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Northeast: Markov's play has Habs on the rise

by James Murphy
Glen Metropolit and Sergei Kostitsyn each had a goal as the Canadiens beat the Rangers Tuesday for their sixth-straight win. What seemed like a lost season thanks to injuries now has become an exciting race up the standings for the Habs, and Michael Cammalleri hasn't even returned from a knee injury yet.

One of the main contributors during this streak has been defenseman Andrei Markov, who has at least a point in seven straight, and 10 points in the stretch.

"Right now it's fun to play against any team," Markov told the Montreal Gazette. "We're battling for the playoffs and the battle is going to go the rest of the season. It's fun. It's exciting. It's great."

Markov realizes, though, that the Habs cannot rest on their laurels and get comfortable. They must treat every game as a do-or-die contest.

"Right now you feel like you're almost in the playoffs," he said. "You understand you have to play well every shift, every moment. You're nervous before the game, but if you win, it's a great feeling."

Sabres struggling --
Sabres goaltender and U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Miller finally was brought back down to earth as his team's slow starts and losing ways caught up to him.

Miller was pulled after allowing three goals in the first 5:40 of play in the Sabres' 4-3 loss to Atlanta Tuesday, Buffalo's third straight defeat. Buffalo has won only four of their last 15 games (4-8-3) and these rough starts to games are threatening to drop the Sabres out of a top-three spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"It's one of those things right now where it's become an issue," center Matt Ellis told the Buffalo News. "It was an issue (Tuesday). It was an issue (Saturday) in Detroit. You take those 10 minutes off the game, it's a different hockey game. But at the same point it's a 60-minute game, not a 50-minute game."

Defenseman Tyler Myers made another statement that he should win the Calder Trophy with 1 goal and 3 assists in a 5-3 win against the Stars on March 10. Myers also added an assist in the 4-3 loss to Atlanta and was fourth in rookie scoring with 37 points heading into Wednesday's games.

No margin for error for Bruins -- The Bruins closed their recent seven-game road trip on a high note with a 5-2 win at Carolina, finishing the trip 3-3-1 and gaining seven of a possible 14 points. But twice on the trip (at New Jersey and Montreal), they spotted teams a lead of two goals or more, a hole too big for the lowest-scoring team in the League to climb from.

"It's not that the guys aren't trying, it's not that they don't want to (win)," coach Claude Julien said after his team fell behind 3-0 to the Devils Monday and lost 3-2. "I think we've just got to minimize those mistakes. We're the kind of team, when we make a mistake it ends up in our net. We almost can't afford to make (any)."

With his 15th goal of the season Tuesday, veteran Mark Recchi moved into a tie with Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur for 22nd all-time with 560 goals. Recchi had forgotten where he was on the list until his teammates and coaches reminded him on the bench after scoring.

"I forgot all about it," Recchi told the media. "The coaches were like, 'Congratulations.' I was like, 'What are you talking about?'

"When you get a chance to meet a guy (like Lafleur) and your name is in the same breath as those guys, it's pretty cool. It's a neat thing. It turned out to be a big goal, which is even more important."

Recchi and linemates Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm have combined for 9 goals and 17 points in their last five games.

Scuffling Senators trying to figure it out -- The Senators, one of the hottest teams heading into the Olympic break with 14 wins in 16 games, have been one of the coldest since the NHL returned to action March 1. With their 4-1 loss to Toronto Tuesday, the Sens have lost three straight and are 1-5-1 since returning from the break.

"We're scratching our heads now, wondering what it's going to take," Senators forward Chris Kelly told the Ottawa Sun.

The Senators are struggling to score and frustration is building. Goalie Brian Elliot is doing his best to be there to keep goals out and feels for his teammates as they battle through this drought.

"You don't go into a game thinking you're not going to score," said Elliott. "Everybody just gets a little more desperate when you can't put the puck in the net. We're kind of on the perimeter right now. We're trying to get pucks in and we haven't been able to bury any chances.

"As a goalie, you just try to give guys a chance to win. I'm trying my hardest to do that, but I'll have to come back and try to do it tomorrow."

"You don't go into a game thinking you're not going to score. Everybody just gets a little more desperate when you can't put the puck in the net. We're kind of on the perimeter right now. We're trying to get pucks in and we haven't been able to bury any chances"
-- Senators goalie Brian Elliot

The Senators welcomed back forward Nick Foligno and defenseman Chris Campoli from injuries, but lost forward Mike Fisher, who is day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Time running short for Mitchell -- Center John Mitchell answered the bell with a goal Tuesday after being called out by coach Ron Wilson. Prior to the Leafs' 4-1 win against the Senators, Wilson said the clock is ticking on the 25-year-old Mitchell to secure a spot for next season.

"In these final 15 games, (Mitchell) needs to play as well as he can possibly play to put himself into position to be up here next year," Wilson told the Toronto Sun.

Mitchell has played in 48 games due to a knee injury and a concussion. He admitted it has taken him a bit to get into the groove.

"I suppose I'm feeling all right," Mitchell said Tuesday. "It's a little tough getting back to top speed when you've been out 20 games because of a knee injury. And getting hit in the head is not fun, let me tell you.

"You want to get into a groove, but I've been having a tough time keeping it consistent. You have one good game, one bad game. I need to go on a run."

Forward Nikolai Kulemin had an assist Tuesday to push his scoring streak to six games. He has 8 points during that stretch.
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