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Latest surge has Montreal in first

by Brian Hunter

Tomas Plekanec recorded his first career hat trick as the Canadiens took over first place in the Northeast Division for the first time this season.
Watch highlights from the Canadiens' win
Carey Price is managing just fine as the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens – with a little help from his friends, like Tomas Plekanec.

The 20-year-old Price made 31 saves in his second start since Cristobal Huet was dealt to Washington prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, and Plekanec recorded his first career hat trick as the Canadiens took over first place in the Northeast Division for the first time this season with a 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday at HSBC Arena.

"He's playing solid," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said about Price. "Not that I see a big difference, but you can see he's more calm and really poised in the net."

With their sixth win in eight games, the surging Canadiens are just one point behind the Eastern Conference-leading New Jersey Devils, their opponent Saturday night at Bell Centre. Another victory, and Montreal would be first in the East.

Plekanec opened the scoring 1:24 into the first with a power-play goal and extended the Canadiens’ lead to 4-1 after two periods by netting a pair in the second. Plekanec later assisted on an Andrei Kostitsyn goal for a four-point night.

"It was one of those nights when you got the puck in the offensive zone, it ended up in the net," Plekanec said. "The power play is really big for us right now."

Mark Streit and Sergei Kostitsyn also tallied for Montreal, which raised some eyebrows around the League when it dealt Huet, the No. 1 for much of this season, for a second-round draft pick. Price looked like a top-flight netminder for the second straight start, however, following up a 5-1 win Tuesday against Atlanta by limiting the Sabres.

"It's easier to play when your team is playing so well in front of you," Price said. "We have to keep rolling and stay consistent."

Buffalo received goals from Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly, but couldn’t leap over Philadelphia into sole possession of eighth in the East. The Sabres and Flyers each have 71 points, but the Flyers currently hold the tiebreaker with one more victory.

Maxim Afinogenov returned after missing 26 games with a groin tear and Drew Stafford was back from a 10-game layoff due to an ankle injury, but there was little else positive to report for Buffalo.

"Our defense got caught and our forwards didn't cover up," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It made for a pretty embarrassing night."

Plekanec and Streit teamed to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead in the first, and after Vanek cut it in half with a power-play goal 3:56 into the second, Plekanec went back to work. He responded with a power-play strike of his own just 1:38 later, restoring the two-goal lead, then deflected a Streit shot at 16:50 for the hat trick.

All three of Plekanec’s goals came on the power play, and 11 of his 24 goals this season have come on the man advantage.

Wild 3, Panthers 2 | Video
With the Northwest Division remaining a four-team battle, Minnesota knows it can’t slip up if it wants to gain the third seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Mikko Koivu, Stephane Veilleux and Brent Burns scored as the Wild departed BankAtlantic Center with their sixth straight win over Florida.

Niklas Backstrom made 32 saves as Minnesota stayed in first in a division where the top four teams are separated by only five points.

"We will take it because it's enough to get two points," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said about his team’s sixth straight victory by a single goal.

Vellieux and Burns tallied 2:38 apart in the second period to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead. Vellieux beat Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun over his glove at 7:54 to snap a tie, then Burns scored a power-play goal from the left circle for his 11th of the season.

"We were really working it back and forth and just trying to move the puck quick, make tape to tape passes," Burns said. "On most power plays it's tough (for opponents) to keep going and going if we're making good passes."

The Panthers outshot the Wild 16-6 in the third period and got a goal back when Nathan Horton struck on the power play at the 6:02 mark.

"I think we just ran out of time," said defenseman Steve Montador, who scored Florida’s other goal. "Obviously, they're not a team you want to give a two-goal lead to. It was too little too late."

Koivu gave the Wild a 1-0 lead with the first period’s lone goal. A Panthers turnover resulted in a 3-on-1 break the other way, and Marian Gaborik fed Koivu for a wrist shot from the lower left circle.

Montador tied the game 5:34 into the second for the Panthers, but Veilleux scored just 2:20 later to put the Wild back in front to stay.

Lightning 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT) | Video
This hasn’t been a historic season for Tampa Bay, but it ended up a milestone night for coach John Tortorella.

Dan Boyle’s power-play goal 2:02 into overtime not only gave the Lightning a win over a Toronto team desperate for points as it chases a playoff spot, but it tied Tortorella with the late Bob Johnson for most NHL wins by an American-born coach with 234.

Boyle completed a three-point night by taking a Vincent Lecavalier pass and beating Vesa Toskala from the left circle.

"It was a quick play and I just tried to put it upstairs," Boyle said.

Alexander Steen and Jason Blake rallied the Maple Leafs with third-period goals after the Lightning carried a 2-0 lead into the final 20 minutes at St. Pete Times Forum. The point was an important one, but Toronto still trails eighth-place Philadelphia by five points with 16 games remaining.

"The second intermission we were just talking about getting going and how important this game is for us," Steen said. "I thought we came out with some urgency in the third and did a good job."

Steen got the Leafs on the board just 27 seconds into the third, skating around the net and putting a backhander past new Lightning goalie Mike Smith. Blake scored from the left wing at 8:31 to force the extra period.

"Our guys fought hard and competed hard, and played their best period in the third when we were down and got an important point," Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.

Michel Ouellet and Alexandre Picard netted power-play goals for Tampa Bay. Ouellet, who has scored in three straight, lit the lamp at 8:51 of the first. Picard, acquired Monday in the deal for Vaclav Prospal, picked up his first of the season 12:13 into the second.

Smith, acquired in the deal that sent Brad Richards to Dallas, made 23 saves in winning his debut for the Lightning.

Sharks 3, Red Wings 2 | Video
Detroit once was running away with the Western Conference and seemed a lock to win the President’s Trophy for best record in the League.

After dropping another one-goal game Friday at Joe Louis Arena to San Jose, the Wings are on the verge of watching the top seed slip away.

Rookie Devin Setoguchi scored twice after being recalled from the minors a day earlier – including a disputed goal that held up as the game-winner – and the Sharks sent the Wings to their 10th loss in 11 games. Six have come by a single goal.

“I just came up and tried to do the best I possibly could,” said Setoguchi, who has 11 goals this season. “Simple plays, get pucks to the net. Patty (Patrick Marleau) made a great pass on the first one, and the puck came down right to me on the second one.”

It was that second goal that had Detroit feeling nothing is going its way during the recent slide. Setoguchi deflected a shot high and into the protective netting behind the Red Wings goal, and the puck bounced back down to the ice where he put it past Dominik Hasek. The officials allowed the goal, which came 9:17 into the third and gave San Jose a 3-1 lead.

"Definitely, it was a mistake," Hasek said. "The officials should've blown the whistle, but no one of the four saw the puck."

Mikael Samuelsson scored with 7:07 remaining but the Wings couldn’t get another and remained just three points ahead of the hard-charging Dallas Stars, who have won 13 of 15 games.

"I don't want to say there is panic in the room, but you can see disappointment on our faces," Hasek said. "But we still believe we can play the way we did before. Of course, we have had injuries, but we don't want to make excuses."

Hasek returned for Detroit after missing the last three weeks with a hip injury, but he got a rude welcome back from the Sharks. Joe Pavelski opened the scoring 1:40 into the first by beating Hasek to his glove side, and Setoguchi struck 52 seconds into the middle period, making it 2-0 on a shot from the slot.

“Just trying to learn to be more consistent with my play every night,” said Setoguchi, who has been up and down between San Jose and Worcester of the AHL this season.

"Every time we bring him up, he's a little bit more of a professional," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "Let's hope he doesn't have to go back down."

Henrik Zetterberg’s power-play goal 1:34 after Setoguchi scored got the Wings on the board, but Evgeni Nabokov stopped 20 shots for the Sharks and didn’t let another past him until Samuelsson tallied more than halfway through the third. 

Blue Jackets 3, Canucks 2 (OT) | Video
Vancouver was a perfect 23-0 this season when leading after two periods. Roberto Luongo carried a shutout into the third. But Columbus had other ideas for how this night was going to end.

Jason Chimera scored the game-winner 1:07 into overtime to complete the Blue Jackets’ rally from a two-goal deficit at General Motors Place. Chimera drove hard to the net and deflected Nikolai Zherdev’s centering pass by Luongo as Columbus moved to within three points of eighth in the Western Conference.

“We played well tonight, we kept on coming and got the goals in the third period. It’s a great victory for us,” Chimera said.

Andrew Murray and Rick Nash scored 1:10 apart in the third period to stun the Canucks, who gained a point but missed a chance to tie Calgary for second in the Northwest Division. It was the second straight frustrating defeat for Vancouver, which gave up a goal late in regulation and lost in overtime Wednesday against Colorado.

"We're disappointed," Canucks captain Markus Naslund said. "Up 2-0 going into the third means we shouldn't lose. We made some sloppy plays and let them back in."

Murray ended Luongo’s chance at his first shutout since Jan. 3 when a Dick Tarnstrom shot from the point deflected off him in front and arced up and over the goalie at 5:18. Nash then recorded the 150th goal of his NHL career by taking advantage of a Willie Mitchell turnover and scoring on a breakaway with a deke and backhander past Luongo.

"It's funny, he struggles on the shootout, but when he's in a hurry on the breakaway he scores," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of Nash, who is 3-for-8 in shootouts this season.

Ryan Shannon had only been out of the penalty box for seven seconds when he gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead at 12:38 of the first. Shannon jumped right into the rush and beat a partially-screened Pascal Leclaire after Trevor Linden spotted him trailing the play.

Sami Salo’s drive from the point 10:58 into the second got in behind Leclaire and made it 2-0 Vancouver.

Daniel Sedin had a goal disallowed in the first period when goalie interference was ruled on Naslund, and Henrik Sedin’s apparent go-ahead tally in the third was also called off because he high-sticked the puck past Leclaire.

"It's disappointing the first one didn't count," said Naslund, who appeared to be pushed into Leclaire by a Columbus defenseman. "I thought it should have, but there's not much we can do now."

Ducks 3, Flames 1 | Video
Defensemen Mathieu Schneider and Scott Niedermayer scored first-period goals and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 22 saves as the Ducks won for the 10th time in 11 games since Teemu Selanne’s return to the lineup.

Selanne scored his seventh of the season during a 5-on-3 advantage for the Ducks in the final minute. The Flames’ hopes of rallying late were severely hindered when first Kristian Huselius took a double high-sticking minor with 3:18 remaining and Dion Phaneuf was hit with penalties for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct with 1:27 left.

Anaheim played a solid team game without captain Chris Pronger and forwards Doug Weight and Todd Marchant, who are out with injuries. Pronger helped out behind the bench as Randy Carlyle missed the game because of the flu. Carlyle was at Honda Center, but assistant coach Dave Farrish ran the team with aid from assistant coach Newell Brown and Pronger.

“Hockey is a game where you need to play as a team to have success and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Niedermayer said. “We’re missing some great players, obviously – maybe Chris has a job as a coach – but we just have to play our game no matter who’s in the lineup and that’ll give us a good chance to win hockey games.”

Phaneuf scored in the second period for the Flames, who fell into second place in the Northwest Division after Minnesota won earlier Friday.

Schneider notched his ninth of the season 35 seconds after the opening faceoff and Niedermayer made it 2-0 with the Ducks skating on a power play, as he picked up his fifth at the 13:58 mark.

“We got out to a great start, the first period, to get that lead was huge for us,” Schneider said. “J.S. played a great game and we just got a good solid all-around effort tonight.”

Miikka Kiprusoff didn’t enjoy nearly as much success, stopping nine shots before being pulled after the first period. Veteran Curtis Joseph made 13 saves in relief.

''I'm not happy with the team at all,'' Flames coach Mike Keenan said. ''I tried to reinforce the sense of urgency yesterday with them. We practiced poorly, and I thought it was reflective of our start. Our goalie wasn't ready for the game, nor was the team.''

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

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