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Predators give fans the best gift

by John Kreiser /

Last night, the Nashville Predators rallied for a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues to help clinch a playoff berth. Preds clinch spot
A few thoughts as we enter the final three days of the regular season and the scramble for the final playoff spots:
Predators power — Don't tell the Nashville Predators that they don't have a loud, proud fan base.

The Preds were bathed in cheers by another sellout crowd at the Sommet Center on Thursday night as they rallied for a 3-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues. The crowd's fervor impressed the players and their coach.

“If you're standing behind the bench, it's pretty impressive to look at this community and the people in the stands,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It was pretty loud on the bench because I was trying to call lines and the guys on the bench couldn't hear me. It was very loud, but it's great because it shows we have a great fan base that has supported us all year and hopes we are able to get things done and get in the playoffs.”

The Predators had to rally from a 2-1 deficit, and goalie Dan Ellis said the crowd support helped a lot.

"It was outstanding,” he said. “That third TV timeout when they were all giving us a standing ovation and waving the towels was huge. It gives the players a lot of energy and we were able to feed off that. It allowed us to get that extra push to get us through the final minutes."

Imagine how loud the crowd would have been if they'd known that win would wind up clinching a playoff berth — which happened a couple of hours later, when Vancouver lost at home to Edmonton.

Expect even more noise when the Preds play their first home playoff game in 10 days or so.

Luongo's lament — The Vancouver Canucks don't score very much, and they finally paid the price for their lack of offense. The Canucks were eliminated from playoff contention Thursday after a 2-1 loss to Edmonton.

The Canucks went scoreless on their first six power plays — including a five-minute advantage in the second period. Despite having one of the NHL's premier goaltenders in Roberto Luongo, they didn't make the playoffs because they couldn't generate enough offense.

But Luongo wasn't pointing fingers after his team was eliminated.

“That's the type of team we have,” he said of the Canucks' close-checking, limited-offense style of play. “It was successful last year. A lot of things didn't go our way like they did last year.

“That's the way we were built. We won a lot of games last year.”

The Oilers' 2-1 win ended the Canucks' postseason hopes last night.
Nothing special — Two nights after his team had its playoff hopes dashed, Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish saw his team do the same thing to the Vancouver Canucks.

But MacTavish said he got no extra satisfaction in making sure the Canucks won't be going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“There's no bonus for us,” MacTavish said after the Oilers' 2-1 win ended the Canucks' postseason dreams. “I feel for anyone who's worked as hard as the Canucks have. It had to be a huge disappointment. There's no positive feeling for me from doing that. I know what it felt like when Calgary did it to us.”

The Oilers were the first team to finish its season, but with a young team that matured in the second half of the season, he's eager for the fall.

“We're all looking forward to the start of next year already,” he said.

Perspective — Their star scores goals in bunches, their goalie is the hottest in the League, the stands are filled and a trip to the playoffs is close enough to touch. So why is Washington coach Bruce Boudreau throwing cold water on his red-hot team?

"We haven't gotten anywhere yet," Boudreau said after Thursday night's 4-1 win over Tampa Bay put them into the top eight in the East. "We're in the same position we were in two weeks, two months ago, and it comes down to one day.”

That “one day” is Saturday night, when the Caps host Florida in their season finale. They need a win and for Boston, Philadelphia or Carolina to lose in order to make the playoffs.

Boudreau and the Caps can't do anything but watch Friday as Boston plays at Ottawa, Philadelphia hosts New Jersey and Carolina plays its season finale at home against Florida. Saturday is another story — if the Caps get a little help.

“Hopefully, if we win, it's in our hands,” Boudreau said. “The guys have played so hard and I just want them to get rewarded.   

The New York Rangers clinched their third straight playoff berth by beating the New York Islanders 3-0 yesterday.
All of us, not just me — The New York Rangers clinched their third straight playoff berth by beating the New York Islanders, 3-0, in the opener of a home-and-home series. Jaromir Jagr has been in the Big Apple for all three of them after arriving late in 2003-04, the last of seven straight playoff-less seasons for the Rangers.

But he plays down his role in the Rangers' revival.

"It's not about one guy,” said Jagr, who has 23 goals and 45 assists after getting two goals against the Isles. “It's about the team. We have to realize that no matter how many great players had been here before, they didn't make it to the playoffs for eight years until we made it a couple of years ago. I'm proud to have been here the last three seasons and be a part of the playoffs."

Jagr's next hurdle is to lead the Rangers on a long playoff run. They were bounced in the opening round in 2005-06, when he was injured, and won a round last season. More is expected this season.

Sadness and euphoria — The difference between the two locker rooms at the Bell Centre couldn't have been bigger.

In one room, the Montreal Canadiens were celebrating a 3-1 victory that kept alive their hope of finishing first in the East. In the other, the Sabres were looking back at a season gone bad.

''They had to go for it and I think they played a little cautious at first and, I won't say they played into our hands, but getting the first one was huge. It kind of deflated them a little.'' - Canadiens center Bryan Smolinski
The Sabres, last season's Presidents' Trophy winner, were eliminated from the playoff race with the loss.

''You could see their faces after the game,'' said Montreal forward Chris Higgins, who scored the game's first goal, at 11:28 of the first period. ''Obviously, they weren't too thrilled.''

Bryan Smolinski made it 2-0 with a goal 40 seconds later, and added another in the second for a 3-0 lead. Ales Kotalik's third-period goal was too little, too late for the Sabres.

''They had to go for it and I think they played a little cautious at first and, I won't say they played into our hands, but getting the first one was huge,'' Smolinski said. ''It kind of deflated them a little.''

The Canadiens can finish first if they beat Toronto on Saturday night and Pittsburgh loses at Philadelphia on Sunday.

''We've got one more game and then we can regroup and get ready,'' Montreal goalie Carey Price said. ''One last game to get everything into gear before we hit the crucial time of the year.”

Big win, big loss — The scoreboard at Air Canada Centre read 8-2, and the Ottawa Senators left with two key points in their effort to hang onto a playoff berth. But the win may have come at a price: Captain Daniel Alfredsson left with an upper-body injury and a sore knee after a first-period hit by Toronto's Mark Bell that left the two coaches divided.

''I didn't like the hit,'' Ottawa's Bryan Murray said. ''The knee came out, and it was a hit to the head.''

But to Toronto's Paul Maurice, “It was a good hit. It was clean.''

No penalty was called on the play, but the Leafs paid a price.

''That definitely got us going,'' said Alfredsson's linemate, Dany Heatley, who scored twice in the rout. ''That's our captain.''

Alfredsson isn't expected to play Friday night when Ottawa hosts Boston in a game the Senators need to assure themselves of a playoff berth. The question is whether he'll be able to play if the Senators make the playoffs.

Henrik Zetterberg celebrates his game-winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets with teammate Pavel Datsyuk yesterday.
All done — The Detroit Red Wings have run out of things to play for – at least in the regular season.

The Wings added the Presidents' Trophy to their list of accomplishments this season when Henrik Zetterberg scored with 12 seconds left in regulation to give Detroit a 3-2 victory against Columbus. The Red Wings have 113 points with one game left and are assured of having the home-ice edge for as long as they go in the playoffs.

''It was nice to get that out of the way and get home-ice advantage all the way in the playoffs,'' Zetterberg said. ''That was big for us. We had a great regular season, have one game to finish it off and then ready to go for the playoffs.''

Zetterberg got the winner by banking the puck off goalie Pascal Leclaire from behind the net for his 43rd goal, after Leclaire misplayed the puck.

''The puck was just laying outside the line, he couldn't play (it),'' said Zetterberg. ''So he had trouble getting back and I just tried to hit him and it hit his behind and went in.''

The Wings can take it easy in their final game, Sunday against Chicago, before starting the serious task of trying to win a Stanley Cup next week.

Right man, right placeMarian Gaborik is the last of the original Minnesota Wild, so it was fitting he got the goals that gave the Wild their first Northwest Division title.

Gaborik broke a 1-1 tie 71 seconds into the third period and added an insurance goal in the Wild's 3-1 win over Calgary that wrapped up the division title and the third seed in the West.

“It ranks right up there,'' Gaborik said of where getting the division-clincher ranked in his career accomplishments. ''It's a great feeling for myself and every guy in this room. It's a great accomplishment to have a banner up there.''

Gaborik has had some accomplishments of his own this season, including a career-high 42 goals. He'll have to play to that level in the playoffs for the Wild to advance.

''If we want to do well in the playoffs, he's the guy that's got to play. He's got to be at his maximum,'' said Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire, who also earned his 500th career victory, becoming the 12th coach in NHL history to reach that mark.

Stars goaltender Johan Holmqvist helped beat Phoenix 4-2 last night .
If at first you don't succeed …Johan Holmqvist's first start for the Dallas Stars was a disaster — he allowed three goals in one period March 15 before getting hooked. His second start was a lot better.

Holmqvist, acquired from Tampa Bay on trade-deadline day, made 21 saves in Dallas' 4-2 victory at Phoenix.

''I felt pretty good out there,'' said Holmqvist, who was making his second appearance in six weeks while Marty Turco took a night off before the playoffs. ''It's been a while since I played, but it didn't really feel like that.''

Holmqvist was the top goaltender in Tampa Bay before he was traded to Dallas.

“I know I can play,” Holmqvist said. “You want to have the rhythm, you want to have your momentum going, and that's the way you get when you play a lot. It's a little different situation me, but I learn something new every day and I just try to be prepared, whatever comes up.”

“Whatever” is likely to be a seat on the bench to watch Turco play. But this gives Dallas coach Dave Tippett at least a little confidence that he has a viable backup goaltender.

Something to savor — What do you play for when your season basically has been over for weeks? In the case of the Los Angeles Kings, it's the fans.

The Kings have been well-supported despite spending most of the season in the Western Conference cellar. They gave their backers something to enjoy Thursday night, ending San Jose's 20-game unbeaten streak in regulation with a 4-2 victory against the Sharks.

“We're playing for the fans right now,” said Kings forward Anze Kopitar, who scored twice. “They've supported us all season. We didn't have a good season. We have to pay them back.”

Added forward Alexander Frolov: “The fans have been great for us. We try to play for them.”

The Kings will have one more chance to make a good impression on their fans — they host archrival Anaheim on Saturday.

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