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Gerbe gets the call every player hopes for

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
A few thoughts while sports fans in Chicago admire how the Blackhawks nearly outscored the Bears' opponent Sunday:

Happy Anniversary -- Nathan Gerbe gave his parents the best anniversary gift they ever could have hoped for Friday night.

The Buffalo Sabres rookie called his folks to let them know he had made the big time. Twenty-four hours later, the 21-year-old was playing in the National Hockey League, helping his team earn a 4-3 win at Tampa Bay.

Gerbe didn't score, but it was a solid debut, as he was a plus-2 and had four shots on goal in 15:09 of ice time.

"They've always supported me my whole life, and I knew they would really like that, especially since it was their anniversary," Gerbe told The Buffalo News before Saturday's victory. "It was definitely a good present for them, and they were really excited."

Gerbe's promotion was well-deserved, as he was constantly finding himself on the scoresheet in the American Hockey League. In 21 games with the Portland Pirates, Gerbe had 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists), which was tops among AHL rookies.

Judging by what he accomplished with Boston College last season, one had to believe it wouldn't be long before Gerbe found himself in the NHL. In 43 games with the Eagles, he had 68 points and was named the USA Hockey's national college player of the year.

"When you're playing with good players, the opportunities come. You just have to take advantage of it," Gerbe told NHL.com recently. "Last year was a big step for me. I learned more about myself, what kind of player I have to be. I have to be a high-energy, skill player who brings it at both ends of the rink. Some nights you are just not feeling it, but you have to figure it out."

Will the 5-foot-5 Gerbe stick in Buffalo? Time will tell. But should he ever return to Portland, he'll have a phenomenal story to share. As he arrived on the ice in Tampa for Saturday's morning skate, his teammates began tapping their sticks. It was a welcoming the rookie center never will forget.

"It's something I'm going to really remember and take it all in when I step on that ice," Gerbe told The Buffalo News. "It's something I really want to remember for the rest of my life, playing my first NHL game. I've been looking forward to this dream since I was 10 years old, so finally it comes through, and I'm just pretty happy to be here."
   
First for Maurice … sort of -- Paul Maurice finally got his first win as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

Well, it actually was his first win in Carolina in his second stint as the team's coach. Eric Staal broke a 1-1 tie with 4:09 left, lifting the Hurricanes to a 3-1 win against the Washington Capitals at the RBC Center.

Carolina took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but the Caps tied it on a power-play goal by Nicklas Backstrom. That sparked Maurice to do his best to keep his team thinking positively.

''Sometimes you have to fake it,'' Maurice said. ''Everybody's aware that after goals there's been a big sag, so we've talked about having guys get up on the bench and start barking, start talking. Even if you feel a little insecure at that time, you have to fake it sometimes.''

The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Hurricanes, the last two coming after Maurice replaced Peter Laviolette behind the bench. It also prevented the Capitals from grabbing an eight-point lead on Carolina in the standings, which left Washington coach Bruce Boudreau in a foul mood.

''That's why I'm so frustrated right now,'' Boudreau said. ''I thought we would have been in a good position right now. We're four ahead and it's a dogfight again.''

Eight straight -- Something about the Colorado Avalanche brings out the worst in the Vancouver Canucks.

The Avs made it eight in a row against the Canucks on Sunday night with a 5-4 shootout victory at the Pepsi Center. The Canucks have not defeated Colorado since Nov. 9, 2007.

"It's definitely hard to beat these guys (eight) times in a row," said Avs forward Milan Hejduk, who netted one of two game-tying goals in the third for the Avalanche as they forced overtime. "We had a pretty bad first period. They were all over us. They scored one quick goal but we battled back and finished with two points."

Vancouver appeared to be in good shape when Steve Bernier's second goal of the night gave his club a 4-3 lead at 9:57 of the third period, but Daniel Tjarnqvist forced overtime when he beat Cory Schneider with just 2:50 to play.

''In my mind we should have won this game,'' Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ''I think we played well enough to win this game, but when you put two pucks in your own net by your own sticks, it's a little more challenging.''

Eager to please
-- Ben Eager gave the 21,217 in attendance at the United Center on Sunday night plenty of reasons to cheer.

Not only did the gritty forward score twice, but he also dropped the gloves with David Hale in the second period of Chicago's convincing 7-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Blackhawks' seven goals was a season high.

''The guys really came to play tonight,'' Eager said ''Score two, beat a guy up? If I could do that every night, I would. It's a nice feeling when everyone plays well and you help contribute.''

With the win, Chicago improved to 8-1-4 on home ice. The young, exciting club took it to the Coyotes from the drop of the puck.

 
 
''We got outplayed, outscored and outhit,'' Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. ''They took it to us pretty well.''

Things could get interesting Jan. 6 -- five days after the Blackhawks host the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field -- when the teams meet again in Phoenix. Gretzky took exception to a fight between Chicago's Kris Versteeg and Coyotes forward Kyle Turris that transpired in the game's final seconds. Versteeg leads NHL rookies in scoring with 22 points.

''What happened in the last five seconds, I don't like to see an 18-year-old kid (Turris) get grabbed out of a pile in a 7-1 hockey game and take a beating like that,'' Gretzky said. ''I don't think there's any room for that.

''I've never seen anything like that. In a 7-1 hockey game, to me it doesn't make a lot of sense.''

Sunday shutouts
-- The New York Rangers got off to a phenomenal start this season, but things have slowed down somewhat over the past few weeks.

Sunday night was another indication of that, as the Blueshirts failed to find the back of the net in a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers also were blanked last Sunday in a 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers. Both defeats took place at MSG.

"The last three or four weeks, we've been up and down," said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who now is tied with Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff for the League lead with 16 wins. "We have to do whatever we can to get better and to really start playing our best hockey."

Rangers center Scott Gomez -- who has four goals in 25 games -- accepted his share of the blame after his team's latest offensive no-show.

"It's my job to get someone the puck to score and I'm just not doing it right now," Gomez said. "We've got some great players. It's just a matter of us bearing down and putting them in."

New York coach Tom Renney said he will take Monday to identify just what is causing his team to be in such an offensive funk. The Rangers are off until Wednesday night, when they'll visit the Atlanta Thrashers.

"We're going to look at this with a real critical eye (Monday) as a team and where this game cost us," Renney said. "It seems like we'll win three or four and lose a couple. The last little while, we've basically been a .500 team. We have to stop this now, obviously. We don't want it to turn it into anything more than what it already is, and that's a second loss in a row."

Out of time
-- Perhaps if the Columbus Blue Jackets had more time, the outcome would have different Sunday night at the Honda Center.

But a poor start doomed Columbus, as the Blue Jackets fell behind 4-1 en route to a 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Columbus finished their trip west with a record of 0-3 and only five goals scored.

''We haven't been able to manufacture goals that we had chances for,'' Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''When you get on the road and get as many chances as we did, you have to capitalize on them.''

Kris Russell and Fredrik Modin did everything they could to get Columbus back in the game, as the pair scored 1:19 apart late in the third period to cut the deficit to one goal. But Rob Niedermayer sealed the deal for the Ducks just 11 seconds after Modin's goal.

''It's unfortunate that we ran out of time,'' said Blue Jackets goalie Pascal Leclaire, who stopped 29 of 34 shots. ''It's tough to come back on those guys when they are up like that, but we almost did it.
''It's a matter of getting that effort all game.''

Contact Brian Compton at bcompton@nhl.com.

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


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