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Pacific: Nabokov returns, plays like his old self

by John Kreiser
The San Jose Sharks lost five of seven games while goalie Evgeni Nabokov battled the flu and then sat with a lower-body injury. They were more than happy to get him back in the lineup March 14 and right away, their fortunes turned around.

Nabokov allowed just one goal in winning back-to-back weekend games, beating Los Angeles, 2-1 in a shootout at the Shark Tank, and blanking the Ducks, 1-0, at Anaheim. The wins made the Sharks the second NHL team to reach the 100-point mark this season; they entered Tuesday's games trailing Detroit by one point in the overall standings, but have two games in hand.

"He did play well," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Nabokov after beating the Kings. Nabokov made 23 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped six of seven tries in the shootout. "The coaching staff watching him in warmups used the term that he was 'In the zone.' We're happy to have him back."

So were his teammates.

"He played great," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "He came through in the shootout and he's the reason we won the two points."

Nabokov had a week's worth of highlight-reel saves, though his best play may have come on a two-on-none break in which his positioning didn't allow for a shot on goal.

"I just reacted," Nabokov said about forcing the pass and then sliding over and forcing the Kings' attacker to carry the puck behind the goal line. "You see what they are trying to do and try to put them in a tough spot,"

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he came back with a 34-save effort Sunday for his 46th career shutout and second win in less than 24 hours following his long absence.
"You are never fresh, you're always tired, but it's not different than any other game," Nabokov said. "It's the end of the season, not the beginning. Everyone else is tired."

The feel-good ride hit a detour Tuesday night, however, when he allowed three goals on nine shots in a 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here comes the cavalry -- The Dallas Stars have spent much of the season trying to overcome a parade of injuries. Captain Brenden Morrow and star defenseman Sergei Zubov have spent most of the season watching instead of playing, and enough Stars have made an appearance in sick bay to make the training room at American Airlines Center look like the hospital on M*A*S*H.

Morrow and Zubov may not be back until next season, but help may be on the way as soon as this week. Forwards Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen and Fabian Brunnstrom all practiced with the team Monday, and the Stars say each has a chance to play on this week's road trip -- including Richards, who has missed a month with a broken wrist but might be available later in the week.

"Richards is getting closer," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We had a full contingent (of players) today. Brunnstrom and Lehtinen went through a full practice, which was good to see. Both of them are hopefuls for (Tuesday). Richards has a chance at the end of the week possibly."

If Richards comes back, he'll be wearing a brace to protect the wrist he injured against Columbus on Feb. 16. The Stars won that game in a shootout, but have struggled badly since then -- they entered Tuesday's games eighth in the West, but just one point ahead of No. 9 Edmonton, and their next three games are in Vancouver, Calgary and San Jose in a five-day span.

"We are going up against three pretty good teams," center Mike Ribeiro said. "It will be good for us to stick together and try and win these games. These road trips have been difficult, but we are used to it. Everyone knows that we need our best now and the traveling is part of the game."

The Stars are trying to avoid an early summer after getting within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

"It has been a long winter here in Texas," goalie Marty Turco said. "We had our ups and downs. At this point the group has really enjoyed the challenge and the playoffs are right there for us. I think we can get into the playoffs and make some noise, but we have to get in first."

Getting some reinforcement back this week sure wouldn't hurt.

Getting a good look -- Defenseman Dmitri Kalinin was among the players obtained by Phoenix GM Don Maloney in his deadline-day trades. The Coyotes are making sure they take a good look at the 28-year-old impending free agent in the final weeks of the season.

Kalinin, who came from the New York Rangers with forwards Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha for blueliner Derek Morris, averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time in his first six games after coming to Phoenix -- about four minutes more per game than he was seeing in New York.

Coach Wayne Gretzky has been impressed with what he's seen so far.

"Kalinin has done a nice job at the blue line," Gretzky said. "He has been good on the power play and good five-on-five. He makes a good first pass out of the zone. We are pretty happy with what he has done."

Kalinin struggled with the Rangers, where he signed this past summer following eight seasons with Buffalo, which took him in the first round of the 1998 Entry Draft. He had 1 assist in his first six games with the Coyotes, but looked much more comfortable away from the Madison Square Garden boo-birds.

"It's good to be able to show my teammates and the coaching staff how I can play and make sure that everyone trusts me," Kalinin said. "You have to earn trust to play in the key situations in the games and I have to take advantage of every chance I get."

Learning from losses -- After finishing last in the Western Conference in 2007-08, the Los Angeles Kings have gotten a lot closer to the playoffs this season than anyone thought possible. But barring a hot streak, they're likely to come up short after losing 4-3 at home to Nashville on Monday.

The loss left them six points out of the last playoff spot with 13 games left -- not an impossible task, but one that's made a lot more difficult because they're in 13th place, meaning they have a lot of teams to climb over.

"That was a huge game for us," forward Anze Kopitar said after Nashville's Ryan Jones scored the game-winning goal with 2:18 left in regulation. The Kings dropped to 0-2-1 in their last three games after winning three in a row to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Coach Terry Murray said there are lessons to be learned from games like the Nashville loss -- ones that will help make a difference in the future, if not this season.

"I don't want them to put this game behind them," he said. "There's learning points in the season and this is real important here for us to understand what is going on, why things happen and decisions that we made as a team to probably give them momentum.

"That's the puck management that we have talked about. I have talked about it from the start of the year, that you have to do the right things through the middle of the ice and get the puck in the right position to have offensive opportunities.''

One thing that might help the Kings would be the return of forward Justin Williams, who has yet to play since being acquired from Carolina on March 4. Williams has been out with a broken hand, but the Kings say he could return for Sunday's game at Chicago.

Ice chips -- Dallas rookie Niklas Grossman's overtime goal that gave the Stars a 3-2 win against Minnesota on March 14 was just the second for the young defenseman in 138 NHL games. "I don't score a lot, so this one feels really good," the 24-year-old said. ... The Stars, who used to play in Minnesota, continue to dominate the Wild in Dallas. They are 12-2-2 with two ties against the Wild in Texas and have won 10 in a row at home. Goalie Marty Turco is 13-4-1 in 21 appearances against the Wild. ... Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer scored the 12th overtime goal of his career to give the Ducks a 4-3 win against Vancouver on March 11. The 12 OT goals are the most by a defenseman since the NHL re-instituted overtime 25 years ago. It was his second OT winner in four weeks -- and both came with the teams playing three-on-three. There has been just one other three-on-three goal scored in the League this season. ... Ducks forward Teemu Selanne also scored in the win against Vancouver. The goal was the 573rd of his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for 18th place on the all-time list. ... The Phoenix Coyotes celebrated St. Patrick's Day by wearing green jerseys during warmups prior to their game against San Jose. The jerseys will be autographed and auctioned for charity. ... Coyotes captain Shane Doan moved into second place on the franchise's all-time list for games played when he stepped on the ice at New Jersey on March 12. It was his 951st game with the Jets/Coyotes, moving him past Thomas Steen. Teppo Numminen is the franchise leader with 1,090, a mark Doan could break in 2010-11. ... Sharks forward Travis Moen, acquired from Anaheim on March 4, made his first game against his former team a memorable one when he scored the only goal in San Jose's 1-0 win at Anaheim on March 15. Moen, who received a video tribute and a warm welcome at the Honda Center, deflected Jamie McGinn's backhander into the net with 1:05 left in the second period for the game's lone goal. "It's nice to win. Coming back that was the main goal, get two points and have fun," Moen said. ... San Jose's 2-1 shootout win against Los Angeles on March 14 was the Sharks' fifth consecutive victory over their Southern California rivals, all this season. The teams end the season at Los Angeles on April 11. ... Among the teams battling for playoff berths in the West, no team has a tougher schedule than the Kings. Los Angeles has 10 of its last 13 games away from the Staples Center. The Kings started a six-game trip following Monday's 4-3 home loss to Nashville. ... Kings defenseman Sean O'Donnell played in his 1,000th NHL game March 14, when Los Angeles lost 2-1 in a shootout at San Jose. He'll be honored at home when the Kings host Dallas on March 31.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report

Contact John Kreiser at

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