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Canadiens back on top of East mountain

by Brian Compton

Carey Price out dueled Martin Brodeur to help the Habs take over first place in the East. Watch the Habs take over first place
Some random thoughts before I set the TiVo for Britney Spears’ appearance on "How I Met Your Mother:"

This Price Is Right – Some hockey fans cringed when Montreal Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey shipped Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals for a second-round draft           pick Feb. 26.

Not only did some believe the Habs didn’t get enough from Washington in return, they also felt rookie Carey Price simply wasn’t ready to be the team’s No. 1 goaltender.

Tuesday night, Price made a lot of people feel a heck of a lot better.

The 20-year-old made 38 saves and helped the Canadiens regain the lead in the Eastern Conference with an impressive 4-0 win against the New Jersey Devils at Bell Centre.

"It feels real good," said Price. "I'm pretty excited on the inside, but it's just the way I am, I guess. That was a really important win for us. We needed the two points. But it's going to be up and down for the rest of the year. Everyone is fighting for first place."

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau admitted he didn’t expect his club to be in such phenomenal position with 11 games left in the regular season. No doubt, the fans in Montreal are ready for a raucous spring.

''I didn't expect this season to be fighting for first place in our conference in March, but it's (a) plus,'' said Carbonneau, who played on Montreal’s last championship club, in 1993. ''It's great for our organization, our players and our fans.”
Comeback Kids – Say this about Paul Maurice and the Toronto Maple Leafs: They won’t go down without a fight.

The Leafs erased a 3-0 third-period deficit Tuesday night, and Pavel Kubina kept Toronto’s slim playoff hopes alive when he beat what had to be an exhausted Martin Biron with just under a minute remaining in overtime for a 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Air Canada Centre.

Toronto fired 55 shots on Biron, including 21 in the third period.

 "We just played with way too much panic in our game,'' Flyers coach John Stevens said. ''You have to have the courage to play. You have to have the courage to take people on 1-on-1.
You have to have the courage to play a hockey game. To go out there and play panicky like we did tonight, throwing the puck away and not moving our feet, it was ridiculous.''

You have to love the winner’s mentality Maurice displayed late in the third period. With the game tied, 3-3, and with his team on a power play, he pulled goalie Vesa Toskala. Not only did Maurice want the two points, he wanted Philadelphia to come away with nothing.

Only Chuck Norris is more courageous.

''He was coming out regardless,'' Maurice said of Toskala. ''(There are) two factors: One, you are aware of the potential (to score), so you ask the people around you. They are 50-50 on that. The downside is the puck is in your net, you lose the game and I'm standing up here not feeling so fresh.''

Ten Spot – The San Jose Sharks just can’t lose.

The Sharks extended their winning streak to a franchise-record 10 games Tuesday night with a 2-1 defeat of the host Nashville Predators. The Sharks – who have played only two games on home ice since Valentine’s Day – outshot the Predators, 42-27. They increased the League’s best road record to 25-8-3 with the win.

''When you basically outshoot a team in their own building, with as long as we have been on the road, that says a lot about our character and determination right now,'' Sharks coach Ron Wilson said.

Evgeni Nabokov makes a save against Predators wing Rich Peverley.
Not lost in the shuffle was the play of Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who won his League-leading 40th game of the season with a 26-save effort. San Jose finished 4-0 against Nashville this season, with Nabokov recording all four victories.

''He has been not only good against this team, but against the rest of the League,'' Predators goalie Dan Ellis said. ''His defense really helps him out. They limit a lot of the quality chances. ... It's really difficult to break through their defensive system. They defend the net and the scoring area very well and limit shots and scoring opportunities.''

Turning It AroundDany Heatley has regained his devastating scoring touch. That can mean only good things for the Ottawa Senators.

Heatley notched a hat trick Tuesday night, leading the Sens to their second straight win with a 4-1 victory against the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place. Heatley had just three goals in 13 games entering the weekend, but he netted the game-winner in Saturday’s overtime victory against Phoenix. Tuesday, he told the hockey world he is back.

''When you get into a slump, sometimes offensively you try and do too much and not shoot the puck,'' Heatley said. ''I think we've all been guilty of that, and the last two nights we've just tried to make the game simpler.''

Boston certainly understands where Heatley is coming from. The Bruins have five losses in their last six games, scoring just seven goals along the way.

''We're kind of struggling to score goals,'' Bruins rookie David Krejci said. ''We've got to bear down and try to score on our chances. We had some good chances early on, but we just can't score. We need to bury those opportunities.''

U.S. 1 – Congratulations to Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella, who moved past Bob Johnson to become the winningest American-born NHL coach with 235 victories with Tuesday night’s 8-4 defeat of the New York Islanders.

''I think it was certainly satisfying for our players,'' said Tampa Bay assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who addressed the media because Tortorella left right after the game due to a personal matter. ''We've worked extremely hard over the past six or seven or eight games, maybe even longer, and haven't got rewarded.''

Meanwhile, the Islanders look more and more like a lottery team than a playoff squad. They’ve lost five of their last six games and saw forward Ruslan Fedotenko go down with a sprained knee in the third period.

"We're fragile right now and we're making mental errors," Isles coach Ted Nolan said. "When your team is fragile, everything has to go right. Any kind of giveaway is going to make the situation worse. We're getting effort from 95 percent of the guys, and those other five are hurting us."

Four Straight – The Detroit Red Wings are slumping no more.

The Wings won their fourth straight game Tuesday night, as Pavel Datsyuk broke a 1-1 tie en route to a 3-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena. With the win, the Red Wings extended their lead in the Western Conference to eight points over second-place San Jose.

''We've still got to ratchet it up,'' Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ''It's nice to see we've won four in a row, getting our confidence back, but we still have a long ways to go.''

The best news of the night for the Wings? Just 48 hours after Nicklas Lidstrom returned to the lineup, Chris Chelios was back in uniform after missing nearly three weeks with a chipped fibula. Chelios was paired with Lidstrom Tuesday night.

"We’re talking about paying attention to details," Lidstrom said. "We’re really looking at sharpening things up and we’re trying to correct the last 10 or 15 games we have here. I’m actually eager to get some games under my belt before the playoffs start.”

With a record of 46-18-6, the Red Wings are just two points shy of their eighth straight 100-point season.

He Did It Again! – If Edmonton Oilers rookie Andrew Cogliano hadn’t made a name for himself prior to this week, he certainly has now.

Cogliano scored in overtime for the third straight game Tuesday night, leading the Oilers to a 4-3 win against the St. Louis Blues at Rexall Place. The three straight OT goals are a new NHL record.

''It was pretty shocking,'' Cogliano said. ''It's hard to believe something like this. It's certainly a feeling I will remember for the rest of my life.

''Things like this don't happen often. I think I've just been really lucky to have those opportunities go in for me. But three in a row, that feels pretty good.''

The win didn’t come as easily as it should have for Edmonton, which watched a 3-0 lead slip away before Cogliano made sure the fans in attendance went home smiling.

"The next time we get a 3-0 lead, I’m going to pack up and leave,” Oilers coach Craig MacTavish joked. ''Kind of hard on the heart for this time of year. You take a 3-0 lead, and you think maybe it is going to be an easy night for us.

''We have a young team and you got seduced into thinking it's going to be point night. Hopefully, we have learned a lesson here.''

Taking Care of Business
– They were tired – it was their third game in four nights – but the Colorado Avalanche knew they had to take advantage of the fact they were playing the struggling Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday night.

So they did.

Andrew Brunette scored twice to lift the Avs to their seventh win in eight games with a 5-2 victory at Philips Arena. The win pulled Colorado even with the Calgary Flames for the Northwest Division lead, although the latter has two games in hand.

"We've got to take care of our own business," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. "Whoever does best within this division is going to have the best chance of winning it."

Very true. And while it’s nice the Avs wake up this morning tied for first place in their division, Quenneville noted they could find themselves on the outside looking in very quickly if they don’t stay the course.

"I don't think there's any opportunity to feel complacent," Quenneville said. "One day you're in third (place, in the conference), the next you're in eighth, and the ninth-place team is right there.”

As for the Thrashers … well, it appeared Tuesday night that some players are eager to simply play out the schedule. Coach Don Waddell certainly hopes that is not the case.

"It shouldn't be a problem getting up for games, but for some reason this is the first one we've had like that," he said. "So let's hope we can blow by it pretty quickly as we start a stretch drive of seven games in 11 nights. It's going to be a long 11 nights if we give those kind of 60 minutes."

Stayin’ Alive – At this point in the season, every point counts for Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes.

Ed Jovanovski and Shane Doan take the puck away from the Ducks' Rob Niedermayer last night.
That’s why the Coyotes huffed and puffed until they finally blew away a 2-0 deficit en route to a dramatic 3-2 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Arena on Tuesday night.

Shane Doan made it 2-1 in the second period, and then Keith Yandle tied the game on a power-play goal 11:27 into the third.

With the victory, the Coyotes trail the eighth-place Vancouver Canucks by five points in the Western Conference playoff race with 12 games left on their schedule.

"I just thought our guys played their hearts out," said Gretzky, who received a 35-save performance from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. "Even down 2-0, we were playing with a lot of energy. We're battling for our lives now, we know that. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we're not out of this by any means. Nobody in our locker room is going to throw in the towel."

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