For two periods, it looked as though the Buffalo Sabres
were headed for another win, one that would lift them into a tie with the Boston Bruins
for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Bruins changed all that in the third. Zdeno Chara and Marco Sturm scored to tie it before Phil Kessel’s shootout goal lifted Boston to a 3-2 victory Friday at TD Banknorth Garden.
Alex Auld stopped 21 shots and all three shootout attempts he saw in goal for the Bruins, but he mainly got to sit back and watch the third-period comeback, as the Sabres managed just one shot against him.
“It was an impressive display,” Auld said. “We knew how important this game was – such huge points, and it’s going to be like that the rest of the way. I think coming back like this, against a team that was on a bit of a roll, is obviously great for our confidence heading down the stretch here.”
The Sabres got goals in the final minute of the first two periods by Jaroslav Spacek and Thomas Vanek, but managed only one point while seeing the Bruins’ lead over them increase to three points. Ryan Miller’s five-game winning streak came to an end, and he missed a chance to pick up his 100th NHL victory.
"I'm not really happy right now," Miller said. "It's just unacceptable. We're not letting ourselves off the hook on this one."
Auld stopped Ales Kotalik and Henrik Tallinder on Buffalo’s first two shootout attempts while Miller turned aside Sturm. Kessel stickhandled in on Miller and the puck rolled off his stick as he cut from left to right. Miller was moving across with the shooter and the puck trickled past him inside the left post to put Boston ahead.
"I came down and I tried to deke and I lost it," Kessel said, describing how he watched the puck slip in through Ryan Miller's legs. "You can't get any luckier."
Auld then made the save on Derek Roy to clinch the win.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won in the shootout,” Auld said. “The biggest thing is just trying to be patient and hold on – a couple guys, they almost stopped and tried to make the extra move and you just have to try to knock it down, because on the fresh ice like that you just keep sliding.”
Chara changed the complexion of the game 57 seconds into the third period by scoring on a rising slap shot from the left point. Sturm evened the score with 3:50 remaining when he beat Miller short side with a snapper off a pass from Marc Savard, capping a nice transition rush.
|NHL.COM'S THREE STARS:
Cam Ward allowed just one goal for the second straight game as the Hurricanes edged the Capitals 2-1 to regain first in the Southeast. ...more
GAME OF THE NIGHT:
Ryan Carter netted a pair of first-period goals – the first two of his National Hockey League career – and backup Jonas Hiller made 34 saves as the Ducks edged the New Jersey Devils 2-1 Friday at Prudential Center, completing a sweep of the Metro-area teams following victories over the Islanders on Tuesday and the Rangers on Thursday. ...more
Bruins coach Claude Julien said his team stuck with it after doing a lot of the right things through the first two periods, with the exception of not finishing chances.
“That’s kind of what got us in trouble and got us down two goals,” Julien said. “You want to see reward at the end of your hard work, and that’s scoring goals, and we found a way to do that in the third.”
Spacek staked the Sabres to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal just 3.4 seconds before the end of the first. Vanek extended the lead with 38 seconds left in the second, converting Roy’s backhand pass in the slot. After that, though, the Sabres’ offense completely shut down.
"We didn't have much for legs. We put ourselves in a bad spot," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was disappointing. We didn't deserve a point tonight."
Hurricanes 2, Capitals 1 | Video
The Washington Capitals worked hard for months to climb all the way from last to first in the Southeast Division.
Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes served notice Friday that the division title – and automatic playoff berth that comes with it – is still very much up for grabs.
Ward turned aside 33 shots and the Hurricanes received first-period goals from Erik Cole and Andrew Ladd as they leaped over the Capitals and back into first with a win at the Verizon Center.
"I'm sure there'll be a lot of jockeying going on down the stretch unless someone can peel off eight or nine in a row. ... It will probably be a lot of movement in the division, in our conference," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's just the way it's going to be. We know it. We're ready for it. This is our playoffs now."
Alexander Semin created a frantic finish when he scored unassisted 9:44 into the third period, but the Capitals were unable to take advantage of a Carolina penalty-killing unit that entered the game last in the League. Washington came up empty on seven power-play opportunities.
"0-for-7 on the power play defines what this game is about," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You have to make teams pay if they're going to take that many penalties against us. It's been a recurring problem the last few games."
Cole scored his 12th, and first in nine games, just 3:56 into the game. He skated down the right side, made a great fake on Capitals goalie Brent Johnson while cutting through the crease and slipped the puck into the open right side of the net.
Ladd was the beneficiary of a juicy rebound with 5:13 left in the period. On a rush up ice, Sergei Samsonov blasted a shot from the right wing that Johnson knocked right to an on-rushing Ladd. He buried the chance for his sixth of the season.
Ward, who found himself on the losing end of a 1-0 game in Nashville earlier in the week, was strong once again. But there was little he could do on Semin’s goal, which came off a great individual effort. Semin skated behind the net, wheeled out in front and whipped a shot Ward stopped. Semin then chased down the rebound and put a backhander past Ward to cut the Caps’ deficit to 2-1.
Boudreau praised the goal but lamented a penalty Semin took with 28 seconds remaining and Washington furiously pressing for the tie.
"It was a great individual effort. (Semin) did a good job there," Boudreau said. "But he also took a selfish penalty at the end of the game. Does one offset the other?"
In addition to shutting out the Capitals’ power play, the Hurricanes also kept Alex Ovechkin, the League leader in goals and points, off the board.
"If you can shut (Ovechkin) down or contain him a little bit, you're going to be successful against these guys," Cole said.
Sharks 2, Blue Jackets 1 (OT) | Video
Evgeni Nabokov stood on his head for two periods, making 26 of his 31 saves, and Joe Thornton rewarded him with his League-leading 30th win of the season when he scored on a power play 1:49 into overtime at HP Pavilion.
|San Jose's Joe Thornton is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the game winner in the overtime.
After Dan Fritsche was sent off for hooking, it took Thornton just 14 seconds to connect off a pass from Sandis Ozolinsh, beating Columbus goaltender Fredrik Norrena and allowing San Jose to keep pace with Anaheim in the Pacific Division.
"Obviously, Nabby won this game," Thornton said. "For some reason, we didn't have it, but we won. Now we owe Nabby a good game."
Marcel Goc scored in the first period for the Sharks, who managed only five shots on Norrena in the first 40 minutes. Nabokov, meanwhile, was under siege constantly by a Blue Jackets offense that did everything but put the puck in the net.
Rick Nash was awarded a penalty shot 13:03 into the second period after San Jose winger Milan Michalek closed his hand on a loose puck in the crease. Nash made several moves while skating in on Nabokov, but the veteran goalie poke-checked him at the last moment to preserve the San Jose lead.
"That's why I'm there, to make the key saves," Nabokov said. "That's why I'm there, to basically do my job and keep the zeros on the board. I was feeling well. I don't know if I was in the zone. I don't like to use that word. You try to play every game like this, every period."
Jason Chimera finally got a shot past Nabokov and tied the game at 7:13 of the third. Chimera sprung Michael Peca with a pass up ice and Peca passed from out of the right corner to Chimera in front for the redirection.
It was Norrena having to stand tall in the third period, as the Sharks outshot the Blue Jackets 15-5. They couldn’t solve Norrena in the third, but broke through on Thornton’s shot in the extra session.
"Nabby stood on his head,” Chimera said. “That's a good road game for us. It's a shame we couldn't get the win. Their big players stepped up, and Thornton found a way."
Goc, a healthy scratch for the past seven games, celebrated his return to the lineup by scoring his third of the season 2:34 into the contest. The goal was set up by former Columbus forward Jody Shelley, acquired by San Jose last week.
The Blue Jackets, who have lost five of six, moved into 10th in the Western Conference with the point, tying them with the Phoenix Coyotes.
"We did the things we needed to do to win," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We didn't finish some of our scoring opportunities. We had so many chances in the first two periods, you sometimes wonder if you're ever going to score. ... It doesn't feel like consolation. This was one that got away."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.