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Halak justifies his coach's faith

by John Kreiser
A few thoughts as we wish John Tortorella good luck in his coaching debut with the Rangers:

Now's the time -- If Jaroslav Halak ever is going to earn the No. 1 goaltending job with the Montreal Canadiens, here's his chance.

With Carey Price struggling, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said this week Halak will get his chance to grab the job. He made his coach look like a genius Tuesday night by stopping all 34 shots in faced in the Canadiens' 3-0 victory against Vancouver.

"He's been waiting for the chance for a long time," Carbonneau said. "It's unfortunate for someone like Carey Price, but hopefully Halak will grab the bull by the horns and win us five, six or seven games in a row."

The Canadiens need all the wins they can find, and Halak has won back-to-back games at the Bell Centre, stopping 78 of 81 shots.

On Monday, Carbonneau told the media he had given Price enough chances and that he would ride Halak as long as he keeps winning. Halak responded with what he called the best game of his NHL career.

"I'm not looking at what's in the newspapers, I'm just trying to focus on the game," Halak said. "It's just nice to win two in a row. It's been a while."

It's likely Halak will get the chance to make it three in a row when the Canadiens visit Philadelphia on Friday.

"The way it's been going the last few weeks, we need someone to come in and be strong every night," Carbonneau said. "He came into a tough situation and mostly, he showed his teammates he really wanted to win this game."

Blowing the Panthers to Bitz -- Earning cheers in college is one thing. Doing it in the NHL is something else.

For one thing, there are a lot more people to impress.

But Boston rookie Byron Bitz had the fans at TD Banknorth Garden calling his name after scoring twice to lead the Bruins to a 6-1 pounding of the Florida Panthers.

Bitz's performance had the fans buzzing, just like he used they used to be in his days at Cornell.

"Couple times in college, but 20,000 people's different than 4,000, so it was pretty cool," he said.

Bitz, playing in his 20th game since being recalled from Providence of the American Hockey League on Jan. 10, scored once in the second period and again in the third as the Bruins won for only the second time in their last eight games. The only disappointment for the fans was that the rookie forward couldn't get a third goal despite some time on a late power play.

"He got rewarded for doing the things that we've been kind of preaching for the last little while," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Not only does he bring size (6-foot-3) and strength along the boards, he's been solid, but I think he's a guy that I think with confidence and with experience you're going to see him probably score more goals. He demonstrated a little bit of that tonight."

Home cooking -- Maybe all Anaheim center Todd Marchant needed to find the back of the net was the smell of Buffalo wings.

The Buffalo native ended a 43-game goal drought by scoring in the second period as the Ducks topped the Sabres 3-2 in a battle of teams desperate for points in their respective playoff races.

"I guess he must have fueled up on chicken wings last night," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said with a wink regarding Marchant, a Buffalo-area native.

Actually, Marchant said he dined on chicken parmesan Monday night. But after the game, he had his eyes on the pizza and wings spread across the table in the Ducks' locker room following the game.

"I can hardly wait to get into them," Marchant said.

Marchant sparked the offense by breaking a 1-1 tie midway through the second period. Driving in untouched into the Buffalo end and using teammate Chris Kunitz as a screen, he snapped a shot past Lalime for only his third goal of the season.

"It's been a struggling season for me offensively, but I knew it was bound to go in one of these times. And what better place?" said Marchant, who grew up a Sabres fan and had plenty of family and friends in the stands. "I always get a little extra geared up."

Reunited, and it feels so good -- The right move can make a coach look like a genius. Say hello to Professor John Stevens, whose decision to put Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter back together for the third period helped the Philadelphia Flyers turn defeat into victory.

The Flyers trailed 2-1 entering the final period when Stevens put the trio back together. Hartnell tied the score 9:11 into the third period and Carter snapped home the game-winner 1:25 later as Philadelphia rallied for a 4-2 win at Washington.

“I thought (Lupul) was going, he was skating," Stevens said. "We thought we’d move him up there and just see if it could work. We put (Hartnell) back on the left side and I thought the line played real well, obviously; they came up with a huge goal to tie it."

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau rejected the idea that his team stopped fighting -- but did concede that this wasn't the smartest effort of the season.

"Instead of getting back to the basics and doing the things like coming out together and doing the things that make us successful, everybody wanted to do it themselves and they started cheating," he said. "And when you start cheating, bad things happen and you start taking selfish and stupid penalties. That’s not losing the fight; that's playing stupid."

Learning process -- John Anderson knew his rookie season behind the Atlanta Thrashers' bench would have its ups and downs. Count Tuesday's 4-3 win against Colorado as one of the ups.

The Thrashers, coming off a 2-1-1 Western trip, won only their 10th home game in 29 tries. Still, Anderson said his team is progressing.

"I really think the guys are listening to what we ask because that will at least keep us in hockey games," he said. "In each of the last four or five (games), we've had to change our style a little and they've done a great job in doing that."

The Thrashers won for just the fifth time in their last 21 games at Philips Arena. Overall, Atlanta has four victories and nine points in its last seven games.

Atlanta, one of the NHL's worst penalty-killing teams at home, burned Colorado twice for shorthanded goals -- including one by Rich Peverley that proved to be the game-winner.

"I think the team is playing better shorthanded," said defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who scored once while shorthanded and set up the other with a diving pass. "We had a good road trip with two good wins. We wanted to show our fans we could play well at home."

Missed opportunity
-- If the Carolina Hurricanes miss the playoffs by a couple of points, they'll rue nights like Tuesday -- when they outshot and outchanced the Ottawa Senators but still lost, 4-2.
Carolina outshot Ottawa 43-22, but usually reliable Cam Ward allowed three goals on nine shots in the first period -- and the Hurricanes wound up missing a chance to pass Florida and Buffalo, who hold the last two playoff berths in the East.

"We outshot them by a ton, we gave up four goals on 11 shots. I didn't think they were that good. I didn't think we were that good," an unhappy Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "I'm not looking at Cam Ward and saying, 'Hey, that's your fault,' but he didn't stop enough, we didn't score enough and that's the game."

The Senators, still harboring playoff hopes of their own, scored all their goals in the first 21:58 and held on behind a 41-save effort by Alex Auld.

"It would have been a good night for us to get some points on all those teams that we're chasing," said Hurricanes forward Patrick Eaves, who had one of Carolina's two goals. "We got a lot of shots but didn't score on our opportunities."

No quit in Nashville -- The Nashville Predators had scored only six goals in their previous five games, so when the Chicago Blackhawks took a 3-1 lead into the locker room at the second intermission, it would have been logical to think the game was over.

Logical? Maybe. Accurate? Not quite.

"Five goals in a game is kind of unusual for us.  It is a change of pace. It would be nice to score five goals every game, but that is very unlikely that is going to happen." -- David Legwand
The Predators' offense came alive in the final 20 minutes. Nashville swarmed the Hawks' zone, beat Cristobal Huet four times and skated off with a 5-3 victory and a big two points in the tight-as-a-knot Western Conference playoff race.

"Everyone knew a storm was coming," said J.P. Dumont, whose power-play goal tied the game, 3-3. "I think everybody knew we were going to come back. It was a great feeling."

David Legwand started the rally by scoring 2:10 into the final period. Dumont tied it at 5:11, Joel Ward made up for missing an open net earlier in the game by banging in the go-ahead goal with 5:03 remaining and Shea Weber chipped in an insurance tally with 2:50 left.

Dumont said Legwand's goal was the key.

"After we made it 3-2 everybody on the bench knew the game was ours," he said. "We knew what we had to do."

Legwand hopes scoring four in a period will be the boost the offense has needed.

"Five goals in a game is kind of unusual for us," he said. "It is a change of pace. It would be nice to score five goals every game, but that is very unlikely that is going to happen."

Winning ugly -- Their lone regulation goal was put into the net by an opposition defenseman. Their shootout winner was a misfire that slid through the goaltender's legs.

Welcome to the world of the Los Angeles Kings, who weren't about to throw back their 2-1 win at Minnesota regardless of how it looked.

Jack Johnson got credit for the game-tying goal at 14:55 of the second period. He was in the right spot when Wild defenseman Kim Johnsson accidentally put the puck in his own net.

"I think we got lucky on it," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "To me it looked like it was just a clearing attempt by the defenseman and we got a lucky bounce on it."

The shootout winner was equally fortunate. Rookie defenseman Drew Doughty came in on Niklas Backstrom, appeared to mishandle the puck as he prepared to shoot -- and saw the puck slide through the goaltender's pads.

Lucky or not, the two points came in handy. The Kings moved within four points of Dallas, Minnesota and Edmonton, which are tied for the 7-8-9 slots in the West -- with only two of those three positions earning playoff berths.

"It's down to crunch time for everybody in the game now," Murray said. "So play and lock away all the bad things that happened and come back with a solid shift after that. We responded. It was good."

Who, me? -- With his team trailing 1-0 and less than seven minutes left in the second period, St. Louis forward David Perron dumped the puck into the Phoenix zone and was heading for the bench when he heard the crowd roar.

Couldn't be for him, right?

Well, actually, it was.

Perron's routine dump-in bounced past Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and into the net for the tying goal at 13:42. Jay McClement's shorthanded goal less than two minutes later then gave the Blues a 2-1 victory.

"To get beat the way we did, a fluky goal and our power play lets up a short-handed goal, that's a tough loss to swallow.  I thought we did a lot of really good, positive things." -- Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky

But it was Perron's goal that had everyone buzzing.

"This is the luckiest one I've had in my career, but we'll take it right now," Perron said. "I thought someone else scored. I had no idea what happened."

The puck found a hole on the goalie's stick side, and it appeared Bryzgalov actually helped sweep it into the net.

It was a tough way to lose for the Coyotes, who came to Scottrade Center seeking their third consecutive win. Instead, they left with 59 points, one fewer than the Blues and six out of a playoff spot.

"To get beat the way we did, a fluky goal and our power play lets up a shorthanded goal, that's a tough loss to swallow," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "I thought we did a lot of really good, positive things.

"The big negative was the power play, we didn't score and we allowed a goal."

He's baaacck -- A lot of the conversation in Calgary this winter has centered around a single topic: What's wrong with Jarome Iginla?

The Flames' captain went through a scoring drought, including a stretch of just 2 goals in 19 games -- though contributions from other players kept the team on top of the Northwest Division. But in the last week or so, Iginla's scoring touch has returned.

He was at his best Tuesday against Columbus, scoring twice and setting up two more goals in a 4-1 victory at Pengrowth Saddledome.

"I'm relaxing more now," said Iginla, who has 4 goals in his last four games. "When you start pressing you don't move as quickly and you don't see things as sharply. I'm also playing with a little bit more confidence."

The Flames will need their captain to step up, now that contributors like Rene Bourque and Daymond Langkow are out with injuries. He said he's ready.

"When you get in a little bit of a rut you start trying to simplify it, but there's a fine line for me," Iginla said. "You get too simple, you just chip it down the boards, you just chip it in, and that doesn't feel like that's my game. I have to try and hold it, get some give-and-go's going with Cammie (Mike Cammalleri) and Connie (Craig Conroy) and get the feet moving."

Better finish
-- The Edmonton Oilers let a point slip away Saturday when a late goal in regulation turned into a shootout loss against Calgary. They knew that couldn't happen again -- not with the Western Conference playoff race so tight.

It didn't. The Oilers wasted a 2-0 lead, then scored the next two goals after Tampa Bay tied it and hung on to beat the Lightning 5-3 to snap a three-game losing streak.

"This was huge for us to get the momentum moving forward," Oilers forward Sam Gagner said. "Especially after the last three games. We had a couple mistakes, but we also did a lot of things right. A lot of guys stepped up here. It was a character win. Hopefully we can build on it."

Forward Erik Cole, who scored the Oilers' first goal, said Edmonton needed to erase the memory of the loss to the Flames.

"Every game is important right now," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are playing. It's that time of year where you can't be squandering points. We needed a win, especially coming off a game where we blew two points in the final minute."

"This was huge for us to get the momentum moving forward.  Especially after the last three games. We had a couple mistakes but we also did a lot of things right. A lot of guys stepped up here. It was a character win. Hopefully we can build on it." -- Sam Gagner
The Oilers jumped to a 2-0 lead after one period, and Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo blamed himself for not being ready after the long trip from Florida to Alberta. The Lightning beat Boston at home Sunday evening before heading to Western Canada.

"You can't make excuses," he said. "You need to be ready to play when the game starts, but we had a long traveling day and we knew that the Oilers were coming hard and maybe we were a little bit asleep there. I felt a little bit off there at the start. It was my fault, I need to take care of myself and be ready to play."

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

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