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Nabokov gets Sharks on right track

by Brian Hunter /
Missing nearly three weeks last month with a lower-body injury hasn't slowed Evgeni Nabokov any.

Nabokov stopped 28 shots in becoming the second NHL goalie this season to reach 20 wins, and he was a little over five minutes away from a shutout before settling for a 3-1 victory Monday night as the San Jose Sharks skated past the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

"He made some big saves to get us some momentum," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "And we had penalty kills in the third period where he had to make some tremendous saves. He was magnificent."

Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and Ryan Clowe scored for the Sharks, who were eliminated in last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Stars in five games, but have won six of their last seven regular-season games in Dallas.

San Jose, which had lost three of its past five (2-1-2) in its worst stretch of the season, regained the President's Trophy lead from idle Boston with 60 points and opened up a gaping 25-point lead over last-place Dallas in the Pacific Division.

"It will get even harder because we're facing desperate teams that are hungry for points," Nabokov said. "We have to match it every night. It'll be harder and harder from now on."

Matt Niskanen got the Stars on the board with 5:03 remaining, making it 2-1, and they went on the power play with 3:52 left but couldn't manage a shot against Nabokov. In fact, Patrick Marleau was awarded a penalty shot after Stephane Robidas hooked him on a breakaway just nine seconds into the advantage, but Marty Turco stopped the shot. Clowe later scored into an empty net with 1:02 to play, sealing the win for the Sharks.

"We played a lot better than we did in St. Louis," defenseman Dan Boyle said. The Sharks lost to the Blues on Saturday, 4-3 in a shootout.

Cheechoo opened the scoring for San Jose with 4:50 left in the first period, deflecting Boyle's hard shot past Turco for his sixth of the season.

Nabokov was sharp during a scoreless second, especially when the Sharks had to kill off 56 seconds of a 5-on-3 after penalties to Brad Lukowich and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. A solid scoring opportunity by Mike Modano was kicked out by Nabokov to keep the Stars from tying the score.

Michalek extended the lead to 2-0 by scoring from his knees 3:55 into the third. Despite slipping as he made his way into the slot, Michalek still converted a pass from Joe Pavelski.

"We controlled play and had some good chances," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "If we play like that, we'll get our fair share of opportunities and win our fair share of games."

Rangers 5, Islanders 4 | VIDEO

Following a loss to New Jersey on Saturday that stretched their losing streak to a season-high three games, Tom Renney tried to give the Rangers a wake-up call by stating they weren't a high-scoring hockey team and would have to pay greater attention to detail.

But in the third period Monday night, the Blueshirts certainly looked like an offensive juggernaut.

Markus Naslund registered the go-ahead goal and Nigel Dawes had what held up as the game-winner to highlight a four-goal outburst in a wild third period that saw the Rangers edge the rival Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers trailed 2-1 entering the final 20 minutes, but Petr Prucha and Michal Rozsival scored 1:19 apart early on to put them ahead for the first time. The Islanders tied the game on Blake Comeau's goal, but Naslund and Dawes made it 5-3 before Mike Comrie's late goal with Joey MacDonald pulled for a sixth attacker.

"I think we battled through two tough periods," Naslund said. "Even though we were down after two, I thought we played a good game and got rewarded in the third."

Scott Gomez also scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves for the Rangers, who continue to lead the Atlantic Division with 49 points and moved back into a tie for second in the Eastern Conference with Washington.

"I got the effort from everybody, we just have to translate that into being a smart team," Renney said. "There are still two ends of the rink. They scored four goals. I'm not happy about that."

Mike Sillinger and Kyle Okposo staked the Islanders to a pair of one-goal leads, with Okposo putting them ahead 2-1 with 11.7 seconds left in the second. MacDonald turned aside 32 shots as Rick DiPietro was unable to go again because of a groin injury.

Naslund's 14th of the season came 7:12 into the third after a Gomez feed from behind the net deflected in off him as he drove to the net. Dawes extended the lead with 4:49 left and the Rangers were able to survive Comrie's 6-on-5 goal with 18.7 seconds remaining.

"I think the last few weeks have really shown us that we can't play the way we have been here," Naslund said. "We have to bear down and play a lot stronger defensively to win games."

Prucha's goal 49 seconds into the third drew the Rangers even and came after he was a healthy scratch for eight games. Prucha, who followed up his own rebound to beat MacDonald, has played in only 12 games this season, with two goals. Roszival made it 3-2 with a sharp-angle goal at 2:08 before Comeau tied the score 27 seconds later.

"I got lucky," Prucha said. "It's tough being out of the lineup for so long, and it was frustrating. I got the chance to play again and scored, so hopefully I will be in the lineup for the next game."

Sillinger had the lone goal of the first period, as Trent Hunter capitalized on a turnover and fed him for a shot past Lundqvist with 4:56 left in the period. Gomez made it 1-1 during a delayed penalty call by converting a Nikolai Zherdev pass at the right post 8:29 into the second.

Hunter left the game in the third, seconds before Prucha's goal, after a Ryan Callahan check slammed him into the boards and the door to the scorer's table. He stayed down on the ice and a stretcher was brought out, but he was able to skate off under his own power.

"I was just fighting to get my breath. I think that's obviously scary," Hunter said. "I'm sure I'm going to be pretty sore tomorrow."

Canadiens 5, Panthers 2 | VIDEO

Maxim Lapierre took over the game for Montreal, netting his first career hat trick in leading the franchise to its NHL-best 3,000th victory.

Lapierre scored the final three goals of the game, snapping a 2-2 tie with 3:59 left in the second period. He extended the Canadiens' lead 2:40 into the third and finished off his spectacular effort with a shorthanded, empty-net tally with 6.2 seconds remaining.

''There are nights like this,'' Lapierre said. ''There are night you're alone with the goalie and nothing goes in and other nights where it seems the puck always finds your stick at the right time. That's what happened tonight.''

Although the Habs didn't reach the milestone in front of their Bell Centre fans, Monday's game at BankAtlantic Center felt like a home game with the large contingent of Montreal fans. They got a chant going for goalie Carey Price after he made one of his 26 saves and were a vocal presence throughout the night.

''I thought the crowd was great,'' Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. ''It was a great atmosphere, outstanding. If we can have crowds like that every weekend, I don't care who they're cheering for. It was a great atmosphere in the building.''

Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Canadiens, 4-0-1 in their last five. Michael Frolik and David Booth had goals for the Panthers, who have dropped three in a row.

''Every team goes through this,'' Florida defenseman Nick Boynton said. ''And we've proven to ourselves that we can win. We've just got to get back to it. It's not rocket science. ... We've got some guys that are playing their hearts out and some guys that aren't. For us to win, everybody's got to be playing hard.''

Lapierre, who had four goals all season coming into the game, made it 3-2 when he skated around the net and lifted a high backhand past an out-of-position Craig Anderson. The goalie had stopped Lapierre on a wraparound try at the left post seconds earlier but couldn't get back across because his stick was blocked by the post. Lapierre wouldn't have been aware of the fact if not for an alert by teammate Steve Begin.

''It was a great play by Steve,'' Lapierre said. ''He told me the goalie wasn't going to be there in time. He changed the play I had in my mind; I was going to go for a pass to the point. He said there was no goalie, so I went for the shot.''

Lapierre's second goal came after he took a drop pass from Guillaume Latendresse and took a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Anderson low to the glove side. After a Francis Bouillon delay of game penalty with 24 seconds remaining, Lapierre completed the hat trick with Montreal's second shorthanded goal of the game.

''For a defensive player, for a guy that brings energy to the game, it's always fun to contribute in other ways,'' Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. ''At the start of the year, he was getting rid of the puck a little too much, he didn't want to make mistakes. Now he's playing with more confidence.''

Frolik began the scoring at 5:18 of the first, but the Canadiens jumped in front on a pair of special-teams goals. Kovalev lit the lamp during a 5-on-3 advantage at the 10:27 mark and Plekanec made it 2-1 on a shorthanded breakaway 1:30 into the second. Booth scored at 6:49 after pouncing on a Montreal turnover and firing a quick shot past Price.

Flames 2, Wild 1 | VIDEO

Two teams heading in opposite directions in the Northwest Division met Monday night at Pengrowth Saddledome, and Eric Nystrom's shorthanded goal in the third period ensured that each one stayed on its recent course.

Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 22 shots and earned his League-leading 21st win, while Daymond Langkow also scored for division-leading Calgary, which is 5-0-3 in its last eight and enjoys a three-point lead over Vancouver.

Stephane Veilleux had the only goal for Minnesota, which fell into last in the division. The Wild have lost six straight road games and are 2-8-1 overall in their last 11 games.

Adam Pardy's interference penalty 7:15 into the third left the Flames down a man, but after Dustin Boyd's attempt to clear the puck down the ice was knocked out of the air by Wild defenseman Brent Burns, Nystrom picked it up and cruised in alone on goalie Josh Harding. He used a forehand fake to draw the goalie to the ice, then pulled the puck around the sprawled goalie and slipped it into the net, igniting the home crowd.

''I don't score too many goals so to get that type of reception, everyone was so excited,'' said Nystrom, whose last one came Nov. 1. ''I just had the adrenaline pumping right through me, it was awesome.''

Harding was a bright spot for the Wild in making 27 saves while subbing for Niklas Backstrom. He stopped four shots during one sequence early in the third with the Flames on a power play.

''Credit to him, he battled for us, he kept us in the game,'' said Minnesota's Eric Belanger. ''I wish we could have got the win for him."

Kiprusoff was also stellar, though. His best stop came on a pad save against Andrew Brunette in the third to deny what appeared to be a sure goal.

''Our defense got enough pressure on him that he couldn't put it upstairs. It was good luck there,'' Kiprusoff said.

Langkow scored in the latter stages of the first period and Veilleux tied the score in the final half-minute of the second, with both goals requiring video reviews.

Todd Bertuzzi's centering pass deflected off Langkow's skate and past Harding with 2:15 left in the first, and the goal was allowed to stand after it was ruled no distinct kicking motion had been made.

''Their two goals -- that first one goes off a skate and the second goal, it bounces four times and right on his stick for a breakaway,'' Belanger said. ''It's frustrating as we battled hard tonight and we deserved a better ending.''

Veilleux's shot with 15 seconds remaining in the middle period hit the back bar in the net and caromed out so fast that played continued. After the ensuing whistle the play was reviewed, at which point the tying goal was awarded.

Blue Jackets 2, Kings 0 | VIDEO

Jonathan Quick is off to a fast start in his fledgling NHL career. But Steve Mason appears to be writing the book on just how good a rookie goaltender can be.

Mason made 24 saves for his fourth shutout in just 19 starts and Kris Russell had a power-play goal to end a long scoring drought for Columbus against Los Angeles.

"It was like a playoff game.  It was really physical and a lot of big hits. Both teams realized that after the first period that one or two mistakes was going to be the difference here." -- Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock
"Playing a lot helps because you get into a rhythm. Shutouts are nice, obviously, but what we're looking for is wins right now," Mason said.

Quick, who posted a pair of shutouts in his first five games this season including one on Dec. 23 against the Blue Jackets, finished with 23 saves.

The teams played scoreless hockey into the latter stages of the second period before Russell struck for just his second goal of the season. He knocked in his own rebound with 1:24 left for the Jackets' first goal in three games against the Kings, ending a 186-minute, 39-second drought.

"We had opportunities in the previous two games against them and we didn't capitalize on them," Mason said. "We only got essentially one goal tonight, but it counted and the guys did the rest of the job in front of me."

Rick Nash silenced the Staples Center crowd and any hope of a Los Angeles comeback by scoring into an empty net with 1:15 remaining in the third.

"It was like a playoff game," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It was really physical and a lot of big hits. Both teams realized that after the first period that one or two mistakes was going to be the difference here."

Mason lowered his League-leading goals-against average to 1.78 while tying Boston's Tim Thomas for second with a .935 save percentage, barely trailing the .936 currently posted by Florida's Craig Anderson.

"The effort was pretty good," Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said. "You always want it to be better when you lose the game, but you have a tight checking game, you have two teams that are battling for position. You have a lot of good checking going on, a lot of blocking of shots, both goaltenders played well and made big stops, and both teams had good scoring chances that they are not able to finish."

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

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