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Bruins rediscover offense with Ryder's return

by John Kreiser
A few thoughts as we resume the Brodeur Watch:

Welcome back --
The Boston Bruins got center Michael Ryder back this week. Not coincidentally, their offense has also returned.

Ryder missed seven games following surgery to repair broken bones in his face. While he was out the Bruins went 1-4-2 and scored just 15 goals.

He returned Tuesday and fueled a 6-1 rout of Florida. On Thursday, he had a pair of goals and an assist as the Bruins made it two in a row by pounding the Anaheim Ducks, 6-0, at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The Bruins now are 17-0-1 this season when Ryder scores a goal.

"He's a threat whenever he's out there," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We talked about putting some emotion in our game when we were sliding, putting some jam and grit into it, and it allowed us to score some goals."

Ryder wasn't the only offensive contributor. Even goaltender Tim Thomas earned an assist with a pass that began the play resulting in Ryder's second goal.

"A goalie's assists aren't really important," Thomas said. "If I get 98 more maybe there's a bonus in my contract," he said. "If (only) they could get me six goals every game. We set the bar high."

Chuck Kobasew also scored twice, and Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ference each had a pair of assists.

"We just came back here and told ourselves we've got to go back to the way we played before," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "We got six goals last game and six goals this game. Things are going our way right now."

The game also marked the Anaheim debut of defenseman Ryan Whitney. Whitney had been acquired from the Penguins earlier in the day, in exchange for forward Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi.

A Boston native, Whitney happened to be home attending to a personal matter when he was dealt. All he needed was his gear -- but flying it to Boston wasn't as easy as it might seem.

"We actually had to fly somebody with his equipment from Pittsburgh," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's a lot harder with the new regulations with TSA. You can't fly a bag alone."

Marty the Magnificent -- Martin Brodeur's return to the New Jersey Devils ended just the way he dreamed it would -- with a shutout.

Brodeur returned Thursday night after missing 50 games due to a torn biceps tendon in his left arm. He stopped all 24 shots he faced and looked like he was in midseason form as the New Jersey Devils blanked the Colorado Avalanche 4-0.

He said afterward that he'd dreamed about his performance the night before. Of course, it was a shutout.

"You just go out there and play," Brodeur said. "Sometimes it happens. I never really think about it and I don't want to jinx myself thinking about shutouts."

Hard as it may be to believe, the future Hall of Famer said he actually had some nervousness before he hit the ice for the first time since being injured onNov. 1.

"It was an exciting night to get out there and perform," Brodeur said. "I was really anxious all day, more nervous that I thought I was going to be. We pulled it off. It was nice to score early in the game. I didn't get much work. It was a nice game to play."

The Devils made it easy for him, as Jamie Langenbrunner scored early, Patrik Elias made it 2-0 in the second period and goals by Zach Parise and Travis Zajac in the third provided insurance.

The four-time Vezina Trophy winner as hockey's best goalie got a standing ovation from the Prudential Center fans when he stepped on the ice for warmups, and they cheered every time he touched the puck, even when he simply directed it to the corner.

"The fans were great," Brodeur said. "I don't know if they were sarcastic about cheering me on the saves sometimes but it was definitely nice."

One and done -- John Tortorella's first two games as coach of the New York Rangers have had basically the same script: Dominate play, take a 1-0 lead, allow a third-period goal, lose 2-1. The only difference between the two is that the Rangers got a point in Wednesday night's shootout loss to Toronto but went home empty-handed against Florida, when third-period goals by David Booth and Nathan Horton gave the Panthers a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden.

"We can't cut the line so fine here in being 1-0 again," said Tortorella, sounding a lot like Tom Renney, the man he replaced Monday. "We have to try to get that second goal so that type of situation doesn't hurt you."

It wasn't that the Rangers didn't have chances. They outshot Florida 41-22 but were stymied time and again by Craig Anderson.

Despite the loss, Tortorella could find little to complain about with his team's effort.

"You can't hate your guys because they're struggling," he said. "It's easy to love them when they're going well and hate them when they're going bad. Our best players are going to have to be our best players, and they will. They're going to get every opportunity to get us out of this scoring funk.

"I'm not upset with them. We did a lot of good things. We're just struggling to score a goal, and it compounds when they scored a couple of quick ones on us at the end of the game, when we controlled most of the game. As a coach, I have to realize how the game is going and act accordingly."

No Jok-inen -- In regulation and overtime, Jussi Jokinen is nothing special -- he's been traded and waived within the past year. But put Jokinen in a shootout and he's a whiz.

Jokinen, traded by Tampa Bay to Carolina earlier this season, made the pickup look smart by scoring the only goal of the shootout to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 win against Buffalo, pulling the Hurricanes even with the Sabres for eighth place in the East.

It was Jokinen's 21st shootout goal in 39 tries. Only Atlanta's Slava Kozlov (22) has more.

"Since the lockout, points in the shootout can decide if a team makes the playoffs or not," Jokinen said. "That's something I've been good at all four seasons. I've spent a lot of time in the summers practicing. When you get a chance you just try to be confident and forget everything else and the fans and do what you've done thousands of times before."

Jokinen skated in, made a quick move and beat Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime to the blocker side, banking his shot in off the post.

"I watched (Tuomo Ruutu) and (Lalime) was coming far out, so, if I stop, it's tough on the goalie," Jokinen said. "They have to think 'What's he going to do?' I tried to freeze him out a little bit and I got a pretty good shot. It was a big two points for us."

Nice start -- Players always remember their NHL debut. Toronto's Tim Stapleton made sure his will be especially memorable.

Stapleton got the winning goal in the shootout to give the Maple Leafs a 5-4 victory against the New York Islanders in a game they won after blowing a pair of two-goal leads.

"I didn't even know I scored until I curled after the shot and saw my teammates jump off the bench," said Stapleton, an undrafted 26-year-old out of Minnesota-Duluth who signed with Toronto last June after two seasons with Jokerit of the Finnish SM-liiga. "I'm just fortunate it went in."

The Leafs wasted an early 2-0 lead, and then went ahead 4-2 in the third period, but couldn't hold that lead, either -- adding a few more gray hairs to their coach's head.
"You can't hate your guys because they're struggling. It's easy to love them when they're going well and hate them when they're going bad. Our best players are going to have to be our best players, and they will. They're going to get every opportunity to get us out of this scoring funk." -- Rangers' coach John Tortorella
"It was an ugly game," Ron Wilson said after watching his team go past regulation for the fifth game in a row. He then joked, "I'm growing my hair long so you can't see how gray it is."

Putting the "power" in power play
-- The Washington Capitals' power play is making opponents pay for taking penalties. The Atlanta Thrashers were the latest to learn that giving the Caps an extra man isn't a good idea.

Alexander Semin scored one of Washington's three extra-man goals and assisted on the other two as the Caps held off the Thrashers 4-3 at the Verizon Center. The Capitals entered with a 23.8-percent success rate, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and No. 3 in the NHL -- and just below the franchise record for a full season, 23.9 percent in 1984-85.

Two of the power-play goals came less than a minute apart early in the first period, with Semin scoring at 4:27 and assisting on Brooks Laich's goal at 5:20.

"We take those two stupid penalties," Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk said, "and then it was 2-zip."

Mike Green broke a 2-2 tie midway through the second with the Caps' third power-play goal. It was his 16th extra-man goal of the season and 23rd overall, both NHL bests for defensemen.

"That power-play goal he got was perfect, textbook. A great shot," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Before he's done, he's going to break a lot of records."

Tighter and tighter -- The Nashville Predators are hoping that if they keep winning enough games, they'll finally pass someone in the super-tight Western Conference playoff race.

The Preds dominated Phoenix 4-1 at the Sommet Center for a victory in the 800th regular-season game in franchise history. But it still left them 11th in the West -- though they are only one point behind four teams tied for seventh.

"Hopefully, the right teams win and the right teams lose and we'll get closer into that pack," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.

Only seven points separate fifth-place Vancouver from 13th-place Los Angeles in a race that figures to go down to the wire.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 4 | +/-: +2

"There are seven teams that are fighting for two or three spots," said forward Steve Sullivan, who scored Nashville's first goal. "Everyone's looking at the standings every single day. We know where everybody is and what we have to do. We still believe our destiny is in our own hands. We have to win games here."

So does Phoenix, which has dropped to 14th and is on the verge of falling out of the race despite being just six points out of a playoff berth.

"We got outskated and came out flat," an unhappy Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "We're paid a lot of money to play the game, and you should at least give an effort."

Turnabout -- In the first three months of the season, St. Louis fans had to be wondering why the Blues were so eager to sign goaltender Chris Mason. Now they know.

Mason's goaltending has been the biggest reason the Blues are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. After a 3-13-1 start, he's 10-3-4 in his last 17 decisions -- including a 41-save performance in the Blues' 3-1 win at Dallas.

"That was a celebration of exceptional goaltending, that's what it was," Blues coach Andy Murray said.

The Blues have climbed within three points of a playoff spot by riding Mason, who's played 17 consecutive games. They’ve allowed one goal or less in six of their last seven games.

"It all started with Mason," said rookie T.J. Oshie, who scored the go-ahead goal 6:50 into the third period. "He definitely made a lot of saves that he probably shouldn't make. He's really what kept us in the game until we got our legs under us and started feeling better."

Rookie mistake -- Rest assured that the next time Ottawa rookie Brian Lee is called for a penalty, he'll keep his thoughts to himself.

Ottawa led San Jose 1-0 and Lee had just finished serving a second-period hooking penalty when he was called for holding Mike Grier at 9:39. The rookie defenseman didn't like the call and made his displeasure known -- earning a second two-minute penaty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the process.

The Sharks cashed in both ends of the double minor, getting goals from Milan Michalek and Patrick Marleau to beat the struggling Senators 2-1 -- and leaving Lee feeling guilty.

"I feel responsible for the loss," said Lee, who acknowledged that he had argued the holding call.

Center Mike Fisher said it's an experience Lee has to learn from.

"It's a tough one, to get a double like that, but emotions are flying and it's part of the game," he said. 

The Sharks knew Lee handed them a golden opportunity and were determined to cash in.

"On the bench, we felt the momentum was kind of changed when that happened, and then we really wanted to bear down and make them pay," said center Joe Thornton, who earned his 54th assist of the season on Marleau's game-winner. "We did that, and that was the reason we won."

Winning ugly -- The Columbus Blue Jackets weren't concerned about getting only one goal in their game at Edmonton. They just were happy it was one more than the Oilers scored.

Ex-Oiler Raffi Torres' breakaway goal early in the third period gave the Jackets a 1-0 win, leaving them tied for fifth place in the West -- heady territory for a franchise that has yet to make the playoffs.

"This was like a playoff game," Columbus captain Rick Nash said. "This is a team that we have to beat if we want to make the playoffs. This was huge. We're on a road trip, we lost our last two and it was a great effort tonight by all 20 guys."

The Jackets outshot Edmonton 32-19, making things relatively easy for rookie goaltender Steve Mason. Only some terrific goaltending by Dwayne Roloson kept the game close.

Coach Ken Hitchcock said his team has found its legs after a stretch of six games in nine nights wore everyone down.

"This is the way we play," he said. "We got some energy back in our legs. I thought our relentless checking up and down the ice was what did it for us. When we play like this, we're hard to beat."

The Oilers, who fell back into a four-way tie for seventh, appeared to have no answer for the swarming Jackets.

"They forced the game to the walls and we didn't win many battles," coach Craig MacTavish said. "They looked bigger and stronger than we were. When you get the game to the walls you have to make plays through traffic and we didn't do that and that's why we lost.

"Today was a step backwards for sure."

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

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