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Joseph beats Atlanta for win No. 450

by John Kreiser
A few thoughts as we prepare to bid adieu to 2008 and welcome 2009 with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic:

The wait is over -- It will be an especially happy New Year for Curtis Joseph now that his wait for career victory No. 450 is over.

Joseph got his 449th win by beating Vancouver 7-1 on April 5, when he was a member of the Calgary Flames. He signed with Toronto during the summer, but hadn't managed to win a game until Tuesday night, when he made 29 saves and Pavel Kubina scored in overtime to give the Leafs a 4-3 victory.

"Wins are the most important measure for goalies, I think. Certainly it's a great accomplishment," the 41-year-old Joseph said. "I think I really read the plays well and really focused in. That's been my problem. Sometimes you're only human and you learn."

The win didn't come easily. Bryan Little and Jim Slater scored to give the Thrashers an early 2-0 lead. After Toronto rallied to go ahead 3-2, Colby Armstrong scored a power-play goal with 6:43 left in regulation.

"Cujo made three or four huge saves for us, for him, as much as anything to gather some confidence after a shaky start," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "And we got our offense going, we had a ton of shots, a ton of scoring chances."

Joseph will get a chance for No. 451 Thursday when the Leafs host Buffalo.

Mr. Outdoors -- Detroit coach Mike Babcock told the hockey world what everyone had already suspected -- Ty Conklin will start Thursday against Chicago in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 at Wrigley Field.

Chris Osgood has been nursing a sore groin and Conklin has been superb in his absence. He was flawless in the opener of the home-and-home series Tuesday, stopping all 36 shots he faced in Detroit's 4-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena.



No one is more used to playing outdoors than Conklin. He started for Edmonton when the Oilers hosted Montreal in the Heritage Classic on Nov. 22, 2003, was in goal for Pittsburgh last Jan. 1 when the Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout at Buffalo. He's looking forward to playing outdoors again.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," said Conklin. "Both teams realize the importance of it. It's more than a run-of-the-mill regular-season game."

Wings coach Mike Babcock is looking forward to the rematch, as well.

"This sets up a real good game the next game," he said. "Should be a lot of fun for both teams. They got a real good team, lot of talent and tons of speed, so it's fun to play."

Turnabout -- Pittsburgh rolled to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, capping a season in which it won the Atlantic Division title, finished second in the Eastern Conference and lost just two games in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins barely made the postseason and were eliminated by Montreal in the opening round.

Six months later, the roles are reversed -- the Bruins are the team on a roll, while the Penguins look nothing like the group that looked as if it could dominate the East for years.

Boston won its ninth in a row on Tuesday and continued the Penguins' slide with a 5-2 victory at Mellon Arena in the opener of a home-and-home series. The Bruins hadn't won nine in a row since January 1983 when they won nine straight, tied a game, and then won five more. This season's edition is 14-1 since Thanksgiving.

And to captain Zdeno Chara's, it's not enough.

"We just want to win every game," said Chara , who scored Boston's first goal. "The stats and the history is one thing, but playing every game the best we can is another thing. After each game we want to look forward instead of back on whatever the record is."

The Penguins fell to 7-10-1 in their last 18 games, but captain Sidney Crosby isn't about to declare the Bruins the team to beat -- even if they're beating nearly everyone they play.

"There's not much separating each team, they're disciplined in the way they play and capitalized on the chances they got, and that's what good teams do," Crosby said. "But it's not a matter of them being way ahead of us."

Shuffle off to Buffalo -- HSBC Arena has not been a happy place for Jose Theodore or the Washington Capitals. That made the Caps' 4-2 win at Buffalo a little sweeter.

"This was a place where I didn't win a lot of games before," said Theodore, who won for just the second time in nine career decisions in Buffalo. "It wasn't pretty. I think we had everybody play with a lot of confidence and put everything aside and play the way we can."

The happiest Capital might have been Chris Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who scored his first NHL goal by ramming home a rebound at 9:02 of the opening period to make it 2-0.

"It's awesome that I got that first one," said Bourque, who was playing in his fifth game of the season and ninth in the NHL. "It was surreal."

The Caps won for just the third time in their last 10 trips to Buffalo -- but for the ninth time in 10 games overall. They lead the Southeast Division and are second in the East behind Boston.

"We're focused on just trying to win every game," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We know we're up there, so if we keep hunting them it's going to be fun."

Who's next? -- The Vancouver Canucks will be glad when Mats Sundin is ready to play -- he practiced with the team Tuesday. But they're even happier to see Jason LaBarbera.

The Canucks acquired the veteran goaltender from Los Angeles for a 2009 seventh-round pick, and will need him right away after Curtis Sanford left Tuesday night's game against Philadelphia after the first period with a groin injury. Starter Roberto Luongo has been out for six weeks with a groin problem.

"After warm-up he said he'd like to try but obviously he wasn't good enough to play," coach Alain Vigneault said of Sanford after Vancouver's 3-2 loss to Philadelphia. "It's the type of injury you need some time, especially for goaltenders. We didn't know the severity of it (Tuesday) morning. He thought after it being really warmed up he'd be ready to go. But you could tell on their first two goals he wasn't moving properly in goal.

"He wanted to try and I have to trust his instincts there."

With both of their opening-night goalies on the shelf, the Canucks will use a tandem of LaBarbera and rookie Cory Schneider for the immediate future, beginning Thursday at Nashville. Schneider stopped 19 of 20 shots in relief of Sanford after being pulled in his previous start.

"Fortunately I was able to get in and prove to the coaching staff that I can play," Schneider said. "It may have just been a matter of me getting used to the environment and the League. Hopefully they won't hesitate to go to me again if they need to."

What a relief -- Those sighs of relief at Rexall Place were the Ottawa Senators exhaling after their first road victory in two months.

Brian Lee's first NHL goal snapped a 2-2 tie and gave the Senators a 3-2 win at Edmonton, ending a 12-game road losing streak that dated to Oct. 30.

"This was a huge game for us," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had a goal and an assist. "I don't know if we made them bad or if they didn't play their best today, but we played really good throughout the whole game. It should have been a bigger margin than it was."

The Senators said they treated their last game of 2008 like a playoff game. Whatever the approach, it worked.

"For us, it felt like a playoff game," said center Jason Spezza, who had a goal and an assist in what coach Craig Hartsburg said was his "best game in a long time."

"We were desperate, we were struggling and we're down on ourselves," Spezza said. "Our confidence isn't very high right now and we're pulling at straws to find positives. We needed this win. The intensity for us toward the last 10 minutes of that game was pretty intense."

Home away from home -- They wore their road jerseys, but the Montreal Canadiens felt right at home at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum.

Thousands of Habs fans turned out to watch the Canadiens' 2-1 shootout win against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, just as they had for Monday's 5-2 win against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

"We have a pretty big following no matter where we go," Canadiens goalie Carey Price said. "It seems like whenever we're in an opposition rink, there's at least 5,000 strong that are rooting for us. It definitely gives you a boost when you're in an opposition rink."

It was the third time the Canadiens have swept back-to-back games in Florida. Guillaume Latendresse scored the tying goal early in the third period and Maxime Lapierre, who had a hat trick at Florida, got the winner in the shootout.

"We're playing really well defensively," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Sometimes when you do that, you find ways to win games. That's exactly what we're doing right now."

Happy homecoming — New Jersey goaltender Scott Clemmensen had never played against the Blues, the team he grew up watching while growing up near St. Louis. Thanks to Zach Parise, he left town with a victory.

Parise scored twice, including the tie-breaking goal, as New Jersey edged the Blues 4-3 to give Clemmensen the win in front of a crowd that included a lot of people rooting for him.

"It was fun and it's close to my hometown," Clemmensen, who was born in Des Moines, Iowa, said. "I had a lot of friends and family here."

Luckily for Clemmensen, he had Parise on his side. The son of former NHL player J.P. Parise scored his 20th and 21st goals after getting just one in his previous five games.

"That's what Zach does," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "That third goal was a hard-working goal. He brings that every night for us."

Parise broke a 2-2 tie when with just 5:41 remaining when he fought off David Backes for a loose puck in front of the net and jammed it past Manny Legace.

"I just found the rebound," Parise said. "I don't remember, I just looked down and saw it there, swatted it and it went in."

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