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Northeast: Bruins sharpening focus down the stretch

by James Murphy
The Bruins' roller-coaster season rolls on, with one big loss topped with a big win, the latest being a tough 3-2 loss to Buffalo  Monday followed with a huge 1-0 overtime win at New Jersey Tuesday.

After paying the price for some errant clearing passes and average goaltending Monday, the Bruins played textbook defense Tuesday, got another clutch goal from Patrice Bergeron with 18.3 seconds left in overtime and got another shutout from rookie sensation Tuukka Rask.

As Tuesday night proved, the Bruins can win if they play their game and don't veer off the track. They know that's what they need in their final six games if they're to hold on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Headed into Wednesday's games, they were in a three-way tie with the Flyers and Canadiens with 82 points, but remained in the eighth slot, two points ahead of Atlanta.

"It's just going to be like this the rest of the way," said defenseman Mark Stuart, who assisted on Bergeron's game-winner. "No matter who we play, we just have to concentrate on the two points. Because we know we aren't going to get any help."

Kovalev scores, not suicidalAlex Kovalev snapped a 12-game goal-scoring slump with 19 seconds left in overtime to give the Senators a 5-4 win in Washington Tuesday their fifth-straight victory. Kovalev, who hadn't scored since before the Olympics, wasn't buying the slump talk though.

"I didn't have a slump," he said after another big Sens' win. "That's what you guys call it, slump. For me, I play the game I always play. Look at it this way, I'm just doing my best. If it works, it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't. What else can I do? I'm not going to go out and buy a gun and shoot myself."

Whatever the veteran winger wants to describe it as, his coach was happy to see him light the lamp after working so hard.

"That will probably keep you guys off his back a little longer," Cory Clouston said. "For confidence, obviously, it's nice to see him score. He played a good game, he hit a crossbar earlier, he was strong on the puck ... and it was nice to see him get that goal."

Goaltender Brian Elliott didn't have his best game, allowing four goals on 21 shots, but he got the job done as he has been for a while now. Elliott won all four of his starts last week, including shutouts of Montreal and Philadelphia on consecutive days, to earn First Star honors from the NHL. He finished the week with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage. Elliott is now 28-17-3 with a 2.53 GAA, .910 save percentage and five shutouts. Since Jan. 1, only Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has more wins than Elliot, who now has 19.

Sabres want more – The Sabres clinched a playoff spot for the first time in two seasons with a 7-1 win against the Lightning Saturday. But while they're thrilled to have another chance at the Stanley Cup, they're not simply happy with the chance.

"We want to be a championship team," goalie Ryan Miller said prior to making 40 saves in a 3-2 win against the Bruins Monday. "Making the playoffs just means you're on the right path and by no means our biggest accomplishment. You don't want to look at that as your highlight of the year. We want to play well in these last games of the season and get our game where it needs to be and then play a good tight game throughout the playoffs."

The Sabres found out they will be without forward Patrick Kaleta, who had thumb surgery Monday, until at least the start of the playoffs. They are, however, hoping to get back forwards Tim Connolly (foot) and Thomas Vanek (upper body) before then. Luckily for the Sabres, the call-ups they made to fill in for Kaleta, Connolly and Vanek have fit in nicely. Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Mark Mancari are contributing and proving they can be there if called upon.

"We substituted guys who are hungry to prove their position for the future of this team," Miller said. "They've done a good job filling in and injecting energy."

Forward Raffi Torres was expected to return from a wrist injury Wednesday against the Panthers.

Leafs land Irwin - With their 3-2 loss to the Thrashers  Tuesday, the Maple Leafs have been eliminated from postseason play for the fifth-straight season.

Monday, Toronto signed college free agent forward Brayden Irwin out of the University of Vermont. Irwin was in Toronto Tuesday and could see his first action Thursday or Saturday.

"It's exciting, a dream come true," Irwin, 23, said after the Leafs game day skate. "I definitely had the butterflies in my stomach out there today. I'm going to try and get a little more comfortable out there, work on my game and see what the coaches want me to do."

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Irwin will add some size and according to his former Vermont teammate Viktor Stalberg, will be a good teammate as well.

"He's a great guy and he'll be a good player for the Leafs down the road," Stalberg said. "His (Vermont nickname) was Brado, he looks like the guy from the movie 'Saw' with the mask and the big beak."

Around the Northeast -- Injured Bruins center Marc Savard addressed the media last Saturday for the first time since suffering a concussion March 7. A soft-spoken and seemingly exhausted Savard is focused on feeling healthy again before he even considers a return. "Obviously, I'd like to get back and help my team -- especially on the power play," he said. "I just want to get healthy. I'm getting the fresh air, I'm doing the walking and stuff, but I need a couple clear days before I can think about getting on a bike and stuff like that." ...  Boston defenseman Andrew Ference has been sidelined with his nagging groin injury, missing the last three games and was re-examined Tuesday to determine whether he needs surgery now or can hold off until the summer. ... The Habs got some tough news on the injury front Tuesday as it was announced that forward Glen Metropolit will be out six to eight weeks with a separated left shoulder. But don't tell Metropolit that. "I kinda wanted to call (hogwash) on six to eight weeks," the ever-optimistic Metropolit told the Montreal Gazette. "It is what they said, but right then I wanted to get to work and prove everyone wrong, prove I'm not going to be out that long." ... Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov missed Tuesday's game at Washington and is questionable for Thursday's game against Carolina with an upper body injury.

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