A few thoughts as we approach one of my favorite days of the season— Hockey Day in Canada.
Feeling better -- For the Toronto Maple Leafs, a victory in Montreal was just the thing to wash away the bitter taste of an 8-0 home loss to Florida two nights earlier.
The Leafs rebounded from their worst showing of the season with one of their best, beating the Canadiens 4-2 Thursday night at the Bell Centre. In a season with wild ups and downs, this was one of the high points.
“The whole year has been one roller coaster after another,” said forward Darcy Tucker, who scored twice after coming into the game with just six goals all season. “It hasn’t been fun at times, but when we play like this, we’re a good hockey club.”
Despite the big win, the Leafs are still 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, though they’re only six points out of the last playoff berth. But they know that one win, no matter how encouraging, isn’t nearly enough.
“It's a good win for us,” goalie Vesa Toskala said, “but we have to keep playing the same way."
Thanks, guys -- There’s nothing like the sight of the red light going on at the other end of the rink to cheer up a goaltender — especially when it hasn’t been happening very often. That’s why Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere was all smiles after the Ducks beat the New York Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden.
Before a 3-0 win against the New York Islanders Tuesday night, the Ducks had scored only five goals during a six-game losing streak. The only point during that slide came last Friday, when Giguere pitched a shutout through 65 minutes in St, Louis, only to lose in a shootout.
“It's much easier to win when you get that many goals," said Giguere, whose team came into the Garden averaging just 2.37 goals per game. "It's never fun not to score. I'm sure the guys are having a lot more fun now."
Funny how getting some goals can improve everyone’s mood.
Ouch! -- Talk about adding injury to insult.
Not only did Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen have to watch Alex Burrows’ game-winning shot go into the net with 8:46 remaining in the third period of a 2-1 loss to Vancouver, he got a big welt on his chest, courtesy of teammate Eric Perrin.
Perrin’s stick accidentally clipped Lehtonen, knocking him onto the seat of his pants. He was unable to do anything as Burrows put the puck into the unguarded net.
"Perrin's stick hit me right here," Lehtonen said, pointing to a six-inch red mark. "That's why I went on my butt. I couldn't get up fast enough.”
The Finnish netminder said he originally thought a Canuck had hit him.
"I was complaining a lot because I thought it was their player's stick, but I was wrong,” he said. “Sometimes things like that happen."
They better not happen too many more times for the Thrashers, who blew a 1-0 lead after two periods and are still on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Welcome back -- When you’re struggling, as the Ottawa Senators have been recently, getting a 50-goal scorer like Dany Heatley back in the lineup is just what the doctor ordered.
Heatley returned from a shoulder separation and had two goals as the Senators outlasted Florida 5-4.
No one was happier to see Heatley than his regular center, Jason Spezza. Heatley scored two goals and showed no ill effects from being out for nearly four weeks and Spezza had three assists.
"We've got pretty good chemistry and Heater was pretty excited to play," Spezza said. "When you're losing games it's nice to get a jolt of energy back in your lineup and it's nice when it comes in the way of a 50-goal man."
Heatley, who the game-winner with 12:34 remaining in regulation time, admitted he felt a little rusty at the start, “but the second and third felt a little more comfortable and I got the timing and felt good."
Probably not as good as his teammates — Ottawa moved three points ahead of Montreal in the Northeast Division race, and the Canadiens come to Scotiabank Place on Saturday night.
Turnabout -- Three nights after Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien told the media that defenseman Ryan Whitney “cost us the game” in an overtime loss at New Jersey, New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan could have felt the same way.
Whitney rebounded with two power-play goals in the Penguins’ 4-3 victory over the Islanders.
“He responded exactly the way I expected. Give him credit," Therrien said. "He upgraded his game not only offensively — it is great to get two goals tonight - but defensively he was sharp. This is what I want from him."
Crowned -- No one is perfect, not even the NHL’s best team. Detroit was 20 minutes away from its ninth-straight win, which would have tied a franchise record — but saw the visiting Los Angeles Kings, owners of the NHL’s worst record, score four unanswered goals for a 5-3 victory.
Center Kris Draper didn’t know anything about the franchise record, but he was upset about the way they missed out on the opportunity.
"I care because of the way we lost," Draper said. "Over the course of an 82-game schedule, things are going to happen, but when you're up 3-1 you have to find a way to bury hockey clubs. We didn't do that. We started making mistakes we hadn't for a majority of the year, taking untimely penalties and they capitalized."
The Wings are running away with the overall points lead, Wings coach Mike Babcock could afford to look at the loss as a learning opportunity.
"Every once in a while in life you need to be reminded,” he said. “We know you can't just come to the rink and put your jersey on. You've got to outwork the opposition."
Coming through -- A backup goalie’s job is to step up when called upon. Mike Smith filled the bill for the Dallas Stars, stopping all 25 shots he faced in a 1-0 victory at Minnesota.
Smith had watched Marty Turco win four in a row, but didn’t miss a beat when he got the call. Turco didn’t make the trip to Minnesota due to a neck injury sustained in a collision with teammate Jeff Halpern during Tuesday’s win over Vancouver.
"The main thing is that I just wanted to come in here and give the team a chance," he said. "Marty has played so well over the past four games, and I wanted to do the same thing to stabilize the team."
Smith’s best stop came when he robbed Marian Gaborik on a redirection. Smith slid, did the split and kicked the puck away with a lightning-quick right pad save.
"I don't do the splits too much,” Smith said, “but that one called for it.”
Road warriors -- The Tampa Bay Lightning couldn’t win on the road at the start of the season. Now they can’t lose. The Lightning’s 2-1 overtime victory in Nashville was their sixth-consecutive victory away from the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Lightning were 3-14-3 on the road before their current streak.
”We are still in it, there is a lot of hockey left,” Richards said. “We have to get it in our heads that we haven't accomplished anything yet. The road has been good. We have to put some more together.”
Despite the hot streak, the Bolts’ early season troubles have left them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and they know they’re paying a price.
”It’s great, but we’re just coming back to the beginning of the year when we were not that good on the road,” said Vaclav Prospal, whose goal at 58 seconds of overtime won the game. “So basically right now, we need to get some wins because that’s where we put ourselves in a jam.”
Home worriers -- The Phoenix Coyotes have been among the NHL’s best road teams all season — their 17 wins away from home are tied for second in the League. But their inability to win at home is putting a serious crimp in their bid for a playoff berth.
Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to Columbus at Jobing.com Arena left the Coyotes with an 11-12-2 mark at home — the worst among the Western Conference playoff contenders — and has coach Wayne Gretzky perplexed.
”It just seems like we keep digging ourselves in holes now at home, and that's not good,” Gretzky said after the Coyotes were unable to dig out of an early 2-0 hole. “We need to figure out a way to come out quicker and get ahead.”
The Coyotes have 16 of their remaining 27 games on home ice. For most teams, that would be a good thing. For the Coyotes — maybe not.
At last -- Nikolai Khabibulin
finally found the answer to ending his personal 10-game losing streak — a trip to Calgary.
Khabibulin hadn’t won since Dec. 26, but he broke the slide with a 26-save effort that improved his lifetime mark against the Flames to 19-5-2.
"It's obviously nice to win, it hasn't happened in a while,” Khabibulin said. “I thought I played some good games during the losing streak, probably could have won the game before this one — but it didn't happen."
The bad news for Khabibulin, who allowed just two goals in winning both starts at the Pengrowth Saddledome this season: The teams don’t meet again until Calgary comes to the United Center on March 16.
You can e-mail John Kreiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.