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Elliott's hot streak has Sens making playoff plans

by John Kreiser
Brian Elliott is hot again -- and, not coincidentally, so are the Ottawa Senators.

Elliott's struggled after the Olympic break, and so did the Senators, to the point that there was a question whether Ottawa would make the playoffs. But Elliott was about as good as a goaltender could be last week, winning all four of his starts, including shutouts of Montreal and Philadelphia on consecutive days. He was named the NHL's First Star of the Week Monday.

For the week, Elliott allowed just four goals in four games while stopping 116 of the 120 shots he faced -- and leading the Senators into fifth place in the East and on the verge of returning to the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2008-09.
Second Star, Jimmy Howard -- The rookie netminder continues to carry the Detroit Red Wings on his back toward the playoffs. Howard won all three of his starts last week, capping it with a 1-0 shootout victory at Nashville Saturday in which he made 33 saves through 65 minutes and then stopped 10 of 11 shots in the shootout. In all, he allowed just four goals on 92 shots.

Third Star, Ilya Kovalchuk -- Kovalchuk finally had the kind of week New Jersey was waiting for when the Devils acquired him from Atlanta in early January. He had 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points while going plus-4 in four games, including a four-point night against Columbus.

Worth Noting

Jakub Voracek -- If the Chicago Blackhawks don't finish first in the West, they can blame Voracek. The 20-year-old Columbus forward had 4 goals and 7 points in four games last week, including 3 goals and 3 assists as the Jackets beat Chicago twice in four days.

Evgeni Nabokov -- Like Elliott, Nabokov appears to have recovered from his post-Olympic slump. He led San Jose to victories in each of his three starts last week, allowing just 3 goals and posting his 50th NHL shutout by blanking Dallas. Nabokov's victory Saturday against Vancouver was his 40th of the season, making him only the second goaltender (after Martin Brodeur) to reach the 40-win mark in three consecutive seasons.

Sidney Crosby --
"Sid the Kid" is back on top in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy after scoring twice (and again in the shootout) of Pittsburgh's 5-4 win over Toronto Sunday. His two-goal game came one day after he set up three of the Penguins' four goals in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia. For the week, he was 2-4-6 in four games.

Five down --
Five players who are struggling:

David Legwand --
The first player ever drafted by the Nashville Predators is having a year to forget, at least as far as scoring goals is concerned. He's gone six games without a point and 35 games and more than three months since scoring a goal.

Alex Kovalev -- Kovalev had a goal and a pair of assists in Ottawa's last game before the Olympic break. He's played 12 games since play resumed after the Games and has yet to get a single point.

Fredrik Modin --
Modin, a former 30-goal scorer, scored three times in his first four games after being acquired by Los Angeles at the trade deadline. But since then, he's gone seven games without a point -- a big reason the Kings are struggling to score.

Craig Anderson -- Anderson's performance has kept Colorado among the top eight in the West all season, but he may be showing the effects of the long season. He allowed 12 goals in three games last week and is 1-4-1 in his last six starts.

Roberto Luongo -- The gold medal-winning goaltender has had his ups and downs since play resumed after the Olympic break. He lost both of his starts last week and is 1-3-1 in his last five games.
Injuries, news and notes -- Joe Thornton's consecutive-games streak is over after 398 games. San Jose's star center sat out Sunday with a lower-body injury after leaving Saturday's game late in the second period. He's listed as day-to-day.

Out --
The Islanders continue to see defensemen drop like flies. Bruno Gervais missed Saturday's game with a groin problem after being injured Thursday -- just minutes after scoring the winning goal. He was injured one night after Dustin Kohn sustained a concussion. The Isles have used 12 defenseman this season. ... Florida forward David Booth will miss the rest of the season after sustaining his second concussion. ... Nashville forward Joel Ward missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and could be out for a week. Preds captain Jason Arnott has missed four games with a head injury. ... Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta sat out Saturday after leaving Friday's game with an upper-body injury. Center Tim Connolly sat out Saturday with a lower-body injury. ... Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin sat out Saturday and Sunday's games with a foot injury that's kept him out of the lineup for six of the Penguins' last seven games. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar has missed the last three due to illness. ... Rangers forward Ryan Callahan missed Saturday's game with a knee injury, and Sean Avery left that game after injuring his knee in the second period. ...  Minnesota forward Chuck Kobasew, who missed more than two months with a knee injury before returning four weeks ago, reinjured the knee on Friday and didn't return. Defenseman Cam Barker left Thursday's game with an ankle injury and didn't play Friday, and center Mikko Koivu missed the Wild's last two games with an arm injury. ... Columbus forward Chris Clark suffered an undisclosed injury in the second period Sunday and didn't return. Another forward, Jared Boll, missed both of the Jackets' weekend games with an injured left hand and is day to day. ... Washington center Brendan Morrison sat out Sunday's game with a lower-body injury, and Brooks Laich has missed the Caps' last three games after sustaining facial injuries during a morning skate. ... Boston defenseman Andrew Ference sat out Saturday's game with a hernia that will require off-season surgery and may force him to miss some games. ... Montreal forward Glen Metropolit left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. ... Flyers goaltender Johan Backlund left Saturday's game with a groin injury and didn't dress Sunday. ... Kings defenseman Matt Greene missed L.A.'s last two games with an upper-body injury. ... Detroit forward Dan Cleary injured his groin in Friday's game and sat out Saturday night. ... Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Fellow defenseman Filip Kuba didn't play Saturday due to a lower-body injury. ... Atlanta center Todd White missed the Thrashers' last two games with an upper-body injury and could be sidelined for while.

Returning -- Dallas center Mike Modano, out since having an appendectomy two weeks ago, is scheduled to resume contact by midweek and could be back not long after that. ... San Jose center Scott Nichol returned Saturday after missing two games with an upper-body injury.

Still out -- Rick DiPietro's season is over. The New York Islanders' goaltender, who's missed most of the last two seasons with knee problems, has been unable to practice due to knee problems and won't play again this season. ... Flyers forward Jeff Carter had surgery to put a screw in his broken left foot. He might be able to return before the end of the regular season  ... Chicago defenseman Kim Johnsson is still sidelined with a concussion. He's missed seven games. ... Colorado defenseman Ryan Wilson is skating by himself, but there's still no timetable for his return from a concussion. Rookie forward Brandon Yip is skating but not ready to return from a shoulder injury, and forward Stephane Yelle has missed five games with a leg injury. ... Vancouver forward Mikael Samuelsson, who went down with a shoulder injury on March 16, is skating and could be back in a week. ...

The week ahead --
It's the next-to-last week of the regular season, but the volume of hockey isn't letting up. Thirteen teams have four games this week, while 16 more play three times.  

Games to watch

Buffalo at Boston (March 29) -- Versus will be on hand as the Bruins host their Northeast Division rivals in a game they desperately need to make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (March 31) -- Once again, Versus will be in the building -- this time for a battle between two of the NHL's top guns, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

Chicago at New Jersey (April 2) -- It's a rare late-season interconference meeting between two of the NHL's top teams, with the Devils looking to avenge a 5-1 loss in their lone trip to Chicago this season.

Atlanta at Pittsburgh (April 3) --
The Thrashers and Penguins both need the win, but for different reasons: Atlanta is battling for a playoff spot, while Pittsburgh is battling New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Detroit at Philadelphia (April 4) -- NBC will at the Wachovia Center for an Easter Sunday meeting between the Wings, one of the NHL's hottest teams, and the Flyers, who are struggling to hang onto a playoff berth in the East.

Tough week ahead

Atlanta Thrashers --
The Thrashers' playoff hopes will be put to the test during a four-game week that starts with a home game against Carolina before a trip that sends them to Toronto, Washington and Pittsburgh.

Edmonton Oilers -- Not only are they last overall, but the Oilers spend the penultimate week on the road, visiting Detroit, Dallas and Phoenix.

San Jose Sharks -- After three home games in four days, the Sharks hit the road, hopscotching from Dallas to Colorado to Minnesota as they battle for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Easy week ahead

Colorado Avalanche --
Not only do the Avs get to play all three of their games at home, but two of their opponents (Anaheim and Calgary) are outside the top eight in the West.

New York Islanders -- The Isles aren't going to the playoffs, but they're a decent home team and would love nothing more than to make life miserable for their three visitors -- the Rangers, Flyers and Senators.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Penguins are the only team that has just two games scheduled -- and both are at home against teams outside the top eight in the East (Tampa Bay and Atlanta).
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