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Crosby just a bit better than Ovechkin on Sunday

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while we dream of a Pittsburgh-Washington showdown in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

It was Sid's turn -- There was no need for punches or verbal jabs. There was no need for unfavorable comments afterwards.

On Sunday, it was all about which superstar would come through. On Sunday, it was Sidney Crosby's time to shine.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' captain scored in the shootout, lifting his team to a pulsating 4-3 win against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center. The victory was Pittsburgh's sixth in a row.

''Great ones seem to have the game on the line when it's their turn,'' Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''Tonight it was Sidney's time to have the game on the line, and he's a great one. And he made no mistake.''

He certainly didn't, as he continued the Pens' playoff push by beating Jose Theodore in Round 2 of the shootout. That was followed by a Marc-Andre Fleury save against Ovechkin, sealing Washington's fate. It also assured the Penguins' first 5-0 road trip in franchise history.

''That's how games go sometimes,'' Crosby said. ''Sometimes there's a lot of buildup, and other times there's emotions and things like that come into play. But I think we're both trying to win.''

Washington has failed to win since Feb. 28, a span of four games. But that doesn't concern Ovechkin. Not yet, at least.

''No, no, no,'' said Ovechkin, whose League-high 47th goal was part of a two-score rally in a 49-second span of the third period that erased Pittsburgh's 3-1 lead. ''It's before the playoffs, so it's good for us.''

Speaking of the playoffs, how about a first-round matchup between these teams? Who wouldn't want to see that?

''If that was the case,'' Crosby said, ''I'm sure it would be pretty intense, pretty emotional.''

Welcome back -- Sean Avery was back in the place he never wanted to leave, being cheered by the fans who loved him before he signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars last summer.

Avery, who was claimed on re-entry waivers by the Rangers last week, was  welcomed warmly by the capacity crowd in his first home game at Madison Square Garden in nearly a year. He recorded an assist, helping the Blueshirts win their third straight in a 4-3 victory against the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon.

''Obviously the two points feel real good,'' Avery said. ''On a personal note, it felt good to be at home and playing for the fans, just hearing them with me at the Garden.''

The Rangers took advantage of a below-average performance by Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez, who allowed four goals on 30 shots and was out of position when Nikolai Zherdev broke a 3-3 tie with 6:22 remaining. New York is now 3-1-1 under new coach John Tortorella and has scored at least three goals in each of the wins after netting a total of six in the previous four contests. The Rangers will visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.

''It's important that the guys continue to grow in confidence with this, but they also have to understand where we're at,'' Tortorella said. ''We have to try to do the same things more consistently (Monday).''
A reason to smile -- The Colorado Avalanche haven't had a stretch like this since 1992, when they were the Quebec Nordiques.

On Sunday, though, the Avs put an end to their six-game losing streak with an impressive 5-1 defeat of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Last in the Western Conference, Colorado has won only seven times in its last 24 games.

''Obviously the standings look pretty bad for us,'' said Avs goalie Peter Budaj, who made 24 saves. ''It's great to get a win. It's a great effort. Everyone was contributing. It's a very good hockey team on the other side. We outplayed them tonight. That's big.''

Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos each had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who scored three unanswered tallies after Jonathan Toews made it a 2-1 game. Colorado killed five of Chicago's six power plays.

''I thought we did a real good job defensively,'' Avs coach Tony Granato said. ''That's obviously an important part against a team that has such speed and talent.''

The Blackhawks failed to showcase much of either Sunday, to the dismay of coach Joel Quenneville. Chicago gets a chance to redeem itself Wednesday against Carolina.

''Today all aspects of our game were off, every single one,'' Quenneville said. ''I used really bad adjectives to describe our game today. This was a curveball and we have to get back to basics.

''I think a game like today's reminds you that there are no games that you can take for granted. The last 20 games will be harder than the first 62.''

Young and determined -- The New York Islanders may have zero chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Scott Gordon's squad is still coming to play every night.

Yann Danis made 40 saves and Kyle Okposo had his 14th goal as the Isles improved to 9-2-2 over their last 13 games at Nassau Coliseum with a 3-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes. Jeff Tambellini and Josh Bailey also scored for New York, which now embarks on a six-game road trip.

''At this point we're all fighting for a spot here next year,'' Danis said. ''We're trying to play like this every game.''

While the Islanders are in danger of having no player with 20 goals for the first time in the franchise's 37 seasons, they are receiving contributions from everyone. Special teams played a huge role in the victory, as the Isles killed all seven Phoenix power plays, including a double-minor and a pair of two-man advantages.

''Our work ethic is there,'' Bailey said of his team's recent solid play. ''We're working hard, and we're putting on back pressure. It also helps that we have great goaltending and a great defense.''

On a side note, John Tavares of the London Knights had a hat trick Sunday and became the all-time top goal-scorer in Ontario Hockey League history.

My bad -- After dropping a 5-2 decision to the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena, Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff didn't blame anyone but himself.

Kiprusoff, who was denied his 40th win this season, allowed five goals on just 20 shots Sunday and lost on the road for the first time in seven starts. The Flames never led as they lost for the third time in five games. Atlanta was held to 20 shots despite being awarded eight power plays.

''You have to give your team a chance to win,'' Kiprusoff said. ''I didn't do that today.''

Flames coach Mike Keenan was sympathetic afterward. Considering his team sits atop the Northwest Division with a month remaining in the season, there is little reason to panic.
''Today all aspects of our game were off, every single one. I used really bad adjectives to describe our game today. This was a curveball and we have to get back to basics."  -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenville
''Kiprusoff has had better games, there's no question,'' Keenan said. ''He would be the first to say it. We have to respond to those situations. I felt we spent too much time in the penalty box.''

With a day off before the Flames visit New Jersey on Tuesday night, Keenan has yet to decide if Kiprusoff will start against the Devils. Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney dropped to 0-5-1 in a 6-1 loss Friday night at Carolina.

''Hopefully I'll be better next game,'' Kiprusoff said. ''It's tough, but it's one loss and we can't keep worrying about it. We have to have more energy from the start. I didn't do it tonight.''

That's one way to do it
-- It wasn't the most economical or feasible way to win a hockey game, but the Montreal Canadiens left Dallas on Sunday night with two points in the standings.

Despite taking nine penalties in the first period, Carey Price and the Habs managed to escape the American Airlines Center with a 3-1 victory against the Dallas Stars.

Dallas (1-for-10 on the power play) held a 1-0 lead after the first thanks to Loui Eriksson's 32nd goal of the season, but it was unable to extend its lead, managing one shot during a five-one-three stretch that lasted about 3 1/2 minutes. Montreal came back with second-period goals from Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev.

"That's never the way you want to approach the game," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "After we killed the five-on-three in the second, that's what we needed. We finally decided not to back down. We kept our composure the last 40 minutes and came up with a big win."

Price -- 3-10-1 since returning from an ankle injury -- came up with a big stop on Mike Modano early in the third and made a glove save on James Neal with 10:32 remaining. The Canadiens are just 4-12-1 in their last 17 road games, but they'll play nine of their next 10 at the Bell Centre.

"When you’re going into a five-on-three, you just want to keep your head," Price said. "I think they only had one shot in that five-on-three (to start the second). When we killed that, that helped us get the momentum. Our guys did a good job on the PK. They blocked a lot of shots and kept everything away from me."

Inching closer -- Looking to end a six-game road trip on a winning note, the Minnesota Wild got huge performances from Stephane Veilleux and Niklas Backstrom in a big 3-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Sunday night.

The win pulled the Wild within a point of three teams tied for seventh in the Western Conference. Minnesota has 17 games remaining.

"Every game will be important. We're going to face adversity and we're going to need to stay composed," Veilleux said of the Wild, who had dropped four of five on the road. "With the group of guys we have, it's important to stay confident. Every night will be a battle."

Backstrom was solid throughout in a 35-save effort. It was a huge bounce-back performance after he was pulled in Saturday's 4-3 loss at Los Angeles.

''For sure it's a big thing for me to get back in there and have a good game and help the guys out,'' Backstrom said. ''In hockey you can never get too low or too high. You just have to get ready for the next game and be there.

''Bad games are part of it, and you move on. We have 17 games left, and after that we'll see where we are. If we can play hockey like this every night, I think we're going to have a good chance.''

Contact Brian Compton at

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