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Hurricanes recover in time to beat Isles

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts as we enter the stretch run -- just four more weekends of regular-season hockey before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin:

Take a deep breath -- Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose teamed up to give the Carolina Hurricanes an early two-goal lead Friday night. By the time the third period rolled around, however, the duo was needed for some even bigger heroics.

Cullen scored his second of the night on a power play with 6:38 remaining and LaRose matched his output by netting the game-winner with 4:21 left as the Hurricanes survived a shaky second period to come back and beat the New York Islanders 5-4 at the RBC Center.

"We sat back on our heels," LaRose said. "Even in the first period, they got a lot of scoring chances. We were a little upset with ourselves after the second period. We did not play well in the second, and it showed. You know, we just didn't want to come in here with any regrets after the game."

The Islanders scored four straight goals to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead, but Tuomo Ruutu responded with a key goal just nine seconds after one by Kyle Okposo had the Hurricanes reeling.

"That was huge," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice, who left his team a postgame message on a whiteboard next to the standings in the locker room. It read: "Good teams find a way to win."

That described the Hurricanes on this night, as they moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 83 points. However, the four teams directly beneath them have two games in hand, which made Friday's game against the last-place Islanders a crucial one.

You'll get nothing -- There are some who will say that Martin Brodeur's numbers are largely a reflection of the system in which he's played during his career with the New Jersey Devils. While that theory tends to discount the goalie's tremendous talent level, Brodeur was spreading the accolades around Friday night after he stymied the Minnesota Wild 4-0 for the 101st shutout of his career.

"It's a lot of shutouts," Brodeur said. "That record is proof of commitment by an organization to play well defensively. You can't do it by yourself. With the amount of shutouts that I've got, you've got to consider that the team is doing the right things."

Brodeur, who extended his NHL wins record to 553, needs two more shutouts to become the all-time leader in that category as well. Terry Sawchuk recorded 103 during a 21-year career playing for Detroit and four other teams.



"It becomes so standard that it's hard to be amazed," said Brian Gionta, who had a goal for the Devils. "You see it day in and day out, just how good he is and how hard he works. Whether it's practice or warmups, he's battling for rebounds, trying to stop it. He's always trying to not let you score."

Brodeur has also returned at the top of his game after missing 50 games due to injury. He's 9-1-0 since returning, which includes winning all seven of his starts at the Prudential Center, where the Devils extended their franchise-record win streak to 11 in a row by blanking the Wild.

Back in town -- Philadelphia Flyers center Daniel Briere has been a ghost for much of the season. But on Friday night, he came back to haunt his former team, the Buffalo Sabres.

Having missed 53 games with stomach and groin problems and without a goal or point over his last eight games dating back to Nov. 11, Briere's presence coming in had been largely non-existent. But try telling that to the Sabres after he scored the tying and go-ahead goals late in the second period of what became a 6-4 win for the Flyers at HSBC Arena.

"He really came through for us," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "We were kind of on our heels for a little bit. He scored a couple of big goals, and that's obviously great for us."

Briere scored a career-high 95 points for the Sabres two seasons ago, then signed a huge deal with the Flyers and put up 31 goals and 68 points in 2007-08. He was a point-per-game player over the span of nine games early this season before nagging injuries made the last four months a difficult period.

"On the first one, a lot of weight came off my shoulders," said Briere, who scored at 17:20 and 19:25 of the middle period. "The second one I got to enjoy a little more."

Star power -- Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are at the top of the League's scoring race and, not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins are surging up the standings.

Malkin and Crosby each had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh's 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Mellon Arena. The Penguins, 12-1-3 since the coaching change to Dan Bylsma, have shifted their focus from merely getting into the playoffs to grabbing home ice in the first round. They're tied with Philadelphia for fourth in the Eastern Conference and host the Flyers on Sunday (12:30 ET, NBC).

"There's a confidence and a swagger to our team," Bylsma said. "We have every right to have that right now with our record over the past 16 games."

Barring a scoring slump, Malkin seems on his way to winning the points race with 104. His closest competition is now Crosby, who with 94 points took over second by one over rival Alex Ovechkin of Washington.

"It seems like everything is going good for us," said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 24 saves. "We're having more fun. We're happy, smiling, and the team is improving."

Pick your poison -- For most teams, having a 30-goal scorer is nice and having a pair of them is a luxury. The Detroit Red Wings now have two following a 6-3 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday, with two more players on the verge of joining the club.

Marian Hossa picked up his team-leading 36th goal in the third period, just over four minutes after Johan Franzen scored his 30th of the season. Pavel Datsyuk also had a goal, his 29th, and Henrik Zetterberg, who didn't put a puck in the net but contributed four assists, also is one shy of the 30 mark.

"It just shows how this team is special," Hossa said. "Not a lot of teams have four 30-goal scorers. It's nice to see lots of guys contribute by scoring goals. Every night it's somebody else taking up the slack. It's not always the same guys, which is huge for the team."

Meanwhile, Hossa played a game at Philips Arena for the first time since being traded from the Thrashers to the Penguins a little over a year ago. After helping lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit, Hossa signed a one-year deal with the reigning champion.

"I played lots of games on this rink," Hossa said. "It was a mix of cheers and boos. I'm enjoying the atmosphere. The fans were great. It's always good for every player to score against a former team."

Opposite directions -- The Edmonton Oilers would love to be where the Chicago Blackhawks are in the standings. If the two teams keep playing the way they've been playing lately, it could very well happen.

Patrick O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik scored in the shootout and the Oilers prevailed 5-4 at the United Center despite letting four one-goal leads slip away during regulation. In spite of their pluckiness, the Blackhawks dropped their fifth in a row and are 3-7-3 in their last 13 games.

"We're having a hard time keeping the puck out of our net and getting momentum in games," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've gotten the effort the last few games. It's a matter of confidence. A win is what we're looking for."

Meanwhile, the Oilers are 4-0-3 in their last seven and starting to create a little separation in the Western Conference playoff race. They trail Columbus by one point for sixth and closed within six points of Chicago for fifth. Edmonton responded well after having to travel to Chicago following an 8-1 win at Colorado on Thursday.

"We got their best and we responded really well, especially in a back-to-back game," said Ethan Moreau, who scored in regulation. "This is pretty good tempo, what we have to deal with the rest of the year."

Callout in Calgary -- The Calgary Flames appeared to be a lock for the Northwest Division title a couple of weeks ago -- especially after making the biggest deal on Deadline Day and bringing in center Olli Jokinen.

But things haven't gone as planned over the last week. The Flames struggled defensively while losing four of the last five on a seven-game trip, barely edged Dallas on Wednesday, then couldn't hold a 2-1 third-period lead and lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues Friday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The Flames' lead over Vancouver in the division is down to three points, and veteran center Craig Conroy isn't pleased with the way his team has been playing over the past two weeks.

"I'm definitely not happy with it," he said during a postgame radio interview. "I can't put my finger on what exactly is going on with our team. That's the most frustrating thing.

"We made the trades. We should be rolling, but we're not rolling right now. We have a really, really good team. We have to start being more consistent and seeing that night in and night out. We've put ourselves in a great spot, but we can't sit back on it now. This is the most important time. We have to learn from our mistakes, and we have to learn quickly."

When asked if a players-only meeting would help, Conroy reacted strongly.

"The problem is, we had a players' meeting," he said. "We've had lots of meetings, and it hasn't changed anything. I'm sick of meetings."

He then urged coach Mike Keenan to "play the guys that are going. You play one line, you play one line. Who cares? If you're not playing hard and you're not getting it done, we've got to go with the guys who are doing it.

"If I get to play or don't get to play, that's beside the point. It's about winning hockey games, and I think we have to be more firm. It's a privilege to be out on that ice. You can't just give it to guys because they're on the bench."

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


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