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Blake's three-point night leads Leafs past Isles

by Brian Compton /
A few thoughts while the Tampa Bay Lightning help Radim Vrbata pack:

Finally! -- Jason Blake has been through a lot over the past 15 months.

Not long after signing a new five-year contract in the summer of 2007, the Toronto Maple Leafs forward was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia -- a rare but highly treatable form of cancer.

He was unable to produce the numbers the Leafs were hoping for in 2007-08, as he finished with just 15 goals after scoring 40 the season prior with the New York Islanders. Rumors even swirled that the Leafs were contemplating buying out the remainder of Blake's contract.

Recently, though, Blake is beginning to warm up. He had three points against his former club Monday night, leading Toronto to a 4-2 victory at the Air Canada Centre. The 35-year-old now has 6 points in his last three games.

"Everyone knows I'm here to provide offense and scoring and it hasn't come together here," said Blake, who now has 5 goals and 11 assists this season. "It's disappointing -- believe me, I'm just as disappointed as everybody else. I pride myself on a lot of things, and it's just nice to contribute."

Blake will have to continue contributing in order to avoid more talk of a potential buyout. With Brian Burke now running the show, it's uncertain if Blake is in the new GM's plans.

"That's not my decision to make," Blake said. "That's obviously Brian and the organization, so whatever they feel is best for this organization is what they're going to do."

Panthers keep clawing away -- Say this about the Florida Panthers -- they don't take nights off.

Florida erased  three deficits Monday night, then came away with a victory when Stephen Weiss scored with 9.1 seconds left in overtime in a 4-3 win against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place.

The victory improved the Panthers' record to 5-1-2 over their last eight games. Michal Repik -- who was recalled from Rochester of the American Hockey League earlier in the day -- erased Ottawa's 2-1 lead in the second with his first NHL goal just 1:20 after Dany Heatley put the Sens in front. Jay Bouwmeester made it 3-3 just 1:38 after Jason Spezza had regained Ottawa's lead.

''That shows a lot of character,'' Weiss said. ''This is a tough building to play in. They're a good hockey club. Especially when you get down, they're tough to come back on, and to get those goals right away after gave us a lot of jump.''

While the Sens were disappointed with the loss, they'll gladly take the point as they fight to stay in the race to the postseason. Ottawa is 4-1-3 in its last eight games.

''We got a point,'' Sens forward Mike Fisher said. ''We've just got to keep building and finding ways to get points, but at the same time, we've got to win games like that.''

Groundhog Day -- On Nov. 28 in Buffalo, the Sabres found themselves in a 3-1 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They rallied for a 4-3 victory.

Things weren't much different Monday night at Mellon Arena.

Thomas Vanek broke a 3-3 tie with his League-leading 20th goal of the season, lifting the Sabres to another 4-3 victory against the Pens. Just like Nov. 28, Pittsburgh once held a 3-1 lead.

''We played really good in the first period, we got a lead, and we just couldn't hold on to it,'' said Pens forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who had his first two-goal game since Feb. 14.

Pittsburgh was provided a golden opportunity to pull away in the second, when it played 3:35 with a two-man advantage, but the Pens failed to cash in, allowing the Sabres to stay in the game. Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille tied the game for Buffalo in the second, and then Vanek continued his torrid pace 6:13 into the third.

"At 3-1, we started to play horribly," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "It was a horrible performance. That's the truth."

Even the Sabres noticed the Pens' dysfunctional power play, which went 1-for-8 Monday night. The only bright spot was Kris Letang scoring his first power-play goal in 82 games.

''They didn't put too many pucks on the net; they tried to be a little too cute and go for an empty net,'' Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. ''They had a couple chances but we did a good job with some big kills, especially the second 5-on-3.''

Bruins don't want to get cozy -- Despite Monday's 5-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning being their 14th win in 16 games, the Boston Bruins are worried about complacency setting in.

The Bruins did seem to take the foot off the gas pedal after jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Tampa Bay scored twice in the third and peppered Tim Thomas with 15 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.

''We're not playing the way we usually play against teams,'' Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. ''Just because we worked hard in the first period -- we played a little too comfortable, I guess. Maybe we're a little too confident.''

Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman agreed, and pointed to the defending Stanley Cup champions as an example of what good teams should do when building an early lead.

''That's something that shouldn't happen," Wideman said of a possible letdown. "You look at the elite teams like Detroit -- when they get leads like that, they keep coming at you.''

Meanwhile, the problems in the opposing locker room are larger than the Green Monster. The coaching change from Barry Melrose to Rick Tocchet has done nothing to rejuvenate the Lightning, who may be on the verge of another lottery pick if this keeps up. Monday's loss was Tampa Bay's eighth straight.

''I don't know if we're a dumb team or we just don't get it, or we don't deserve to be in this League,'' Lightning goalie Mike Smith said. ''I mean, we're making the same mistakes we talk about, game in and game out.''

Tocchet also was dumbfounded.

''To me it's an embarrassment when you have more than three or four individuals not ready to play,'' the interim coach said.

Making Dad proud -- B.J. Crombeen enjoyed a night that neither he nor his father soon will forget.

Crombeen notched his first NHL hat trick Monday, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 6-3 win against the Nashville Predators at the Scottrade Center. Playing in just his 33rd NHL game, Crombeen did something his father, Mike, couldn't accomplish in his seven years with Blues.

''I'll have to call him up and see what he has to say about it,'' Crombeen joked about his dad, who played with St. Louis from 1978-83. "I can't say I was expecting that going into the game. It was a good night. The best part of it was we got the win."

After starting the season with the Dallas Stars, Crombeen has spent the past 10 games with the Blues. On Monday night he showed some tremendous chemistry skating on a line with Alex Steen and Jay McClement. Steen had a goal and an assist, while McClement had 2 assists.

''That line of McClement, Steen and Crombeen's had a couple solid games for us,'' Blues coach Andy Murray said. ''To see them rewarded was gratifying.''

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services was used in this report.   

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