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Crosby's back; Penguins pound Florida

by John Kreiser
With their roster tweaked and their captain healthy, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

Sidney Crosby scored a goal in his return from a groin injury and Tyler Kennedy had two of Pittsburgh's three third-period goals as the Penguins improved to 4-0-0 on their road trip with a dominant 4-1 win at Florida on Thursday night.

The victory moved the Penguins into a tie with Florida and the New York Rangers for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of Carolina and Buffalo.

The Penguins had won their last four games without Crosby, but they needed him late in the second period, when Florida's Radek Dvorak opened the scoring by beating Marc-Andre Fleury at 17:49. Just 26 seconds later, he delivered by splitting defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Karlis Skrastins before beating Tomas Vokoun with a wrister from the left circle to tie the game.

"That's a huge answer," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "We played a pretty good game up to that point. They get that first goal and it could be a deflater, but the captain answers right back with a great goal. Kind of a signature goal for Sidney in this building. He's gone through the D here and scored before."

"That was a big answer. The telephone was ringing and that was a big answer."

The third period was all Pittsburgh. Kennedy broke a 1-1 tie at 2:24 with a one-timer from the right circle, Kris Letang beat Vokoun with a wrist shot at 4:37 and Kennedy finished off a 2-on-1 by ramming Evgeni Malkin's pass into a wide-open net with 4:26 remaining.

"They played well," Vokoun said. "We just weren't able to contain them and they outplayed us. Sometimes that's going to happen."



Newcomer Bill Guerin, acquired from the Islanders on Wednesday, assisted on Crosby's goal. He was delighted to go from a last-place team to playing right wing on the top line of a defending conference champion along with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who came from Anaheim last week.

"I had so much fun out there. It was a blast," Guerin said. "I knew the position they were in. This was another step in the right direction. The sky's the limit for this team."

The Penguins are 7-1-1 since Bylsma took over from Michel Therrien on Feb. 15 and are getting more comfortable playing the kind of aggressive hockey he wants.

"As the game went on, we wore them down," Bylsma said. "With the addition of Sid, we were at our best tonight."

Panthers coach Peter DeBoer agreed the Penguins were sharp.

"They had good legs, they had good jump. They beat us to a lot of loose pucks," he said. "We looked like a team that came off a nine-day road trip. We hung in there for a little while and Tomas gave us a chance to hang around, but the better team won. We got what we deserved."

Coyotes 2, Bruins 1 | Video

The Coyotes got more out of their Deadline Day newcomers than the Bruins did, as Phoenix began an Eastern trip by winning in Boston for the first time in more than 12 years.

Scottie Upshall, acquired from Philadelphia, had the Coyotes' first goal, and Nigel Dawes, who came from the New York Rangers, set up Steven Reinprecht's go-ahead goal at 7:52 of the second period.

The Coyotes had not won in Boston since Oct. 7, 1996 -- the game before the former Winnipeg Jets played their first ever home opener in Phoenix.

"We talked about getting up for the Bruins because they've owned the NHL this year," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the lone former Jet still with the team, which is tied for last in the Pacific Division and tied for 13th in the 15-team Western Conference. "They have a huge cushion right now."

Not as big as it used to be. Neither of the Bruins' two newcomers, Mark Recchi and Steve Montador, had the impact Boston was hoping for. The Bruins' seemingly uncatchable lead in the Eastern Conference has been whittled to six points over New Jersey.

"Certainly not the result we got tonight," Boston coach Claude Julien said when asked if he got what he expected out of his team. "We seemed to have some ups and downs during the game, and when we work hard, we're having trouble scoring goals.

"With the team we have now, there's no reason we can't score more than one goal. We've got to get those guys to start producing, finding ways to score goals and win some games."

Chuck Kobasew gave Boston an early lead when his shot deflected between Ilya Bryzgalov's pads and into the net 7:09 into the game. Phoenix tied it at 12:01 when Upshall, who scored against the Bruins for Philadelphia on Tuesday, did it again as a Coyote.

Reinprecht put the Coyotes ahead to stay when he tipped in a pass from another newcomer, Dawes. In all, the Coyotes had five players acquired in trades, as well as rookie Josh Tordjman, who backed up Bryzgalov.

The Bruins were booed for much of the night. Defenseman Aaron Ward said the players hear the fans booing "and they have that right."

"I keep coming back to the same answers and the same games, and I don't know what's ... going on," Ward said. "No offense, but this is disparaging to sit here and have to talk to you guys about this. ... Hopefully the injection of new blood in this team can spark something."

Maple Leafs 2, Capitals 1 | Video

The first day of the rest of Martin Gerber's career was a good one. One day after being claimed on waivers from Ottawa, Gerber made 37 saves as Toronto shut down the Alex Ovechkin-less Capitals, handing Washington its third consecutive home loss.

"They were surprising and emotional," said the six-year veteran goalie from Switzerland, describing the previous 24 hours. "We talk about it with my family -- it might be it for us over here. And then finding out that a team wants you to play. It's a great feeling."

Gerber went from starting goaltender for the Senators at the start of the season to Binghamton of the AHL to the waiver wire -- where Toronto claimed him on Wednesday. He came within 39 seconds of a shutout in his Leafs debut before Alexander Semin scored a sixth-attacker goal.

"I was a little nervous and emotional to come back and play a game here tonight," Gerber said after his first NHL appearance since Jan. 5. "I tried to keep it simple. The guys did a great job to bounce bodies away from the net and let me see the puck."

That task was made a little easier by the absence of Ovechkin, who was scratched with a bruised heel after taking a shot in the foot at Wednesday's practice. He said he'll "probably" play Sunday against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lee Stempniak broke a scoreless tie 6:05 into the third period when his shot from behind the goal line banked off Theodore's right skate and into the net. Pavel Kubina scored on a one-timer from the right circle with at 9:47.

Washington has lost the first three games of a four-game homestand while being outscored 13-5. The last time the Capitals had such a streak was in November 2007, the final three games before coach Glen Hanlon was fired and replaced by Bruce Boudreau.

"We had enough chances to win two or three games, but we're in that situation right now where guys are holding their sticks really tight and not doing things that are natural to them," Boudreau said. "And consequently we're not scoring."

Boudreau had been upset with the effort of his players in the previous two games, but not this time.

"They want to do so well that they're afraid of making a mistake," Boudreau said. "One of the players said the other day they were just so nervous in the game. I mean, if they're nervous now, what's going to happen when they're in the third or fourth [playoff] round?"

Senators 4, Oilers 2 | Video

There's nothing like a fast start to help a struggling team. Jason Spezza gave the floundering Senators a jolt by scoring 12 seconds into the game and Ottawa went on to beat the visiting Oilers.

Spezza broke linemate Daniel Alfredsson's team record of scoring 13 seconds from the start of a game when he beat Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert to a loose puck after a bad pass and drove in to beat Dwayne Roloson with a backhander for his 23rd goal.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 5 | +/-: +3

"I just lost the opening draw and they tried to go D-to-D, it took a bounce off our boards that we've been complaining about all year and this time it worked to our advantage," Spezza said. "I saw that he bobbled it so I just kind of jumped by him and got in pretty clean."

The Senators got second-period goals from recent acquisitions Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli for a 3-0 lead and a third-period tally from Dany Heatley as Ottawa ended a three-game losing streak.

"It felt great to get that monkey off my back," Campoli said after scoring his first goal since coming over from the Islanders late last month. "Mike pretty much put it right on my stick and then I just had to put it on the ice. We played really well tonight. We played a complete game, we took care of the puck when we needed to, we made smart decisions and we skated, and when we do those things we're a tough team to play against."

While the Senators are all but out of the playoff race in the East, the loss was damaging for the Oilers. They fell into a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots in the West with Dallas and Anaheim. Sam Gagner scored twice for Edmonton, but the Oilers never seemed to recover from the early goal by Spezza.

"It was a very puzzling and disappointing game -- it's the time for introspection for them," coach Craig MacTavish said. "You have the expectation of a certain amount of intensity when you play a game like this, in the situation that we're in, and we go out and we mangle it."

Edmonton's two Deadline Day acquisitions, forwards Patrick O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik, didn't score in their Oiler debuts.

"I was impressed by what I saw of the skill level of both the acquisitions we got, but we had a lot of guys tonight -- when you have a certain percentage of your defensemen that play the way they did tonight, you can't win at this level," MacTavish said. "You've got to have reliability first and playmaking ability second, and we fell short on both of those areas on a high percentage of our back end."

Predators 4, Blue Jackets 2 | Video

Nashville's Sommet Center isn't known for being one of the toughest places for visiting NHL teams, but the Predators have made it one. They improved to 21-11-2 at home and completed a sweep of their five-game homestand by rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat Columbus.

Steve Sullivan's breakaway goal late in the second period snapped a 2-2 tie, and Martin Erat scored 4:24 into the third period as the Preds won their sixth consecutive game overall and moved into sixth place in the West with 70 points. Nashville and Columbus both have 70 points in 65 games, but the Predators have one more win.

"This is exactly what we needed, and hopefully we can keep riding it," Sullivan said. "With 17 games left in the season, this is when you want to get hot down the stretch. We're in a dogfight to make the playoffs, and we want to make sure we keep going hard."

The Predators are especially tough at home against Columbus, which has lost its last 10 visits to Nashville.

Nashville stayed quiet at the trade deadline. But the Preds have gotten a boost from the return of Sullivan, who missed nearly two seasons and needed two surgeries on his back. He missed a couple of shifts in the second period with what Nashville coach Barry Trotz called a cramp in his calf, but returned and helped shift the momentum with his goal.

Sullivan has scored four times in his last four games, and teammate Vernon Fiddler, who opened the scoring 7:16 into the second period, compared him to a key pickup at the deadline.

"That's probably one of the biggest pickups you can make right now in the NHL. Since he's got his game back, he's really helped our team. ... It just goes down the chain and helps with every line," Fiddler said.

Nashville got second-period goals from Jason Williams and Rick Nash to take a brief 2-1 lead. Ryan Jones tied it at 15:39 before Sullivan's goal at 18:14 put Nashville ahead to stay.

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock called it an emotionally intense game.

"It exposed a lot of things we need to work on," he said.

Kings 5, Stars 4 (OT) | Video

Bad things keep happening to the Stars at Staples Center. They blew a 4-0 third-period lead and lost in overtime last season, lost in a shootout earlier this season, and saw a 4-2 lead disappear in the final minutes of regulation on Thursday before losing in overtime.

Michal Handzus completed a hat trick at 1:31 of overtime when he tucked a wraparound just inside the post. Anze Kopitar forced overtime with 14 seconds remaining in regulation when his desperation backhander from near the right boards hit Dallas defenseman Stephan Robidas and went between Marty Turco's legs.


GOALS: 3 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 3
SOG: 6 | +/-: +1

"We got a couple of lucky bounces but we put it in the net," Kopitar said. "That's what you have to do for 60 minutes to win more games."

It was an enormous win for the Kings, whose recent slump had dropped them to the periphery of the playoff race in the West. They're still 13th, but now are only five points out of the last playoff berth.

"For us it's two points, so it's the most important thing," Handzus said after his second career hat trick. "We are scrambling and we needed two points. It wasn't the best game we ever played, but we won and that's what's most important right now."

Dallas appeared to have a win in the bag when it led 3-0 with less than five minutes left in the second period, and was still up 4-2 late in the third before getting into penalty trouble. Handzus scored during a 5-on-3 power play with 3:18 left to give the Kings some life.

The Stars were their own worst enemy down the stretch -- they gave the Kings five power plays in the final 9:48 of regulation, a big reason Los Angeles outshot Dallas 21-3 in the final period.

"With our lineup right now, we're relying on a lot of young guys, but we're also relying on veteran players to make sure that they can stabilize our group," coach Dave Tippett said. "When you have (Mark) Parrish, (Stephane) Robidas and (Marty) Turco taking penalty after penalty in the last five minutes, you're shooting yourself in the foot and that's what exactly what we did.

"They got some bounces at the end, but Marty was so tired at the end that he couldn't even crouch down, and we brought it all upon ourselves. It was a very disappointing loss."

The Stars seemed to put the game away when Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and James Neal scored in a 6:14 span of the second period. After Handzus and Alexander Frolov scored in a 33-second span to make it 3-2, Steve Ott drove to the net and jammed the puck through Erik Ersberg's pads with 14 seconds left in the period for a 4-2 lead.

The single point put Dallas into a three-way tie with Edmonton and Anaheim at 68 points, two behind seventh-place Columbus. The Stars visit the Ducks on Friday.

"It's frustrating with the position we are in," Turco said. "It feels like every single point matters, and we will have a chance to redeem ourselves tomorrow. Teams are all hard to play against, and we didn't play as well as we would've liked."

Wild 4, Sharks 3 (OT) | Video

It's hard to imagine a more unlikely comeback: The offensively challenged Wild fell behind 3-0 to the NHL's best home team, only to force overtime on a 100-foot goal before winning with 13.3 seconds left in the extra period.

Marek Zidlicky's dump-in backhander from his own side of the red line wound up tying the game with 7:57 left in regulation when it took a bounce and skipped through the pads of Brian Boucher, capping a comeback from a three-goal deficit.

"It flat-out bounced," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said in absolving his goaltender of blame. "That happens once every year or every two years. It's a tough one for the goalie. He's like to have it back; I know he'd tell you that."

Mikko Koivu won it when he jammed home the rebound of Brent Burns' bad-angled shot, giving the Wild a much-needed win after they were swept in a three-game swing through Western Canada. Minnesota is in 11th place in the West with 67 points -- but is just one out of a playoff berth and has games in hand on all of its rivals. The Wild play the two Southern California teams this weekend before returning home.

"It was huge for us," coach Jacques Lemaire said of the unexpected win. "Hopefully we can build on this win and keep playing well."

The Sharks, who had lost their last two games, came out on fire. Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe gave them a 2-0 lead after one period, and Pavelski banged in a rebound of Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot nine minutes into the second period for his 20th of the season, giving San Jose a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead.

But it wasn't. Koivu got the Wild on the board at 17:52 and Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored with 42 seconds left in the period to make it a one-goal game.

"When you're up 3-0, you've got to put teams away," McLellan said. "Either that means getting the fourth (goal) or playing well enough defensively that you don't let the team back in it. We allowed them to gain some confidence, and some momentum. Their gain is our loss. From there, it was anybody's game."

Lemaire was proud of the way his team refused to quit.

"The guys never stopped," he said of his team. "They kept working and working, and got a break. The goal at the end of the second period was huge."

Though the point put the Sharks into a tie with Detroit for the top spot in the West, they were more concerned about the point that got away than the one they got.

"We need to have that killer instinct every night," Pavelski said. "It seems like a long time since we've had that instinct to go after teams and put them away."

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



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