B's, Thrash, Rangers all win to keep East race tight
The race for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference ended the night with all three participants exactly where they started the evening.
Eighth-place Boston, ninth-place Atlanta and the 10th-place New York Rangers all went on the road Tuesday night and came home with two points. None of them had it easy -- Boston went to overtime in a scoreless tie before winning at New Jersey, Atlanta had to hang on for a 3-2 win at Toronto, and the Rangers spotted the New York Islanders a 2-0 lead before rallying for a 4-3 win.
The Bruins ended the night still in eighth place, two points ahead of Atlanta (which has played one more game) and four ahead of the Rangers.
Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask moved the Bruins one step closer to the playoffs.
Rask stopped 21 shots and Bergeron scored with 18.3 seconds left to give the Bruins a win over the Devils at the Prudential Center.
"It was a huge effort from everyone," Bergeron said after the Bruins beat the Devils for the first time this season. "We need it. It's in our hands. If we worry about ourselves and do the job, we shouldn't worry about anybody else. We've got find a way to get that energy, that effort. We know it's a tough schedule but no one feels sorry for us."
Bruins edge Devils in OT (Getty Images)
The Bruins have 82 points, the same as Philadelphia and Montreal. Who are sixth and seventh because they have more wins than Boston. The Bruins still have two road games left against the NHL's top team, the Washington capitals, and another with the Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres -- who beat the Bruins 3-2 on Monday.
"We're fighting for our lives right now," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "It's pretty obvious that those points are huge. That first point gave us something and we really had to work hard to get that second. Look around the league tonight. Teams that are chasing us also won. Every game has to be about desperation."
The winning goal started when Bergeron got the puck back to defenseman Mark Stuart, who across the blue line, found an opening and sent a shot toward goal that Mark Recchi got a piece of. Martin Brodeur made his 33rd save, but the puck went to the other side of the net and Bergeron put it into the wide-open net for his 18th goal.
"I thought Bergie scored just before," Recchi said. "He made a heck of a shot just before that. Stuie made a good play. He held on to it. He was patient. He got himself a lane and I was able to get just enough to redirect it on Marty so he really couldn't control the rebound."
New Jersey came into the game looking to move into a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins; instead, they trail the defending Stanley Cup champions by a point. Both teams have six games to play.
"We're not playing at the level we need to be at," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said.
Brodeur made the save of the game in the opening minutes of the third period by putting his glove along the goal line to stop a move across the crease by Michael Ryder, who had beaten defenseman Andy Greene.
New Jersey's David Clarkson did beat Rask with a straightaway blast from 20 feet with 6:48 left in regulation, but the puck clanged off the crossbar.
"It just nicked my glove," Rask said. "I don't think they counted it as a save but I did."
Brodeur forced the overtime by stopping a 25-foot blast by David Krejci with 3.3 seconds to play.
The Bruins outshot the Devils 22-11 in the first two periods, but there were only a handful of good scoring chances. The most memorable one came in the opening minutes when Brodeur was stunned after taking a slap shot by Stuart off his mask.
Nik Antropov gave his new team's playoff hopes a boost while officially ending his old team's postseason chances.
Antropov got the game-winner to keep Atlanta in the playoff hunt after the Thrashers had blown a 2-0 lead. Not only was it his first goal against his former team, but it also mathematically eliminated Toronto from postseason contention for the fifth straight season.
"It's good to hear," he said with a grin.
Antropov, who signed with Atlanta this past summer after being dealt by the Leafs to the Rangers last March, put Atlanta ahead to stay when he tipped a shot past Jonas Gustavsson at 4:44 of the third period. That put Atlanta back in front just 57 seconds after Viktor Stalberg had tied the game with his second goal of the night.
Antropov played his first nine seasons with the Maple Leafs and was often a target of frustration from the Air Canada Centre fans during his days with the team. He was booed again as a visitor, but it didn't bother him one bit.
"That's OK, they can do whatever they want," Antropov said after getting a goal and an assist for his first points against his former team. "We got two points and that's all that matters right now."
The win was huge for the Thrashers, who lost 4-1 to Carolina at home on Monday.
"It's been a must-win for the last month or so it feels like," forward Colby Armstrong said. "We know what the schedule is. Five games left and we've got some tough teams coming up. We're going to have to get rested up here as best we can for this last push."
"We handed them the game," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "They did some things well, but we just gave them the game, essentially. Unfortunately."
Atlanta opened the scoring after Leafs defenseman Francois Beauchemin failed to clear the puck. Afinogenov was able to wheel around untouched and beat Gustavsson with a wrist shot at 6:18. Artyukhin extended the lead to 2-0 just 46 seconds later, taking a perfect pass from Marty Reasoner and roofing a shot past Gustavsson.
After Gustavsson stopped Afinogenov on a breakaway that would have made it 3-0, Toronto cut the deficit in half when Tyler Bozak and Stalberg came in on a 2-on-1. Bozak seemingly waited too long before finding Stalberg, but the rookie bounced a shot into the net off goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's skate to make it 2-1.
Stalberg tied it when he beat Pavelec high to the glove side from the high slot at 3:47. But Antropov's tip of Ron Hainsey's point shot put Atlanta in front to stay.
The Thrashers survived a Toronto power play in the final two minutes.
"They had a couple scoring chances, but the guys in front of me did a great job," Pavelec said. "I always saw the first shots. It's a big win for us."
Gustavsson had his seven-game winning streak snapped. The last Leafs goalie to win at least eight straight was Felix Potvin in October 1993.
Happily for the Rangers, the New York Islanders know how to get multigoal leads but aren't very good at keeping them.
Despite trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, the Blueshirts rallied for three goals in the second period and added another in the third as they stayed very much alive in the playoff hunt by beating the Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"The two-goal lead is one of the worst leads in hockey," said Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who scored his 40th goal in the win. "We were talking that we have to shoot more if we want to come back, and we did. We came out really strong (in the second period) and we were quicker than them."
"We definitely needed the two points tonight. We didn't get any help tonight. It's a huge win for us." -- Henrik Lundqvist
It marked the ninth time this season the Isles have lost a game after blowing a lead of two goals or more. Despite a two-goal performance from Blake Comeau, they fell to 31-35-10 with six games remaining in their season.
"That's the way we've played all year," Isles goalie Dwayne Roloson said. "We play one great period, and then we sit back. I just don't know why we don't play a 60- or 65-minute game."
"We definitely needed the two points tonight," Lundqvist said. "We didn't get any help tonight. It's a huge win for us."
Mark Streit gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead just 2:09 into the game with a power-play goal. After the Rangers were penalized for having too many men on the ice, Streit took a cross-ice feed from Frans Nielsen and one-timed it past Lundqvist for his 11th goal of the season.
The woes for Lundqvist continued at 12:09, when Comeau's wrister from the left circle went off his left shoulder before trickling over the goal line. Comeau was credited with his 13th goal of the season.
"I was shocked that it went in," Lundqvist said. "I thought I had it under control. It was important for me to come out strong in the second. We really stepped it up."
The Isles took the two-goal lead into the first intermission as they outshot the Rangers 9-4 in the opening 20 minutes, helping erase the memories from that horrid showing they put forth at Madison Square Garden -- at least temporarily -- six nights earlier in a 5-0 loss.
"The game couldn't have started any better for us," said Isles rookie John Tavares, who assisted on Streit's goal.
But the Rangers grabbed some momentum early in the second, as Prospal cut the deficit in half just 74 seconds into the period when he took a feed from Michael Del Zotto and fired a wicked wrist shot from the left circle that beat Roloson -- who also fought the puck for much of the night -- high and to the far side. It was Prospal's 18th goal of the season.
"The most important thing was getting the first goal before they got a third," Tortorella said. "That put us back in the game. The key thing was scoring that first goal. Vinny Prospal played one of his better games tonight."
After killing off a 59-second, two-man advantage, the Blueshirts tied the game at 12:57, when Jokinen stripped Kyle Okposo of the puck in the slot and ripped a shot from between the circles past a surprised Roloson to make it 2-2.
"That was important," Tortorella said of the penalty kill. "We took some stupid penalties, but we got away with it. All in all, from the second period on I thought we played much better."
Gaborik became the 17th player in Rangers history to score 40 goals when he put his team ahead at 17:15, as he took a feed from behind the net by Aaron Voros and slipped it past Roloson to make it 3-2. The Blueshirts outshot the Isles 15-6 in the second.
"It's definitely nice … it's a nice round number," said Gaborik, who reached the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career. "Every time you score a goal, you feel good. It was a big goal for us. This game was huge. We just have to keep fighting."
Things continued to go the Rangers' way in the third, as Marc Staal made it a two-goal game at 5:05. With the teams at even strength, Staal took a nice cross-ice feed from Prospal and fired a wrist shot from the left circle past Roloson to make it 4-2. It was Staal's sixth goal of the season.
"Right now, we need points as much as possible," Staal said. "If I can help out in that way, I'm going to do that."
Comeau got the Isles back to within one when Sean Bergenheim fed him a one-timer that found its way past Lundqvist with 6:33 remaining. Mark Flood picked up his first NHL point with an assist on the play.
"I think we did some stuff right in the second, but it seems like the mistakes that we made cost us and they put it in the back of the net," Comeau said.