|A few hours after the Predators defeated the Blues 3-2, Nashville secured a playoff spot in the Western Conference when Vancouver lost 2-1 to Edmonton.
WATCH: Highlights from the Preds' win
It was Fan Appreciation Night in Nashville, so the Predators gave their fans something they can really appreciate — a playoff berth.
Greg De Vries scored the go-ahead goal 4:01 into the third period, Jan Hlavac had three assists and Dan Ellis stopped 27 shots as the Predators beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Thursday night. The fans got one final gift a few hours after the game ended when Edmonton’s 2-1 win in Vancouver eliminated the Canucks from postseason contention. The Preds can finish no worse than eighth and can climb into seventh if they win their season finale Friday against Chicago and Calgary loses to Vancouver on Saturday.
It’s a nice reward for a team that lost several key pieces during the summer and spent most of the season playing catch-up.
“We’ve been a pretty resilient team all year,” De Vries said. “We’ve made some great comebacks but we’ve had a lot of doubters along the way. But we have worked hard.”
After rallying for four unanswered goals Wednesday in a 4-3 overtime win at St. Louis, the Predators found themselves behind 2-1 in the return match after second-period goals by Jay McClement and David Backes.
J.P. Dumont’s 29th of the season with 2:14 left in the second evened the score. Hlavac, who has seven points in his last four games, set up Dumont in the slot for a one-timer past Blues goaltender Hannu Toivonen. The goal gave Nashville some momentum heading into the third, and De Vries scored his fourth goal of the season with a wrist shot from high in the right circle that beat Toivonen on his glove side.
"We were really resilient," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "The Blues were looking for redemption. They are a proud team. They are well-coached. They came out and played extremely hard."
Jerred Smithson’s shorthanded goal opened the scoring for the Predators 12 minutes into the first period. Hlavac’s shot from the right side bounced high off the chest of Toivonen, and Smithson was able to bat it from waist-high into the net.
"I'm glad I listened to my father," Smithson said. "He always told me to go for a line drive in baseball instead of swinging for a home run."
Ellis was flawless while facing 12 shots in the first, but McClement beat him at 6:27 of the second with a wrister that deflected in off the post. Backes took Andy McDonald’s feed and gave the Blues the lead at 10:14 by beating Ellis on his glove side.
"We had some guys that played pretty determined," St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. "We had some other guys who just didn't get the job done for us. We weren't even thinking about ruining their playoff chances. I've got a lot of respect for the job Nashville's coaching staff does. I'm good friends with Trotz. We are just trying to win games. Our responsibility is to play all 82 games as hard as we can."
Oilers 2, Canucks 1 | Video
Edmonton’s playoff hopes were dashed on Tuesday. Two nights later, the Oilers took Vancouver into an early offseason with them.
Marty Reasoner and Jarrett Stoll scored second-period goals and goaltender Dwayne Roloson made 13 of his 37 saves during the third as the Oilers played the role of spoiler to perfection, leaving the Canucks three points behind eighth-place Nashville with just one game left in the season.
Alex Burrows’ power-play goal with 6:57 left in regulation set up a frantic finish, but the Canucks killed their own comeback hopes with a pair of penalties in the final 1:18.
“We’re all disappointed in the outcome tonight,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We played hard, had a lot of energy. We outchanced them badly, but we lost 2-1.”
The Canucks faded badly down the stretch, dropping six of seven. The backbreaker may have come Tuesday, when they blew a 2-0 lead at home in a 4-2 loss to Colorado.
After giving up the first goal to the Oilers, the Canucks had a golden opportunity to get right back in the game after Mathieu Roy was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding. But helped by strong play from Roloson, Edmonton killed that penalty and held Vancouver to 1-for-7 with the man advantage.
“The difference in the game tonight was the inability of our power play to get it done,” Vigneault said.
Reasoner tapped in a loose puck 8:52 into the second to start the scoring. After the Oilers killed the five-minute major Stoll made it 2-0 with 1:30 left in the period. With Edmonton on a power play of its own, Stoll one-timed Marc-Antoine Pouliot’s feed past Roberto Luongo, who stopped 19 shots.
The Canucks finally broke through when Ryan Kesler jammed the puck loose from Roloson’s blocker during a scramble and Burrows was able to put it into the net.
Edmonton became the first team to conclude its season. Coach Craig MacTavish said it was important for the Oilers to compete hard in their finale “for the integrity of the race,” but insisted there wasn’t any extra satisfaction in spoiling the Canucks’ hopes.
“There’s no bonus for us. I feel for anyone who’s worked as hard as the Canucks have,” MacTavish said. “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.”
Wild 3, Flames 1 | Video
It was a history-making night at the Xcel Energy Center. Marian Gaborik scored twice in the third period and Niklas Backstrom made 26 saves as the Wild clinched the first division title in franchise history and gave Jacques Lemaire his 500th coaching victory in the process.
Todd Fedoruk had the other goal for Minnesota, which earned the No. 3 seed as the Northwest Division winner and home ice for at least the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It was incredible," defenseman Brent Burns said. "Especially out there — it was pretty sweet to do it in front of our fans."
Gaborik, named the Wild’s captain in March, is the only player remaining from Minnesota’s inaugural season. He snapped a 1-1 tie 1:11 into the third period and then added some insurance with 6:49 left by scoring on a power play to increase his career-best goal total to 42.
"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 Lemaire, who became the 12th coach in NHL history to reach 500 victories.
Despite the loss, Calgary clinched a playoff berth due to Edmonton’s 2-1 win over Vancouver later Thursday.
Daymond Langkow’s power-play goal 2:41 after the opening faceoff got the Flames off to a promising start, but they remained in seventh place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Nashville.
''I imagine a lot of teams are pushing right now and pressing a bit, but that's part of it,'' Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. ''These games are big games. You play the whole season down to the last few and the division comes down to the last few, so every team's in the same boat.''
Calgary’s lead lasted barely more than three minutes before Fedoruk converted on a power play, darting through the slot and putting home Pavol Demitra’s feed. Gaborik earned an assist in what ended up a three-point night.
"We keep going like this, we'll be good," Gaborik said, basking in the excitement of what his team achieved. "It's a great feeling for myself and every guy in this room. It's a great accomplishment to have a banner up there."
Red Wings 3, Blue Jackets 2 | Video
All Detroit needed to do to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy was make it to overtime against Columbus. Henrik Zetterberg ensured his team didn’t need to work any extra to earn home ice throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Zetterberg scored with 11 seconds left in regulation by banking the puck in from behind the net off Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire. The win gave the Red Wings 113 points and assured them of first place in the overall standings.
"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."
Mark Hartigan and Johan Franzen also scored as Detroit rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits. Dominik Hasek finished with 20 saves.
"It felt good to get this game and get the Presidents. We didn't want to lose this game," Franzen said. "Their goalie was playing great but we got a power-play, Nick took a shot that was perfect for a rebound and beat my guy and I had an open net. In front, that's the right place to be."
Leclaire turned aside 36 shots in his first game and start since March 14. Ron Hainsey and Aaron Rome scored for Columbus, which was looking to increase its new franchise record for points in a season.
"Some of the saves he made, especially in the third, were phenomenal," Columbus center Michael Peca said of Leclaire. "He gave us a chance to win it and we let him down in the end."
Hainsey gave Columbus a 1-0 lead when he beat Hasek from the slot during a power play at 7:13 of the second period. Hartigan, who played 48 games over parts of three seasons for Columbus, got the Red Wings even by putting the puck into the net off a goalmouth scramble 2:35 later.
Rome’s first NHL goal at 4:05 of the third — a shot from the right point that got between Hasek’s pads — had the Blue Jackets poised to disappoint the Joe Louis Arena crowd, but Franzen made it 2-2 with just 3:27 to play. With the Red Wings enjoying a man advantage, the red-hot Franzen put home his own rebound for his 27th goal and 15th in as many games.
"We had a chance to win the game and we didn't," Rome said. "It was disappointing."
Rangers 3, Islanders 0 | Video
Henrik Lundqvist earned his League-leading 10th shutout of the season to help lift the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season. Lundqvist stopped 25 shots and Jaromir Jagr scored a pair of power-play goals in the first period as the Rangers maintained their hold on fifth in the Eastern Conference, two points behind New Jersey.
"It feels great to be in the playoffs — again," Lundqvist said. "You never know what can happen with three games to go and you need one more point. It's good to get it over with right away. We played great."
Jagr continued his mastery of the Islanders, which began during his 11-year career in Pittsburgh. In 90 career games against them, Jagr has 58 goals and 81 assists.
Jagr scored twice in just under two minutes to turn what had been a scoreless opening period at Nassau Coliseum into a 2-0 lead for the Rangers.
Islanders captain Bill Guerin was sent off for slashing at 13:31. Just 20 seconds later, Jagr took a Christian Backman feed and wired a shot from the right circle off the right post and in behind goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who finished with 32 saves.
After Freddy Meyer was whistled for holding, Jagr needed just eight seconds to put a shot from the right circle between Dubielewicz’s pads with 4:10 left in the period for his 23rd goal this season.
"It's not about one guy. It's about the team," Jagr said. "It's not easy to make the playoffs anymore. You have 30 teams, and half of the teams don't make the playoffs."
Martin Straka, who screened Dubielewicz on Jagr’s first goal, closed the scoring 7:39 into the third with his 14th goal, a slap shot that deflected in off Meyer.
While the Rangers look forward to the postseason, the injury-riddled Islanders have been playing out the string while giving plenty of ice team to youngsters who may see a more significant role next season.
"We've got good people here," Guerin said. "It's not an easy time for us to play, but guys are showing up and playing hard. Different people have different motivations, but we're working hard out there."
Canadiens 3, Sabres 1 | Video
Montreal’s bid for first place in the Eastern Conference is still alive. Buffalo’s flickering playoff hopes were officially extinguished.
Bryan Smolinski scored a pair of goals and Carey Price made 27 saves as the Canadiens moved into a tie for the East lead with Pittsburgh. Each team has one game remaining. The Penguins hold the first tiebreaker, with more victories, so the Habs must finish with more points to claim first.
"We've got one more game and then we can regroup and get ready," said Price, who improved to 11-3 since being handed the No. 1 goaltender’s job. "One last game to get everything into gear before we hit the crucial time of the year."
Ales Kotalik ended Price’s shutout bid with 8:30 left in the third, with Patrice Brisebois in the box for Montreal and Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller pulled for an extra skater. The desperation move by coach Lindy Ruff paid off, but the Sabres never got any closer.
"We gambled hard to get back in it and we just didn't quite get it done," Ruff said.
Buffalo, which won the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago and made it to the Eastern Conference final before bowing out against Ottawa, became just the third team in the modern era to finish first in the League one season and miss the playoffs the next. The 1969-70 Canadiens and 1992-93 New York Rangers also share the dubious honor.
Chris Higgins put the Canadiens in the driver’s seat with his 25th of the season 11:28 into the first period, and Smolinski followed 40 seconds later to make it 2-0.
"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."
Smolinski took most of the remaining air out of the Sabres with his eighth of the season and second of the night with 5:32 left in the second.
Senators 8, Maple Leafs 2 | Video
Ottawa moved closer to a postseason berth, thanks in large part to Antoine Vermette’s first career hat trick and a team-record-tying three shorthanded goals.
The Senators shook off injuries to captain Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, climbing to 94 points and keeping them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa can take care of business in its final regular season game Friday night — one point against visiting Boston would clinch a playoff spot.
''It was a big win,'' Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. ''We had to get to the two points so this was huge. Now we have to go home and do the same against Boston.''
Mark Bell got the Maple Leafs off to a strong start in their season finale at Air Canada Centre, putting them ahead 7:30 into the opening period, but the Senators’ offense responded by scoring the next seven goals. Dany Heatley tied the game with his first of two and Jason Spezza put Ottawa in front to stay with 2:45 left in the first.
''We gave up the first goal tonight, which is always a concern given the way we've played lately,'' Murray said. ''But we held together. The guys were great on the bench. We stuck with it.''
Superior special teams play helped the Senators break the game open in the second. Cody Bass made it 3-1 with a shorthanded tally 6:03 in, then Vermette began his onslaught with a power-play goal at 14:01. He added his second at even strength with 27 seconds remaining in the period.
Heatley took a slashing penalty early in the third — but instead of cutting into the 5-1 deficit, the Leafs gave up two shorthanded goals while skating with the man advantage. Dean McAmmond scored at 2:27 and Vermette notched his third of the night 44 seconds later.
''It's a real disappointing end,'' Toronto coach Paul Maurice said of his team's performance in the last home game.
Dominic Moore finally answered for Toronto at 6:51 but Heatley got the goal right back, capping the scoring 23 seconds later. Martin Gerber made 26 saves in net for Ottawa.
The Senators’ big concern now is the health of their captain: Alfredsson took a hard hit from Bell not long after assisting on Spezza’s go-ahead goal. He returned for one shift in the second period but left the ice for good after that with what the team classified as an upper-body injury and isn’t expected to play against the Bruins.
''That definitely got us going,'' Heatley said of the Senators’ offensive explosion after the hit. ''That's our captain.''
Stars 4, Coyotes 2 | Video
Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Stephane Robidas found the net during a three-goal second period, and Dallas clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference to set up a first-round playoff series against Anaheim.
Brenden Morrow’s goal with a minute left in the second staked the Stars to a 3-0 lead, and after Phoenix scored twice in the third to climb within one, Mike Modano’s empty-netter with 31 seconds remaining iced the victory.
Johan Holmqvist made only his second start for Dallas and won for the first time since being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. Holmqvist finished with 21 saves and was working on a shutout until Enver Lisin scored with 6:09 to play.
“I know I can play,” said Holmqvist, who went from starting for the Lightning to rarely playing as the backup to Marty Turco with the Stars. “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.”
With the Stars still waiting to get All-Star blueliner Sergei Zubov back from injury, their other defensemen continue to pick up the slack. Niskanen one-timed a pass from Philippe Boucher for a power-play goal at 5:22 of the middle period and Robidas, who had no goals in 75 games last season, notched his ninth of the season during another man advantage with 6:57 left.
“He’s really stepped up,” Morrow said of Robidas. “In the past he’s kind of been that guy who sacrifices his body — he takes the hits to make the play — but we’ve needed him to step up and play with some poise and make some plays. He’s shooting the puck great, he’s moving it well, he’s done a great job quarterbacking the power play. That’s a heck of a guy we’re missing and you can’t really fill those shoes, but he’s doing a pretty good job in his place.”
Morrow’s 32nd of the season came after he stole the puck from Coyotes defenseman Keith Ballard and beat goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for an unassisted goal.
After Lisin got Phoenix on the board, Ballard redeemed himself with a shorthanded tally with 3:01 remaining. But Holmqvist held strong from there, giving Modano a chance to finish things off.
"I thought we worked hard for the most part," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "At the end it got a little scrambly, but we did enough to win."
Phoenix and Dallas finish off the home-and-home Friday night at Jobing.com Arena, and the Coyotes play their final game of the regular season Sunday night in Anaheim.
"We physically skated into a wall about 15 games ago," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "It was partly because of youth, I think, and partly because for 45 games every game we played seemed like playoff game. You can't play like that."
Kings 4, Sharks 2 | Video
Coming out of a game without at least one point was a feeling San Jose hadn’t experienced in over six weeks, but Anze Kopitar and Erik Ersberg powered Los Angeles to a streak-stopping win at Staples Center.
Kopitar scored twice in the final 5:38 of the third period and Ersberg continued a strong late-season run with 32 saves as the Kings snapped the Sharks’ 20-game streak without a regulation loss. The Sharks hadn’t lost in 60 minutes since a 3-2 defeat at New Jersey on Feb. 20.
"It felt good to get a win, especially against this team," Ersberg said. "They've gone 20 games without a loss, so it's good that we could break that streak. It was a fun game."
Joe Thornton staked San Jose to a quick 1-0 lead when he scored his 29th goal just 36 seconds into the game, but the Kings jumped ahead in the second on goals from a pair of unlikely sources — Brian Willsie and Raitis Ivanans had combined for only seven goals this season, but they both scored to put Los Angeles up, 2-1.
“It was definitely a good team effort tonight,” Kings center Derek Armstrong said. “I think we came out of the gate a little bit slow, but we finished hard.”
Joe Pavelski’s power-play goal 3:03 into the third tied the game for the Sharks, but Kopitar came through down the stretch. He notched the game-winner at 14:22 and added his 32nd of the season into an empty net with four seconds remaining.
Although the loss won’t affect the Sharks’ playoff positioning — San Jose has clinched the Pacific Division and locked up the second seed in the Western Conference — they will miss on a couple potential milestones. They were bidding to become the first team in the post-1980 expansion era to record back-to-back 50-win seasons, while goalie Evgeni Nabokov had a shot at tying Martin Brodeur’s single-season record of 48 victories, established last season.
"Twenty games is an incredible streak. There's nothing more I can say about it. It's phenomenal," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "I mean, we're the only team in NHL history to go the whole month of March (without a regulation loss). It's virtually impossible, but we did it."