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Coyotes beat Bolts 2-1 for sixth consecutive win

by Brian Compton
That comfortable lead the San Jose Sharks once had in the Pacific Division doesn't seem nearly as comfortable any more.

Vernon Fiddler and Matthew Lombardi scored 1:49 apart during the first period, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 27 saves as the Phoenix Coyotes pulled within five points of the division lead with a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday night.

Phoenix (43-22-5), winners of six consecutive games, has all but assured itself of an invitation to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002. Now the Coyotes are closing in on assuring themselves of home-ice advantage in the opening round -- and possibly more. San Jose suffered an 8-2 loss at Dallas on Tuesday.

"We just take it one at a time," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said after his team set a franchise record with its 43rd win. "We've got to continue to improve our game."

Todd Fedoruk had the lone goal for the Lightning, who fell six points behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The eighth-place Bruins skated away with a 5-2 victory at Carolina on Tuesday. Antero Niittymaki made 26 saves for Tampa Bay.

"It's been a struggle to score goals," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "I can't question the team's courage. You've got to get players to go in front of the net.

"It's tough because these are must-win games."

Fiddler's goal came on a nifty pass into the slot from Lee Stempniak 7:56 into the game. Lombardi then doubled the Coyotes' lead when he took a pass from Wojtek Wolski and slipped a backhander past Niittymaki.

"It's not easy to win games this time of year, and we're finding ways," Fiddler said.

Thrashers 4, Sabres 3 | HIGHLIGHTS

Atlanta chased Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller with three goals in the game's first six minutes, then needed a third-period goal from Jim Slater to get past the Sabres at Philips Arena.

Miller, who stopped only two of five shots, was unavailable to speak with reporters after the game. Nik Antropov beat the Olympic MVP just 33 seconds into the game before Bryan Little and Maxim Afinogenov scored 62 seconds apart to end Miller's night. He was replaced by Patrick Lalime, who made 20 saves but allowed Slater's game-winner.

"It doesn't happen very often to chase Ryan Miller in the first six minutes, but we came out strong and we needed this one." -- Jim Slater
The Sabres have lost three straight and fell to 0-2 on their five-game road trip. Buffalo remained three points ahead of second-place Ottawa, which lost to Toronto, in the Northeast Division.

"Just goes to show you it can happen to the best of them," Thrashers coach John Anderson said of Miller. "He just really made a mistake on one when we got behind the net and he lost it. Other than that we forced some nice plays."

Jason Pominville got Buffalo on the board 4:56 into the first, a goal that came between Little's and Afinogenov's tallies. Matt Ellis made it a 3-2 game at 4:38 of the second period and Tim Kennedy tied the game 7:02 into the third when he redirected Steve Montador's shot past Johan Hedberg (29 saves).

"You can't afford to give teams goals right at the start," Ellis said. "It's something we need to address. We came out a little apprehensive. It was kind of a wake-up call for us.

"I don't know what happened. It is what it is. The beauty of it is that we had the opportunity to come back."

Nicklas Bergfors -- who was acquired in the deal that sent Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey -- picked up his third assist of the night when he found Slater driving to the net. It was the latter's ninth goal of the season and helped the Thrashers snap a six-game skid.

"I just went hard to the net and got a goal," Slater said. "It doesn't happen very often to chase Ryan Miller in the first six minutes, but we came out strong and we needed this one."

Maple Leafs 4, Senators 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

With its playoff hopes all but dashed, Toronto relished the role of spoiler in an impressive win at Ottawa.

Phil Kessel notched his 26th goal and Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski scored just 19 seconds apart in the second period for the Leafs, who won four of their six meetings with the Sens this season. Jonas Gustavsson made 30 saves.

"Everyone cares about everyone here," Kessel said. "We're playing for each other in here and we're trying to get some wins."

Toronto led 3-0 before Andy Sutton scored his first goal as a Senator with 1:34 left in the second period. Ottawa, which lost its last two games of a three-game trip to Western Canada, has gone 1-5-1 since the Olympic break. Brian Elliott made 26 saves in the loss as his team is now just one point ahead of the sixth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the East.

"I think we are struggling with handling the puck and making good passes and managing the puck," Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It seems like when we get it we want to get rid of it right away instead of sometimes settling down and controlling the play. We're stretching at times and putting ourselves in difficult spots."

The Maple Leafs made sure they would be no comeback in the third period, as they outshot the Sens 16-9. Rickard Wallin iced the victory with an empty-net goal at 19:10.

"When we were up three goals, I know I can let one in and we're still going to win the game so that feels good and of course that helps me a lot, too," Gustavsson said after winning his fourth straight start.

Capitals 7, Panthers 3 | HIGHLIGHTS

Even without Alex Ovechkin, Washington still boasts one of the most dangerous lineups in the League. Florida found that out the hard way.

Brooks Laich scored twice and five other Caps also found the back of the net as Washington cruised past the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center while Ovechkin served the front half of his two-game suspension.

Ovechkin received the punishment following his hit on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell on Sunday. But they hardly missed him, as Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Brendan Morrison, Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin each scored for the Capitals, who beat Florida for the sixth consecutive time to sweep the season series.

Ovechkin will also sit out Washington's game against Carolina on Thursday.

"It's nice that everyone contributes when (Ovechkin's) not in there," Chimera said. "That's important down the stretch in case someone big like that goes out. It's nice to know we can score goals without him."

Steven Reinprecht and Kamil Kreps got goals for the Panthers. Michal Repik also added a late Florida goal with 1:33 left in the game.

Jose Theodore made 34 saves for the Capitals, while Tomas Vokoun made 16 saves before being pulled in the second period in favor of Scott Clemmensen, who also stopped 16 shots.

"I thought we were pretty dominant tonight from start to finish," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It goes to show that when your best player gets down that the guys are rallying around him. It's almost like we're showing you that he didn't deserve to be suspended, but we'll carry on anyway."

Wild 4, Oilers 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Edmonton's woes in Minnesota just won't go away.

Chuck Kobasew scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period and the Wild beat the Oilers for the 13th straight time at the Xcel Energy Center. Andrew Ebbett, Antti Miettinen and Martin Havlat also scored for the Wild, who have won three in a row as they desperately try to remain in the playoff hunt. Minnesota is six points behind Detroit for eighth place.

"It's been like that for a month or so. We know we can't lose a game," goalie Josh Harding said after making 19 saves in the third period. "We have to keep this little ball rolling. If we don't, come playoff time we'll be on the outside looking in."

Marc Pouliot and Ryan Potulny scored for the Oilers, who went winless on their four-game road trip. The Wild's home winning streak over Edmonton is tied for the longest home winning streak against an opponent in the NHL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's not just how we skate, stick handle and shoot," Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. "If you have physical tools, it's about knowing how to play the game. Right now, we're struggling with knowing how to play a game and play it all night long."

Edmonton erased a 2-1 deficit when Potulny scored during a two-man advantage at 1:14 of the third period, but Kobasew restored Minnesota's lead just 3 minutes later and Havlat then beat Oilers goalie Jeff Deslauriers at 8:15 to put the game out of reach.

Harding, who finished with 34 saves, hasn't lost at home since Feb. 14, 2009. He's stopped 113 of the last 118 shots he's faced.

"We're battling. We're getting the ugly wins and the nice wins," Harding said. "We're clicking right now and we have to keep it going."

Stars 8, Sharks 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow each scored twice, including shorthanded goals in the third period, and Kari Lehtonen made 44 saves in his second start of the season as Dallas pummeled San Jose at the American Airlines Center.

Brad Richards and Brandon Segal also scored for the Stars, who pulled within seven points behind the Red Wings in the Western Conference playoff race. Toby Petersen and Steve Ott also scored as Dallas set a season high for goals.

"I think the first game in Pittsburgh I was a little bit too excited, and it ended up going pretty badly," Lehtonen said after his first win for Dallas. "Tonight I was able to be more calm in net, and that really works for me best."

Marc Crawford became the 15th coach in NHL history to reach 500 victories. His team, however, is just 2-5-1 since the Olympic break.

"I'm glad it's out of the way," Crawford said. "It means I've been around for a while.

"We were good in all areas. There are so many positives to draw on, but it starts and ends with your goaltender. That was a terrific performance by Kari Lehtonen. He gave our group confidence."

Dan Boyle had a power-play goal and Devin Setoguchi also scored for the Sharks, who remained two points ahead of Chicago for the Western Conference lead. San Jose is 3-3-1 since the break.

"We didn't show up in the second period and they took it to us," San Jose captain Rob Blake said. "Our turnovers and sloppy play in the zone allowed them to capitalize. There's no way we thought they were going to just roll over and let us take two points. You've got to respond."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan agreed.

"The scoreboard doesn't lie," McLellan said. "It went from bad to worse. I can't stand here and make excuses for them. Obviously everybody watched it, saw how poorly we played. It wasn't something that we can just go pick two or three guys. It was a full team so it was very frustrating."

Avalanche 5, Blues 3 | HIGHLIGHTS

Maybe all Peter Mueller needed was a change of scenery. A game against the St. Louis Blues didn't hurt either. Mueller continued his scoring surge since coming over from Phoenix at the trade deadline with a three-point night as Colorado beat the Blues to complete a four-game season-series sweep.

"It's amazing what happens when you get a chance," said Mueller, picked No. 8 by Coyotes' in the first round in 2006, after extending his scoring streak to seven games since the deal. "It's one of those things where I wanted to come in here and show that I can contribute.

"I do belong playing in this League, and I'm trying to make people eat their words of what they've said in the past."

The three points matched a career-high for Mueller; he is 4-7-11 since the trade. Peter Stastny added his fifth goal in three games and added a pair of assists as the Avs swept the Blues for the first time since 2005-06. Colorado outscored the Blues 21-8 in the four victories.

The Blues lost in their first home game since Feb. 13 and fell to an NHL-worst 12-17-5 at the Scottrade Center despite scoring quick goals in each of the first two periods. Alex Steen gave them the lead just eight seconds into the game, and Patrik Berglund beat backup Peter Budaj 34 seconds into the second period to even the game at 2-2.

"I think it's just about us," forward David Perron said about the Blues' inability to win at home. "They're a really good team, let's not kid ourselves. But if we played more of our game, we would have had better success against them."

Aside from the two quickies, Budaj was flawless while taking the place of Craig Anderson, who got the night off after making a franchise-record 23 consecutive starts and figures to start Wednesday night against Calgary. Budaj was especially strong in the third period while the Blues outshot Colorado 14-6 while trying to overcome a 4-2 deficit, but Chris Stewart's goal with 2:46 remaining in regulation put it out of reach.

"Obviously, when you don't play too much you feel out of the rhythm a little bit," Budaj said. "I just tried to be ready. You've been in net before, you know how it's done.
"I felt great in the third period."

Time is running out on the Blues' bid for a second straight late-season rally to make the playoffs. St. Louis is in 10th place in the Western Conference, seven points behind eighth-place Detroit with 13 games remaining.

St. Louis finished 9-1-1 last season to finish sixth.

"A lot's happened with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before, so we're not going to count ourselves out," forward David Backes said. "We play a lot of the teams that are ahead of us still and if we take care of our business I still like our chances.

"But losing games like these when we give our opponents a lot more than they take from us is going to be things that we'll kick ourselves in the end for."

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

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