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Flames find a way to top Wings

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts as we take a breather between hectic days on the NHL schedule and settle in for a pair of games tonight with playoff implications:

New Flame lights lamp -- Olli Jokinen scored to open the scoring Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings. He scored again in the middle of a late-game rally. And when that wasn't enough, one of the newest members of the Calgary Flames had some more heroics left over for the shootout.

Jokinen scored the decisive goal in the third round as the leaders in the Northwest Division snapped a three-game losing streak with a wild 6-5 win at Joe Louis Arena. The Flames battled back from a 4-2 deficit after two periods to take the lead with three goals in a span of just over two minutes, only to see the Wings score with 42 seconds left to force overtime.

"Nobody panicked. We just went out there the last 15 minutes and rolled (the lines) quick and kept pushing hard," said Jamie Lundmark, who sandwiched a pair of goals around one by Jokinen late in the third. "We finally got a couple of goals and things turned around for us. It was a big win ... a big two points."

With one stop remaining on a seven-game road trip, the Flames evened their record at 3-3 and responded following losses at Carolina, Atlanta and New Jersey. After getting pulled against the Devils, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff survived a 45-shot barrage -- including 28 in the first period -- to win his 40th game of the season, eight behind Martin Brodeur's single-season record.

"I'm proud of the way we responded to get through the debacle of the first period," Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. "You have to stay persistent and focused and really work to come back on a team like this. We dominated the third period."

Not in the job description -- Goals don't come often for Aaron Ward -- 42 of them in his first 749 NHL games. Shorthanded breakaways? Forget about it. But when the Boston Bruins defenseman found himself in an unusual position against the Ottawa Senators, he made the most of his opportunity.

After the Bruins killed a five-on-three, Ward came out of the penalty box, took a Patrice Bergeron feed and scored his first career shorthanded goal to spark Boston's  5-3 win at TD Banknorth Garden.

"I've never scored on a breakaway. I didn't know what to do," Ward said, only somewhat joking. "It's like an offensive lineman scoring in football. Hopefully they won't have video of it. I think my eyes were closed."

The victory allowed Boston to maintain a six-point lead over New Jersey for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But it didn't come easily, as Ottawa rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third and closed within one before Phil Kessel scored into an empty net in the final minute to seal the deal.

"We seem to have good starts, but we let off the gas pedal," said Boston forward Mark Recchi, who was acquired at the trade deadline to bolster the Bruins' playoff push. "The good thing is, though, everybody in here understands that we're not where we need to be."

On the bubble -- If the playoffs started today, the Buffalo Sabres would find themselves on the outside. After Thursday night, so would the Florida Panthers.

Patrick Lalime made 30 saves to key a 3-1 win by the Sabres against the Panthers at HSBC Arena. Buffalo currently sits 10th in the Eastern Conference, three points out of a postseason berth. Florida dropped to ninth, one point off the pace.

"There's still lots of points out there," said Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, whose third-period power-play goal capped the scoring. "We just need to get more of them."

Added Sabres captain Craig Rivet: "It was the biggest game of the year. We needed this game to get us back in it. We still have a ways to go, but we're going to keep pushing."

The Panthers, who rose as high as sixth in the East not long ago, dropped a second straight game against a team they are fighting with for playoff positioning -- they blew a 3-1 third-period lead Tuesday and lost in a shootout to the Penguins.

"It's crucial points, especially against a team like Buffalo," Panthers right wing Radek Dvorak said. "Every time you lose a game like this, it's bad for us."

Nice round numbers
-- The number that garnered the most attention after the New Jersey Devils defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2 at Prudential Center was the 550 career victories for goalie Martin Brodeur, who now is one from tying Patrick Roy's record.

While it took 60 minutes for Brodeur to get there, it took all of 18 seconds for teammate Zach Parise to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time. He became only the seventh player in New Jersey team history to hit the milestone when he put a puck past Josh Tordjman.

"It's always a good feeling to get one that quickly," Parise said. "It gets everyone excited, including the fans, right away. It's much easier in this League to play with a lead. Regardless of who is in net, you want to make sure you get all you can as early as you can."

Now the Devils move on to Montreal, where Brodeur can tie Roy atop the all-time wins list in front of a fan base that once cheered Roy's every save. Tordjman, who was making his second NHL start, is a Montreal native -- like Brodeur.

"It is going to be unbelievable," Tordjman said. "He is getting a chance to do it where Patrick had glorious years of his career. Definitely it will be special for Marty and a big moment in the history of hockey."
Reversal of fortunes -- There was a time not that long ago when the Washington Capitals were all but automatic on home ice but struggled when they hit the road. Times, apparently, have changed.

The Capitals are struggling through an 0-3-1 stretch in their own building, but they won a fifth straight road game for the first time in over eight years, edging the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, at the Wachovia Center.

Alex Ovechkin set up the first goal and scored the game-winner late in the second as Washington stayed one point behind the Devils for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

"On the road we're not trying to impress anybody. We're just trying to win," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "At home sometimes you get too cute and try to make the great play. Whatever the situation is, I'd like to continue this formula."

Ovechkin and Alexander Semin teamed up for the deciding goal after the Flyers turned the puck over behind their own net. You didn't need to be Philadelphia coach John Stevens to know that was a recipe for disaster.

"Ovechkin's the last guy you want alone in front of your goalie," Stevens said.

A winning attitude -- In addition to filling a need they had at the forward position, Antoine Vermette brought a wealth of postseason experience to the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was acquired at the trade deadline.

Vermette has played in 38 playoff games since entering the League with Ottawa during the 2003-04 season, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final a couple of seasons ago. The Senators aren't going to make it this time around, but Vermette hopes to keep his run going by helping the Jackets get to the postseason for the first time in the franchise's history.

He had a goal and an assist in the Jackets' 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game in which Columbus had to rely on Kristian Huselius' shootout goal after blowing a three-goal lead in the third period.

"Somehow I like facing this situation," Vermette said. "It sounds weird, but good teams at this time have to show some (ability to overcome) adversity like this. (It's) obviously not the way we wanted it, when you're up 3-0. But when things aren't going our way, you've got to remember these moments."

Despite a brief stretch in the third where he proved human, Steve Mason wowed the Nationwide Arena crowd yet again with a 38-save performance.
"Nobody panicked. We just went out there the last 15 minutes and rolled (the lines) quick and kept pushing hard. We finally got a couple of goals and things turned around for us. It was a big win ... a big two points." -- Flames center Jame Lundmark
"As long as we score first, I feel pretty confident," Mason said. "It doesn't matter to me what the score is or what happens in the game. My demeanor never changes out there. I was calm throughout."

Digging deep -- They're fighting not to finish last in the League for the second season in a row and were coming off a tough overtime loss in Ottawa the previous night, but the Tampa Bay Lightning turned in another positive effort.

Ryan Malone had a goal and an assist as the Lightning scored four unanswered goals for a 4-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. It was Tampa's third victory in as many meetings during this season's series.

"My legs felt better in the third than they did in the first," Malone said of playing for the second straight night. "You get your second wind and kind of just roll with it."

The Leafs' Lee Stempniak had the game's only goal through 20 minutes, but the Lightning erased that lead as Matt Pettinger and Martin St. Louis scored in the second, and Malone and Paul Szczechura added insurance goals in the third.

"They took it to us in the second period and part of that was our fault," Stempniak said. "We didn't take the extra stride to get pucks in or really pay the price to win the game. The game was right there at the beginning of the second period, but it just turned in their favor."

Glimpse of the future -- The New York Islanders have spent the majority of this season at the bottom of the NHL standings, but they've been developing their young players throughout the season and their recent play suggests much brighter days are ahead.

Kyle Okposo extended his goal streak to four games by scoring 26 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 defeat of the Montreal Canadiens. Mike Iggulden, playing in only his fifth career game, notched his first NHL goal, and former Habs goalie Yann Danis returned to Bell Centre and stopped 24 shots.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 7 | +/-: +1

"It's great," Iggulden said. "I've worked really hard down in the AHL for about four years, and to finally get an opportunity to play in the NHL, it's just been amazing. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and hopefully make a good impression on my coach, my teammates and the organization."

Danis got the chance to atone for a game between the teams on Long Island earlier this season in which he surrendered four straight goals to let a 4-1 lead slip away. He broke in with the Canadiens during the 2005-06 season, recording a shutout in his debut, and was looking forward to Thursday's return.

"I was really looking forward to this game to bounce back, and to have it here is something special," Danis said. "I can't thank enough the guys. I think they showed up tonight and they played a really hard game."

A model of consistency
-- Anyone trying to figure out where the fortunes of the New York Rangers changed need only look at the emergence of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during the 2005-06 season.

Over the next month he will attempt to lead the Blueshirts to a fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Lundqvist made one thing a certainty Thursday by defeating the Nashville Predators 4-2 at Sommet Center. It made him 4-for-4 in recording at least 30 wins in a season, a League record for a goalie at the start of his career.

"It is a great feeling to be part of history," Lundqvist said. "The first four years have been great. When I look back on my career I will definitely think about this accomplishment. Part of this is because of my teammates, as well."

His teammates had their work cut out for them after the Predators took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Coach John Tortorella read his team the riot act between periods and the Rangers scored three times over the final 40 minutes to grab an important two points on the road. The win pushed them up to seventh in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of ninth-place Florida.

"He let us know how we should play and how we should have played in the first period," Lundqvist said. "It is pretty obvious to us that when we get more involved, play more physical and go after teams that we are a better team. That is what we started doing in the second period. We made it a lot tougher for them to create chances and get confidence."

Good practice -- Despite spending plenty of time this season in the Western Conference basement, the St. Louis Blues have climbed within reach of a playoff spot. Should they get there, they'll have had their share of practice playing -- and beating -- the NHL's best.

Behind a goal and an assist from Andy McDonald, a team-leading 28th goal by Brad Boyes and 24 saves from goalie Chris Mason, the Blues beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-1, at Scottrade Center and now are just two points behind a pair of teams tied for seventh.

"We've been doing this for two months trying to get back in it, so it has that intensity," Mason said. "It is playoffs for us, otherwise we don't get in. It's good preparation for when we do get there."

Mason's optimism seems to be well-founded, as the Blues are gaining plenty of attention, not to mention respect, from around the League. That includes the team they beat Thursday.
"It is a great feeling to be part of history. The first four years have been great. When I look back on my career I will definitely think about this accomplishment. Part of this is because of my teammates, as well." -- Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist on his fourth-straight 30-win season
"They were pretty hungry out there," said Patrick Marleau, who scored the Sharks' only goal. "I think they were trying to get their forecheck going early and they were getting the puck in. I thought we did a good job of not letting the pressure get to us, but we made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on them."

Earning their keep -- Brendan Morrison and Steve Begin wanted nothing more than to contribute when they came to the Dallas Stars in the middle of the tightly-contested Western Conference playoff race. They both got their wishes.

Begin had the go-ahead goal in the second period and Morrison followed 3:26 later with what turned out to be the game-winner as the Stars edged the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, at American Airlines Center.

"I was brought in here to provide offense, and when you don't get on the board right away it's frustrating," said Morrison, who had 10 goals this season for Anaheim, but none in his first four games with Dallas. "Now it's a matter of establishing some consistency."

Begin doesn't have the scoring stats Morrison put up during a successful tenure in Vancouver, but the fact he hadn't registered a point in his first seven games with the Stars was starting to wear on him.

"It feels very good to get it out of the way," Begin said. "Now I can think about something else."

One that got away -- If the Minnesota Wild end up missing the playoffs by a point, their game against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday is one they will look back on and shake their heads.

Going against the worst team in the Western Conference, the Wild managed just a point thanks to shootout goals by Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski that gave the Avs a 2-1 win and ruined an outstanding night by goalie Niklas Backstrom.

In the locker room, the loss was handled by different players in different ways.

"The standings will change every day, every night," said Backstrom, who stopped 40 shots. "One point is better than nothing, but we have to go out and get two points every night."

Center Mikko Koivu wasn't quite as able to take the loss in stride.

"There is no excuse for this," he said. "There is no reason to play like we did. We are in a playoff race and every point is important right now. We can't be satisfied with this game. We have to be honest about it. We weren't very good and not very excited."

Coming on strong -- It's taken most of the season, but John Anderson finally is starting to see consistently solid efforts from his Atlanta Thrashers.

Marty Reasoner's goal with 50 seconds remaining in overtime beat the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3, and gave the Thrashers their fourth consecutive victory. Johan Hedberg made 29 saves and Atlanta got two points on the road against a team fighting for a playoff berth.

"I think we played very good as a team," Hedberg said. "They probably need the points more than we do. We're playing for next season, playing for pride, but the last five games are the best we've played all year."

The goal especially was satisfying for Reasoner because he used to play for the Oilers.

"It was definitely nice," said Reasoner, who matched his career high of 11 goals and also reached 200 career points. "I had a few chances and (goalie Dwayne Roloson) had gotten the best of me there, but I figured going in there, worst case, I throw it into his pads and start backchecking, but it squeaked in there."

Material from wire services was used in this report.

Contact Brian Hunter at
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