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Columbus aims to end postseason hex

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while Mike Dunham tears up his retirement papers:

Playoff bound? -- They played their first NHL game in 2000, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That may be on the verge of changing.

The Blue Jackets scored three times in the third period on Tuesday night en route to a 4-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche at Nationwide Arena. It was the Blue Jackets' third straight victory and their seventh in nine games.

With the All-Star break rapidly approaching, the surging Blue Jackets suddenly find themselves in a position to be in the playoff race until the very end. They currently sit in eighth place in an extremely tight Western Conference race.

"We are willing to do anything to win a hockey game, from a work standpoint," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If it's not pretty, at least we're working. Tonight wasn't a masterpiece, but we worked and we stayed with it, we battled. The people in the stands really recognize that right now. (The fans) won't let the team drop their level (of play). I feel it on the bench, they are demanding that we keep going and I haven't felt that since I started coaching here (until now)."

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Blue Jackets' recent run has been their ability to win games despite being hit hard by the injury bug. Columbus is playing without captain Rick Nash, as well as six other regulars.

"We're showing a lot of poise and a lot of patience from what is a very young team right now," veteran center Michael Peca said. "We're getting great contributions from everyone in this locker room right now."

Mellon! We need ya! -- Another game, another key injury for the New York Islanders.

This time, it was goaltender Joey MacDonald who went down early in the Isles' 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum. With Rick DiPietro possibly sidelined for the remainder of the season, Yann Danis replaced MacDonald and played admirably in the loss.

But what if Danis had somehow gotten hurt on Tuesday? Who would have replaced him?

Evidently, it would have been goalie coach Mike Dunham. Even though he retired two years ago, Dunham spent part of the game stretching and staying loose. He would have needed to sign a professional tryout form before playing.

"He was half-dressed in the weight room,'' Isles captain Bill Guerin said. ''I mean, injuries are a part of the game, but this is just crazy.''

No truth to the rumor that the tryout form would run through the year 2024.

A long time coming -- The last time the Edmonton Oilers won in the U.S. capital, Bill Clinton was the country's president.

Nearly 12 years after their last road win against the Washington Capitals, the Oilers got a hat trick from Erik Cole and 34 saves from Dwayne Roloson in a 5-2 victory against the reeling Caps, who have dropped three in a row.

Prior to Tuesday night, Edmonton's last road win against the Caps came on Jan. 26, 1997, when their home arena was in Landover, Md.

''Rollie was super-sharp early when he needed to be," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who was playing for the St. Louis Blues in 1997. "We mismanaged the puck early -- a little rattled, I think, by the threat and the skill.''

Who are these guys? -- The Ottawa Senators showed what they are truly capable of on Tuesday. All it takes is a 60-minute effort.

Dany Heatley scored his first goal in nine games, while Mike Fisher scored in his 500th career game as the Sens put an end to a five-game skid with a 5-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place.

So what was the difference?

''I don't know, I think the guys are confident in themselves,'' said goalie Brian Elliott, who made his second straight start after being called up from AHL Binghamton on Friday. ''It's a good team in there and it's kind of a mystery why we're at the bottom of the standings, but if we keep playing games like that I don't think we'll be there for long.''
Must-see TV -- When it comes to rivalries, it doesn't get much better than Montreal-Boston, does it?

The Canadiens and Bruins provided a capacity crowd of 17,565 at the TD Banknorth Garden with a pulsating hockey game -- one that saw the B's extend their Eastern Conference lead with a 3-1 victory.

All-Star goalie Tim Thomas wanted to treat it like any other regular-season game in January, but the rabid fans in Beantown just wouldn't allow it. Without a doubt, it was a reminder of that intense playoff series the teams played last April -- one that Boston pushed to the limit before falling in the seventh game.

"When the crowd gets into it like that and the teams play with that much energy, it felt like the playoffs last year,'' said Thomas, who made 34 saves in the win. ''It was one of the funnest games I've played this year.''

Get on my back, boys -- He was berated all night by a boisterous crowd at the Wachovia Center, but Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby overcame all obstacles to lead his team to a much-needed victory.

Crosby had a pair of assists, while Jordan Staal scored for the third straight game as the Pens ended a five-game slide with a 4-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers hadn't lost at home in regulation this season since Nov. 8.

Incredibly, the Penguins would not be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the season ended today. But Pittsburgh -- which reached the 2008 Stanley Cup Final -- still has plenty of time to right the ship. The Pens certainly have the talent to turn things around, despite the fact that Tuesday's win was just their second in nine games.

''I think for us, there's a lot of expectations on our team, because of the players we have on it and because of the year we had last year,'' Crosby said. ''It's not easy when you go through difficult times, but we can make sure that we do our best to improve what happens in the future.''

Welcome back -- Steve Sullivan waited a long time for this.

After missing nearly two years with a back injury, the Nashville Predators forward notched his first point since Feb. 22, 2007, leading his team to a 2-0 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

Sullivan's assist came on Radek Bonk's goal early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner. For Sullivan, it was a long time coming.

''It was just great to be back and be able to make a contribution offensively for my hockey team and get a big win,'' Sullivan said.

"It was just great to be back and be able to make a contribution offensively for my hockey team and get a big win." -- Steve Sullivan
Nashville coach Barry Trotz was happy to see the 34-year-old get rewarded.

''He's just so smart,'' Trotz said. ''Two years of watching, he's even gotten smarter, just seeing the game from up top. He's just one of those remarkable, remarkable players and as we go along here, he's getting better and better.''

Put me in, Coach -- Ten games was enough for Marc-Andre Bergeron.

The Minnesota Wild defenseman convinced coach Jacques Lemaire that he was ready to return from a knee injury, and the power-play specialist sure didn't waste much time in proving it.

Bergeron scored just 46 seconds after the opening faceoff, as the Wild skated away with a 6-3 win against the Phoenix Coyotes. Minnesota held a 2-0 lead after the first period and never looked back at the Xcel Energy Center.

''That was a nice welcome back. I guess I'll take it,'' said Bergeron, who now has four goals this season.

Andrew Brunette also pitched in with his first multipoint game in nearly a month, helping the Wild put on a rare offensive show for their fans.

''That line has been our best line since the start of the year,'' Lemaire said of the trio Brunette, Owen Nolan and Mikko Koivu. ''They ran into a little problem scoring, but getting goals tonight could put them back to where they want to be. For this team to be successful, they have to keep scoring.''
Never satisfied -- Don't look now, but here come the Calgary Flames.

Mike Cammalleri scored twice and Miikka Kiprusoff made 26 saves, as the Flames pulled within eight points of the Detroit Red Wings for second place in the Western Conference with a 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Tuesday.

With the victory, the Flames are now 10-1-1 in their last 12 games. And with two more goals, Cammalleri (17) is just one behind captain Jarome Iginla for the team lead.

''We're using (the standings) as a source of motivation right now to keep our focus and keep on improving,'' Cammalleri said. ''We're well aware of the spread right now and the games in hand and what's going on with Vancouver in our division and we'd love to keep this roll going as long as we can.''

As for finishing the season with more goals than Iginla, Cammalleri isn't about to hold his breath.

''I'll do whatever I can but I have to be honest, I expect his to come in bundles,'' Cammalleri said. ''He had a couple really good shots in the third that he got off in Jarome-like fashion, hard and crisp and they did everything but go in. With him, it's just a matter of getting him his chances and they'll start going in.''

Helping hands
-- Scott Clemmensen wasn't very pleased with his performance in Vancouver. Fortunately, he got by with a little help from his friends.

 Despite allowing a couple of questionable goals, Clemmensen received assistance from five different goal scorers as the New Jersey Devils earned a 5-3 win against the Canucks at GM Place.

"Whenever he's not here you miss him, let's face it.  But we've been going on here just fine. Tonight was one I'm sure Clemmer wishes he could have had all three of those back, but he battled. He has done a real good job, so I'm not going to sit here and crucify our goaltending." -- Brent Sutter on Martin Brodeur
''We haven't been playing that well lately so for us to get a win was important, regardless of how we did it,'' said Clemmensen, who made 26 saves to snap his personal three-game losing streak. ''It was up and down for most of the game and we finished down, but we got the win so that's the most important part.''

Actually, the most important part is that Clemmensen has helped the Devils stay afloat in the absence of Martin Brodeur. With the victory, New Jersey improved to 19-13-1 since the future Hall of Fame goalie suffered a bicep injury on Nov. 1.

''Whenever he's not here you miss him, let's face it,'' Sutter said of Brodeur. ''But we've been going on here just fine. Tonight was one I'm sure Clemmer wishes he could have had all three of those back, but he battled. He has done a real good job, so I'm not going to sit here and crucify our goaltending.''

No contest -- In the end, it was almost as bad as the Apollo Creed-Ivan Drago bout in Rocky IV.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finished their West Coast trip in disappointing fashion by dropping a 7-1 decision to the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. After having already played four consecutive road games, the Lightning were basically out of gas before the puck even dropped.

And the Sharks smelled blood.

"We were fortunate to take advantage of a team that was obviously tired and wounded," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "We thought it we could continue to pressure them, get them into penalty trouble, we could take advantage of it."

The flight back to Tampa probably won't be all that enjoyable after such a loss, but the Lightning were ready to go home. They'll face the Flyers on Thursday night in the first of a five-game homestand.

"Our guys tried, but they are the best team in the League and they put a spanking on us," Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said.

Contact Brian Compton at:

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

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