-season games remaining and the Predators only one.

"We stayed alive," Predators' coach Barry Trotz said. "That's pretty good. Coming back when you're down 3-1 (in the third period) to the Detroit Red Wings."

Scott Nichol also scored for Nashville and rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne made 23 saves through regulation and overtime before stopping three of four Detroit attempts in the shootout.

"We knew they were going to come out and be really desperate in the third period," said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, whose power-play goal late in the second snapped a 1-1 tie.

Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen had the other goals for Detroit, which will finish second in the West, as gaining only one point clinched the top seed for San Jose. It was the second time in a span of 12 days that the Wings blew a third-period lead and lost to the Predators at home.

"I think we were doing a lot of good things tonight and we've got to take those with us (to the playoffs)," Lidstrom said. "But we've got to play 60 minutes."



Lidstrom's slap shot past Rinne with 33 seconds left in the second gave Detroit the lead and Franzen made it 3-1 with a wrist shot from the slot at 2:12 of the third. Despite facing a two-goal deficit, Nashville didn't pack it in.

"We came in after the second period and we felt we were in a good spot," Arnott said. "We knew we had to come out and lay it on the line and go on the offense."

Arnott led by example, taking advantage of a Lidstrom giveaway in his own end and putting a rebound past Chris Osgood with 6:42 remaining. As the clock ticked down toward the final minute of regulation, the Predators pulled Rinne for a sixth attacker and it paid off when Dumont scored the equalizer off a goalmouth scramble.

Kronwall opened the scoring, connecting on a Detroit power play with 8:10 left in the opening period. Nichol tied it for Nashville, beating Osgood from the top of the right circle 6:18 into the second.

The Predators close their regular season at Minnesota on Friday night, a game the Wild must win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. The Blues will also be in action Friday; they are home to Columbus before closing the regular season Sunday in Colorado.

"This is the biggest game of the year," Arnott said of beating Detroit. "Tomorrow night will be the biggest game of the year."

Canucks 1, Kings 0 | Video

Ryan Kesler scored the only goal on a second-period power play and Roberto Luongo registered his career-high eighth shutout by stopping all 20 shots he faced as Vancouver closed its regular-season schedule at G.M. Place with a win that boosted its chances of winning the Northwest Division and gaining home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

The Canucks have 98 points, two more than Calgary, but the Flames have a game in hand and would own the victory tiebreaker if the teams finish even in points. The division winner will get the third seed while the other team will finish either fourth or fifth in the conference standings and face Chicago in the first round.

"There's a little bit of pressure on them," Kesler said of Calgary, which ends with a home-and-home against Edmonton, while Vancouver finishes in Colorado on Saturday.

Kesler was honored prior to the game as Vancouver's MVP, then showed why with his career-high 26th goal. An interference penalty to Anze Kopitar put the Canucks on the power play, and Kesler capitalized by banging in the rebound of a hard shot by Mats Sundin from the top of the faceoff circle at 5:49.

"You got to give them a show after they pick you MVP," Kesler joked of the award decided in fan voting. "It's a great honor for the fans to think of me as an MVP."

Luongo, who had to make 46 saves in a 4-1 win over Calgary on Tuesday, had a more leisurely night against Los Angeles, but that didn't mean he wasn't tested. After Kesler scored, the Kings turned up the heat and Luongo had to make a strong stick save on Kopitar. He denied Kopitar again on a rebound midway through the third and made his best save on the night by flashing his glove to deny Alexander Frolov with 6:39 remaining.

"Defensively, we really executed well and didn't give them much room," Luongo said. "As far as scoring chances are concerned that's a part of our game we want to improve on and we did that tonight."

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick finished with 27 saves, including a left pad stop off a Rick Rypien breakaway and a sprawling denial of Kyle Wellwood.

"We competed, we battled," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "At the end, Vancouver dug in pretty good there. They know how to shut things down."

Coyotes 4, Sharks 1 | Video

The Sharks stepped on the ice at HP Pavilion knowing they had having locked up the top seed in the conference when Detroit lost. But San Jose missed an opportunity to clinch the Presidents' Trophy and home ice throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs when it lost its regular-season home finale.

Al Montoya finished with 40 saves to pick up his third career victory and Phoenix got a goal and an assist each from Scottie Upshall and Peter Mueller.

"It was a pretty gritty effort by our goaltender," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "But I thought just as important, we scored key goals at times. ... Obviously, they're a team that's going to be a little bit mentally stronger when they're up against the Detroit Red Wings or Calgary Flames. We have a great deal of respect for them, and we were ready to play against them."

Defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek also scored for the Coyotes, who will miss the playoffs and close out their season Saturday at home against Anaheim.

"You knew they were going to come out flying, (because) this is their biggest night," Montoya said. "It feels good coming into a building like this with a playoff-like hockey environment. The atmosphere was unreal. I just wanted to go out there and prove myself."

Montoya, who blanked Colorado in his NHL debut last week, saw his bid for a second shutout ended when Travis Moen got the Sharks on the scoreboard with 7:38 left.

The Sharks have 117 points, three more than Eastern Conference-leading Boston, and can clinch No. 1 overall in the League by picking up at least a point Saturday in Los Angeles or if the Bruins fail to win both of their remaining games.

"It's disappointing. Obviously all the chips could have fallen into place pretty nice," said forward Ryan Clowe, who returned to the lineup after being sidelined since March 19 with a lower-body injury. "Their goalie is a young guy who's trying to prove himself. He played real well tonight. We had a lot of point-blank opportunities. No one was complaining about the energy we had. We had a lot of energy."

Upshall scored off a Matthew Lombardi faceoff win for his career-high 15th goal at 9:30 of the first period and Jovanovski netted what would turn out to be the game-winner during a two-man advantage with 18.7 seconds left in the second. Michalek and Mueller sandwiched goals around Moen's tally in the third.

"In my opinion, we didn't start playing until it was 3-0," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "To wait and see, and put your toes in the water to see how cold it is, and if you want to jump in or not, it's disappointing this time of year. Will has to take precedence over skill. Not sure that was the case today."

Stars 3, Avalanche 2 (SO) | Video

Dallas won't be going to the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season, but that doesn't mean players like Mike Ribeiro have packed it in. Ribeiro scored in the third round of the shootout by putting a fancy move on before beating Colorado goalie Peter Budaj to secure the second point for the Stars.

As he skated in, Ribeiro put it in reverse, going backward while passing the puck to himself between his legs, then putting a shot on net that bounded high in the air before trickling across the goal line.

"I knew if I didn't score, I would've heard about it from the boys," Ribeiro said. "I figured the time was right to give it a try. Luckily, it went in."

It wasn't the first time he's used an unorthodox move in an attempt to surprise the opposing goaltender, a fact that wasn't lost on Budaj.

"When you say Mike Ribeiro, I know he's going to try something fancy," Budaj said. "That's his style. I didn't really bite on his (moves) and it just trickled in. It's tough luck."

Matt Climie picked up his second career win, making the only save in the penalty-shot tiebreaker on T.J. Hensick to begin the third round. Prior to that, Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk had connected for the Avalanche with Fabian Brunnstrom and James Neal answering for the Stars.

Steve Begin and John-Michael Liles traded goals 52 seconds apart late in the third period to treat the fans at Pepsi Center to some bonus hockey. Chris Stewart had the only goal of the first 40 minutes, tipping in a slap shot by Raymond Macias on a Colorado power play with 7:17 left in the second. Brunnstrom responded with Dallas on a man advantage 2:09 into the third.

Following the game, it was announced Avalanche captain Joe Sakic would not make it back for either of the remaining two games after January surgery to repair a herniated disk. He hasn't yet made a decision on playing a 21st season, meaning a long and distinguished career may have come to a close.

"Anytime someone who has done something for so long has to face that decision, it's always going to be a tough one," Sakic said.

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


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