What a difference a week has made for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Seven days after leaving San Jose with a 3-2 loss that capped an 0-for-California road trip, the Leafs were smiling, upbeat and confident-sounding after beating the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Saturday night for their third straight win.
''The confidence and the positive mood is starting to come back in this dressing room,'' said Alex Steen, who had a goal and an assist. ''The last little while, we've done an unbelievable job of sticking together. We have a lot of character guys in here.''
It's only the second time this season the Leafs have won three or more games in a row; they had a four-game streak from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6.
''We feel a little better about ourselves,'' Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
The Sabres probably don’t. One night after breaking a 10-game losing streak with a 10-1 home rout of Atlanta, the Sabres didn’t have much jump in the opener of a seven-game road trip. They turned a 3-0 deficit into a 3-2 game on goals by Jochen Hecht and Daniel Paille, but fell to 1-6-5 in their last 12 games.
''Back-to-back games aren't easy. But the position that we're in, we need to win these back-to-backs,'' Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said.
The Leafs took a 1-0 lead 2:05 into the game when Nik Antropov finished off a pretty passing play from captain Mats Sundin at the side of the net during a power play ( 700K ). Antropov's 18th of the season tied a career high.
Steen made it 2-0 on a power play just 34 seconds into the middle period when his centering attempt banked off Campbell ( 700K ). Just 2:03 later, Alexei Ponikarovsky beat Ryan Miller stick-side with a wrist shot from the left circle to make it 3-0 ( 700K ).
Buffalo got on the board at 13:16 when Hecht snapped a wrist shot from the faceoff dot into the top corner past Vesa Toskala’s glove for his 16th of the season ( 700K ). Paille made it 3-2 in the third period when he beat Toskala low on the glove side after a nice setup by Paul Gaustad ( 700K ).
But Jason Blake restored the Leafs’ two-goal lead when he fired a wrist shot just inside the post on a two-on-one break ( 700K ).
''That's really important,'' Maurice said of his team finishing off the game. ''That confidence is layered — it's built over time. You have to keep doing it.''
Flyers 5, Islanders 3 | Video
Scott Hartnell should wear an “I Love New York” shirt. He had his second three-goal game in the New York area in 10 days as the Flyers rallied from a two-goal deficit to win on Long Island.
Hartnell got all three of his goals with the man advantage, as the Flyers’ league-leading power play went 3-for-6. He jammed in a loose puck at 5:21 of the first period for the game’s first goal ( 700K ), converted Scottie Upshall’s kick pass at the 13-minute mark of the second period to tie the game at 3-3 ( 700K ), then put the Flyers ahead to stay 54 seconds into the third period when a dump-in took a funny bounce off the glass and kicked out in front. Hartnell fired the puck into the vacated net before Rick DiPietro could get back ( 700K ).
''Ninety-nine times out of 100, I go behind the net like that, and the puck keeps going around the net or I stop it,'' DiPietro said. ''It hit a stanchion, hit off my pad, and went right in front of the net.''
It was Hartnell’s third career hat trick. He had three goals at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10.
''There were some lucky breaks for me,'' Hartnell said. ''The second one hits something while the goalie is behind the net, and the third one hits a stanchion, again with the goalie behind the net. They weren't the prettiest of goals, but I'll take them. It seems like right now, it's my time.''
The Islanders dominated the first period after Hartnell’s goal. Richard Park scored on a breakaway 22 seconds later to tie the game at 1-1 ( 700K ), Josef Vasicek finished off Miroslav Satan’s pass at 10:35 ( 700K ) and Bill Guerin put in a power-play rebound at 17:21 ( 700K ).
The Isles had a chance to take command late in the first period and early in the second, but wasted a four-minute power play. That seemed to turn the momentum toward the Flyers, who quickly got within 3-2 when Steve Downie stuffed the puck past DiPietro at 5:04 ( 700K ).
''They didn't score on that penalty in the second, and we knew we had a chance,'' Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said. ''We weren't happy with the first period, and I think it showed the character of the team to bounce back like that.''
Mike Richards gave the Flyers some insurance at 12:11 of the third period, beating DiPietro on a two-on-one ( 700K ).
''It was a total team fall-apart,'' Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. ''The score dictated the way we thought we were playing. Instead of protecting a 3-1 lead, we were trying to make it 5-1. We didn't pay attention to detail.''
Bruins 4, Rangers 3, OT | Video
A change in routine helped the Bruins beat the Rangers in a shootout and win the opener of a home-and-home series. With his team playing its second straight shootout and third consecutive overtime game, coach Claude Julien gave Zdeno Chara a chance in the tiebreaker, and the NHL’s tallest player delivered the clinching goal.
|Former Boston Bruins hockey player Willie O'Ree addresses the crowd in Boston after being honored on the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in the NHL .
"Once in a while you just have to change up the routine and throw some guys out there that don't get to go so often in a shootout, and I guess in this case, it worked," said Chara, who blasted a 15-foot slap shot past Henrik Lundqvist. "I just tried to keep it simple and go for the shot."
After Chuck Kobasew was stopped, Phil Kessel scored ( 700K ) and goalie Tim Thomas stopped both New York shooters, Chara ended the game with his blast.
"I think he's 2-for-2 in shootouts," Julien said. "We do these drills in practice and he does pretty well. ... I think everyone in the building knew what he was going to do and he still got the job done."
Kobasew had two goals for the Bruins, including the equalizer at 9:30 of the third period ( 700K ) after the Rangers had overcome a 2-1 deficit with goals by Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery earlier in the period.
The win moved the Bruins a point ahead of the Rangers in the jam-packed Eastern Conference playoff race heading into Sunday’s nationally televised game at Madison Square Garden.
"Look at the standings, how close we are, and back-to-back games always makes it a little more heated out there," Kobasew said.
Jagr and Scott Gomez each had a goal and two assists for the Rangers. Gomez opened the scoring 6:36 into the first period ( 700K ) and set up Avery’s go-ahead goal at 8:08 of the third with a sensational passout from behind the net ( 700K ). Marco Sturm’s goal at 16:36 of the first period tied the game at 1-1 ( 700K ), and Kobasew’s first of two power-play goals put Boston ahead at 15:52 of the second ( 700K ).
The Rangers got a point but fell to 0-3-2 on the road since winning at Toronto three weeks ago.
“I saw urgency and intensity in the last 25 games of last year," said Avery, acquired by the Rangers last February. "That's urgency and intensity. Not right now, not how we're playing. I wish it were different, but it's not."
Stars 3, Blue Jackets 1 | Video
The first game back after a long road trip is often tough. Dallas goalie Mike Smith made sure it wouldn’t be a loss for the Stars by stopping 29 shots to snap Columbus’ four-game winning streak.
Smith, who had played just once in the Stars’ last six games, was at his best in the second period, making 13 saves as Dallas was outshot 14-2. For the game, Columbus outshot Dallas 30-14, the fewest shots the Blue Jackets have allowed in a game in their history.
“He hadn't been in there a lot and we put a lot on his shoulders," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said of Smith. "They have a lot of good offensive guys but he was good for us."
Smith, who had lost his three previous decisions, earned his first win since Dec. 29 against St. Louis.
"It's been a long time since I got in the win column, so I was just battling and trying to make saves," Smith said. "Fortunately, we got a couple of goals."
While Marty Turco was seeing most of the action, Smith said he was able to keep sharp in practice during a five-game trip that ended in San Jose on Thursday.
"I told myself to treat practice like a game, and that rubbed off on this game," he said. "Sometimes you have to find a way to win games. Sometimes you need your goaltending to be the difference."
Morrow gave Dallas a 1-0 lead 12:43 into the game on the Stars' second shot. He scored his 17th of the season from the slot off Antti Miettinen's setup from behind the net ( 700K ). Stu Barnes made it 2-0 at 10:12 of the second period by converting Krys Barch’s cross-ice pass after Columbus had taken the first eight shots on goal in the period ( 700K ).
The Blue Jackets cut the deficit to 2-1 with 11.4 seconds remaining in the second period on Zherdev's power-play goal from the left circle ( 700K ), his 20th of the season. But Steve Ott's shot from the lower left circle at 8:54 of the third period gave the Stars some insurance ( 700K ).
"We had them on the bend, but they wouldn't break," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We had a team on the end of a west-to-east turnaround, which is hard. This was a very winnable game against an opponent that had travel issues. That's two points we should have had against a team that had no energy."
Predators 5, Blues 2 | Video
Nashville got offense from an unlikely source to beat the Blues before a full house at Scottrade Center. Penalty-killer Scott Nichol, who entered the game with just two goals, matched that total in less than 15 minutes when he scored a pair of shorthanded goals in the Preds’ three-goal second period.
“It's nice when you can chip in that way because you're not really expecting it, especially with their power play." Nichol said after Nashville beat St. Louis for the first time in four tries this season. "You just want to try and kill (them) off. And we had a couple of good, lucky bounces. We'll take those. They seemed to be going the other way the last few games. It's nice for them to bounce in for us this time."
The Blues fell to 0-3-1 in their last four games and have been outscored 21-9 during the skid. Andy McDonald ( 700K ) and Brad Boyes ( 700K ) had goals for St. Louis; Paul Kariya assisted on both. J.P. Dumont ( 700K ) and David Legwand ( 700K ) scored in the first period for Nashville.
Blues coach Andy Murray wasn’t happy with his team’s effort.
"I think we lacked effort in certain areas," Murray said. "This game was a lot about effort and determination. In our opinion, our effort and determination wasn't strong enough."
The Predators led 2-1 when Nichol scored his first goal, skating in from the neutral zone and beating Manny Legace from a low angle in the left circle at 5:34 of the second ( 700K ).
"To me, we had certain situations where we didn't respond properly," Murray said.
Jason Arnott's 17th of the season at 15:06 gave the Predators a 4-1 lead ( 700K ) and chased Legace, who allowed four goals on 15 shots. He was replaced by Hannu Toivonen.
"I just played terrible. That's all," Legace said. "It was awful. Three goals never should have went in. The first goal was a good tip. The next three were just horrible goals, especially that third one. It just deflated our team. I can't allow that."
Nichol scored again with 18.1 seconds left in the second, beating Toivonen to a loose puck near the right circle and sliding the puck into an empty net ( 700K ).
"I really thought, obviously, the turning point was the second period," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We did a lot of good things and we played a good road game."
Capitals 5, Panthers 3 | Video
Washington’s revival under Bruce Boudreau continued as the Caps reached the .500 mark for the first time in nearly three months thanks to four assists by Nicklas Backstrom and two goals by Viktor Kozlov.
At 21-21-5, the Capitals reached the break-even mark for the first time since Oct. 24, when they were 4-4-0. They are 15-7-4 since Boudreau took over for Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22 and have moved past Florida into third place in the Southeast Division.
''It's just the beginning for us. We deserve to be in this spot,'' forward Alex Ovechkin said. ''We had a terrible start of the season; we lose every game.''
Not that Boudreau was impressed with getting back to .500.
''We've officially reached mediocrity,'' he said. ''We always have little goals, and that was a goal. Like anything else, the easiest part is to get there. The hardest part is to get over it and stay above it. If we want to have a chance to make the playoffs, we have to get better than that.''
Florida overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie the game midway through the second period on a power-play goal by Olli Jokinen ( 700K ). But Alexander Semin put the Capitals back in front at 12:17 by putting in the rebound of Ovechkin’s shot ( 700K ). Ovechkin scored his 36th of the season at 4:40 of the third period when he fired a slap shot past Tomas Vokoun after Backstrom won a faceoff and got the puck to Mike Green ( 700K ).
The Caps started off as if they were going to blow out the Panthers, who were playing their second game in two nights after winning in New Jersey on Friday, scoring three goals in less than 4½ minutes of the first period.
Kozlov started the run with a power-play goal at 6:49, deflecting Green's shot from the right point ( 700K ). Just 1:06 later, John Erskine fired a 60-foot slap shot from deep on the left side past Vokoun, who was screened ( 700K ). Kozlov made it 3-0 at 11:16, ripping a wrist shot into the net an instant after Backstrom won a faceoff in the right circle ( 700K ).
''In the first period I wasn't happy. I thought they beat us to the puck,'' Florida coach Jacques Martin said. ''They were more physical and won the battle over the loose pucks.”
But the Panthers needed just over half of the second period to tie the score. Rookie Shawn Matthias, a star in Canada’s run to the World Junior Championship earlier this month, got his first NHL goal on a tip-in 57 seconds into the period ( 700K ), then scored again on a power-play at 4:53 ( 700K ).
''It's nice to get that out of the way, the first one, and it's nice to get two,'' Matthias said. ''I wish the team won. It would have made it even sweeter.''
Jokinen tied it with another power-play goal at 10:53, but the tie lasted just 1:40 before Semin’s goal put the Caps ahead to stay.
Lightning 2, Senators 0 | Video
For the second straight night, Johan Holmqvist and the Lightning were perfect against a less-than-full-strength opponent. Holmqvist followed up his shutout in Pittsburgh after Sidney Crosby was injured by blanking an Ottawa team that was without Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.
''He's played very well the past two games,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said after Holmqvist stopped 25 shots. ''It's not just the saves he's making, it's how he's making them. He looks solid.''
Martin St. Louis had a first-period power-play goal and Vincent Lecavalier hit the empty net with 12 seconds left for Tampa Bay ( 700K ), which won its fourth in a row on the road.
Holmqvist was busiest in the second period, turning aside all 12 shots he faced. Ottawa managed just six shots in the third period despite having a pair of power plays.
''I thought we played really strong in the third period when we really needed it,'' said Holmqvist, who had just one career shutout before Friday night’s win in Pittsburgh. ''We've been playing pretty good on the road, and when you get a couple of wins behind you the confidence keeps going.
''It's a very nice feeling and they were two big wins for us, which is the main thing, but it's nice to get a shutout.''
Ottawa struggled without its two leading scorers. Alfredsson, who has 60 points this season, missed the game after sustaining a hip flexor injury during the Senators' 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. Heatley missed his fourth straight game because of a separated shoulder and is expected to be out for several weeks.
''We've just got to get more chances and get more shots on net,'' Senators forward Shean Donovan said. ''We need to be a little more desperate. Anytime you don't win it's not a good thing but we've got three games on the road now so it will be good for the team.''
St. Louis’ goal at 17:22 of the first period put the Lightning ahead to stay. The All-Star forward swatted a rebound past Ray Emery ( 700K ).
Tortorella credited his players for bouncing back from a poor showing in a 3-0 home defeat to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
''It's been a long week,'' he said. ''We're going from a situation at home where I thought we really struggled against Colorado and then found our way. I think our team is beginning to play as a team and I think that's the most important thing.”
Blackhawks 2, Coyotes 1, SO | Video
The Hawks continue to ride the hot goaltending of Patrick Lalime, who stopped 38 shots and made three more saves in the shootout to give Chicago its fourth straight win.
Coach Denis Savard turned to Lalime when starter Nikolai Khabibulin slumped, and Lalime has been superb in all four wins.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Savard said after the Hawks’ second 2-1 road shootout win in as many nights. “He deserves all the credit. He got us back in the (playoff) race.”
Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat scored in the shootout for the Hawks. Kane scored the winning goal with a spectacular deke and backhander past Ilya Bryzgalov ( 700K ).
''You never know,'' Kane said of playing in a shootout. ''You just have to be patient and try to wait for the move, and take it from there.''
Chicago had a chance to win the game with 14.7 seconds left in overtime when Rene Bourque was awarded a penalty shot. Bourque was behind everyone but had yet to reach the red line when he was tackled by Ed Jovanovski. But Bryzgalov stopped Bourque’s shot ( 700K ).
Jovanovski was livid about the call, but said afterward he understood why it was made.
''I did put my arm out,'' he said. ''I probably should have just turned and skated with him.''
Both teams scored on power plays in the second period.
The Coyotes broke a scoreless tie at 12:08 when rookie Peter Mueller got his 12th of the season on a straightaway shot from the blue line that hit Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and went past Lalime ( 700K ). Chicago tied it at 15:56 on Brent Seabrook’s one-timer from the left circle ( 700K ).
Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky wasn’t happy with his team’s effort in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to Columbus, but found little to complain about this time.
''We were physical and I thought we played a very solid hockey game,'' he said. ''Unfortunately we didn't get two points out of it, but you know what, they played hard and I liked the way we bounced back after a not great effort on Thursday night.''
Kings 4, Canucks 3 | Video
Jason LaBarbera was good from start to finish, making 43 saves as the Kings rebounded from a poor effort in Calgary with a win in Vancouver, beating the Canucks for the third time in as many games this season.
“We knew we had to come back with a stronger effort. We were embarrassed in Calgary” said LaBarbera, who was pulled after two periods of the 6-1 loss to the Flames. “I had to refocus. I didn’t think I was that bad in Calgary.”
LaBarbera was sharp right away — he robbed Henrik Sedin ( 700K ) and then Taylor Pyatt from point blank range on the first shift of the game, then stopped Alexandre Burrows’ breakaway on the next shift ( 700K ).
“We had the start we wanted,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “If we had scored the first goal, I think their energy level would have dropped. We had some quality chances, but we couldn’t beat their goaltender.”
The Kings had no such problem against Roberto Luongo.
Jack Johnson gave the Kings the lead at 8:52 of the first period, stepping up from the point and firing a slap shot that overpowered the Vancouver goalie ( 700K ). It was Johnson's second NHL goal; both have come at GM Place against the Canucks.
Scott Thornton made it 2-0 at 1:57 of the second period ( 700K ) and Dustin Brown extended the lead to three goals at 6:34 when he beat Luongo for his 24th of the season ( 700K ).
Vancouver came back with two goals before the second period was over. Brad Isbister ( 700K ) and Trevor Linden ( 700K ) both beat LaBarbera.
The Canucks pressed for the tying goal, but Alexander Frolov's 10th of the season with 7:40 left in the game restored the Kings’ two-goal lead ( 700K ). Mason Raymond picked off a poor clearing pass by Jaroslav Modry and beat LaBarbera with 4:19 remaining to cut the margin to one goal again ( 700K ). Ryan Kesler broke in alone with 20 seconds remaining, but LaBarbera and defenseman Rob Blake combined to keep the puck out of the net ( 700K ).
“The difference was their goaltender,” Vigneault said. “It was one of our best nights overall. This was one of the best games I’ve seen all year from a goaltender.”
Red Wings 6, Sharks 3 | 700K
Detroit continued its domination of San Jose, going back to Game 4 of last spring’s playoffs, by getting goals from six players and taking advantage of the Sharks’ parade to the penalty box in the second period to win the opener of its Western trip.
“We got contributions from top to bottom,” said forward Daniel Cleary, whose goal at 8:50 of the third period ended the Sharks’ comeback hopes. “We played with a lot of jam. We really wanted to win.”
Detroit has won all three meetings this season and has outscored San Jose 23-7 starting with Robert Lang's game-tying goal with 33.1 seconds left in regulation of Game 4 last spring.
Henrik Zetterberg put Detroit ahead with the only goal of the first period, beating Evgeni Nabokov at 6:53 ( 700K ). San Jose was outshot 7-1 in the opening period and went shotless for more that 17 minutes before Matt Carle’s harmless drive from the boards forced Dominik Hasek to make a save.
“It was important to have a good start and take their momentum away,” Zetterberg said.
Kris Draper’s shorthanded goal 54 seconds into the second period made it 2-0 ( 700K ) before the Sharks bounced back with power-play goals by Devin Setoguchi at 1:26 ( 700K ) and Jonathan Cheechoo at 7:42 ( 700K ).
But the Wings took charge when Niklas Kronwall scored at the 10-minute mark ( 700K ) and Nicklas Lidstrom ( 700K ) and Tomas Holmstrom ( 700K ) added power-play goals 2:12 apart.
“The power play was really good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They took some untimely penalties and we were able to respond.”
The Sharks hurt themselves by taking five penalties in a span of 2:24; Lidstrom’s goal came on a 4-on-3 advantage and Holmstrom’s tip-in came with the Wings playing up two men.
“Give that team a five-on-three and they’ll kill you every time,” said Sharks center Jeremy Roenick, who was assessed a double minor for high-sticking at 12:52, when Christian Ehrhoff also went off for tripping. “We gave them too many power plays.”
The Sharks looked like they might make a comeback when Steve Bernier scored their third power-play goal of the game 47 seconds into the third period ( 700K ). But Cleary finished off a perfect pass from Zetterberg for his 19th goal to restore the three-goal margin ( 700K ).
“I didn’t do anything,” he said of his goal. “My dad could have put that one in.”
Cleary’s dad — and the rest of the Wings’ fathers — saw the game; they’re making the trip with their sons.
“You have a better trip,” Babcock said when asked if his players were psyched up to play in front of their dads. “It’s all about winning. You want to be proud. This gives us a real good off-day tomorrow and sets us up for a good trip.”
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.