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Devils top Lightning, take first in East

by John Kreiser

Friday's win gives the Devils 84 points, moving them past Pittsburgh into first place in the Atlantic Division and one point ahead of the Penguins and Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoff scramble.
Watch highlights from the Devils' 2-1 win
Patrik Elias knows how to make his goals count.

Elias scored the 14th regular-season overtime goal of his career, beating rookie Karri Ramo with 58 seconds left in OT to give the New Jersey Devils a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night. The victory gives the Devils 84 points, moving them past Pittsburgh into first place in the Atlantic Division and one point ahead of the Penguins and Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoff scramble.

"Let's face it, it's a playoff race now," said Devils’ forward Zach Parise, who converted a pass from Elias to score New Jersey’s lone goal in regulation. "It's been for the last 10 games. It's going to be like this the rest of the season."

Elias and Parise found themselves on a 2-on-1 break in overtime, just as they had on Parise’s first-period goal. Parise, racing down the left side, tapped his stick to let Elias know he was there — but this time, Elias kept the puck, took one stride toward the middle and wristed a shot that overpowered rookie goaltender Karri Ramo. It was his eighth game-winner of the season.

"He made a good play to get it inside the blue line, carried it up the ice and froze everybody," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "Then he took that extra step to get a better angle to shoot at. That's what intelligent players do."

Ramo, who matched Martin Brodeur save-for-save for 64 minutes, thought he had made the save.

"It just kind of went through me, I don't know," Ramo said. "I thought I had it. It went through my arm."

Parise’s goal 12:16 into the game gave the Devils the lead. Tampa Bay, last in the East, tied it at 17:30 of the second on Maxime Ouellet’s power-play goal.

That was the only shot to elude Martin Brodeur, who faced only 22 shots after seeing 42 in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win in Toronto.

“We've had plenty of those games where you're comfortable Marty is not going to give any more up and you have a chance to score the goals," Parise said. "This team for years has been winning games like that. I don't think anyone is squeezing their sticks when it gets close."

Certainly not Elias. His 14 OT goals are one short of the NHL record of 15 held by Toronto’s Mats Sundin and the Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr. The game-winner was the 60th of his career, a franchise record.

“We're getting the wins, and that's the bottom line," Elias said.

The Lightning, who’ve lost four in a row and nine of their last 10, have seen their offense almost completely dry up. Vincent Lecavalier, who scored an NHL-best 52 goals last season, went a 12th straight game without one — his worst stretch in seven years. Fellow All-Star Martin St. Louis has just two assists in 10 games.

"We haven't scored goals," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "That falls on our core people."

Oilers 2, Blue Jackets 1, OT | Video
Columbus was able to beat the clock — not the Oilers. The Blue Jackets got a point when Dan Fritsche scored with 0.8 seconds left in regulation, but wound up with their seventh consecutive home loss when Fritsche’s giveaway led to Andrew Cogliano’s goal 1:53 into overtime.

"Sometimes you have to dig yourself off the tarmac, and we did in this game," a relieved Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said.

The victory ended a three-game losing streak and gave Edmonton 69 points, keeping the Oilers barely alive in the Western Conference playoff race. Columbus has 71, still five out of the last playoff berth in the West.

The Blue Jackets dominated play for much of the game, but were again plagued by an inability to finish their chances.

“It’s very frustrating,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of his team’s lack of offense — the Blue Jackets are last in the NHL in scoring. “We didn’t give up a lot of chances, but we didn’t finish. We’re competing harder than we have all year, but we’re not getting those timely goals, and we’re not getting saves at the right time with the game on the line.”

Fernando Pisani’s power-play goal at 11:02 of the second period put the Oilers ahead. Mathieu Garon was less than one tick of the clock away from his fifth shutout of the season until Fritsche fished the puck out of a pile of skates and bodies and wristed it into the net.

The goal triggered an eruption from the fans who braved a snowstorm to attend the game. But Fritsche went from hero to goal when he lost the puck to Robert Nilsson in his own zone. Nilsson fed Cogliano, who quickly snapped a shot past Pascal Leclaire.

“It's a big point — but again, we lost one in overtime,” Leclaire said. “All of the points are very important. We just didn't get it again tonight and that's frustrating."

MacTavish was relieved to leave snowy Columbus with two points, even though his team had to work a little longer to get them.

"It seems that there's nothing easy ever for us,” MacTavish said. “To give that up was disappointing at the time obviously. We don't need to be giving Columbus points either, but had some satisfaction that we came back and got the win in overtime."

Thrashers 3, Wild 2, SO | Video
Like the Blue Jackets, the desperate Thrashers tied the game after pulling their goaltender. But Atlanta was able to get the game to a shootout, where Eric Christensen and Johan Hedberg ended their team’s eight-game losing streak.

"We've played pretty well, and finally, it’s a huge monkey off our back,” Atlanta coach Don Waddell said. “Hopefully it will take some pressure off our guys and give us the opportunity to put some wins together.”

Atlanta trailed 2-1 when Brent Burns scored a power-play goal with 2:22 left in regulation. But with Hedberg on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, Ilya Kovalchuk fired a shot from below the left circle that trickled through Nicklas Backstrom’s pads and barely got over the goal line with 44.9 seconds remaining.

"They scored in the last minute," Minnesota's Brian Rolston said. "It's going to happen, but it's still tough to take."

After a scoreless overtime, Hedberg stopped all three Minnesota shooters, and Christensen beat Backstrom with a wrist shot on the second round. Christensen's shot bounced off the post and hit Backstrom's back before falling over the goal line — the kind of break the Thrashers hadn’t been getting during their losing streak.

"It's been a long time coming and we've battled hard," said Waddell, whose team is still 14th in the East, nine points out of the last playoff berth. The one point kept Minnesota tied with Calgary for first place in the Northwest Division. The Flames lost in overtime to Nashville at home. Both teams are two points ahead of fast-closing Colorado.

"It's going to be a battle to the end," said Rolston, who had a goal and an assist in regulation but was stopped in the final round of the shootout. "It's probably going to be won by one point or two points. It's going to go down to the last weekend."

Minnesota dominated the game until the final six minutes, but led only 1-0 on Rolston’s 5-on-3 power-play goal midway through the first period. Colby Armstrong tied the game with 5:30 left in regulation, banging Kovalchuk’s rebound behind Backstrom for a power-play goal.

Burns’ one-timer put the Wild back in front before Kovalchuk’s goal forced OT.

Predators 2, Flames 1, OT | Video
One night after one of their worst efforts of the season, the Predators rebounded by handing the Flames yet another overtime loss at home. Scott Nichol forced overtime when he scored at 8:58 of the third period, and J.P. Dumont won it at 2:13 overtime when he knocked in the rebound of Alexander Radulov’s shot off the post.

The victory moved the Predators past Vancouver, which routed Nashville 6-2 on Thursday, and into a tie with Colorado for the last two playoff berths in the Western Conference.

“Everyone pushed each other,” Nashville defenseman Shea Weber said. “We knew we had to get at least one point.”

They got two when Dumont knocked the puck away from defenseman Adrian Aucoin in the Calgary zone. Radulov picked up the loose puck in the slot and fired it off the post behind Miikka Kiprusoff. Dumont put the carom into the wide-open net for his eighth game-winner of the season.

"It was a big game from everybody tonight," Dumont said. "It was a big two points, and we have to give credit to our penalty kill. We had a quick start and had some good scoring chances. We never quit and we knew that we didn't have to panic, that the goal was going to come."

Despite getting a point, Calgary coach Mike Keenan wasn’t happy with his team’s performance.

“I thought they played better than we did,” Keenan said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight. They were a lot more aggressive than we were. Kiprusoff kept us in the game.”

The single point kept the Flames even with Minnesota atop the Northwest Division; Calgary has a game in hand. But it was their ninth overtime or shootout loss at the Pengrowth Saddledome this season.

Calgary’s Craig Conroy scored the only goal of the first two periods when he picked up an errant pass in the Nashville zone, broke in and beat Dan Ellis with a wrist shot to the top corner.

After Nichol’s goal tied it, the Flames had a chance in the final minutes of regulation when Radulov was called for closing his hand on the puck with exactly two minutes left in regulation. But for the sixth time in as many chances, the Flames’ power play came up empty.

“Our power play let us down,” Keenan said. “If we scored one power-play goal, we’d have won the game.”

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


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