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Lupul in lineup has meant good things for Leafs

by John Kreiser

Talk about coming back with a bang.

Joffrey Lupul returned to Toronto's lineup last week after sitting out a two-game suspension -- one that came after he had played only twice following a seven-week absence with a broken right arm.

Joffrey Lupul had the winning goal in all three Toronto victories last week and finished with five goals, four assists, nine points and three power-play goals. (Photo: Getty Images)

Lupul showed he hadn't lost his scoring touch by getting a goal in the Maple Leafs' 3-2 shootout loss at Boston. He then scored twice in Toronto's victory against Florida, had a goal and an assist in a victory against Carolina and capped his week with a goal and three assists -- all on goals by Nazem Kadri -- in Saturday's 4-0 victory at Ottawa.

Lupul had the winning goal in all three Toronto victories and finished the week with five goals, four assists, nine points and three power-play goals. In the six games since returning from injury, he has eight goals and 13 points -- and the Maple Leafs are closing in on their first Stanley Cup Playoffs berth since 2004.

Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:

Antti Niemi -- The San Jose Sharks entered the week outside the top eight in the Western Conference. They begin this week in sixth place -- mostly thanks to Niemi, who went 4-0-0 and became the first goaltender in San Jose history to record shutouts on consecutive nights. He blanked Anaheim on Wednesday and Detroit on Thursday.

Taylor Hall -- It's always a good week when you can break one of Wayne Gretzky's records -- and Hall did just that on Saturday night. He scored three times in the first 7:53 of Edmonton's 4-0 victory against Vancouver, capping a week in which he had five goals and eight points -- and broke The Great One's franchise record for the fastest three goals from the start of a game.

Tomas Vokoun -- You can't play goal any better than Vokoun did last week. He relieved an injured Marc-Andre Fleury to start the third period of Pittsburgh's game against Montreal and was perfect in the final 20 minutes to preserve a 1-0 victory. Vokoun then blanked Winnipeg on Thursday and the New York Islanders on Saturday. He broke the franchise record for the longest individual shutout streak and helped the Penguins break the team record as well.

Shawn Matthias
Center - FLA
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 17
SOG: 84 | +/-: 2
Shawn Matthias -- The Florida Panthers have been waiting for Matthias to show the scoring touch he had as a junior. He did just that last week, scoring five goals in three games for the Panthers and helping them to two victories. His 14 goals in 36 games are already a career high.

Mikko Koivu -- Minnesota's captain sometimes gets forgotten in the hoopla that has followed the arrival of high-priced free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but he's quietly having a solid season. The 30-year-old center had a pair of goals -- including an overtime winner -- and five assists for seven points as the Wild went 3-1-0 last week, and that doesn't count his game-deciding goal in Saturday's shootout win against Los Angeles.

Five down -- Five players who didn't:

Ryan Smyth -- The longtime Oiler has 376 career goals, but at age 37, his scoring touch has vanished this season. He's gone nine games without a point and hasn't scored a goal since Feb. 21.

Steve Sullivan -- At age 38, Sullivan reached the 1,000-game mark last week. But his lack of offense has to be a disappointment to the Phoenix Coyotes, who signed him as a free agent last summer. He's gone nine games without a point and is minus-4 in that span.

Kyle Wellwood -- After a career year in 2011-12, Wellwood's offensive game has slipped -- and his ice time is starting to show the results. He's scoreless in Winnipeg's last six games and minus-3 in that span -- and saw less than 10 minutes of ice time in Saturday's loss to Carolina.

Teemu Selanne -- The 42-year-old's recent struggles mirror those of his team, the Anaheim Ducks. Selanne has gone five games without a point -- and not coincidentally, the Ducks have won just one of those games and scored only seven goals.

Erik Johnson
Defense - COL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 4
SOG: 47 | +/-: -3
Erik Johnson -- The first player taken in the 2006 NHL Draft has never lived up to that lofty status, but he's been a consistent point producer from the blue line -- until this season. Johnson has gone eight games without a point despite averaging 20 minutes during that span, hasn't scored a goal in his 23 games this season and has only four points.

The week ahead -- It's the Nashville Predators' turn to face the five-games-in-seven-days grind this week as they battle for a playoff spot in the West -- though they do get to play three of the five at Bridgestone Arena. Nineteen other teams play four times this week; only the San Jose Sharks have all four at home as they wrap up a seven-game homestand. The Ducks and Stars will probably be tired of each other by the weekend -- they meet Monday night in Dallas and adjourn to Anaheim for games Wednesday and Friday.

Games to watch:

Colorado at Detroit (April 1; NBCSN/TSN2) -- The Red Wings go right back to work, trying to wash away the taste of Sunday's 7-1 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Buffalo at Pittsburgh (April 2; NBCSN/TSN2/RDS2) -- After a perfect March, the Penguins start April by hosting Buffalo and seeking their 16th consecutive victory -- even without Sidney Crosby.

Pittsburgh at New York Rangers (April 3; NBCSN) -- If the Penguins can get past the struggling Sabres, they will come to Madison Square Garden for this week's Rivalry Night game aiming to make history by winning their 17th win in a row. That would match the NHL record set by the 1992-93 Penguins.

New Jersey at Boston; Minnesota at Los Angeles (April 4; NHLN-US) -- Viewers in the U.S. can tune in to see teams with different levels of playoff aspirations. New Jersey and Los Angeles are trying to clinch positions; Boston and Minnesota are jockeying for division titles.

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (April 5; NHLN-US/RDS) -- The Rangers get a second chance to slow down the Penguins' runaway train in the second half of a home-and-home series that could see Pittsburgh have the chance to break the League record for consecutive victories.

Edmonton at Los Angeles; Boston at Montreal; Calgary at Vancouver (April 6; NHLN-US) -- Hockey fans in the United States can tune in for back-to-back-to-back games, all of which have major playoff implications. The Boston-Montreal and Calgary-Vancouver games can also be seen on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.

St. Louis at Detroit (April 7; NBC) -- The Central Division rivals get together on national TV for the first of three games available to U.S. viewers on different networks. The NHL Network will air Dallas-San Jose, followed by NBC Sports Network's telecast of New Jersey's visit to Buffalo. NHL Network viewers in Canada can see the Southern California showdown between Los Angeles and Anaheim.

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