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Ducks eager to gain ground in West

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts before the Cory Clouston era begins Tuesday night in Ottawa:

That's more like it -- The Anaheim Ducks have been far from dominant more often than not this season. But for the final 40 minutes Monday night, they took it to Patrick Lalime and the Buffalo Sabres in a 3-2 victory at the Honda Center.
While it was only a one-goal game, the Ducks outshot the Sabres 32-13 over the last 40 minutes. Chris Kunitz and Corey Perry each scored on third period power plays to help the Ducks skate away with the win.
"We're playing a full 60 minutes and staying to our structure," Perry said. "When we play that way, we're a tough team to play against. It's nice to have three of four. We just have to keep it going. It's a battle out there. These points are crucial. We're after the All-Star break, so everybody is pushing for playoff spots."
That's what makes an upcoming three-game road trip so pivotal for the Ducks. Anaheim will visit Minnesota, Nashville and Calgary before returning home to face the Flames next Wednesday.
"Tonight's a good game to build on," Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We have to come out on Wednesday in Minnesota and make sure we bring that same effort and continue to get even better. I don't think anybody in here can be satisfied with what we've accomplished over the last four games. We have to put a string together and expect it every night from one another and ourselves. We're starting to see it, and it's up to us in here to continue that."

Reason to smile -- After winning only once in the first six games of their eight-game homestand, the Colorado Avalanche were looking for something -- or someone -- to reverse their fortunes.
Enter the Calgary Flames.
Sure, the Flames sit atop the Northwest Division. But for whatever reason, Colorado looks like a different team when the Flames share the ice. Such was the case again  Monday night, when the Avs eked out a 4-3 victory at the Pepsi Center. Colorado's last two victories have come against the Flames.
"It was extremely important for us," Avs coach Tony Granato said of the win. "During this stretch we've played some good hockey and didn't get the results we had hoped to."
Just 2-5 on their homestand, the Avs face another difficult task Thursday night as the Dallas Stars come to town. The Stars have won four in a row to move into a five-way tie for sixth place in the Western Conference.

"We have to play right now like it's the playoffs," Granato said. "That's the point where we are in our season. That's the way we have to play."

On a side note, congratulations are in order for referee Kerry Fraser. The veteran official worked his 1,800th career game Monday night.
Back on track -- They sure didn't look like the Detroit Red Wings over the last five games, but the defending Stanley Cup champions breathed a sigh of relief Monday with a 4-3 shootout victory against the St. Louis Blues.
Granted, it was about as pretty as the box office numbers for the latest installment of "Rambo," but at the end of the day, all that matters is the five-game skid is no more.
"It doesn't matter how ugly or pretty it was," said Detroit forward Marian Hossa, who scored twice in regulation and again in the shootout. "We finally ended the losing streak and now we can build on something."
With two months still to play in the regular season, Hossa already has 26 goals -- just three fewer than his total output from 2007-08. He's been everything Wings GM Ken Holland was hoping he'd be when he signed him to a one-year deal last summer.
"Obviously he's a superstar, but we knew he was," Holland said. "What we didn't know was how good of a person he is, letting him fit in real well in our dressing room, or how tough he was defensively, backchecking really hard every night."
While the free-agency period still is five months away, Holland already is trying to figure out how he can re-sign Hossa and Johan Franzen, both set to be unrestricted free agents July 1. Detroit recently signed Henrik Zetterberg, another potential UFA, to a 12-year extension.
"It's possible, but it would be difficult even though I think both would like to stay," Holland said. "I'd like to get one of them signed before the playoffs, then get to the end of June when we know what the salary cap is."

Contact Brian Compton at

Material from wire services was used in this report.
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