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Lidstrom puts charge into Wings' finishing kick

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

Nicklas Lidstrom returned from injury to post two assists Sunday in the Red Wings' 4-3 victory against the rival Predators.
Watch Nick Lidstrom's return
Some random thoughts before I dream of a Pittsburgh-Washington best-of-seven series:

Like Riding A Bike -- Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned after a six-game layoff, but it sure didn't seem like the future Hall-of-Famer missed any time.

Lidstrom -- who suffered a knee injury Feb. 18 at Colorado -- picked up two assists in his return as the Red Wings held off the Nashville Predators in a 4-3 win at Joe Louis Arena.

"It felt great to be back in the game again," Lidstrom said. "I felt a little rustier in the first period, got caught standing still a couple times not reading the play and reacting as quick as you want. Once I got over that hump, I felt comfortable out there."

He certainly looked comfortable, which was why Detroit coach Mike Babcock handed his No. 1 defenseman 24:34 of ice time. The fact that Nashville was whistled for five minor penalties in the first period unquestionably contributed to that.

"I felt fine, actually," Lidstrom said. "I felt good. I think it helps getting some ice time on the power play, especially early on in a game. I think that really helped me."

It undoubtedly helped the Wings, who are close to restoring that double-digit lead they held for so long in the Western Conference. With Lidstrom back in the mix, Detroit will certainly be feeling confident down the stretch.   

"Nick's obviously real special because he can slide on the offensive blue line so good," Babcock said. "He really helps us generate offense."

Crosby
A Goal's A Goal -- Sidney Crosby has enjoyed his share of highlight-reel goals in his early, yet brilliant, career.

While his second tally Sunday won't be a major hit on YouTube now or in the future, it did lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a huge 4-2 victory against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

"We've been on the other side of that before. Obviously, it's not fun," Crosby said after Washington's Nicklas Backstrom accidentally fired Crosby's rebound past Cristobal Huet in the final minute of regulation that broke a 2-2 tie. "It's a big break for us."

Even though Crosby improved to 10-1 lifetime in head-to-head action against Ovechkin, Sunday's game was must-see TV and had a playoff feel to it.

Of course, it helps when Doc Emrick is behind the microphone (not that the Pens and Caps needed help). Doc's so good he could breathe life into synchronized swimming.

Can't you just hear him now? "OH, LOOK AT THE AEROBIC ENDURANCE DISPLAYED BY GERMANY!"

Make It Nine For Henrik --  Nothing was going to stop Henrik Lundqvist from recording his ninth shutout of the season Sunday.

Lundqvist
The New York Rangers' netminder stopped everything he saw against the Boston Bruins – even in the shootout – as the Blueshirts improved to 9-0-3 in their last 12 games with a 1-0 win at Madison Square Garden. It was New York's first win against Boston in four tries this season (1-1-2).

"It was fun to play and it felt really good to finally beat them in a shootout," Lundqvist said. "They had a couple of good players who made a couple of good moves. It was a big statement for us to beat this team."

And, to think that Lundqvist almost didn't play. The Rangers' No. 1 netminder was suffering from fatigue and a sore throat. But he just refused to let his teammates down.

"I didn't feel 100 percent, but I was not going to let that be an excuse today," Lundqvist said.
Here's a stat that will have Rangers' fans smiling: New York has recorded at least a point in 12 consecutive games – a feat it hasn't accomplished since … you guessed it -- 1993-94.

Extra Effort -- Edmonton Oilers rookie Andrew Cogliano enjoyed scoring in overtime on Friday so much, he decided to do it again 48 hours later.

Cogliano ended a back-and-forth match with the Chicago Blackhawks by beating Patrick Lalime 3:01 into the extra session as the Oilers won for the sixth time in seven games with a 6-5 victory at the United Center.

Cogliano
Cogliano, who was selected in the first round of the 2005 Draft, beat the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night in a 2-1 OT victory. The rookie has nine points (six goals, three assists) in his last seven games.

"He's made two great plays in back-to-backs," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said of Cogliano. "The 4-on-4 is just made for his game. He gets the puck, just takes off and makes the play."

The win was Edmonton's 17th of the season when the game goes to overtime or a shootout, which leads the NHL. Behind goalie Mathieu Garon, the Oilers are 14-3 in shootouts.

Home, Sweet Home -- The Nationwide Arena has not been a fun place to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets as of late. On Sunday, though, they finally gave their fans a reason to cheer with a 5-3 win against the woeful Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We've been disappointed with the way we've played at home since the All-Star break," Blue Jackets center Michael Peca said. "It's good to see us be a little more resilient tonight."

The power play was more resilient, too. After being held scoreless in 34 straight opportunities, Jason Chimera tallied on the man advantage and broke a 3-3 tie with just less than four minutes remaining in regulation. The win moved Columbus within five points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"To come back and win in the third period is the best feeling for us right now," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You start to have doubt in your game ... but winning like tonight can relieve some of those problems."

The problems continue to mount for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have now lost five in a row and 10 of their last 11 as they continue to have the worst record in the Eastern Conference (26-35-8).

"I thought our team played hard, defended well, didn't give up many opportunities at all," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "We scored a couple goals and played good enough to lose."
   
Nabokov
Road Warriors -- It's scary to think how far ahead the San Jose Sharks would be in the Western Conference if they played all 82 games on the road.

Ron Wilson's club survived a late scare and extended its winning streak to nine games with a 3-2 shootout victory against the host Minnesota Wild on Sunday. With the win, the Sharks improved to 24-8-3 on the road. Seven of their nine wins during this phenomenal streak have come in a building not named HP Pavilion.

"Most teams try to get everything fine-tuned, on a roll, before the playoffs," Wilson said. "We're playing well, but we still have some things to do."

San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov agrees. Nabokov made 21 saves Sunday in his League-leading 66th appearance.

"Obviously, we're playing well, but it's such a competitive league that you can't get too comfortable," Nabokov said. "If you're going to take time off, you're going to find yourself losing two in a row and fighting for that eighth playoff spot."

Minnesota knows the feeling. The Wild are 3-6-2 during their last 11 games and hold just a one-point lead on the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche in the Northwest Division. Only three points separate them from ninth place in the Western Conference.

"I think we'll play as good as this in the next games, all the games that are left," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "So now we will determine if we're good enough to be there. That's how it's going to be."

Kunitz
Not So Fast -- With a chance to seize control of the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens came up short in a 3-1 loss Sunday night to the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center.

Chris Kunitz and Samuel Pahlsson sealed the Habs' fate by scoring just 33 seconds apart in the third period. Pahlsson's was especially painful, considering it came during a Canadiens' power play.

"It was a close game. Both goalies played really well," said Habs forward Tom Kostopoulos. "Getting our top guys going was tough for us tonight. I thought 5-on-5 the teams matched up well, so hopefully we'll meet them in the (Stanley Cup Final)."

That certainly would be a thrill for Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who rooted for the Canadiens as a child. Giguere made 20 saves Sunday night for his 10th victory in 12 games.
''It's always special to play against the Montreal Canadiens,'' Giguere said. ''I've watched them all my life, every game they played, and I still watch them as much as I can when I'm not playing.''

The Ducks have won seven-straight games on home ice, a franchise record. After going 8-2 against the Eastern Conference this season, Anaheim will play within its own conference the rest of the way, beginning Tuesday night with the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
"This is sort of part of the playoffs right now," Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. "You look at the standings and how close it is, it's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully we're going the right way."

Still The One -- The San Jose Sharks had control of the Pacific Division for only a few hours Sunday.

With a dominant 3-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars put a halt to their three-game slide and quickly restored their division lead. Stu Barnes and Stephane Robidas scored in the first 5:25 of an opening period that saw the Stars outshoot Colorado by a 12-1 margin.

Turco
"It was solid all-around work," said Dallas goalie Marty Turco, who made 19 saves for his 33rd career shutout. "It's a level of commitment we need every night. Regardless of one shot or five, it was an indication of the hard work we were doing in the first."

Brad Richards – acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning on deadline day – seems to be adjusting nicely as Mike Modano's new right wing. Richards scored his first goal as a member of the Stars on Sunday night and also added an assist.

"It feels good after a few losses in a row … it's good to get back on track," Richards said. "I knew tonight was a big game, and it was good to get a lead and keep pushing." 

The Avalanche played without center Peter Forsberg, who suffered a groin injury during Saturday night's win against Dallas at the Pepsi Center. Sunday's loss put an end to Colorado's six-game winning streak.

"They're a good team and they come out hard and Turco made some saves on their end, Avs defenseman Kurt Sauer said. "They forced us to pick up the momentum and it took us 15 minutes to come up to the pace."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

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