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Predators rally in third, deny Wings 50th win

by Brian Hunter
One-goal games have been a staple down the stretch for the Nashville Predators. Now, third-period comebacks are starting to become old hat as well.

Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson scored 20 seconds apart midway through the third period and Ryan Suter scored the winning goal on a power play with 4:36 remaining as the Predators rallied Sunday at Joe Louis Arena for a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, who still clinched the Central Division for an eighth straight season following Chicago's loss to Vancouver.

Steve Sullivan also scored for the Predators and Pekka Rinne made 33 saves as they maintained seventh place in the Western Conference standings and pulled to within two points of Columbus for sixth.

"This crew deserves a lot of credit for this week," coach Barry Trotz said after the Predators played their fourth game in six days, going 3-0-1 in the stretch. Their last seven games have been decided by a single goal.

Henrik Zetterberg registered his 400th NHL point, a shorthanded goal, and the Wings also got scores from Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen. Detroit failed for a second straight game to pick up its 50th win, which would make it one of just three franchises to ever accomplish the feat in four consecutive seasons.

"I don't think this is the end of the world but it's a little reality therapy for us," coach Mike Babcock said. "You can have all the skill in the world but you've got to come and compete every night. And yet I'm not disappointed in our competition level tonight one bit."

The Predators trailed 2-1 after two periods for a second straight day. Ward's shorthanded goal Saturday sparked a 4-3 overtime win over Los Angeles, and he came through again by putting a rebound past Chris Osgood with 8:25 left to tie the score. Smithson then gave Nashville a 3-2 lead by scoring from the bottom of the left circle off a pass by Cal O'Reilly.

"We try to stay focused, not really worry about what happens in the past," Ward said. "We kept battling, kept chipping away. We knew we were down so we had to find a way. It's do-or-die this time of season. Not much motivation except to go out and play."

Franzen tied the game with his 32nd of the season, a drive from the high slot beat Rinne with 5:25 to play, but Chris Chelios took a cross-checking penalty 20 seconds later that led to Suter's goal. Sullivan made a backhand pass at the blue line and Suter let a slap shot rip from the top of the left circle that found the net with 4:36 remaining.

"Sully made a great play coming off the wall," Suter said. "I thought he was going to go to the other point. But he passed it back to me. I moved in and was looking for someone to pass to. I saw Bonkie (Radek Bonk) in front of the net and then I just tried to go far side."

Sullivan had opened the scoring on a power play at 2:25 of the first period. Chelios was in the box for tripping when Sullivan netted his 10th goal in 18 games after not scoring a goal in his first 17 following a nearly two-year absence due to back problems.

Brad Stuart's holding call moments later put Nashville back on the man advantage, but Zetterberg got Detroit even at 4:29 with his 30th of the season. Samuelsson put the Wings ahead for the first time, converting on a one-timer from the left circle during a 5-on-3 advantage with 4:47 left in the second period.

They protected that lead for more than half of the third before a pair of turnovers led to the goals by Ward and Smithson.

"Of course they get the momentum when they get two goals (in) that short amount of time," Zetterberg said. "We tried to battle back and find a way to win and were tied up in the end but came up a little short."

Blues 5, Blue Jackets 2 | Video

Buried in the Western Conference basement just a couple of months ago, St. Louis climbed into sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot by completing a home-and-home sweep of Columbus, scoring three times in the third period Sunday to win at Nationwide Arena.

"We got another two points and we're getting closer and closer," said rookie Patrik Berglund, who scored his 21st of the season and added a pair of assists. "We want to be in the playoffs so bad. So we really haven't thought about how much we've been climbing, but obviously it's good. But we still have six games left."

St. Louis won its fifth in a row, jumping two points ahead of Edmonton and staying a point behind Nashville for seventh.

"If we're there at the end of the year, then we'll be happy because every night it changes," said goalie Chris Mason, who survived a pair of shaky goals to make 26 saves. "We're trying to take care of business one (game) at a time. We were focused on today. We'll enjoy this one for a bit. Then we'll worry about our next game."

Protecting a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, the Blues added goals by David Perron, Berglund and David Backes. T.J. Oshie and Brad Boyes had scored earlier in the game.

Fedor Tyutin and Rick Nash tallied for the Blue Jackets, who lost to the Blues in a shootout Saturday night in St. Louis.

"You've got to give St. Louis credit," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They pushed us hard -- they pushed us into areas that we weren't comfortable. They're relentless and they work. We have too many people who did not respond."

Oshie had the only goal of the first period, giving the Blues the lead at the 5:02 mark. Tyutin's power-play marker 3:05 into the second drew the Jackets even, but Boyes put St. Louis in front to stay with his 30th of the season, an unassisted power-play goal with 2:11 left.

Perron provided some insurance 8:33 into the third when he skated in unimpeded off the right wing, faked defenseman Mike Commodore in the slot and lifted a backhand shot over the right shoulder of Steve Mason, who finished with 22 saves.

Berglund made it 4-1 with 6:05 left, Nash answered for Columbus with 4:51 to play and Backes capped the scoring 68 seconds later, jumping on a turnover, going in on a breakaway and beating Mason.

"It feels good to be where we're at, considering where we were," Oshie said. "We all know we're not done yet. We've got games left. It's definitely not settled."

Wild 3, Oilers 2 | Video

Marian Gaborik is healthy again and Minnesota hopes his scoring ability will make a big difference as they scramble to make up ground with time running short.

Gaborik's goal 4:13 into the third was the difference and Niklas Backstrom held off a furious Edmonton rally by making 14 of his 31 saves in the final period as the Wild gained a critical two points at Rexall Place.

"We were lucky that we had him," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "He was really on his game there. Especially at the end."

Andrew Brunette and Martin Skoula scored goals 1:51 apart in the first period for Minnesota, which is 11th in the conference but just three points behind eighth-place St. Louis.

"It's a huge win," said captain Miiko Koivu, who returned after missing three games with a leg injury. "Two points over here against a team we're chasing right now and we're closer again so we've got to keep the effort. Every single guy in that locker room gave all we had, and that's a great way to finish the road trip."

The Oilers fought back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits on third-period goals by Fernando Pisani and Ales Kotalik, but dropped from eighth down to 10th after wins by St. Louis and Anaheim earlier Sunday. Edmonton has lost four of its last five.

"We played poorly and got what we deserved," coach Craig MacTavish said. "Too many guys are too content to be a non-factor rather than be a factor and step up and be assertive in a game that you desperately need. With six games left we are still looking for a team that will take charge of an opportunity."

Minnesota got the start it wanted when Brunette cashed in his 20th of the season 7:01 into the game. Gaborik fanned on a shot but Brunette picked up the loose puck in front of the net and beat Dwayne Roloson on a backhander. Skoula followed with a point shot that skittered between the goaltender's legs.

Backstrom stopped all 17 shots he faced over the first two periods, but Pisani ended his shutout bid 1:04 into the third when he tapped in a feed from Ethan Moreau, who held off defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron before sending a backhand pass in front.

Gaborik, who has played only 11 games this season due to injuries but has 12 points, got that goal back at 4:13 during a delayed penalty call against the Oilers. Backstrom retreated to the bench for an extra attacker and Gaborik used a screen in front to hit the corner of the net for his seventh of the season and a 3-1 lead.

The insurance was needed, as Ales Hemsky spotted Kotalik open at the top of the faceoff circle for a drive that beat Backstrom with 4:52 remaining.

Minnesota returns home to play four of its final six games.

"It doesn't always matter if you're on the road or at home, you've got to be sharp," Koivu said. "There's good teams ahead of us, so we've got to be ready every single night. We believe in that, and like I said, with this effort we have a good chance to win every night."

Ducks 4, Avalanche 1 | Video

Anaheim will head off on a three-game road trip with a little momentum, thanks to a pair of goals by Bobby Ryan and a 26-save effort from Jonas Hiller.

Corey Perry and Drew Miller also had goals as the Ducks won at Honda Center and took over ninth place in the conference, one point behind St. Louis.

"We know every two points is incredibly valuable," said Ryan, a rookie who posted his third multi-goal game of the season. "Look around; other teams are winning as well, so it's important for us to control our own fate and put another run together like we did last week."

John-Michael Liles scored a power-play goal for Colorado, which lost its seventh in a row. It's the worst skid for the franchise since its days in Quebec, when the Nordiques dropped eight straight in 1992.

"We only played for two periods," said goalie Peter Budaj, who stopped 27 shots. "When you don't play the whole 60 minutes, it's tough to win the hockey game. They have a good team."

Hiller earned his career-high 19th win, matching the total of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a season where the All-Star starter has struggled mightily at times. Giguere was pulled twice from a loss at Edmonton on Friday.

Hiller's biggest "save" might have been one that won't even show up on the stat sheet, as he charged out of his net in the second period to knock the puck away before a breakaway could result, skating and then sliding all the way to the blue line to make the play.

"I saw that the puck was jumping over (Chris Pronger's) stick, and they had a chance to go in 2-on-0," Hiller explained. "So I thought I might make it over there. And once you decide to go, you have to go because if you back off, you're totally lost."

Ryan snapped a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal 4:13 into the second period, flicking a backhander past Budaj from the slot with a pair of Colorado defensemen on him. The Calder Trophy candidate added his 26th of the season at 4:05 of the third by sliding the puck first through Liles and then Budaj on a 25-foot shot.

"Everybody in the room realized we dropped one on Friday that we felt like we should have had and we lost two valuable points," Ryan said. "We had a day off to address it, and we knew coming into this one that we had to get off to a good start and come away with two before we go on the road for a couple of tough games.

"We had to have a better presence in front of the goaltender. Obviously, (Dwayne) Roloson on Friday night saw too many pucks and was able to make 52 saves -- and 40 of them were pretty easy. So getting in front of the goalie, jamming the sides of the net and finding a way to score some ugly ones was important tonight."

Miller further deflated the Avalanche by scooping the puck into the net off a scramble in the crease 1:47 after Ryan's goal.

The teams traded goals in the first, with Perry scoring unassisted at 12:50 following a Colorado turnover at the blue line and Liles answering at 16:39 on a wrister from the slot that beat Hiller.

Material from wire services and team broadcast media were used in this report.

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