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Northeast: Elliott's shutouts stop Senators' slide

by James Murphy
When the week started, the Senators were sliding fast, looking like they not only may relinquish the fifth slot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but also fall right out of things completely.
Losers of six in a row, the Senators needed a spark and got it from goaltender Brian Elliott, who shut out the Canadiens, 2-0, with 29 saves Monday and then posted another 2-0 shutout, with 26 saves against the Flyers Tuesday, helping Ottawa maintain their fifth-seed status. They have a four-point lead on sixth-place Philadelphia heading into Wednesday's games.
"He's played unbelievable the last two games and we've been able to score the first goals, too, in the last two games, which definitely helps," captain Daniel Alfredsson said.
The Senators did get some tough news on forward Milan Michalek, who hurt his knee crashing into a goal post in Atlanta last Thursday. Michalek had an MRI done Tuesday and the best-case scenario is the speedy winger will be back in 10 days -- or by the playoffs. But there is a chance he'll miss the rest of the season if his knee doesn't respond well to treatment.
While the prognosis is somewhat grim, coach Cory Clouston tried for a positive spin Tuesday, looking at the injury to Michalek as a chance for other players to step up. And Peter Regin did, scoring a goal in the 2-0 win at Montreal Monday.
"He's a good player for us, he kills a lot of penalties. He's a big, strong aggressive forward, and it just gives an opportunity to someone else and a perfect example is Peter Regin, who stepped up and played a very good game for us (Monday)," Clouston told the Ottawa Citizen before Tuesday's game against Philadelphia.
Sabres turn it around -- The Sabres enter Wednesday's big Northeast Division game with the Canadiens riding a three-game win streak and having found their offense and power play again. Since before the Olympic break, the Sabres had gone into an offensive funk and subsequently struggled with the man-advantage, too. A week ago, Buffalo was 4-8-3 over its previous 15 games, but the Sabres turned things around on a three-game road trip through the Southeast Division, beating Tampa Bay (6-2), Florida (3-1) and Carolina (5-3).
The key ingredient to the revival was an offensive explosion and a re-born power play. The Sabres scored 14 goals in three games and the power play went 2-for-3 in the 5-3 win against Carolina.
"We've been playing well," forward Jochen Hecht told the Buffalo News. "It's been good. We stuck to our system throughout this road trip, didn't change anything and got rewarded for it."
As defenseman Toni Lydman pointed out, the Sabres are looking more like the team that ran out to a comfortable lead in the Northeast Division early in the season.
"The last three games have been what it's supposed to look like," Lydman said.
Now, they can take a nine-point lead on the Senators and pad the nine-point cushion they already have over the Canadiens with a win against Montreal on Wednesday.
Forward Raffi Torres is questionable for the game with an upper-body injury.
Bruins get important wins -- The Bruins beat the Thrashers, 4-0, Tuesday behind a 28-save shutout performance from Tuukka Rask and a goal and an assist each from David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The win was the Bruins' second straight against a team that was trying to overtake them for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race (following Sunday's defeat of the Rangers), and once again Bruins defensemen played a role, with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg factoring in the scoring with assists.
The Bruins have struggled to score all season, and one of the main reasons has been the lack of offense from the back end. Recently, however, there has been an increased focus on activating the defense in the offensive zone and getting them to fire more shots from the blue line to create chances in front of the opposing goal.
Seidenberg, acquired at the trade deadline from Florida, has played a huge role in the latter approach. He has 6 points in 11 games with Boston and is not afraid to let it rip. 

Coach Claude Julien definitely likes that approach and has been impressed with the German-born defenseman.
"Dennis has come in and he's played extremely well," Julien said. "His shots are getting through, he's a very gritty player, wins battles, and when he wins battles he also skates the puck out fairly well. So he's been a real good asset to our team.”
Forward Vladimir Sobotka injured his head in the first period of the win in Atlanta and is day-to-day.
Forward Marc Savard still is suffering from post-concussion symptoms, and he saw another specialist Monday to treat his Grade 2 concussion suffered from a hit by Matt Cooke on March 7. He is still expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Troops return for Habs -- After reeling off six-straight wins, the Habs were slowed by the Leafs in a 3-2 shootout loss Saturday and then were flat in a 2-0 loss to the Senators Monday. But they will get a huge momentum boost emotionally and on their recently dismal power play Wednesday in Buffalo, when leading goal-scorer Michael Cammalleri and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, their power play point-man, return from knee injuries.
"I'm excited, but I'll try to go about it in a business-like manner and do what I can to help the team," said Cammalleri, who leads the team with 26 goals but has missed 17 games with ligament damage in his right knee. "It will be a lot more fun playing in the games than watching."
Coach Jacques Martin welcomes the depth Cammalleri's return provides.
"I think what it does with Cammalleri back is it gives us two units that will compete, it gives us more depth and gives us more competition," Martin told the Team 990 radio station.
Bergeron will do all he can to help the Habs reestablish a power play that has led the NHL for most of the season, but now is second to the Capitals. But he did warn that he isn't the sole answer to Montreal's man-advantage woes.
"The power play is a team thing," Bergeron said. "I'm not the savior here or anything. I just want to do my part and do as good as I can at what I'm good at and hopefully help the team."
While the Habs welcomed Cammalleri and Bergeron back, they lost hard-working forward Travis Moen. Moen was cut on the forehead and eye by the skate of Senators forward Matt Cullen in the 2-0 loss to Ottawa, but thankfully didn't suffer any serious injury to his eye. He is day-to-day.
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