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Capital gains continue for Washington, Ovechkin

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Washington Capitals 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes last night tied them with Carolina for the Southeast Division lead. Caps-'Canes Highlights
A few thoughts while some Blackhawks fans run out to buy television sets:

D.C. Jollies -- With “MVP!” chants raining down on Hart Trophy candidate Alex Ovechkin in the final moments of the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center Tuesday night, one thing became perfectly clear.

Actually, two things:

1 – Hockey is indeed back in the District of Columbia.

2 – Bruce Boudreau is deserving of the Jack Adams Award.

To think this is the same season that saw the Caps all but dead and buried on Thanksgiving.

To think Boudreau had never coached an NHL game prior to replacing Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22, 2007.

Some things really don’t make sense. But Boudreau is here now, making the most of an opportunity he obviously should have received years ago. And he and Ovechkin have made the Caps go from an early-season laughingstock to a team that won’t be any fun to play against in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, should they make it.

Thanksgiving seems so long ago.

Better Late Than Never -- For a while there, it looked like the St. Louis Blues were about to seriously damage the Nashville Predators’ postseason hopes.

Despite falling into a 3-0 hole just seven minutes into the game, the Predators clawed their way back into the contest and gained two much-needed points when Rich Peverley beat Manny Legace 1:43 into overtime in a 4-3 win at the Scottrade Center.

“This is a tremendous two points,” Peverley said. “We can’t afford to lose any of these games. We need to get two points as many times as we can. It was a big character builder because we knew we could come back and win. We have to carry that into the next game.”

The next game takes place Thursday, when the teams conclude a home-and-home series at Nashville. Once again, the Predators, who moved into eighth place by themselves with the victory, will be in must-win mode.

“After they got the third goal, we sort of said; ‘That’s it. We can’t let them have any more. We’ve just have to chip away. We’ve got to get out of this period,”’ Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “The boys really battled. We just rolled four lines.”

Deep Trouble -- Somehow, someway, the Ottawa Senators could wind up actually missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Canadiens defeated the Senators 3-0 last night.
The best team in the Eastern Conference for basically the entire first half of the season, the Sens are in a total freefall. Their latest setback took place Tuesday night, a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place.

Ottawa, which has 92 points and currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, is just two points ahead of No. 9 Washington. The Senators visit Toronto on Thursday before closing out the regular season on Friday at home against the Boston Bruins.

Gee, you think the Maple Leafs would mind playing spoiler against Bryan Murray’s club?

“Obviously we’re frustrated and you look at the standing and wonder how and why it’s happened, but it’s too late to look back,” Senators center Jason Spezza said. “You’ve got to look forward now.

"We know we're in for a battle here. These are important games and we're ready for them we're just not playing very well. We have to turn things around here for the next two games and get two wins."

If not, it won’t be a fun summer in Canada’s capital.

A Valiant Effort -- They huffed and they puffed, but in the end, the Edmonton Oilers’ dash to the finish line came up lame with Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place.

“We believed that we could get in and that we had the type of team that could make some noise," Oilers forward Jarret Stoll said. “But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We battled hard when a lot of things were against us. And we never once used those excuses."

Indeed they didn’t, and it certainly seems as if the pieces are in place for the Oilers to contend for years to come.

"We're pretty proud of each other in here for the character we showed down the stretch and for how hard we battled for each other," said 18-year-old forward Sam Gagner, the biggest piece to Edmonton’s puzzle. "We learned a lot and came together as a group really well. Looking towards the future, we are pretty excited about it, but it's pretty tough to think about that right now."

They’re In -- In need of a victory to secure a playoff spot, Zach Parise scored 29 seconds into overtime Tuesday night, lifting the New Jersey Devils to a 2-1 win over some of the New York Islanders and a lot of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

“Now, we're trying to climb as high as we can with the three games we have left." - Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
Although the Atlantic Division has been all but won by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils are still very much alive in the race for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Tuesday’s win put New Jersey two points ahead of the New York Rangers with three games remaining.

“It's nice not to have to think about it now,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said of the playoffs. “Now, we're trying to climb as high as we can with the three games we have left. A few weeks ago, we were leading the conference, and now, we're scrambling to get in. At least we can go for fourth place.”
    
Do You Know The Way To Beat San Jose? -- Make it 20 games and counting since the San Jose Sharks last lost a game in regulation.

Mike Grier, Patrick Marleau, Curtis Brown and Brian Campbell all scored in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings at HP Pavilion, as the Sharks improved to 18-0-2 in their last 20 contests. They also set a new franchise record with 108 points this season.

San Jose’s even winning at home these days. After struggling at the Shark Tank earlier this season, Ron Wilson’s club has won eight in a row on home ice.

The San Jose Sharks have won eight in a row on home ice.
“We obviously started the season real slow at home, but we've been on fire here at the end of the year,” said Sharks center Joe Thornton, who had his NHL-best 66th assist. “Our fans are going to be a big part of our postseason success. We love playing here.”

Campbell, San Jose’s prize acquisition at the trade deadline, is hopeful his team can carry this incredible momentum into the postseason.

“We’ve got to stay on a roll going into the playoffs,” he said. “We don’t want to take our foot off the gas. Winning all these games now doesn’t matter if you don’t win in the playoffs.”

Stayin’ Alive -- The Buffalo Sabres are doing everything in their power to remain in the postseason race.

On Tuesday night, Lindy Ruff’s squad fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to earn a 4-3 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The Sabres now have 88 points, three back of Boston and Philadelphia. Both teams have a game in hand on Buffalo.

The Flyers visit Pittsburgh Wednesday night, while the Bruins take on the Devils at the Prudential Center. With the Penguins fighting for the Eastern Conference title and New Jersey trying to secure the No. 4 seed, the Sabres have a legitimate shot to still have a pulse on Thursday morning.

“We're still alive,” said Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov, who notched the winner in the sixth round of the shootout. “Maybe the other teams will be a little shaken, and hopefully it'll be good for us.”

Congrats, Rook
--Atlanta Thrashers rookie Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman has a story to tell his grandchildren following Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at Philips Arena.

While his team came up short, LaVallee-Smotherman – a 6-foot-3, 225-pound left wing – scored his first NHL goal at 13:09 of the second period. The tally erased Florida’s 1-0 lead.

No doubt, smiles were as wide as the Pacific Ocean in LaVallee-Smotherman’s hometown of Corvallis, Oregon.

“I was very excited and thinking about my parents back home watching the game and how happy and proud they were,” he 21-year-old said of his first goal. “It's a much easier game here. ... Guys know where they are supposed to be and are always in the right spot, so that makes it easier to join right in.''

Not You Guys Again! -- The Vancouver Canucks have had an extremely difficult time with the Colorado Avalanche this season.

Byron Ritchie celebrates a goal, shot by team mate Willie Mitchell past Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore, last night.
Because of that, their playoff hopes were dented on Tuesday night.

The Canucks lost to the Avs for the sixth-consecutive time in a 4-2 decision at GM Place, which leaves Vancouver in ninth place in the Western Conference thanks to Nashville’s come-from-behind victory in St. Louis.

Both the Canucks and Predators have only two games remaining in the regular season, and Vancouver has the tougher road. The Canucks host Edmonton on Thursday and Calgary on Saturday, while the Preds host St. Louis on Thursday and visit Chicago on Friday.

Granted, both of Vancouver’s game are at home. But with the Oilers being eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday night, one has to believe Craig MacTavish’s group will be just a little ticked off when the puck drops on Thursday night. The Canucks will be in for a battle against one of their biggest foes.

“We have to win Thursday,” Vigneault said. “That’s where our focus has to be.”

Meanwhile, the Avs are back in the postseason after missing the party in 2007. Peter Forsberg also scored his first goal on Tuesday night, giving Colorado fans more than one reason to smile this morning.

"It feels good to be in the playoffs after missing it last year," Avs forward Milan Hejduk said. "It was a really disappointing year for us. We're used to playing a lot of playoff games, so it's fun to be back."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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