The Nashville Predators
have been playing catch-up for weeks. Overcoming a three-goal deficit was just another hurdle to overcome.
The Predators spotted St. Louis three goals in the first 6:46 on Tuesday night, then rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory at Scottrade Center. Rich Peverley’s goal 1:43 into OT gave the Predators a big two points in the playoff race.
Nashville’s win, combined with Vancouver’s 4-2 home loss to Colorado, put the Predators alone in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Canucks. Both teams have two games remaining.
"This is a tremendous two points," Peverley said. "We can't afford to lose any of these games. We need to get two points as many times as we can. It was a big character builder because we knew we could come back and win. We have to carry that into the next game."
Andy McDonald, David Perron and Jamal Mayers scored for the Blues, whose quick start sent Dan Ellis, one of the NHL’s hottest goaltenders, to the bench.
The Blues were unable to beat Chris Mason, and Nashville got one back at 6:06 of the second period when Brandon Bochenski beat Hannu Toivonen from the high slot. Toivonen had replaced Manny Legace, who stopped all eight shots he faced in the first period before leaving with a hip injury.
Jordin Tootoo's 11th goal of the season cut St. Louis' lead to 3-2 just 1:53 into the third period. He beat Toivonen with a slap shot from just outside the left circle.
Toivonen preserved the lead with two point-blank saves on Vernon Fiddler, including a dazzling glove save with 13:22 to play. But the Predators tied it with 6:32 to play when Fiddler stole the puck from Keith Tkachuk at the side of the Blues' goal, skated around the net and roofed a shot over Toivonen's shoulder at the near post.
"I'm not playing good enough. That's what it is," Toivonen said. "Some saves you've got to make and if you don't make them, you can't win."
Peverley beat Toivonen with a wrist shot from the left circle to complete the comeback.
Preds coach Barry Trotz called a timeout after the Blues' third goal, at which time he pulled Ellis in favor of Mason.
"After they got the third goal, we sort of said, 'That's it. We can't let them have any more. We've just have to chip away. We've got to get out of this period,"' Trotz said. "The boys really battled. We just rolled four lines."
The Blues, who scored three times on seven shots against Ellis, managed only nine at Mason and couldn’t hold the three-goal lead.
"It's kind of the way that the second half of our season has gone," St. Louis coach Andy Murray said after his team dropped to 3-14-3 in its last 20 games. "The first 41 games, we close that game out with a win. We don't give up any chances, we continue to pressure and forecheck and play hard."
Murray knew the Predators wouldn’t give up, despite the early deficit.
"We knew that they would raise the level of their game and we would need to raise the level of our game," Murray said. "It's been a situation here in the last half of the season when that challenge has been there, we haven't gotten it done."
Avalanche 4, Canucks 2 | Video
Colorado clinched a playoff berth and damaged Vancouver’s hopes in the process by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Canucks at GM Place, the Avs’ sixth consecutive victory over their Northwest Division rival.
The Avalanche have 93 points, sixth in the West, with one game remaining. The Canucks have 88 points, one less than eighth-place Nashville.
"It feels good to be in the playoffs after missing it last year," forward Milan Hejduk said. "It was a really disappointing year for us. We're used to playing a lot of playoff games, so it's fun to be back."
Hedjuk and Wojtek Wolski scored 35 seconds apart in the second period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Peter Forsberg added a breakaway goal in the third period as the Avs won for the fourth time in five games. John-Michael Liles’ power-play goal 9:13 into the second period started Colorado’s comeback.
“I don’t think it was a problem with effort; it was more a problem with mistakes,” captain Markus Naslund said.
Willie Mitchell gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead 8:24 into the game when his slap shot through traffic beat Jose Theodore. Ryan Kesler made it 2-0 at 5:50 of the second period when he shoveled his own power-play rebound past Theodore.
But Liles put the puck into a wide-open net during a power-play scramble to cut the margin to one. Hedjuk’s goal — his 33rd in 55 games against the Canucks — tied the game at 13:57 and Wolski banged in the rebound of Joe Sakic’s shot off the end boards to put Colorado ahead to stay.
“They got some breaks tonight,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “The difference tonight was that they were able to get those goals on us in a short span.”
Forsberg’s goal at 4:53 of the third period was his first since rejoining the Avalanche.
“It's good to get the first goal," Forsberg said. "It's been a few games and it's definitely good for the confidence to get a goal especially now that we're going to the playoffs. It's just good for the confidence to finally get it going."
Vancouver hosts Edmonton on Thursday and Calgary on Saturday.
“We have to win Thursday,” Vigneault said. “That’s where our focus has to be.”
Flames 3, Oilers 2 | Video
Edmonton’s late run for a playoff berth came to an end at the hands of its provincial rival when Owen Nolan scored with 3:44 left in regulation.
The Oilers had made up a huge deficit in the Western Conference playoff race by winning 13 of their last 19 games and were actually tied for eighth place after Saturday night’s action. But they had just two games left and had to watch Nashville and Vancouver pass them before Tuesday’s painful loss.
“We believed that we could get in and that we had the type of team that could make some noise," Oilers forward Jarret Stoll said. “But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We battled hard when a lot of things were against us. And we never once used those excuses."
The Flames snapped a two-game losing streak and moved within a point of clinching a playoff spot.
"In certain areas we'd like to have pushed back more than we did at times, but we found a way to win the game — and that's what it's about at this time of year, winning games in different ways," captain Jarome Iginla said. "After they got one we settled down on the bench and had a little bit of a push after and got the goal right back. It was great."
Nolan, who hadn’t scored since Feb. 15, fired the puck into a wide-open net after Dion Phaneuf’s point shot hit teammate Matthew Lombardi and came right to him.
Edmonton took a 1-0 lead 10:22 into the game when Curtis Glencross beat Miikka Kiprusoff from the slot. Calgary tied it at 14:12 when Adrian Aucoin’s power-play shot went into the net off Edmonton defenseman Denis Grebeshkov.
Calgary took the lead with 2.1 seconds left in the second with some more help from the Oilers. Alex Tanguay took a bad-angled shot that Dwayne Roloson put into his own net.
The Oilers tied it with 6:43 left in regulation when Glencross scored on a breakaway, roofing a shot over Kiprusoff. Edmonton pressed after Nolan’s goal but couldn’t get the tying goal.
“Our guys laid it on the line every night for a long time, and it is tough," assistant captain Steve Staios said. "We knew we were in a tough spot but we played our hearts out. It's just disappointing."
With an impressive nucleus of young talent, the Oilers are anticipating better things next season.
"We're pretty proud of each other in here for the character we showed down the stretch and for how hard we battled for each other," 18-year-old forward Sam Gagner said. "We learned a lot and came together as a group really well. Looking towards the future, we are pretty excited about it, but it's pretty tough to think about that right now."
Canadiens 3, Senators 0 | Video
For the first time since 1991-92, the Montreal Canadiens can call themselves division champions. The Habs locked up the Northeast Division title behind a 32-save effort by rookie Carey Price and reached the 100-point mark for the first time in 15 years.
The Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the Eastern Conference with 100 points, but the Penguins have one more victory. Each team has two games remaining. The Canadiens can finish no worse than second.
''We achieved a lot, 100 points, first in our division, I don't think we thought about it in September,'' coach Guy Carbonneau said. ''With two games to go first in our conference is still there, so, why not?''
Price, who improved to 22-12-3, was 4 years old when Montreal won its last division title. The 20-year-old has started 13 of 17 games since he became the Canadiens' No. 1 goalie when Cristobal Huet was sent to Washington at the trading deadline.
''I think everything that we've thrown at him, he's responded very well,'' Carbonneau said. ''He did the same thing in junior, he did the same thing last year in the American (Hockey) League, he seems to get better when the pressure's on and the games are important.''
Ottawa, which also has two games left, is still sixth in the East with 92 points, but leads Boston and Philadelphia by just one point and Washington by just two. Last year's Stanley Cup finalists are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
''Obviously we're frustrated and you look at the standing and wonder how and why it's happened, but it's too late to look back,'' Senators center Jason Spezza said. ''You've got to look forward now.''
Alex Kovalev opened the scoring 9:24 into the game, lifting a backhander over Martin Gerber with the Canadiens playing 5-on-3. Mathieu Dandenault made it 2-0 at 5:28 of the second when he beat Gerber with a wrist shot from the left circle for his ninth goal. Andrei Kostitsyn sealed Montreal's surprising run to the division title with his 26th goal on a power play at 11:22 of the third period.
''We played really well in our end,'' Price said. ''I thought our neutral zone was really well-played. We didn't let them skate through us very much, and we made them dump the puck in and got it out.''
Devils 2, Islanders 1, OT | Video
The Devils clinched a playoff berth by beating one of the two teams that has tortured them this season. Zach Parise’s goal 29 seconds into overtime gave New Jersey just its second victory in eight games against the Islanders this season.
''It's nice not to have to think about it now,'' Martin Brodeur, who made 21 saves, said of the playoffs. ''Now, we're trying to climb as high as we can with the three games we have left. A few weeks ago, we were leading the conference, and now, we're scrambling to get in. At least we can go for fourth place.''
The Devils trail Pittsburgh by five points in the Atlantic Division, but have a two-point edge over the fifth-place New York Rangers in the chase for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
''It's nice to have that 'x' by your team in the standings,'' coach Brent Sutter said. ''Now, we've got to fight for home ice.''
Josef Vasicek’s goal with 52 seconds left in the first period gave the depleted Islanders the lead, but Patrik Elias tied it with a power-play goal at 5:42 of the second. The Devils kept firing away — they outshot the Islanders 35-13 after the first period and 47-22 overall — but couldn’t beat third-string goaltender Joey MacDonald until Parise tipped Johnny Oduya’s shot into the net.
The Devils finished the season 2-5-1 against the Islanders, who are 13th in the East and 26th overall.
MacDonald, playing only his second NHL this season, made 44 saves and was the main reason the Isles got a point.
''He was great,'' Brodeur said of MacDonald. ''He didn't give up many rebounds. He didn't go out of the net too much. He controlled his own game very well. It's tough when you play that well and face that many shots and lose, but it's good for us.''
The Islanders have gone 2-2-2 in their past six games, all against New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — three likely playoff teams.
''Every competition you're in, you want to win,'' defenseman Freddy Meyer said. ''It doesn't matter if you're not playing for anything or you're playing for the Stanley Cup. You're still going out there and you're working as hard as you can. Obviously, you want to win and that's what you've seen the past couple of games. It speaks numbers for the character of the guys in the locker room.''
Sabres 4, Maple Leafs 3, SO | Video
Buffalo kept its slim playoff hopes alive by rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits before Maxim Afinogenov scored the winner in the sixth round of the shootout.
The Sabres are three points behind Philadelphia and Boston, who share the last two playoff spots in the East. The Sabres are off Wednesday while the Flyers play at Pittsburgh and Boston is at New Jersey.
''We're still alive,'' said Afinogenov, who has a career-low 10 goals this season. ''Maybe the other teams will be a little shaken, and hopefully it'll be good for us.''
The teams exchanged goals in the first round of the shootout, but came up empty for the next four rounds. Buffalo improved to 4-9 in shootouts, while Toronto fell to 3-4.
''We absolutely needed it, so I was happy to come through,'' said Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who made 19 saves and stopped five shots in the shootout. ''Maybe it's a starting point, that we can feel like we can play with a little more pressure on us.''
Darcy Tucker opened the scoring just 31 seconds into the game, tapping in a rebound after Miller stopped an initial shot by Pavel Kubina. Tomas Kaberle added a power-play goal to put the Leafs ahead 2-0 after one period.
Derek Roy extended his points streak to 10 games when he shoveled a rebound past Andrew Raycroft at 4:22 of the second period. Steve Bernier made it 2-2 when he banged in a rebound at 9:18 of the third period while being forced into a collision with Raycroft.
Alex Steen put the Leafs back on top at 12:03, firing a wrist shot past Miller’s leg. But Thomas Vanek forced overtime when he scored with 5:21 to play, tapping the puck past Raycroft while screening him.
Toronto lost for the seventh time this season after holding a two-goal lead, but this was the first such loss in a shootout.
''It was a good game, especially the first period,'' said Kaberle, who scored Toronto's lone goal in the shootout. ''Too bad we came up short. It would have been nice to keep Buffalo out of the playoffs.''
Panthers 3, Thrashers 2 | Video
Florida hopes to play spoiler in its last two games. The Panthers tuned up with a victory at Atlanta, snapping a three-game losing streak that dropped them out of the playoff race. Jay Bouwmeester and David Booth scored 17 seconds apart early in the third period and the Panthers hung on.
''Right now we can spoil the other teams' party. We want to win, whether we're not in the playoffs or in the playoffs,'' said captain Olli Jokinen, who scored the game’s first goal in the opening period on a power-play.
Florida can have a big say over who wins the Southeast Division title. The Panthers play at Carolina on Friday and at Washington on Saturday, giving them a chance to knock off the division’s two front-runners.
''It's a challenge for us,'' said Jokinen, whose team has 83 points and is out of contention.
Bouwmeester scored his 14th goal when Atlanta's Eric Perrin's attempt at a clearing pass went straight to the Panthers' defenseman, who blasted a 20-footer over the left shoulder of goalie Johan Hedberg for a 2-1 lead 1:02 into the final period. Booth got his 22nd goal at 1:19, taking a perfect pass in close from Magnus Johansson and easily beating Hedberg for a 3-1 lead.
Mark Recchi scored his 14th of the season with 3:12 left, but it wasn’t enough as the Thrashers lost for the 17th time in 21 games.
Atlanta rookie Jordan LaVallee scored his first NHL goal in his second game, tying the game 1-1 at 13:09 of the second period by beating Florida goalie Craig Anderson with a back-hander from in close. He also assisted on Recchi's goal.
''I was very excited and thinking about my parents back home (Corvallis, Ore.) watching the game and how happy and proud they were,'' LaVallee said of his first goal. ''It's a much easier game here. ... Guys know where they are supposed to be and are always in the right spot so that makes it easier to join right in.''
Sharks 5, Kings 2 | Video
San Jose set a franchise record with 108 points and beat Los Angeles for the first time this season at HP Pavilion as the Sharks improved to 18-0-2 in their last 20 games by winning their home finale.
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 16 shots for his League-leading 46th victory and Milan Michalek’s goal at 14:06 of the second period broke a 2-2 tie as the Sharks surpassed their franchise record of 107 points, set last season. They have two games remaining, and Nabokov could tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories if he plays and wins those games.
“We want to stay sharp,” Sharks defenseman Brian Campbell said. “I thought we had a pretty good effort tonight.”
The Sharks struggled at home for most of the season, but are 8-0-1 in their last nine at the Shark Tank.
''We obviously started the season real slow at home, but we've been on fire here at the end of the year,'' said Joe Thornton, who had his NHL-best 66th assist. ''Our fans are going to be a big part of our postseason success. We love playing here.''
Michalek snapped an eight-game goal-scoring drought by converting a pass from Thornton. Curtis Brown and Campbell added late goals against rookie Erik Ersberg, with Campbell scoring during a two-man advantage with 1:01 to play.
“I'm proud of our guys,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said. It was a three-goal difference in the end, (but) it was a one-goal game, and we were right in it.''
San Jose dominated the first period, but didn't score until Mike Grier put a difficult rebound shot past two defenders and Ersberg with 10.6 seconds to play for his first goal since March 1.
Patrick O'Sullivan tied it with a shorthanded breakaway goal 57 seconds into the second period, but Patrick Marleau put the Sharks back ahead 66 seconds later with his 18th goal. Raitis Ivanans tied it again at 6:56 when he scored from the top of the crease after Alexander Frolov's pass caught San Jose’s defense napping.
''That's one of the best teams in the league, especially with all that talent,'' Ersberg said. ''It's not just Joe Thornton. They've got some other guys too that can produce. You learn stuff and you take the good things with you to the next game and the next season.''
Though the Sharks are keeping some players out of the lineup to heal from injuries before the playoffs begin, Campbell said the team doesn’t want to relax in the final days of the regular season.
“We’ve got to stay on a roll going into the playoffs,” he said. “We don’t want to take our foot off the gas. Winning all these games now doesn’t matter if you don’t win in the playoffs.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.