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Canadiens sipping 7-Up in Boston

by John Kreiser

The Canadiens defeated the Bruins 4-2 last night, making them a perfect 7-for-7 this season against Boston. Habs win seventh vs. Boston
A few thoughts as we enjoy the first weekend of spring —and the wild playoff races in both conferences:

Bear facts -- No team has caused the Boston Bruins more misery over the years than the Montreal Canadiens. This season is no different.

The Canadiens made it 7-for-7 against their Northeast Division rivals with a 4-2 victory at TD Banknorth Garden. Overall, it was their 10th win in a row against Boston, matching the franchise record for consecutive wins against the Bruins, set in 1944-45.

“Some teams just play well against other teams, and that's just the way it goes,” rookie goaltender Carey Price said.

The Bruins also are perplexed about why this Original Six rivalry has been so one-sided lately. They will try to avoid a sweep in the rematch of this home-and-home series Saturday night in Montreal.

"The onus is on us to change this," Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward said. "It sounds bad to say, but I thought we were better against them tonight. Shame on us if we are not ready for them on Saturday."

Party poopers -- Just as the Bruins do with the Canadiens, the Florida Panthers have trouble with Carolina, so it’s not surprising the Hurricanes were the ones to end Florida’s seven-game winning streak. The Panthers dominated play for most of the game, but lost 2-1 in a shootout.

Cam Ward blocks the puck against the Panthers in their 2-1 win last night.
“I thought we played well,” said forward David Booth, who had an assist on Florida's only goal. “They're a good team. ... I don't know, we've just got to find a way to beat these guys.”

They’d better do it soon: The Panthers got one point, but needed two. They’re now three points behind eighth-place Philadelphia. One reason for the deficit: Carolina has won five of the seven meetings.

Eric Staal iced the win by scoring in the third round of the shootout, as the Hurricanes won that portion of the game, 2-0.

“It's huge to get a win like that in a shootout against a team playing for so much,” Staal said. “We went at it really hard and came out of here with two points. That's big.”

Race to the finish -- There are 17 days left in the NHL season. The Ottawa Senators are primed for a fast finish.

“It's going to be an exciting couple of weeks,” center Mike Fisher said after Thursday’s 3-2 win over St. Louis kept them within three points of Montreal in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference races. “There are a lot of huge games and teams fighting for spots, and it's going to be like the playoffs because we need wins, too, and we're trying to get our full game back.”

Like almost every other team, the Senators play the remainder of their schedule within their own division. Given the strength of the Northeast, which could have four playoff teams, the Senators should be playoff-ready by the first week in April.

“It's kind of good, the fact that we play our division the rest of the way,” center Jason Spezza said. “It makes for tough games, but it gets you ready for the playoffs.”

Strong finish -- After two periods of sloppy hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed a solid 20 minutes to put away Tampa Bay. They got it.

“The first two periods we were playing sloppy, and that's not acceptable right now,” said Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu, who scored his fourth goal in the Penguins’ 4-2 victory. “We have to learn that. The little things make the difference. That's what we did in the third.”

“The first two periods we were playing sloppy, and that's not acceptable right now.” - Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu
The Pens were playing the right team -- third periods have been a nightmare for the Bolts, who surrendered six goals in the final 20 minutes in Buffalo on Wednesday and coughed up two more to the Penguins after trailing just 2-1 after 40 minutes.

Not even getting his 40th goal of the season could cheer up Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, who reached the milestone for the second-straight season. He’s third in the scoring race but would trade that for a chance at a playoff berth.

“When you don't make the playoffs, (the scoring race) is not as gratifying,” Lecavalier said.

Hole in the goal -- For the Nashville Predators to make a late run to the playoffs, their goaltending will have to get better.

The Preds have been playing musical goaltenders all season, and they’re still looking for someone to take charge. A soft goal allowed by Dan Ellis early in the second period of Thursday’s 6-3 loss to Detroit was damaging.

Nashville led 1-0 when Ellis was unable to glove Niklas Kronwall's wrist shot from just inside the blue line 55 seconds into the second period.

Predators goalie Dan Ellis stops a shot from Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk in their 6-3 loss to Detroit last night in Nashville.
“We're up 1-0 to start the second period and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “Then bang, a feeble wrist shot from the blue line goes in. We're in a playoff hunt right now. We need good goaltending, we need that save.”

After Chris Chelios' slap shot through traffic beat Ellis low to the glove side at 4:15, Trotz replaced Ellis with Chris Mason for the second time in two games.

“The coaches felt like they needed a change, and it's not my job to make the decisions,” Ellis said. “I just go out and play, and if they want to change me, they change me.”

Speed Thrills
-- His name didn’t show up anywhere on the score sheet, but Matthew Lombardi’s contribution to Calgary’s 2-1 win over Colorado was as big as anyone’s.

Lombardi, perhaps the Flames’ top penalty-killer, drew a pair of first-period penalties from Colorado defensemen while Calgary was playing shorthanded. The Flames turned the resulting power plays into their two goals.

"He can draw penalties back for us because of his speed," Flames coach Mike Keenan said. "He demonstrated that well tonight and that's what his speed means.

"He can draw penalties in a penalty-killing situation, and probably as importantly, come up with offensive opportunities as well without risking anything defensively."

The speed is nice, but Keenan probably would appreciate a little offensive help as well. Lombardi has just one goal in his last 25 games.

Crunch time -- The calendar says the Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t start for another couple weeks. Don’t tell that to the teams fighting for the Northwest Division title and Western Conference playoff berths, though.

The Vancouver Canucks got goals from unlikely scorers Trevor Linden and Matt Pettinger in their 4-1 victory at Edmonton on Thursday. It’s the kind of performance the Canucks are going to need in the final two weeks of the season, and defenseman Willie Mitchell said getting goals from players not usually relied on for offense is vital.

“The teams that get timely goals from guys that don't usually get them are the teams that win.” - Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell
“The teams that get timely goals from guys that don't usually get them are the teams that win,” Mitchell said. “Legends are made off that in the playoffs, and to be honest, in the Northwest the playoffs are right now. Hopefully that kind of thing continues.”

The Canucks and Calgary Flames are one point behind division-leading Minnesota and two ahead of Colorado. Edmonton is seven points behind the Canucks. The Wild visit Vancouver on Friday and Calgary one night later.

"They are all big at this time of the year,” Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said. “That's an important game. Hopefully we can feed off of what we did tonight."
The one that got away -- A lot of teams would be happy to get a point in a shootout loss when they spent all night playing catch-up, finally tying the game with 25 seconds left in regulation, But when you’re as desperate as the Phoenix Coyotes, you think more about the point you didn’t get.

“That was a huge point we let get away,” captain Shane Doan said after the Coyotes’ 6-5 shootout loss to Los Angeles left them six points behind Colorado for the final playoff berth in the West.

The Coyotes were their own worst enemy against a team they had beaten six times in as many tries before Thursday. Their defensive coverage left L.A. attackers wide open throughout the first two periods, when the Kings scored five goals.

“One of the things that we’re pretty proud of is how well we’ve played defensively as a team and how committed we have been as a group to minimizing scoring opportunities and cut down on our goals-against,” Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. “And if you’re going to be successful as a team, in the long run, you have to be solid defensively. You start cheating defensively, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to be successful.”

The Coyotes have played better than just about anyone thought they would — but the point they didn’t get against the last-place Kings was one they couldn’t afford to lose.

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