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Blues beat Canucks, spoil Sundin's Vancouver debut

by John Kreiser
Mats Sundin's debut as a Vancouver Canuck at G.M. Place didn't go quite as planned.

For the second straight game, Sundin had no points and no shots on goal. He did, however, figure in the winning goal — it was his slashing penalty with 2:30 left in regulation that gave St. Louis a power play, and Brad Boyes scored the tie-breaking goal 20 seconds later as the Blues beat the Canucks 6-4 on Friday night.

Sundin was on the ice for a Vancouver goal for the first time when Daniel Sedin's power-play deflection at 15:47 of the third period tied the game at 4-4. But he did little else in his 13:51 of ice time, blocking one shot and going 8-5 on faceoffs.

"It's going to take some time," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Sundin getting up to game speed after sitting for nearly half the season before signing with Vancouver on Dec. 16. "There's a reason why there's three weeks of training camp, minimum — to get game alertness, game shape, game speed, game execution. Mats doesn't have that.

"He's been working extremely hard so far. He's going to continue to work extremely hard, and we hope that he'll be able to reach the pace of the NHL in a reasonable amount of time."

Sundin said he felt "all right," but agreed that he's far from his best.

"There's still a lot of work to do in terms of timing. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs," the 37-year-old center said. "It felt like it's the second game of the season. I didn't expect to feel any different than I have."

If Sundin was a step slow, he had plenty of company. The Canucks were outshot 36-22, outplayed at least that badly, and were outworked by an injury-riddled team with a patchwork lineup that had lost seven in a row on the road.

"I thought our compete level, compared with theirs, wasn't good enough," Vigneault said. "I thought we got out-competed in all areas."

The 225th consecutive sellout crowd at G.M. Place roared when Sundin took the ice for the first time 1:56 into the game, then roared again when Jannik Hansen beat Manny Legace with a wrist shot under the crossbar at 5:52.


But David Backes tied it at 16:44 when he fired Yan Stastny's rebound behind Jason LaBarbera. Willie Mitchell backhanded his own rebound past Legace with 19 seconds left in the period to put Vancouver back in front.

However, the second period belonged to the Blues. St. Louis dominated play throughout and was finally rewarded with a pair of goals in the final two minutes.

Patrik Berglund tied it at the 18-minute mark when he raced down the right side and ripped a wrist shot into the far top corner. Alex Steen put the Blues in front 59 seconds later when he deflected home Keith Tkachuk's shot.

"We didn't have the first period we wanted," forward T.J. Oshie said. "We thought we would come out in the second and third and show what we could do, and that's what we did."

Alex Burrows' tip-in at 1:27 tied the game again, but Oshie whipped home a rebound at 14:17 to put the Blues ahead again. After Boyes' goal made it 5-4, B.J. Crombeen scored 21 seconds later to give St. Louis some insurance.

"It was a 60-minute effort by our team," Backes said. "We haven't had that all year. We had to keep fighting all night long. We finally found our killer instinct in the third period."

Sabres 2, Rangers 1 (SO) | Video

Thanks to Ryan Miller, the Sabres were outshot and outplayed — but not outscored —during regulation, giving Ales Kotalik a chance to score the game-winner in the shootout.

Miller finished with 43 saves through 65 minutes, then stopped three more shots in the shootout to give the Sabres their first four-game winning streak since they went 4-0 to start the season. Kotalik beat Steven Valiquette with a wrist shot in the first round for the only goal, handing the Rangers just their second loss in 10 shootouts this season.

"It was fun. I can't imagine Steve's feeling as high about it, but he should be happy with his game," Miller said. "He played really well. These nights don't come around too often where you go head-to-head with the other guy."

Miller was the main reason the game got to a shootout. The Rangers outshot Buffalo 28-13 through two periods, including 11-1 in the first 14 minutes of the second period. But Paul Mara's slap shot with 37 seconds remaining in the first period was the only one to beat Miller, and Derek Roy tied it at 16:36 of the second by banging in the rebound of Drew Stafford's shot.

"You've got to give (the Rangers) credit," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "They were beating us to the punch almost every direction. We finally turned the table in the third period."

Referees Tim Peel and Don Van Massenhoven called only two minor penalties, both against the Sabres. The Rangers were penalty-free for the first time since Nov. 11, 1999, at Washington.

"It was that type of game," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "I think both teams were trying to play it to the letter and not give up too much. We really tried to pay attention to our game plan and tried not to let a pretty good power play get on the ice.

Despite not getting two points, the Rangers, who started a five-game road trip that continues Saturday at Ottawa, looked much sharper than they did in a 6-3 home loss to Montreal on Wednesday.

"Tonight was only a single point," Renney said. "It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but certainly the effort was. The attention to detail was everything we could have asked for. We have to make sure that we don't drop off on that, and that we're deeply committed to the game plan."

Added Valiquette: "If we play like this, we'll be very happy with the way we finish the season."

Sharks 4, Oilers 1 | Video

Three nights after one of their worst games of the season, a 5-2 loss at Calgary, the Sharks rebounded with a solid effort as they shut down the Oilers at Rexall Place for their 30th win in 40 games.

Devin Setoguchi, rookie Brad Staubitz and Patrick Marleau all scored in the opening period against Dwayne Roloson, who's had the Sharks' number in the past but was driven from the net after 20 minutes. Marleau added another goal in the second period, and Evgeni Nabokov was sharp in making 25 saves.

Denis Grebeshkov's power-play goal at 11:15 of the first period briefly tied the game at 1-1. Staubitz scored his first NHL goal at 14:16 and Marleau made it 3-1 at 19:24 with his 20th of the season. 

At 30-5-5 and 65 points, the Sharks own the NHL's best record. The win ensured that Todd McLellan will coach the Western Conference team for the All-Star Game at Montreal on Jan. 24. McLellan joins Florida's Doug MacLean, who coached the East team in 1996, as the only first-year coaches to be behind the bench for the All-Star Game.

"We don't look at it is as 30, or 31 or 32, we look at it as the input into the game, the process and did we compete hard enough," McLellan said. "It was more rewarding that way than the win itself. Playoffs are a long ways away.

"What we are trying to do right now is build so that we are prepared to play these type of games night in and night out."

The Oilers might have gotten then feeling this wouldn't be their night when Robert Nilsson's first-period breakaway was aborted by a broken stick. San Jose made the most of its first chance when Setoguchi's power-play slap shot beat Roloson at 7:54.

Grebeshkov converted Andrew Cogliano's perfect passout for the tying goal, but Staubitz got credit for what proved to be the game-winner when Roloson whiffed on his shot from in front of the Oilers' bench — it hit the goaltender's glove and leaked into the net.

"I took the shot and didn't see where it ended up," said Staubitz, who grew up in Edmonton and had some friends in the stands. "I saw it trickling in, finally. It was a big goal for the team, and of course it was my first goal, so it was exciting."

The goal let a lot of air out of the Oilers.

"We got the power-play goal to tie it, then Rollie let in a couple that he usually saves, and it started to go sideways on us," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said.

"Tonight was a disappointing effort on a lot of fronts."

Marleau's snap shot under the crossbar gave him 20 for the season, one more than he scored in all of 2007-08. Roloson, who stopped 41 shots in a 3-2 overtime win at San Jose on Dec. 6, was replaced by Mathieu Garon to start the second period.

"It wasn't his best night, but he's won some games for us," captain Ethan Moreau said. "It would have been nice to win one for him."

The Oilers also lost two players to injury. All-Star defenseman Sheldon Souray left in the second period with an upper body injury and didn't return, while forward Zack Stortini had to be helped off with a leg injury.

Lightning 4, Ducks 3 | Video

Ryan Malone had a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the third period, as the Lightning handed the Ducks their second loss in two nights after Anaheim had overcome an early deficit.

Anaheim, which lost 4-3 at Los Angeles on Thursday after overcoming a 3-0 deficit, turned a 3-1 Tampa Bay lead into a 3-3 tie after two periods when Steve Montador and Chris Pronger scored 12 seconds apart. But Malone, whose power-play goal had given the Bolts their 3-1 lead, beat Jonas Hiller with a short wrist shot at 10:50 of the final period to put Tampa Bay ahead to stay.

"We did a good job of cycling the puck there," Malone said. "We had a good rotation. I kind of popped in the slot. Halpern put the puck on net and I just tried to get to the net as fast as I could for a rebound. I just tried to get it up over his pads as quickly as I could."

The Lightning rebounded to win after a 3-2 loss at Phoenix on Thursday.

"This team needs guys to show them, 'let's go guys, follow me,'" said Martin St. Louis, who set up both of Malone's goals. "Fortunately, we have some good leadership in this room. Tonight, it just happened to be me."

Tampa Bay scratched Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in last June's Entry Draft, for the first time. But they didn't appear to miss him. St. Louis' shorthanded goal 3:28 into the game put the Bolts ahead, and Vaclav Prospal's tip-in at 1:41 of the second made it 2-0.

"They started well and came at us pretty hard," Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said. "We didn’t respond real well to that. Eventually, we did get going, but didn’t find a way to win the game."

Andrew Ebbett nudged home a power-play backhander past Karri Ramo at 8:42 to cut the deficit in half, but Malone scored at 17:51 to make it a two-goal game again — only to see Montador score 37 seconds later and Pronger connect from the slot to tie the game.

But the Lightning regrouped at intermission and found a way to win.

"We caught our breath after the second period, and I thought the guys showed some of the stuff we are looking for, the will to win, the character, and that's exactly what we are looking to get from them," coach Rick Tocchet said. "In the third, I thought the guys really stayed the course and showed that kind of bend-but-don't-break attitude."

It was another painful loss for the Ducks, who are battling to keep their playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"Tonight, we definitely didn’t play our best game," Niedermayer said. "Every chance they had they seemed to put in the back of the net on us. I guess that is the way it goes if you don’t play your best sometimes. You pay the price for it that way."

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

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