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Penguins' Fleury steals the show

by Brian Compton

Marc-Andre Fleury shut out the Devils last night to help the Penguins clinch a playoff berth.
WATCH: Fleury blanks the Devils
Some random thoughts while we wonder if Alex Ovechkin can reach the 70-goal plateau:

Give M.A. His Due – When it comes to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two players that immediately come to mind – and rightfully so – are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But it's time to give goalie Marc-Andre Fleury some attention, too.

Fleury stopped 31 shots in a 2-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center, as the No. 1 overall pick from the 2003 NHL Entry Draft now is 7-1 since returning from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for nearly three months.

Sixteen of Fleury's 31 saves came in the third period, as he put his club on his back and carried it a step closer to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

''This was huge for us,'' Fleury said of the victory, which officially put the Penguins in the postseason. ''The race is really tight. The Devils are a tough team to beat. This was a good win for us.''

Not only are the Devils tough to beat, they're tough to watch. Tuesday marked the 10th time New Jersey has been shut out this season. Only Donald Trump's bank account features more zeroes.

"We had opportunities," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We just didn't capitalize on them — again. We didn't give that team a whole lot tonight, we played a pretty sound game and we seemed to get better and better. But again, no goals."
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller watches a shot by Ottawa Senators forward Cory Stillman last night.
Falling Apart – The Buffalo Sabres looked determined to stay in the thick of the playoff race early in the third period Tuesday night, when Derek Roy and Jason Pominville scored 25 seconds apart to give the club a 3-1 lead over the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the Sabres woke up this morning feeling concussed. The Sens scored five times in the final 7:40 in a wild 6-3 win over Buffalo at HSBC Arena. The loss dropped the Sabres five points behind the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

"It's devastating," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who guided the team to the Eastern Conference Final last season before losing to Ottawa. "That really hurts. There's areas of the game we played well and there's areas we need to play better. We'll focus on the areas we think we need to improve in. We've just got to move forward. We can't sit on it, as much as it hurts. You can't feel sorry for yourselves at this time of the year."

Ottawa certainly is feeling better after the late outburst. The win was just the seventh in 16 games for the Senators, who now are tied with the Devils for the No. 4 seed.

''It was a good third period for us, and it showed flashes of what you saw last year where we were outskating teams and outworking teams,'' said Sens forward Dean McAmmond, who scored a shorthanded goal.

Capital GainViktor Kozlov's ability to find the back of the net in the shootout is one of the many reasons the Washington Capitals are just two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Alex Ovechkin's skill set is another. The Russian superstar scored his 61st goal of the season, while Kozlov scored the lone goal of the shootout, in Tuesday night's 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes.

''It's a little bit easier for us shooting when (Huet) has stopped the three before you. It takes some of the pressure off.'' - Capitals center Viktor Kozlov
While Kozlov was money in the shootout, so was goalie Cristobal Huet. He went 3-for-3 in the skill competition to see to it that his team picked up a much-needed extra point in the standings.

''It's an honor if the team trusts you for the shootout,'' Kozlov said. ''It's a little bit easier for us shooting when (Huet) has stopped the three before you. It takes some of the pressure off.''
Kozlov's ability in the shootout certainly takes some pressure off Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau when it comes to selecting his shooters. Should Washington reach another shootout before the regular season concludes, Boudreau said the opposition can expect to see Kozlov on the ice.

''His law of averages was pretty good, and he's pretty sharp right now," said Boudreau. "We'll keep running with him."

Are They Done? – One has to wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs' season came to a crushing end Tuesday night with a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre.

The loss dropped the Leafs six points behind the Bruins in the East with five games left on their schedule.

''That's a tough one,'' Leafs forward Matt Stajan said. ''You get behind that team and they just clog up the neutral zone and you find yourself doing things you shouldn't be doing, like turning pucks over. ''

And while it basically would take a miracle for Toronto to reach the postseason, Alexei Ponikarovsky isn't about to make plans for the summer.

"I don't feel that at all,'' Ponikarovsky responded when asked if his team's season was over. ''We have another five games and we'll keep battling for it.''

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and teammates Sean Avery and Marek Malik react as the Flyers' Mike Richards celebrates his winning OT goal last night.
Alone In Seventh – It was déjà vu all over again for the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

Four nights after the teams needed a shootout to decide the outcome at the Wachovia Center, the Flyers once again picked up the extra point, this time when Mike Richards beat Henrik Lundqvist 2:16 into overtime in a 2-1 decision at Madison Square Garden.

The win gave Philadelphia sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers also pulled within one point of the No. 6 Rangers.

''Even when we lost a couple in a row to Toronto, for us it was looking up, looking to catch Boston and maybe even the Rangers,'' said Flyers forward Danny Briere, who scored his 30th goal in the victory. ''We still believe we can move up.''

Sean Avery accepted some responsibility for the loss after he coughed up the puck just moments prior to the game-deciding tally. Avery's pass was intercepted by Flyers captain Jason Smith, who then sent Richards in on a breakaway.

''I'd say it's more disappointing how it happened,'' Avery said. ''I make a terrible play in the end and they go down and score. It just wasn't a very good play, that's for sure.''

Take That, Florida! – That was Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella's message following Tuesday night's 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers.

The victory seriously damaged any hope of the Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida lost in regulation for the first time in 10 games and fell five points behind No. 8 Boston in the East.

''I'm not crazy about (their) organization,'' Tortorella said of hurting Florida's playoff chances. ''I don't mind at all. Just fine with me.''

Wow. Kind of reminds me of Clubber Lang's pre-fight interview in Rocky III:

"What's your prediction for this fight?" a reporter asked Mr. T.

Said Clubber: "Prediction? Pain."

Florida coach Jacques Martin didn't have anything negative to say about the Lightning. It was his own club that he didn't like very much after Tuesday's performance.

''Some people weren't good enough,'' Martin said. ''That's the bottom line. We had one line. Stephen Weiss' line produced nine scoring chances for us. Other people have to pull their weight.''

Predators right wing Alexander Radulov celebrates a teammate's goal against Blue Jackets goalie Fredrik Norrena last night.
Weight 'Til You Hear ThisDan Ellis wasn't willing to allow any pucks to get past him Tuesday night.

Even if it meant losing 13 pounds in the process.

That was the case in a 3-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Sommet Center.

Ellis, who finished with 36 saves for his fifth career shutout, needed intravenous fluids after the game and literally was shaking during post-game interviews.

It was the second straight solid performance for Ellis after the Predators' netminder had been pulled back-to-back starts. Ellis made 37 saves in Saturday's shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Tuesday's win pulled the Predators within two points of the No. 8 Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference.

''I think goaltending kind of owed the team after the two games that we had that I got yanked and stuff,'' Ellis said. ''Our team will find itself, and we just all need to be responsible for our own jobs. That's all I want to worry about, giving our team a chance to win right now.''

Fair enough. Now will somebody give the poor guy something to eat?

Rolling Right Along – The Detroit Red Wings took another step toward clinching the President's Trophy with a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.

The Wings – who now have won four in a row – have 108 points on the season, and they have all but cinched up home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Detroit goalie Chris Osgood was pleased with the way his team found a way to win an ugly game – something they may play a lot of come April.

"We played within the team system," said Osgood, who made 17 saves. "We won the way we have to in the playoffs. We played the way we need to. It was a good game for us to play – hard-hitting and tight-checking. It kept us in a playoff mode. St. Louis played really hard. We knew we would have to score some ugly goals, and we got two."

It certainly wasn't the homecoming the Blues were hoping for. After picking up only four of a possible 18 points on a nine-game road trip (1-6-2), St. Louis failed to come away with a victory in its first home game in more than three weeks.

"Our situation is we're out of the playoffs, but there's a lot on the line for everyone in this locker room,'' Blues forward Andy McDonald said. ''We want to play hard for our fans, we want to give them something to cheer about.''

Now It's Calgary – The regular season concludes April 6, but it may be Memorial Day before we figure out the winner of the Northwest Division.

The Calgary Flames gained control of the incredibly-tight division Tuesday night, as they rallied for an impressive 3-2 win over Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Calgary fell behind early, but then scored three unanswered goals against one of the world's best netminders.

The Vancouver Canucks' Taylor Pyatt has the puck taken from him by Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
"We just kept coming,'' said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who scored his 49th goal of the season. "We didn't get discouraged, nobody got frustrated on the bench. We felt like we were going to find a way to get ourselves back in the game.''

Tuesday marked the first of three meetings between these teams over the next two weeks. The loss dropped the Canucks four points behind the Flames in the Northwest. They remain the No. 7 seed in the West.

''We say all the right things, but then we go out there, and yeah, they made some adjustments, but we got caught back on our heels a little bit, we weren't getting pucks deep, we start taking penalties and the momentum of the game completely shifted," Canucks forward Brendan Morrison said.

They're Only Human – You can't win them all.

The San Jose Sharks "fell" to 14-0-2 over their last 16 games following Tuesday night's 5-4 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena. San Jose became the second team in the NHL to record 100 points this season.

''We had 14 good ones in a row, and I guess we had a bad one,'' said Sharks center Joe Thornton, who notched a hat trick in the third period. ''It shows we're only human.''

Martin Hanzal's overtime goal keeps the Coyotes' playoff – small – playoff hopes alive, as they pulled within six points of No. 8 Colorado. The Coyotes were fortunate to come away with the two points after surrendering 3-0 and 4-2 leads to the Sharks.

''We've had some leads in the few games and let them slip away,'' Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. ''This time we found a way to take care of the win, and that's all that mattered.''

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