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Hiller is stellar for Ducks

by Brian Hunter
He's not the one who will be starting for the Western Conference when the All-Star Game comes to Montreal later this month, but the Anaheim Ducks understand the value they have in backup goaltender Jonas Hiller.

Chris Pronger and Bobby Ryan scored power-play goals and Hiller made them stand up by turning aside all 29 shots he faced as the Ducks earned a 2-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday at Honda Center.

A recent hot streak by the Coyotes combined with a slump by the Ducks led to the teams entering play with identical 19-15-5 records. The win allowed Anaheim to take over sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division, in which San Jose holds an 18-point lead.

"Tonight was our best team effort that we've had," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "I think the difference in the game was our special teams. We got two power-play goals and they went (0-for-4) on their power play, so our penalty killers and our power play stood up."

Hiller made a pair of glove saves during a 5-on-3 advantage for Phoenix in the first period to keep the game scoreless. He earned his third career shutout while giving a night's rest to Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who was voted to start the All-Star Game in his hometown on Jan. 25.

''When you have a night where your goaltender throws a shutout, then you don't have to score that many to win and tonight was one of those,'' Carlyle said.

Scott Niedermayer, another All-Star starter for the Ducks, picked up assists on both goals. Ryan also had a two-point game, earning a secondary assist on Pronger's power-play tally at 3:32 of the second period. Niedermayer controlled the puck behind the goal line and zipped a pass to Pronger in the right circle. He got off a quick shot that Ilya Bryzgalov couldn't react to before it was in the net.

Ryan scored from a difficult angle 2:59 into the third to provide Hiller with some breathing room. The Ducks were again up a man when Niedermayer sent another hard pass to Ryan on the left side. From a tough angle along the goal line, Ryan one-timed it past Bryzgalov.

''I think Scotty had too much to look at, and he found me off to the side virtually all alone,'' Ryan said. ''That's tough for a goalie to get all the way back and across. It was easy for me to slide it home.''

Bryzgalov started last season as Giguere's backup, but the emergence of Hiller in the Ducks' organization made him expendable and he ended up as the starter in Phoenix. Bryzgalov returned after missing the last two games with a sore back and made 32 saves. He was less than pleased by the fact both Ducks goals came after too-many-men penalties on the Coyotes.

''We are not playing for the first time. This is not our first game,'' Bryzgalov said. ''It's one thing when you save a breakaway and you get the penalty. It's another when you get it for nothing.''

Canadiens 6, Panthers 5 (SO) | Video

It wasn't an easy day for the goaltenders, but Jaroslav Halak had all the answers once the game went to a shootout.

Halak kept the puck out of the net on all three Florida attempts and Andrei Markov scored in the third round to give Montreal a win at Bell Centre, capping a wild, back-and-forth contest.

"At this time, we need him to be sharp," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We were able to get two points for him, which I think earlier in the season, when he was playing well, we were not able to get, but in the situation that he's in right now he needs to be a little sharper."

Radek Dvorak's second goal of the afternoon with 1:38 left in regulation helped the Panthers gain a point. They led 2-0 after the first period but trailed 4-2 after the second.

Andrei Kostitsyn had a pair of goals for the Canadiens, who also got scores from Francis Bouillon, Tom Kostopoulos and Robert Lang. Halak finished with 30 saves.

"I don't think anyone would disagree with you if you said it was an ugly win," defenseman Mike Komisarek said.

Brett McLean, David Booth and Jassen Cullimore had the other goals for the Panthers. Craig Anderson turned aside 40 shots and the first two Montreal shootout attempts, but Markov put a backhander through his pads to decide the game.

"The guys battled really hard to get us back in the game and get us a point," Anderson said.

Dvorak's first goal, a shorthander 2:21 into the third, brought the Panthers within 4-3 but Kostitsyn quickly answered 1:37 later with his second of the game, giving the Canadiens a 5-3 lead. Cullimore's first of the season at 9:22 made it a one-goal difference again and Dvorak beat Halak off a scramble late in the period to tie things up.

Fresh off a 6-1 win in Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Panthers got off to a quick start as McLean -- bloodied in a fight the day before with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby -- lit the lamp 12:57 into the first and Booth connected on a power play with 1:51 left in the period.

 
 
But the Canadiens woke up during the first intermission and owned the next 20 minutes. They fired 19 shots on Anderson and were rewarded with four goals. It took just 2:18 for them to draw even, as Bouillon and Kostitsyn scored 28 seconds apart. Kostopoulos put the Habs ahead at 13:27 by converting his own rebound, and Lang made it 4-2 with a shot that hit the right post and bounced in off Anderson 2:06 later.

"We kind of lost momentum there and we didn't really get it back until the third period," Anderson said.

Devils 4, Senators 3 (OT) | Video

New Jersey erased one-goal deficits on three occasions Sunday before finally going ahead when it counted, on a Brian Rolston power-play goal 1:43 into overtime.

Nick Foligno, Brendan Bell and Chris Kelly all scored to give the Senators leads, but none of them held up as they fell at Prudential Center and dropped to 1-4-1 on an eight-game road trip.

Dainius Zubrus notched a pair of goals for the Devils and Jamie Langenbrunner's power-play goal with 3:40 left in the third forced overtime. Patrik Elias drew a holding call on Chris Phillips just 19 seconds into the extra period, and Rolston beat Alex Auld on a drive from just inside the blue line.

New Jersey was 0-for-3 on the power play entering the third but connected on its final two opportunities to first tie and then win the game.

"We didn't have too much of a sense of urgency on the 5-on-4. We could've done a better job, no question," Rolston said. "It's something that we will continue to work on, but ultimately the last two goals were power-play goals, so you've got to feel good about that. All in all it's a good win for us, not our best game, but we'll take the two points."

Auld finished with 31 saves but didn't get a good read on Rolston's game-winner, which trickled through him.

"I did see the shot but then I lost it along the way," Auld said. "It was kind of a weird play. It still hit me in the blocker or the arm and sort of bounced down. I felt it hit off the back of my feet. I kind of knocked it in trying to close it up."

''We are not playing for the first time. This is not our first game. It's one thing when you save a breakaway and you get the penalty. It's another when you get it for nothing.'' -- Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
Kelly put the Senators ahead 3-2 at 7:14 of the third after hard work behind the net by linemates Jesse Winchester and Antoine Vermette set him up for a shot in close that beat Scott Clemmensen. But Langenbrunner responded at the tail end of a Devils power play by skating across the blue line and ripping a hard shot past Auld.

"Overall I don't think it was one of our best games, but good teams find a way to get wins even when they're not playing their best and I think we did that tonight," said Langenbrunner, who scored for the second straight game. "We scratched and clawed our way at the end, and able to get a couple of power-play goals after it kind of struggled a little bit early."

The power play was working in Ottawa's favor during the first two periods. Zubrus was whistled for hooking just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff and Foligno capitalized at 2:10 to start the scoring. Zubrus atoned for the penalty with 41 seconds left in the first, putting home the rebound of a Brian Gionta shot.

Bell put the Senators ahead on another power-play goal 3:50 into the second, scoring into an open net after a deflected shot was stopped by Clemmensen. Zubrus got his second and 10th of the season at 11:15 with a redirection of a Patrik Elias pass in front.

"We were right there the whole game," said Clemmensen, who made 17 saves. "But we just lacked that extra push to get us into high gear. We couldn't find it tonight. You can't play 82 perfect games all year, but you just hope in the ugly ones you get points here and there."

Lightning 4, Thrashers 1 | Video

In the seesaw battle to avoid the Southeast Division basement, Tampa Bay leapfrogged back over Atlanta on Sunday behind a pair of goals by Martin St. Louis and a near shutout from Mike Smith.

Smith stopped 27 shots and was just 21.2 seconds away from blanking the Thrashers before Erik Christensen scored off a rebound during a scramble in front of the net. It didn't stop the Lightning from gaining two points -- they now have 32 for the season, one more than the Thrashers.

"It didn't matter," said Smith, who has two shutouts this season. "The win is what's important. (A shutout) is just a bonus."

Steve Eminger and Ryan Malone also scored as Tampa snapped a three-game losing streak and won for the first time in its last seven games at Philips Arena.

"Obviously, the last time we were here, we were very disappointed with our performance and the result," St. Louis said, referring to a 4-3 loss on Dec. 20. "Since then we have been playing much better hockey."

Eminger's power-play goal 2:48 in was the only goal of the first period. The defenseman took a feed from Jussi Jokinen and beat Kari Lehtonen with a shot from the right faceoff circle, as Lehtonen appeared to be screened by his defenseman Boris Valabik.

St. Louis increased the lead to 2-0 with 3:40 left in the second, tipping Vincent Lecavalier's feed after the captain faked a slap shot and passed to St. Louis in the slot. St. Louis struck again on another Tampa man advantage one minute into the third, as Vaclav Prospal sent the puck from behind the net for a quick shot in front.

Malone scored off his own rebound with 1:44 remaining before Christensen capped the scoring. Lehtonen made 31 saves for the Thrashers, who were coming off a shootout win over Vancouver on Friday but failed to win consecutive games for the first time since early November.

"I've got to question whether anybody cares in that locker room right now," an obviously frustrated Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "It's a joke."

Wild 2, Avalanche 0 | Video

Owen Nolan scored twice in a 3:19 span of the first period and Niklas Backstrom stopped 33 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and the first-ever for Minnesota against Colorado in 61 regular-season and playoff games.

Nolan quieted the Pepsi Center crowd by scoring a power-play goal at 7:23 and followed that up with an even-strength tally moments later. After missing nearly a month with a leg injury, Nolan has four goals in three games.

''It's always fun to play against old teams,'' said Nolan, who started his career with the Quebec Nordiques and followed the franchise to Colorado before getting dealt to San Jose during the 1995-96 season. ''Most of the faces are gone from when I played here.''

Backstrom continued his stellar play in Colorado, where he improved to 5-1, the most road wins he has against any opponent. He denied Wojtek Wolski on a breakaway late in the second period to preserve his 13th career shutout.

''We should be winning these games,'' Wolski said after the Avalanche dropped their third straight. ''We can't let points slip away like that. If we don't, we'll find ourselves chasing a playoff spot.''

"We didn't have too much of a sense of urgency on the 5-on-4. We could've done a better job, no question. It's something that we will continue to work on, but ultimately the last two goals were power-play goals, so you've got to feel good about that. All in all it's a good win for us, not our best game, but we'll take the two points." -- Devils forward Brian Rolston
Nolan's first goal came when he redirected a Brent Burns shot from the blue line. On the second goal, he found himself in the right place at the right time as Krystofer Kolanos stripped the puck from Avalanche defenseman Brett Clark behind the net and attempted a wraparound. The puck caromed right to Nolan, who swiped it past Peter Budaj.

Minnesota was coming off a tough 3-2 shootout loss to Detroit on Saturday and had lost its previous six on the road, but a big effort by Backstrom went a long way in changing the team's fortunes.

''I felt pretty good,'' he said. ''The guys helped me out there. It's always tough to play against this team, it's a good team.''

Stars 3, Canucks 2 | Video

Mike Modano helped lead Dallas back from a 2-0 deficit, then kept them alive in the shootout. James Neal made sure Modano's heroics didn't go for naught, scoring in the fifth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker to defeat Vancouver and silence the GM Place crowd.

Neal put a shot past the blocker of recently-acquired Canucks goalie Jason LaBarbera, who had been outstanding with 34 saves, including six in overtime. But the Stars beat him on three of five shootout attempts, including Modano's do-or-die shot in the fourth round after Ryan Kesler had just put the puck past Marty Turco. LaBarbera got a glove on Modano's shot, but couldn't keep it from trickling behind him and into the net.

In the second round, Loui Eriksson answered Kyle Wellwood's goal with one of his own. The Stars kept coming in improving to 6-2-1 in their last nine games. They were able to shake off a canceled flight after their game in Edmonton on Saturday, not arriving in Vancouver until late Sunday morning.

"We were scratching and clawing for points and we got two, so we're awful happy with that," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "Some guys gave us real gritty performances tonight. We're kind of battling some travel and battling the back-to-back games, so I was very proud of our guys, the way we hung in there. You get to a shootout, anything can happen, and we found a way to get two points."

Wellwood and Darcy Hordichuk scored for the Canucks, but Modano turned the tide when he redirected a Neal pass with 10 seconds left in the first period. That made it 2-1 and Ribeiro converted a Jere Lehtinen cross-ice pass during a power play to tie the score with 6:09 left in the second.

"Points are so big right now and we've got to do everything we can to get them," Neal said. "We didn't play well yesterday and obviously it showed. We came out a little rough in the first period but found a way to win in a shootout."

The Stars lost 4-1 in Edmonton and for a second straight night Turco gave up a pair of first-period goals, as Wellwood redirected Steve Bernier's pass from the corner at 2:11 and Hordichuk doubled the lead on a similar play with 4:20 left. Turco rebounded to finish with 33 saves.

''The energy level for me was as good as it could have been,'' Turco said after his ninth straight start. ''Sometimes I find it easier on the second nights of back to back just because you are kind of in that mode already.''

The Canucks lost their second straight in a shootout, after falling in Atlanta on Friday, and are 1-5 in them this season.

''It's definitely tough to lose two in a row in shootouts,'' Wellwood said. ''I don't think it's something we look forward to and we haven't had success with it this year and we're giving away points.''


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




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