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Miller's shutout helps Sabres end home skid

by Brian Compton and Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts before the New York Islanders and Rangers ask that all games last two periods:

Miller time — After opening up a three-goal lead in the first period and extending it to five by the third, the Buffalo Sabres were able to shift focus from merely beating the Washington Capitals and look to pad Ryan Miller's stats.

''The last seven minutes I said we were playing for our goaltender,'' Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. ''We locked it down and didn't give up that great opportunity. Guys were real responsible, and that was important.''

Miller ended up stopping 29 shots Saturday in the eighth shutout of his NHL career, an added bonus as the Sabres put an end to a two-game losing streak at HSBC Arena.

''That was a lot better,'' Miller said of the Sabres' efforts after dropping consecutive 5-2 games at home earlier in the week to Ottawa and Tampa Bay. ''We looked a lot sharper. We started off really well. To get a lead, protect it and battle through some penalty kills, it'll do more for us than coming back every night.''

Helping provide Miller with some of his cushion was the League's leading goal scorer, Thomas Vanek, who now has 11 for the season after scoring 1:12 into the contest and adding a second with just three seconds left in the middle period.

''Right now, I'm trying to stay hot,'' Vanek said. ''The pucks bounced my way. I got rewarded for it. I'm not trying to think too much, just play and get the puck on net and take care of my opportunities.''

Nothing special — If the Carolina Hurricanes hope to prove that their failure to reach the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a fluke, their power play is certainly going to have to improve.

By going 0-for-6 in Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at the RBC Center, the Hurricanes are now just 6-for-50 with the man advantage.

"I don’t know if it's killing us — that's kind of drastic to say — but certainly the power play is going to have to win you some games and it won us a game in St. Louis the other night,” forward Ray Whitney said. "Our power play needs to be better. I don't think in general we came out and played as hungry as we should have coming back home. I don't say by any means we deserve to win that game, but we didn't deserve to lose it, either."

As coach Peter Laviolette pointed out, it's missed chances like the ones his Hurricanes had on Saturday that could come back to haunt them at the end of the season.

"Any time is a dangerous time to lose games," Laviolette said. "We missed the playoffs last season by two points, so any points you don't pick up are points that you risk down the line."

March of the Penguins — Goal-scoring has been an issue for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.

We know … that's more unbelievable than Brooke Hogan getting her own reality TV show. But seriously, it's been a problem.

Until Saturday.

Miroslav Satan had a goal and two assists, and Sidney Crosby had two assists in his return from a one-game absence as Pittsburgh cruised to a 6-3 win at St. Louis. It was a breakthrough of sorts for the Pens, who had scored two goals or fewer in their previous three contests and had been held to no more than two in the past four road games.

''It's big,'' said Crosby, who was injured in the Penguins' previous game. ''You want to make sure your confidence level is there, and I think we had it.

''It's just a matter of making sure we're focused on playing 60 minutes, especially in this League.''

Man with a plan — Once Tampa Bay and Ottawa reached the eighth round of a shootout, Lightning coach Barry Melrose decided to go outside the box.

Although Evgeny Artyukhin had just four goals in 82 NHL games, Melrose opted to put the big forward into the breakaway competition. The move paid off, as Artyukhin beat Alex Auld in his first-ever shootout attempt, leading Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

''I just had a hunch about Arty,'' Melrose said. ''I thought, let's put the big guy out there and see what he could do.''

Artyukhin said he watched Auld's tendencies and made a last-second decision before firing the puck. Sometimes, it's best to go with your instincts.

''I just watched the goalie and tried to shoot low,'' Artyukhin said. ''That worked.''

Marty Gras — Know why the Nashville Predators always have a chance to win?

Because they have Martin Erat.
The Predators' seventh-round selection in 1999 is off to a flying start in 2008-09, as he tallied his sixth goal of the season before scoring the lone goal of his team's 3-2 shootout victory against the visiting Florida Panthers.

Just like any other goal scorer, Erat is striving for one thing -- consistency.

''I'm just trying to do the same things all of the time,'' Erat said. ''Right now, everything is working. But it's a long season. There are going to be bumps in the road."

Predators coach Barry Trotz applauded Erat's willingness to try different things in order to be successful, which he's clearly been during the first month of the season.

"Marty is a very creative guy," Trotz said. ''He always has a lot of ideas, and sometimes in a shootout he gets a lot of those ideas going.

"He has two or three key moves. When he does them I don't think that have a chance of stopping him. He really focused and realized we needed those two points.''

It's a kid's game — Probably every hockey-playing youngster watching Saturday night's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers — and undoubtedly some of the older crowd as well — could relate to the way rookie John Mitchell felt after his first two NHL goals sparked a five-goal rally and a 5-2 victory for the Leafs.

''I just fist-pumped as many times as I could,'' Mitchell said. ''I was so excited that nothing was really running through my mind, just, 'I scored, I scored, I scored.' It was great.''

"It certainly was a burst of energy — it came all at once. It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans, as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together." -- Maple Leafs forward Dominic Moore on Toronto's five-goal outburst
For the majority of the night, the Air Canada Centre crowd had little reason to cheer. Ryan Callahan scored late in the first period for the Rangers, Blair Betts made it 2-0 in the second and New York carried that lead into the final 10 minutes. Then Mitchell scored and the floodgates suddenly opened.

"It certainly was a burst of energy — it came all at once,'' said forward Dominic Moore, the last of Toronto's scorers. ''It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans, as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together.''

The outburst was especially surprising given Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette had blanked the Leafs 1-0 in a shootout on Oct. 17 and was just 7:24 from another shutout before Mitchell started Toronto's comeback.

Reason for concernKevin Weekes hadn't played in a game for the New Jersey Devils this season, and the plan certainly wasn't for the 33-year-old backup to see any action when Martin Brodeur was given the start against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Those plans changed when Brodeur suffered what the Devils termed a "bruised elbow" less than seven minutes into the second period and it was Weekes who had to finish up in what turned out a relatively easy 6-1 win at Prudential Center.

"You don't want that to happen,'' Weekes said of the manner in which he ended up in the game. ''My parents taught us when we were younger that you don't want to look for an opportunity at the expense of somebody else's health. It's happened to me. It's happened to all of us. We've got a lot of guys hurt, and hopefully Marty's isn't too serious."

The classy but seldom-used Weekes could see his playing time skyrocket if Brodeur has to miss any significant length of time, but the Devils are hoping that won't be the case. Coach Brent Sutter was taking a wait-and-see approach after the game, telling reporters he couldn't comment on whether Brodeur would be ready to play Monday against Buffalo.

''He stretched out to make a glove save,'' Sutter said. ''They he stretched out again. I don't know exactly what happened. He got hit earlier with a shot there, too.''

Captain comes through — While Jonathan Toews is technically still looking for his first goal of the 2008-09 season, he put a pretty important puck in the net for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Toews scored the only goal of the shootout as the Blackhawks edged the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 at Nationwide Arena and won on the road for the first time this season.

''That was definitely a goalie win tonight. He was great and we battled back there. I fell like he (Huet) was the story of the night and I feel that Jonny (Toews) has been great in shootouts and we found a way (to win).'' -- Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville
''It's big for us to come in here and steal one on the road,'' said Toews, who was named captain after a stellar rookie season that saw him score 24 goals and 54 points in 64 games.

He has only six assists so far in his sophomore campaign, but new Chicago coach Joel Quenneville knows his budding star lives for big spots. It also didn't hurt that Cristobal Huet was up to a heavy workload, making 48 saves through regulation and overtime, then denying all three Columbus attempts in the shootout.

''That was definitely a goalie win tonight,'' Quenneville said. ''He was great and we battled back there. I fell like he (Huet) was the story of the night and I feel that Jonny (Toews) has been great in shootouts and we found a way (to win).''

Still seeking answers — Every team throws out a dud now and then, but for an organization like the Dallas Stars that is used to not only competing for a playoff spot but making noise in the postseason year in and year out, their continued defensive struggles have become more than troubling.

"For my perspective, it's getting old and its disheartening," said Marty Turco, after the Boston Bruins downed the Stars 5-1 Saturday at TD Banknorth Garden. It was the third time in four games and the sixth in nine that Dallas has given up at least five goals.

"You need to feel like you did everything you could and we're just not playing well as a team," Turco continued. "After last night (a 5-2 loss to Chicago on Friday), you think guys will come out of their shell. It's embarrassing. We are in a rut that is going to take a lot to get out of. Everyone is going to need to be on board and I wish we could say we were close but we are really not, sadly."

Dallas remains in the middle of the pack in the Pacific Division but is tied for 10th overall in the Western Conference. coach Dave Tippett may not be able to wait much longer to make drastic changes.

"It's a group effort, you win as a team and you lose as a team," Tippett said. "We're giving away too many opportunities and we have to look at our lineup and evaluate it right through."

Down, but not out — The Montreal Canadiens are getting good at big comebacks against New York-area teams.

Last season the Habs wiped out a five-goal deficit at Bell Centre and stunned the Rangers 6-5 in a shootout. They didn't have quite as far back to come on Saturday night, but their four-goal, third-period rally at Nassau Coliseum for a 5-4 win over the Islanders was still an impressive turnaround for a team that didn't show much over the first 40 minutes.

''We played one period, and we won,'' said Long Island native Christopher Higgins, whose goal tied the game before Alex Kovalev notched the winner 1:13 later. ''I wish the effort was more consistent for 60 minutes.''

Safe to say the Islanders feel the same way. They were on the way to gaining a much-needed two points against the team that finished atop the Eastern Conference last regular season but coughed it up with some poor defense and shaky goaltending by the recently called-up Yann Danis.

''Obviously, losing a game when you're up 4-1 is never a good thing,'' Danis said. ''They got a couple of lucky bounces and capitalized on them.''

He can do it all
Eric Belanger isn't used to being used in a plethora of situations with the Minnesota Wild, but he sure doesn't mind when called upon.

The gritty forward broke a 2-2 tie with 9:25 left in the third period, leading the Wild to a 3-2 win at Phoenix. With Minnesota depleted by injuries, Belanger knows it's his time to step up.

"I feel good out there and I’m playing with a lot of confidence" Belanger said. "My legs feel great. I'm playing in every situation, and as a player you can't ask for any more."

Quote of the night goes to Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, who said this when asked how much longer he can patch together lineups: "Until I die. And it’s coming."

Yikes. Guess Minnesota can expect its coach to give one of those, "Win-this-one-for-me" speeches any day now.

"'We were definitely disappointed in how the season started. We had a great preseason, and then we didn't get off on the right foot. But we've really paid attention to the details in practice with our forechecking and down-low coverage. I think the guys are starting to buy into it. And when you've get everybody on the same page, it's a lot easier out there.'' -- Flames center Wayne Primeau
Red hot — Look out, NHL. Here come the Calgary Flames.

After a disappointing 1-3-1 start, Mike Keenan's club has been unbeatable as of late. Saturday's 3-2 win at Los Angeles was its sixth straight. Daymond Langkow broke a 2-2 tie with less than four minutes remaining to keep the Flames rolling.

''We were definitely disappointed in how the season started,'' center Wayne Primeau said of the Flames. ''We had a great preseason, and then we didn't get off on the right foot. But we've really paid attention to the details in practice with our forechecking and down-low coverage. I think the guys are starting to buy into it. And when you've get everybody on the same page, it's a lot easier out there.''

One of the biggest reasons for Calgary's winning streak has been the stellar play of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. The 2006 Vezina Trophy winner has allowed only nine goals on 152 shots during this phenomenal stretch.

''He's been a key reason for us being unbeaten in six games,'' Primeau said of Kiprusoff. ''You need good goaltending. That's an integral part of winning, and he's done a great job. To be a good team, you have to find ways to win not-so-great games like tonight.''

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

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