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Caps prevail in rivalry game

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we wonder what kind of flowers Sean Avery sent Martin Brodeur after the goaltender's elbow surgery Thursday:

Four-point swing — Given that the Washington Capitals won the Southeast Division on the final day of the 2007-08 regular season, they're well aware of how important games are against rivals like the Carolina Hurricanes.

In the final 3 minutes Thursday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals went from potentially being 6 points back of the division-leading Hurricanes to closing the gap to 2 points after Alexander Semin scored with 2:43 left and again with just 10.9 seconds remaining for a 3-2 victory.

"It's huge," winning goaltender Brent Johnson said. "We've got guys in here that work until the end of the 60 minutes, whether it goes into overtime or not. We've got guys that work the whole time. I couldn't be happier right now, to score with 10 seconds, or 11 seconds left in the game, it's just a fantastic win."

Alexander Ovechkin's career-high streak of games without a goal reached 8, but the superstar forward still made an impact with 3 assists. He also made the key play to set up Semin's game-winner.

"I think everybody knows I'm going to shoot," Ovechkin said. "But I just made one step in the middle, the goalie stops, and the guy with Semin came to me. So I just made (an) easy pass."

Carolina, which was off to a 7-3-2 start, ended up being guilty of a lot more than just leaving Semin open on the late goal.       

"There's a lot of dangerous guys out there," said Tuomo Ruutu, who had staked Carolina to a 2-1 lead in the second. "He's not the only guy on their team. We didn't play 60 minutes. That's why we lost."

Have mask, will travel —
Alex Auld has made the rounds over the last several years, going from Vancouver to Florida as part of the Roberto Luongo trade, then ending up in Boston last season. When the Ottawa Senators decided to part ways with Ray Emery, they brought in Auld.

After beginning the season as Martin Gerber's backup, Auld has started the last 7 games and the Senators have responded. Auld made 17 saves in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday that extended the team's run to 4-0-1 after a 4-game losing streak.

"When things are going good, they're going good sometimes and you don't want to ask why," said Dany Heatley, who scored in his fifth straight game. "I think overall, it starts with (Auld). He's just solid for us, calm and solid back there, and then from there, we work on our defensive game. Overall, we're coming back, our (defensemen) are moving the puck well and recently we're getting offensive contributions from everybody."

Heatley wasn't the only one helping Auld against the Flyers. Rookie center Jesse Winchester scored his first NHL goal, a moment made extra special because he had a bit of a rooting section at Scotiabank Place.

"Both of my brothers were here and my cousin from Philly, actually, so it's pretty special," Winchester said.

Digging a hole — If the situation seemed familiar to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was for a reason. The Leafs spotted the Boston Bruins a 2-0 lead after the first period at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday, the same scenario they found themselves in when the same teams met at the same venue 2 weeks earlier.

Toronto fought back that night for a 4-2 victory, but there would be no such rally this time around. Blake Wheeler saw to that by scoring a goal in each period for his first NHL hat trick, and Boston skated to a 5-2 win.

"We got to come out of the gate harder and make sure we don't make any mistakes that give them too many opportunities early in the game," said Alex Steen, who scored for the Leafs. "It is getting old. We've done it too many times and it's tough to battle back every game. We've done a good job of it but it would be nice to start the game with a lead for once."

Wheeler, a former first-round pick of Phoenix, doubled his goal total from his first 12 NHL games. Evidently switching his jersey number from 42 to 26 gave the rookie some extra jump on the ice.

"I told them I was going to change my number before every game," Wheeler said. "They said, 'That's not a good idea.' I guess I'll stick with the No. 26, its working for me."


Back on track — Scoring three goals had to give Chris Drury some added confidence. Picking up the 5-2 win was just as important for the New York Rangers, who had followed the best October in team history with 2 straight losses to begin November.

Drury, who had only 2 goals in the Rangers' first 15 games, had a power-play goal, a shorthanded tally and a power-play empty-netter that sealed Thursday's victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning and brought the hats raining down from the Madison Square Garden fans.

"It's great to see him play out there and get rewarded because he works so hard," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "He definitely deserves this."

Said Drury: "It feels pretty good, especially after losing 2 games back-to-back. It's a big win for our club."

Although the final score was more lopsided than when the Lightning lost a pair of 2-1 games to the Rangers in Prague to begin the season, coach Barry Melrose said the way his team played showed the strides they have made since coming back home.

"This team dominated us a month ago, but tonight was a totally different story," Melrose said. "It shows we're going in the right direction."

"No lead is safe" — It hasn't been an easy start to the season for either the Atlanta Thrashers or the New York Islanders, and when the two clubs met, the reasons for their struggles weren't hard to find.

The Thrashers didn't generate much over the first 40 minutes and gave up a pair of goals 17 seconds apart in the second period to create a 3-1 deficit. The Islanders, who have been giving away third-period leads lately like supermarket turkeys at Thanksgiving, then handed another one away by giving up 3 goals over the final 20 minutes for a 4-3 Atlanta victory at Philips Arena.

"It's disappointing," Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald said. "It's disappointing. No lead is safe in the third period."

Defenseman Tobias Enstrom capped the comeback with his first goal of the season, taking a slap shot that glanced off MacDonald's skate and into the net with 8:31 left in regulation. It gave new coach John Anderson his first 2-game winning streak and also gave rookie goalie Ondrej Pavelec a perfect 2-0 mark.

"Hopefully we can get back on track," Enstrom said. "It means a lot to the team to get 2 points in this game. It's always fun to get your first goal, as long as we win."

Yikes, Part I — Had it been a 40-minute game, the Pittsburgh Penguins really would have been congratulating themselves on their effort against the Edmonton Oilers.

But Edmonton's lone visit to Mellon Arena this season was your typical 60-minute affair, and the Oilers, who trailed 5-0 at one point, got on the board late in the second and then surged back with 3 more in the third. Pittsburgh ultimately held on for a 5-4 victory, but even though it was still 2 points, the mood in the dressing room afterward wasn't exactly one of jubilation.

"Halfway through the game, we were playing great," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "We lost our momentum. We lost our focus. If we lose our focus, good things aren't going to happen to us."

Maybe Pittsburgh took it for granted that Edmonton wouldn't have much left for the third — the Oilers were 5 games into a 7-game road trip and have played 10 of 12 on enemy ice — but if that was the case, Sheldon Souray said it was a mistake.

"With the way it is now, you can just never quit on the game," said the defenseman, whose shorthanded goal brought the Oilers within one. "We were positive and we had a feeling we could come back. It's always easier to say than do, but we had some good efforts in the third. Just a little too little, too late."

Yikes, Part II — Five-goal leads don't disappear that often, but Pittsburgh wasn't the only place where one nearly was erased. After spotting the Calgary Flames the first 5 goals of the game, the Nashville Predators had a comeback in store, making for a wild finish at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The Predators chopped their original deficit to 5-3, but the Flames restored their lead to 7-3 when Jarome Iginla tallied on a power play 38 seconds into the third. Back came Nashville again with 3 more, including a pair of shorthanded goals — one on a penalty shot — before Calgary held on for a 7-6 win.

''It really did start off on the wrong foot for us,'' Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. ''Everything that could happen to us in the first period happened, everything went in the net, which dug us a big hole and we just tried to battle back.''

Though they didn't make it easy, the Flames' seventh win in their last 9 games kept them tied with Minnesota atop the Northwest Division.

''In the second, we got ourselves in a little bit of penalty trouble and their power-play got them going, but then we responded well and took the play back over,'' Iginla said. ''For most of the game, it was a pretty good game until the final few minutes when we actually had the power-plays and we lost momentum there, they went bang-bang, a couple nice goals on a couple breakdowns by us.''

Killer instinct — Things haven't been going smoothly lately for the Colorado Avalanche. The Minnesota Wild knew that and took full advantage.

A pair of goals in the first 8 minutes staked the Wild to a 2-0 lead and they went on to a 3-1 victory at Pepsi Center over the team that eliminated them in the first round of last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was the fifth straight defeat for the Avalanche.

"This is a team that's looking to get back on track," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "When you don't win enough games you get fragile, and we took advantage of it right at the start. They came back hard in the second and third and our goaltender was super."

Niklas Backstrom had no choice, as Colorado peppered him with 36 shots. The Avalanche carried play over the final 40 minutes, outshooting the Wild 14-7 in the second and 12-4 in the third, but they were limited to a Darcy Tucker goal midway through the game.

"A better start to the hockey game would give us the opportunity to maybe only to be down a goal," Tucker said. "Then when we do start playing the way we did in the second and third periods we would be right there."   

Returning the favor — Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieksa had each other's backs, the way true teammates do. The result was a 1-0 victory for the Vancouver Canucks.

During an early power play, Bieksa's point shot was blocked and Garth Murray of the Phoenix Coyotes skated down the ice on a breakaway. Luongo stopped him for one of his 28 saves on the night, and Bieksa showed his thanks midway through the period by scoring the only goal of the game.

''I felt pretty good, but guys are doing a great job in front of me, too,'' said Luongo, who also made 28 saves to blank Nashville on Tuesday and Los Angeles last Friday. ''When we help each other out like that on the ice, we get good results.''

The results speak for themselves where Luongo is concerned. The goalie has a shutout streak of 141:08 going, has recorded 3 shutouts in his last 5 games, leads the League with 4 this season and increased his career total to 42, fourth among active goaltenders.

''It's a combination of things,'' Luongo said. ''I feel good. The guys are playing well in front of me. We're getting some good bounces our way.''

A valuable lesson — Tom Preissing is not a young player in the League by any means. The 29-year-old defenseman had played in 300 career games for the Sharks, Senators and his current team, the Los Angeles Kings, prior to this season. But that didn't grant him any special leeway when it came to earning ice time.

Kings coach Terry Murray benched Preissing for 4 games last month — and since returning to the lineup, the veteran defenseman has raised the level of his game. Preissing scored a power-play goal as Los Angeles edged the Florida Panthers 3-2 at Staples Center to snap a 5-game losing streak.

''There's more purpose to his game,'' Murray said. ''He knows that there's an accountability and he's playing harder. He's always been a smart player. He sees the ice well and he does a lot of things with the puck, but I think his play without it has been stepped up. When he plays with that kind of attitude, he can help any team.''

Also helping Erik Ersberg earn the victory in net against the Panthers were youngsters Brian Boyle and Drew Doughty, the latter of whom picked up his first 2 NHL assists, and Dustin Brown, who had what turned out to be the game-winning goal midway through the third.

''We had a good game tonight from top to bottom and we really supported each other in our defensive zone,'' Brown said.

The hot hand — With 8 goals in 9 games — including a pair of game-tying goals in the third period alone — it didn't come as a surprise to anyone when San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan picked Ryan Clowe to take the ice in the fourth round of a shootout against the St. Louis Blues. Well, except maybe for the player himself.

Regardless, Clowe quickly prepared himself, skated in on goalie Ben Bishop and scored the decisive goal in what turned out a 5-4 victory that kept San Jose perfect this season at HP Pavilion.

"That was surprising," Clowe said. "A lot of times I like to deke to my backhand, but he's a big goalie with long legs, so I thought I would have to move him, open him up."

Their eighth straight win at home didn't come easy, as the Blues took a 2-1 lead after the first period and jumped ahead 3-2 and 4-3 in the third — only to be answered by Clowe each time.

"They came at us in the third period," Clowe said. "To be down twice in the third period and win the game is a great feeling."

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

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