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Ken Hitchcock gets 500th win as NHL coach

by John Kreiser
The Columbus Blue Jackets were proud of the milestone their coach reached -- and pretty proud of their own effort, too.

The weary Jackets gave coach Ken Hitchcock his 500th NHL victory by outlasting the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in a shootout on Thursday night. Rick Nash got the winning goal as Columbus capped a stretch of five games in seven nights with back-to-back wins.

"To help him get his 500th win tonight was definitely a good pat on the back for ourselves," said rookie goaltender Steve Mason, who stopped 32 shots over 65 minutes. "It was a good effort down the stretch."

The win fueled the Jackets' drive for their first-ever postseason berth -- it kept them sixth in the super-tight Western Conference, five points ahead of ninth-place Anaheim -- and made Hitchcock just the 13th coach in NHL history to reach 500 wins. He's 500-337-122, tying Toe Blake for 12th place on the career list.

The players presented him with the puck after the milestone victory.

"They were genuinely happy," Hitchcock said. "I told them the reason you get to 500 is that you just get old. I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of the people I work with. But I'm really proud of this group here. This is a really gutsy group. There's a lot of character here, and we're just so happy to be able to come out of here and get two points.

"Yesterday (a 4-3 home win over St. Louis) was a tough game, very physical at the end. To come back and have to play tonight on the road is pretty tough, and our guys deserve a lot of credit."

The Blue Jackets completed a seven-day stretch in which they went 4-0-1, losing only at Dallas in a shootout on Monday.

"To be able to do what we've done in this seven-day stretch is pretty impressive," Hitchcock said.

Columbus' Kristian Huselius tied the game 1:38 into the third period when he converted a passout from Nash, who had tied the game at 1-1 by scoring in the final second of the first period. R.J. Umberger put Columbus ahead early in the second, but Jamal Mayers tied it at 14:09 and Nik Antropov put Toronto back in front with his second of the night at 18:03.

"It felt like it was our game in the second period," Antropov said, "but we weren't sharp enough in the third."

In the shootout, Jason Williams opened the scoring with a move in which he seemingly fanned on a shot purposely and saw the puck slide through Justin Pogge's legs.

"They (his teammates) have seen it in practice," Williams said. "It's something the goaltender doesn't expect."

Though Leafs coach Ron Wilson was skeptical that the whiff was intentional, Hitchcock backed his player.

"He told the guys on the bench he was going to do it. He used it twice last year and got away with it," he said.

Jason Blake beat Mason with a wrist shot, but Nash snapped the puck past Pogge in the second round and Toronto's Lee Stempniak misfired to give the Jackets the win, Hitchcock his milestone and the Jackets a much-deserved day off before Anaheim comes to Nationwide Arena on Saturday night.

"I thought we played very well despite not having a lot of energy," Hitchcock said. "When you get points like you do tonight, these are valuable points that are going to make a difference at the end. This was a game where we probably didn't play our best hockey, but we still won. These are the games where the players know that, and it's more just the relief that we don't have to go and play hockey tomorrow."

Flyers 6, Sabres 3 | Video

The Sabres wouldn't go away, but Mike Richards wouldn't let the Flyers lose. Richards scored twice and set up three other goals -- including Mike Knuble's go-ahead tally with 6:09 left in regulation, as Philadelphia solidified its hold on fourth place in the East.

The line of Richards, Knuble and Simon Gagne dominated the Sabres all night, generating three goals and eight points.

"It's always nice to have that chemistry," Richards said. "I pretty much know where Gagne is going to be, and I think everyone in the building knows where Knuble is going to be."

Richards also scored his NHL-high sixth shorthanded goal and second in two games when he put the Flyers ahead 3-2 late in the second period. He scored on a 5-on-3 disadvantage against the Rangers on Sunday -- his NHL-record third such career goal.

"He is an unbelievable player," said defenseman Braydon Coburn, whose goal at 8:57 of the second period was set up by Richards and Gagne. "He is a heart-and-soul kind of guy, to score the kind of goals he scores. He's definitely our leader."

Thanks to Richards, the Flyers now have 71 points, three ahead of the fifth-place New York Rangers. Buffalo remained tied with Florida for the last two playoff spots, three points ahead of Carolina and four in front of Pittsburgh.

"Richie was great tonight in all facets of the game," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "This was a hard hockey game and Richie really stepped up for us."
"I told them the reason you get to 500 is that you just get old. I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of the people I work with. But I'm really proud of this group here." -- Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock
After Knuble poked the puck past Ryan Miller to put the Flyers ahead to stay, Richards and Darrell Powe hit the empty net in the final minute to make the score look a lot worse than it was for the Sabres, who overcame three one-goal deficits before running out of comebacks.

"It was a special-teams game where we didn't get it done on the penalty kill," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Jaroslav Spacek scored twice for the Sabres and Derek Roy sent the game into the third period tied 3-3 by hammering a rebound past ex-Sabre Martin Biron on the power play at 19:29.

"We probably didn't put enough pucks on the net, but just tried to get a couple of chances," Spacek said. "You try to be cute and make the extra pass."

Devils 3, Lightning 2 (SO)
| Video

Veteran teams stay calm when they get off to a bad start -- and that's exactly what the visiting Devils did after falling behind 2-0 to the struggling Lightning. Brian Rolston scored in the second period and Zach Parise tied it in the third before scoring one of New Jersey's two shootout goals as the Devils made it six in a row over Tampa Bay.

New Jersey has won 14 of its last 17, while Tampa Bay has dropped eight of 10 and is only 7-22 in one-goal games.

"It was a good gut check for us," Rolston said.

The Devils lost 4-0 at Florida on Tuesday and were quickly down 2-0 against the Lightning as Ryan Malone scored at 4:33 and 12:55.

The second period was another story, as Rolston blasted a slap shot from the point past Karri Ramo at 2:16 for a power-play goal that gave New Jersey some life.

"We turned it around in the second period and took it to them," Rolston said.

Parise tied it 73 seconds into the third period with another power-play goal, this one after Ramo gave up a bad rebound. Kevin Weekes preserved the tie midway through the third period by stopping Tampa Bay's Evgeni Artyukhin on a breakaway.

"You don't like to give up leads at home," Tampa Bay center Jeff Halpern said. "It's frustrating. We did all right, but just not enough to win."

After a scoreless overtime, Vincent Lecavalier beat Weekes on the first shot of the shootout. But Parise and Elias both beat Ramo easily, while Vaclav Prospal and Malone were unable to beat Weekes.

"I thought especially the last two periods we really started creating some things offensively," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "And after the second goal, Weeksey played extremely well."

The fast-fading Lightning are 13th in the East and all but out of the playoff race.

"As a coaching staff, we have to be careful because if we see guys packing it in, then they won't be in the lineup," interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "We have to go with people who are willing to stick to the system and want to play, and that's our job to make sure that happens."

Hurricanes 6, Islanders 2 | Video

These are the kinds of games teams that want to make the playoffs have to win -- on the road against weaker teams. Carolina made it look easy, as Eric Staal scored twice in the Hurricanes' fourth consecutive victory away from home.

It's their best road run since a five-game spurt from Oct. 22-Nov. 14, 2005, during Carolina's Stanley Cup championship season. They have dropped three straight at home, but will try to change their luck Friday against Tampa Bay.

"It's a chance for us to respond," Staal said. "We have this win here and hopefully we'll build on it.

Matt Cullen broke a 1-1 tie at 16:15 of the opening period and Staal scored 54 seconds later by one-timing Sergei Samsonov's pass over Joey MacDonald's shoulder from the left circle.

Staal and Dennis Seidenberg scored late in the second period to remove any drama from the game. Samsonov scored midway through the third period before Jon Sim's window-dressing goal for the Islanders, who are last in the overall standings and 1-6-1 in their last eight games.

"We were good enough," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "I don't think it was an ESPN Classic, but at the same time we needed this game clearly more than they did."

The win gave the Hurricanes 63 points -- three behind Florida and Buffalo, who hold the last two playoff berths in the East. The Panthers and Sabres both lost, but Staal said the Hurricanes have to worry more about their own performance than what their rivals are doing.

"We have to focus on our game and the way we need to play, and everything else will take care of itself," he said. "We know if we play the type of hockey that we did tonight ... we're going to get our fair share of wins and we'll be fine."

The Islanders, who played hard in a 3-1 loss to the Rangers in New York on Wednesday, didn't have anywhere near the same jump they did the night before.

"We weren't sharp," coach Scott Gordon said. "We didn't manage the puck very well, and some of our decisions were poor. I don’t think mentally we were very sharp. We haven't had one of these in a while."

Canucks 5, Senators 2 | Video

Vancouver has been looking for a third wheel to go along with the Sedin twins for much of the season. Alex Burrows may be the answer. The two Sedins and Burrows combined for three goals and nine points as the red-hot Canucks won at Ottawa.

Henrik Sedin had a goal and three assists, Burrows added a goal and two assists and Daniel Sedin scored one goal and set up another. All three had goals before the midway mark of the second period, when the Canucks led 4-0.

"He's able to make plays," Henrik Sedin said of Burrows, who now has 14 goals and 17 assists. "I think a lot of people think that we need someone who just stands in front of the net but we've always said that that's not the case. He joins the rush, he enjoys our style of hockey game and he can make good passes, so it's a lot of fun."

Burrows, Henrik Sedin and defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored in the first period as the Canucks took command early on the way to their third consecutive win and seventh in eight games. Pavol Demitra added an empty-netter.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 4
SOG: 2 | +/-: +2

"We knew coming in here our start was going to be important," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 25 saves. "We know these guys like to come out strong at home so we talked about that before the game and I think we did a pretty good job. We got a good lead and then we played a good system game the rest of the way."

The win kept the Canucks in fifth place in the West with 66 points. The loss, which ended a 4-0-1 streak for Ottawa, was a blow to the Senators' slim playoff hopes. They remained 13 points out of a playoff berth and missed a chance to make up ground on Florida and Buffalo, which are tied for the last two spots.

Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher scored late in the second period for Ottawa, which lost in regulation for the first time since a 1-0 loss to Los Angeles on Feb. 3 in interim coach Cory Clouston's NHL debut. They are 5-2-2 since the coaching change.

"We did a good job once we got down but we just can't afford to start the game like that," Senators center Jason Spezza said. "Obviously it was a good sign to see the guys battling and try to chip away at it."

Blackhawks 4, Panthers 0 | Video

The NHL's road warriors did it again. Cristobal Huet stopped 31 shots as the Hawks completed a two-game sweep in Florida and improved to 8-3-0 despite playing 10 of those 11 games away from the United Center.

Huet made Andrew Ladd's rebound goal 3:07 into the game stand up until the Hawks put the game away in the third period as Ben Eager scored twice, sandwiched around Jonathan Toews' empty-netter.

"It was solid," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of his team's performance. "All aspects of our game, we were pleased with. We didn't get any production on our power play, but I still like the way we did it, had good zone presence and a lot of quality chances as well. I was very happy with the contribution across the board."

The Blackhawks have 18 road victories, one more than all of last season.

"We knew it was going to be a rough month," Ladd said. "It made this road trip a lot better when you're winning. I think we're a pretty confident group right now. We've just got to make sure we take care of ourselves."

The Hawks also cooled off the Panthers, who had shut out New Jersey 4-0 on Tuesday and were 13-4-3 in their previous 20 games. Florida remained tied with Buffalo for the last two playoff spots in the West.

"I think we got the deserved result tonight," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "I think they were the better team and that's a team that we have to bring our A-plus game against or they expose you, and they did tonight."

Blues 2, Predators 1 (OT) | Video

For the second straight Thursday, the Blues and Predators gave fans some bonus hockey. The Preds won last week's game in a shootout; the Blues won this one when Keith Tkachuk scored 2:52 into overtime, two seconds after a power play expired.

"Both teams are battling for the same thing," Tkachuk said after his goal gave the Blues 57 points, one less than Nashville and five out of the last playoff spot in the West. "There are serious comparisons between our teams. We both have the same coaching philosophy.

"It was a little bit of a chess match. There was tight checking and two goalies making great saves."
Tkachuk converted a perfect pass from Andy McDonald after the Blues had been stopped six times in OT by Pekka Rinne. McDonald had the Blues' lone goal in regulation, beating Rinne at 14:43 of the second period to offset Steve Sullivan's goal midway through the first.

Sullivan has the Preds' last three goals -- the first ones he's scored since coming back from a two-year absence due to rehab for a back injury.

"We need someone else to contribute," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "But it is great that Sullivan is finally scoring and is feeling good about himself."

Neither St. Louis coach Andy Murray nor Trotz was surprised at the closeness of the game.

"There was a playoff intensity," said Trotz, whose team visits St. Louis on Saturday. "It was real physical. It was emotional. There were great saves on both sides. Both teams were committed. All three games here have gone into overtime."

Flames 3, Wild 2 (OT)
| Video

Adrian Aucoin didn't miss when he got a second chance to be the hero. Aucoin hit the post early in overtime, but beat Niklas Backstrom 3:50 into overtime to give the Flames their 11th win in their last 13 meetings with the Wild.
"We had a little bit of momentum in the second period when we came back and tied the game. But we got undisciplined in the penalties that we took, and that took the momentum away from us." -- Oilers coach Craig MacTavish
The veteran defenseman rang a shot off the post on a breakaway early in overtime, but made up for it when he took a wrist shot from the point that appeared to bounce off Wild defender Brent Burns before going past Backstrom.

"We've been saying on this team about guys getting justice around here. That's pretty much what it was," Aucoin said. "I don't get too many breakaways. I beat [Backstrom] but obviously not the post."

Perhaps the best news for the Flames was their defensive performance in the third period. They limited the Wild to just one shot on goal, making life easy for goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who's been seeing a lot of rubber -- 156 shots in the last four games.

"I only saw one shot in the third period, and I kind of liked it," Kiprusoff said.

The Wild didn't like coming out of a home game with just one point -- especially in a game they led 2-1 in the second period. Dan Fristche's shorthanded goal at 3:02 tied the game 1-1, and Colton Gillies put Minnesota in front at 6:56. But Dustin Boyd's goal past a sprawling Backstrom at 16:10 evened the score again.

"There's no time to have a bad night. We had a bad night the night before," said Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, referring to his team's last game on Saturday where it squandered a three-goal lead and lost 5-3 to Ottawa. "You can't have a bad night every night."

Minnesota is 10th in the West, two points out of the last playoff spot.

The Flames may be without one of their top scorers for a while. Rene Bourque, who opened the scoring with his career-best 21st goal, injured his ankle on the play that led to Fristche's goal, and coach Mike Keenan said Bourque is "going to be gone for a long time."

Stars 4, Oilers 2 | Video

Raymond Sawada had a birthday he'll never forget. The former Cornell star not only celebrated his 24th birthday by making his NHL debut, he scored a goal as the Stars beat Edmonton.

"Coming here, first and foremost, was a great birthday present," said Sawada, who was recalled earlier in the day. "Getting that goal and the win was even better."

Sawada beat Dwayne Roloson with a backhander to give Dallas a 2-0 lead.

"Ray is a great example of how young players develop in the minors," coach Dave Tippett said. "He has been well-coached and this is a hard step. He was very good tonight."

The Stars, who have won 10 of 13, were playing their first game since losing No. 2 scorer Brad Richards with a fractured wrist. Richards, who had been among the team's best players after starting the season slowly, will miss 6-8 weeks after sustaining the injury Monday night in a shootout victory at Columbus.

But the Stars got production from other sources. Enforcer Krys Barch and Sawada gave them a two-goal lead, and rookie Fabian Brunnstrom broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal 3:08 into the second period for his fifth game-winner of the season, tops among all rookies. Jere Lehtinen added an insurance goal 8:17 into the third.

"Everyone knows that we have big names out of the lineup, big pieces of the puzzle," Stars center Mike Ribeiro said. "I think guys were ready for Edmonton. To lose Brad is big, but hopefully it will keep us together and keep us pushing forward."

After Sawada's goal made it 2-0, Liam Reddox beat Marty Turco at the 17-minute mark of the first period to get the Oilers on the board. Shawn Horcoff tied it 47 seconds into the second period, but a double minor on Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau gave the Stars a four-minute power play, and Brunnstrom made the Oilers pay by beating Roloson from the right circle.

"We had a little bit of momentum in the second period when we came back and tied the game," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "But we got undisciplined in the penalties that we took, and that took the momentum away from us."
The Oilers, eighth in the West, capped a four-game road trip with a 2-2 record. MacTavish was disappointed his team didn't play better before heading home for four consecutive games.

"The team that puts together a .750 road trip is one of the teams that's going to get into the playoffs," MacTavish said. "We could have really helped ourselves."

Coyotes 4, Thrashers 3 (SO) | Video

Daniel Carcillo doesn't make his living as a sniper, so it was a bit of a surprise when coach Wayne Gretzky sent him out for the eighth round of a shootout -- a move that drew some smiles on the Atlanta Thrashers' bench. Those smiles disappeared after Carcillo drilled a wrist shot past Kari Lehtonen and end the Coyotes' six-game home losing streak.

"I know a bunch of guys on their bench and they were laughing when I went out there," said Carcillo, who has 3 goals in 50 games this season. "I was laughing, too. It's a little bit of pressure but I tried to have fun with it."

Carcillo's goal rescued what would have been another painful loss for the Coyotes, who let a 3-1 lead get away and saw the Thrashers get a point when Ilya Kovalchuk scored with 52.5 seconds left in regulation. Phoenix won for the only second time in 11 games since the All-Star break -- a slump that has dropped the Coyotes from fifth in the Western Conference to five points out of the playoffs.

"We've got to win every night," coach Wayne Gretzky said. "If we're going to get in this race again we have to win four, five or six in a row."

Goals by Viktor Tikhonov and Steve Goertzen in the first 6:51 of the second period put Phoenix ahead by two, but Kovalchuk set up Bryan Little's goal at 12:16 before dunking Little's pass to tie the score.


GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 3 | +/-: +2

"It was a good point," Kovalchuk said. "It's been a frustrating season but we're trying to build something for next year."

Kovalchuk has scored in six straight games and now has 30 goals after a slow start.

"He's been wonderful," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "In the last month, he's probably been the best player in the NHL, him and [Alex] Ovechkin."

Sharks 4, Kings 2 | Video

Home continues to be a great place for the Sharks. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic's power-play goal broke a 2-2 tie as San Jose tied a franchise record with its 25th win at HP Pavilion by fending off the pesky Kings.

Vlasic's slap shot from the top of the slot sailed through a screen and past Erik Ersberg at 10:51 of the second period.

"I had a great opportunity," he said. "With five shots tonight, you hope you get one in."

Milan Michalek gave the Sharks a two-goal cushion at 13:11, finishing off a terrific pass from Joe Pavelski. Claude Lemieux, who returned to the NHL this season after a 5 1/2-year retirement, got the secondary assist on Michalek's goal for his first point since March 9, 2003.

"Claude has given us a physical presence on the forecheck," coach Todd McLellan said. "He's a big man and he's tough to knock off the puck.

"We're happy for him," he added when asked about Lemieux finally getting on the scoresheet in his 12th game.

San Jose, now 25-2-3 at home, got off to a fast start when rookie Lukas Kasper scored 24 seconds into the game. The former first-round draft pick now has two NHL goals -- both against the Kings, who had their five-game road winning streak ended.

Michal Handzus tied it at 4:24, but Sharks captain Patrick Marleau poked in a rebound at 18:03 to put San Jose back in front.

Alexander Frolov's power-play goal 3:53 into the second period tied the score again, but the Kings weren't able to get another puck past Evgeni Nabokov, who made 30 saves for his 30th win of the season.

The Kings came into the game after beating the Ducks 4-3 in Anaheim on Wednesday, but lost for only the second time in nine games. They're still four points out of the last playoff berth in the West

"I don't think we played as good as we did last night," Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar said. "We didn't compete hard, we didn't win one-on-one battles, and that's the result of the game. We're fighting for a playoff position right now, and we're desperate for points. We need to play with a lot of energy every night. We can't look for excuses at this time of the year."

But their effort impressed San Jose's Rob Blake, perhaps the best defenseman in Kings' history.

"They've got a real good team over there," said Blake, who played with the Kings last season before signing with San Jose. "They've got a real good chance. Their compete level is always there."

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

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