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Bruins look ahead after rare loss

by Brian Hunter / NHL.com
A few thoughts while Sidney Crosby and the Penguins try to figure out where last season's magic went:

Time to start a new one -- There were probably times when it seemed to their fans, the rest of the NHL and perhaps even the Boston Bruins themselves that they might never lose another game. But it was going to happen eventually, and the Buffalo Sabres found themselves in the right place Saturday afternoon.

That place was TD Banknorth Garden, where the Bruins hadn't lost a game since late October. But that streak, and Boston's stretch of 10 straight wins overall, came to an end as Matt Ellis scored twice to spark the Sabres to a 4-2 victory.

"We were having a lot of fun on this 10-game stretch and we wanted to keep it going," said Boston center Marc Savard.

Claude Julien had a philosophical take: "I guess all good things come to an end and unfortunately it was finally ours," the Bruins coach said.

While the Bruins have built a big lead in both the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference standings, the Sabres came in fighting for their playoff lives -- or at least that was the mentality the players took, even though there are still three months left in the regular season.

"We played well. We (treated this) as a playoff game," said Thomas Vanek, who also scored. "Boston's right now one of the, if not the hottest teams. To come in their building and get two points is big for our hockey club right now. I think we slowed them down."

The magnitude of the win wasn't lost on Ellis, a key contributor despite having just three NHL goals to his credit coming into the day.

"I try to make the most of each day I spend in the National Hockey League," he said. "I definitely love it here. It's the best league in the world and I'm trying to do everything I can to stay."

Fighting mad -- He's had trouble at times this season scoring goals, and lately his team has had trouble winning games. With the Pittsburgh Penguins suffering through yet another tough day at Mellon Arena, captain Sidney Crosby finally snapped.

Off a faceoff, he instigated a fight with Brett McLean of the Florida Panthers -- or at least that's the way the officials viewed it. In addition to being assessed a fighting major, just the second of his NHL career, Crosby also picked up an additional 14 minutes in penalties and watched most of the rest of the Panthers' 6-1 win.

"I asked him to go, and he said yes. And usually, yes means yes," said Crosby, who squared off with Boston's Andrew Ference last season. "I mean, I wouldn't have wasted 20 minutes in the box for that. I guess he didn't take me serious. I don't know, it wasn't worth 20 minutes, though, that's for sure."

The Panthers had differing views of Crosby's actions. Their coach, Peter DeBoer, saw him as trying to take charge and fire up what has been a listless Pittsburgh squad that fell into ninth in the East. Even the recipient of Crosby's punches agreed.

"Everybody can kind of understand what he's doing for their team there," McLean said. "He's their leader."

But one Florida defenseman was less forgiving: "You don't jump a guy while his head's down taking a faceoff," Nick Boynton said. "That's pretty immature and childish. That's not what the game needs, you know what I mean? But whatever. We beat them where it counted, and that's all that matters. We needed those points."

Turning the tide -- A couple clutch plays in the third period by Todd Bertuzzi helped turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal victory for the Calgary Flames.

Bertuzzi set up the game-tying goal by Daymond Langkow with 7:14 remaining and scored the decisive tally off a Craig Conroy pass with just 23.4 seconds to play in a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators at Sommet Center.

"Craig did a good job getting it down low, and fed me in the slot," Bertuzzi said. "I was able to make a good shot. It was good to come back from behind and win again."

Conroy started the play by capitalizing on a turnover deep in the Nashville zone by Dan Hamhuis and ended up earning his 500th career point when Bertuzzi stuffed the puck past Dan Ellis.

"Five hundred points in a league that I thought I was never get to play in is probably the most rewarding thing for me," the 14-year veteran said. "And to have it be the game-winner by Bertuzzi, what a great play by him."

Flames coach Mike Keenan was just as complimentary when it came to Bertuzzi's set-up on the Langkow goal that tied the game.

"His individual effort and skill to set Langkow up and then to go to the net and have the patience, the poise, and the skill to put it in the top shelf, that is just talent," Keenan said. "The most important thing that he showed was poise. He gave himself a lot of time to make that play."

A star, regardless -- While his coach, among others, thought it was a travesty that Alex Ovechkin finished no higher than sixth in All-Star voting, the reigning League MVP said it was something that "didn't matter." If he was upset in the least at not earning a starting spot later this month in Montreal, he took it out on the New York Rangers.

Ovechkin's shorthanded goal with 32 seconds left in the second period lifted the Washington Capitals to a 2-1 win at Verizon Center. After taking a David Steckel pass and crossing over the Rangers' blue line with a pair of defenders pursuing him, Ovechkin took a wrist shot across his body that clipped a stick on the way to the net before beating Steve Valiquette.

 
 
"It was the end of the shift. I wanted to just shoot the puck and go to change, but it was kind of a lucky goal," said Ovechkin, whose last shorthanded score came in March 2006.

Rangers coach Tom Renney admitted there was "a flaw in the system" after Ovechkin wasn't elected to the starting lineup by the fans and when asked how New York would handle him, laughed and said, "Kill him?" Instead, the Rangers had to try to contain the Russian superstar, but like so many teams before them, they failed.

"It's hard for everyone in the League to defend against him," Valiquette said. "We did the best we could."
   
Staying the course -- Falling behind by two goals didn't cause the Carolina Hurricanes to change their game plan any, perhaps because the game was barely five minutes old. Their ability to stay disciplined paid off as they rallied for a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"We didn't press when we were down 2-0," said Justin Williams, whose power-play goal started the comeback. "We didn't force anything and let them have odd-man rushes because that's where they're dangerous."

It was the second win in as many nights for the Hurricanes, as well as their third in a row and seventh in their last 10 games.

"It's a good comeback win, and a big two points for us," said Chad LaRose, who tied the game before Joni Pitkanen netted the go-ahead goal. "We're starting to trust each other. We're starting to have big wins."

It wasn't long ago that the Lightning appeared to be turning the corner. They won three straight around Christmas, but are now on a three-game losing streak and have dropped 20 of their last 25 overall.

"Everybody's frustrated," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "But nobody's going to feel sorry for us. We've just got to keep plugging."

Don't back down -- If the Ottawa Senators showed up at Air Canada Centre looking for a physical game, the Toronto Maple Leafs were more than willing to oblige them.

"We tried to answer hit-for-hit -- they were hitting a lot," forward Alex Ponikarovsky said. "We tried to do the same thing, mirror them, don't give them any opportunity that they can throw us around. We showed that."

Once the Leafs established their physical game, they also asserted themselves via the scoreboard. Ponikarovsky snapped a third-period tie with a goal and Toronto downed Ottawa by a 3-1 final.

"I thought they played with a good competitive edge," Dominic Moore said of the Senators. "I guess it was just our night."

"I try to make the most of each day I spend in the National Hockey League. I definitely love it here. It's the best league in the world and I'm trying to do everything I can to stay." -- Buffalo Sabres forward Matt Ellis
Ottawa hasn't been able to say that much of late, perhaps because they've been away from home so much. The Senators ended a 12-game road winless streak in Edmonton on Tuesday, but reverted back to recent form in Toronto. They had to travel immediately after the game to New Jersey for a game Sunday.

"Every time they had a bounce their way, they capitalized on it," goalie Martin Gerber said. "Overall, we played a hard game, we just couldn't get the puck into the net."

Back to form -- Chris Osgood did a lot of watching from the Detroit Red Wings bench as he nursed a groin injury -- including the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day against the rival Chicago Blackhawks. But he got his chance to go back in goal on Saturday and looked more like the player who backstopped the Wings to the Stanley Cup last June than the one who struggled through much of the first half this season.

Osgood stopped 33 shots during regulation and overtime, then denied all three Minnesota Wild attempts in the shootout as Detroit rallied for a 3-2 win at Xcel Energy Center.

"It was a good break for me mentally and physically so I feel like I'm ready to go for the second half of the year," Osgood said.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't have to worry about overworking Osgood with backup Ty Conklin doing a good job in his stead. But he does want to see Osgood bounce back from a poor start that saw him post a 3.19 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in his first 19 games.

"With the start that Ozzie had this year, he's no dummy, he knows he's got to get rolling and he played like he did last year," Babcock said. "We need him to be on top of his game and get a good rotation going this week and get both goalies playing the best they can and you'll see our goals against go way down."

Singing the Blues -- Three consecutive shutouts and another win in which he allowed only one goal might have had rookie Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason flying high. But the St. Louis Blues brought him crashing back down to earth with their power-play exploits.

Alex Steen scored one of four St. Louis goals with the man advantage and the Blues added a shorthanded tally in a 5-2 win at Scottrade Center.

"We wanted to test him, get a lot of shots and try to move him as much as possible and not let him get comfortable," Steen said. "I thought we did a good job of that."

Mason started the season in the AHL but got an opportunity when Pascal Leclaire was injured and has relegated the Jackets' former starter to a backup role. Mason leads the League in goals-against average and save percentage, but on Saturday he looked ordinary and, well, like a rookie.

"I just wasn't very good," Mason said. "I was giving up rebounds, a couple of five-hole goals, so it wasn't a very good game by myself."

Finding his way -- A few years ago Erik Cole was part of a Carolina squad that disappointed the Edmonton Oilers and their fans by capturing the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game series. Now in his first season wearing an Oilers jersey, Cole has been trying to erase the disappointment of a slow start with his new team.

"I asked him to go, and he said yes. And usually, yes means yes. I mean, I wouldn't have wasted 20 minutes in the box for that. I guess he didn't take me serious. I don't know, it wasn't worth 20 minutes, though, that's for sure." -- Penguins forward Sidney Crosby
After scoring more than 20 goals in each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 30 during the Hurricanes' Cup year, Cole entered Saturday night with just 6 goals and 14 points in 36 games. But he's been heating up lately, and he opened the scoring against the Dallas Stars in what became a 4-1 win for the Oilers at Rexall Place.

"Some pucks have been going across the line, that's the only thing that's changed," Cole said of a recent resurgence that saw him register a goal and an assist New Year's Eve against Calgary and a goal and two assists three nights earlier against Nashville. "Over the last couple weeks my game's been coming along and my confidence has been coming."

Cole has seen plenty of time skating on a line with Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson, and they clicked against the Stars.

"I've gotten a great opportunity to play with some tremendous players in Gagner and Nilsson," Cole said. "Mac (coach Craig MacTavish) seems to be … showing that he's got the confidence in me, and that helps."

Beware of Sharks -- It's a brand new year, but one thing that apparently hasn't changed is the near invincibility of the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. Saturday night's 5-3 win over the New York Islanders extended their streak to 30 regular-season home games without a regulation loss, including all 21 games this season.

"It's something we can be proud of," said Jonathan Cheechoo, who assisted on a pair of Mike Grier goals and finished with three helpers. "You always want to use your home ice to your advantage, and come playoffs, if we keep playing this way, we're going to be a tough team to face."

While home ice has been more than friendly to the Sharks, the road has been an unhappy place for the Islanders to play. They dropped their 12th straight away from Long Island, although they nearly rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits, cutting the gap to 4-3 before Patrick Marleau put the puck into an empty net with less than 10 seconds to play.

"They stick with it and they kept coming," Marleau said. "They played against Phoenix (Friday) night and they were down two goals and they stuck with it, so we knew that. They kept coming at us and we made some mistakes and they capitalized on it."

The latest sensation -- He's got a long way to go to become the most-hyped rookie goaltender in the Western Conference, but Jonathan Quick has certainly earned the title of go-to guy in net for the Los Angeles Kings.

Quick made his sixth straight start on Saturday night and followed up a 31-save performance through regulation and overtime with two more saves in the shootout. Goals by Patrick O'Sullivan and Dustin Brown helped the Kings earn the second point and a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It was a big win," said Quick, who was named the game's first star to the cheers of the Staples Center crowd. "The team played well in front of me. The defense was unbelievable, they let me see the shots, they cleared out all the rebounds, and they made it a little easier for me."

The Flyers gained first place in the Atlantic Division with the point they earned, but getting two points was huge for the Kings, who are trying to make up ground in the West race. Quick stopped both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to secure the victory and a lot of praise from his teammates.

"He's playing great right now," Brown said. "The shootout saves he made were pretty good saves against two pretty good shooters. That was the difference, I think. He made some key saves at some key times."

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





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