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Dion's deal puts Flames fans at ease

by John Kreiser

Dion Phaneuf signed a six-year contract extension with Calgary.
Watch Dion Phaneuf highlights
Some random thoughts before the countdown to 60 goals for Alex Ovechkin officially begins:

Congrats, Dion -- Fans of the Calgary Flames can rest easy.

With the possibility of being signed to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent this summer, hulking defenseman Dion Phaneuf signed a six-year extension worth $39 million.

“It remains very important for us to lock up our key, young players,” Flames GM Darryl Sutter said. “Our goal with Dion was to provide an arrangement that will allow him to take his game to the next level.”

Pretty scary to think about how much better the 22-year-old defenseman can get, but Phaneuf is worth every penny. With the contract extension out of the way, Phaneuf and his teammates can focus on making the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and doing some damage when they get there.

“I’m very thankful for the way that Darryl, (Flames President) Ken (King) and the ownership handled the whole negotiation process,” Phaneuf said Wednesday. “I never wanted to leave Calgary. I’m very excited to be here for the next six years.”

No question, Flames fans are excited, too.

No. 3 Washington Capitals? -- Hard to believe considering the start they got off to this season, but the Washington Capitals would be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today.

Bruce Boudreau’s club gained sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division Wednesday night with a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center.

Since Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22, the Capitals are 20-10-4. While first and last place in the Southeast are separated by just eight points, what Boudreau has been able to accomplish in Washington over the past couple months is nothing short of miraculous.


”At Thanksgiving, we were here and people had written us off,” Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig said. “'We had Coach come in with a new philosophy and the guys seemed to respond real well. We just kept going.”

From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem the Caps have any intentions of stopping, either.

A Nice Change Of Pace -- The Buffalo Sabres finally figured out to beat the New Jersey Devils in a shootout: Use a defenseman.

Following three straight shootout losses to the Devils, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff opted to go with Henrik Tallinder in the second round. All Talinder did was fake out one of the best goalies in the world, as he went to his backhand before switching to the forehand to beat Martin Brodeur, leaving the future Hall of Famer sprawled on the ice.

”I know what guys usually do, and when you get a defenseman it's usually pretty rare,” Brodeur said. “It makes it a little harder when they come on you.”

Buffalo has certainly come on as of late. The win was the Sabres’ second straight as they played at HSBC Arena for the first time since that impressive 10-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers back on Jan. 18.

”It was huge for us to get that extra point,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. “We're desperate for them right now. We stuck with it, and it shows that we're hungry.”

Free Fallin’ -- The latest Chicago Blackhawks’ slide has now reached five games.

On Wednesday night, Denis Savard’s team failed to generate much on the power play – it went an abysmal 1-for-9 with the man advantage – and took undisciplined penalties en route to a 4-1 loss at Edmonton.


Not that the Hawks didn’t try. After all, they did pepper Mathieu Garon with 21 shots in the third period alone. Garon finished with 40 saves to give the Oilers their second win in three nights.

"We're not playing the way we can," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "At the same time, we know how fast that can change and how fast momentum can change and there's still time. But it is dwindling away and we need to get those points."

The good news? Jonathan Toews practiced with the Blackhawks Wednesday and will likely return next week.

The bad news? Jonathan Toews will likely be out another week.

He’s back — A few days off to rest his back did wonders for Jose Theodore.

Theodore came back Wednesday night after missing three games due to back spasms and put on a show in San Jose, stopping 30 shots in Colorado’s 3-1 win over the Sharks. He stopped 15 of 16 shots in the second period and all 11 in the third.

”They came at me pretty hard, so it was a good test for my back,” Theodore said. “It's hard to take those extra days off, but it was the smart thing to do.”


The Avs took a lot of heat when they acquired Theodore from Montreal in March 2006. Before the back problems, he was playing his best hockey since the trade, and he feels there’s no reason that can’t continue.

“It's about finally playing the way I've always played in my career,” he said. “When I was traded, everybody knew I wasn't playing like I should. But with a lot of hard work, I'm getting to a level of being comfortable.''

He certainly impressed his coach.

“He was as quick as I’ve ever seen him,” Joel Quenneville said. “He had a special game.”


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