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Prucha makes most of rare appearance

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while we wait for the Winter Classic preview in Detroit on Tuesday night:

Will score for food -- It's no secret the New York Rangers have experienced trouble scoring goals recently. For whatever reason, though, Petr Prucha has watched his team struggle from the press box.

That changed Monday night, when Prucha was in the lineup against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden. He once again made a case for consistent playing time, as he erased a 2-1 deficit just 49 seconds into the third period en route to a 5-4 victory.
''It's tough being out of the lineup for so long, and it was frustrating," Prucha said. "I got the chance to play again and scored, so hopefully I will be in the lineup for the next game.''
The next game is Saturday, when the Blueshirts begin 2009 against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center. That gives Rangers coach Tom Renney a few days to decide whether or not Prucha -- who scored 30 goals in 2005-06 but has 31 since then -- is worthy of back-to-back appearances.
''If he would get three or four goals a night he'll be fine,'' Renney joked. ''Pete's a battler. That's exactly what you have to do when you get those opportunities.''
Prucha has done that. After being benched for 10 consecutive games, the 26-year-old scored in a 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 3. He played in the next two contests but didn't see the ice again until Monday.
''I have played with a lot of guys, and that guy is one of the best teammates I've ever had,'' said Rangers center Scott Gomez, who had a goal and assist. ''For whatever reason he hasn't been in the lineup, but he never says a word. He is one of the guys that always has a smile on his face and works the hardest in practice.
''Not only was it a huge goal, but to see him get it even means more.''

A road game? Hardly -- Judging by the response they received Monday night, you never would have known the Montreal Canadiens were far away from the Bell Centre.
Playing in front of a pro-Montreal crowd, the Habs won their 3,000th regular-season game behind Maxim Lapierre's hat trick in a 5-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.
In need of some tropical weather, some of the Habs' faithful made their way to Sunrise, Fla., to watch an historic night for their team and Lapierre, who never had notched a hat trick in the NHL.

From the opening faceoff, chants of ''Go Habs, go!'' were heard throughout the arena. There also was a chant of ''Carey, Carey!'' after goalie Carey Price made a nice save in the third period.
Florida coach Peter DeBoer couldn't help but be impressed.
''I thought the crowd was great,'' DeBoer said. ''It was a great atmosphere, outstanding. If we can have crowds like that every weekend, I don't care who they're cheering for. It was a great atmosphere in the building.''
It certainly made it extra special for Lapierre, who had 7 goals all of last season. Lapierre scored the final three goals in Monday's win and completed the hat trick with an empty-netter with 6.2 seconds left. He scored after stealing the puck from defenseman Bryan McCabe in the Florida zone.
''I thought, I don't think I'm going to have too many chances to do that in my career,'' Lapierre said.
''I told myself, 'I have to catch him, I have to take it away from him,' and it worked out.''
Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau was happy to see his defensive forward get rewarded in such dramatic fashion.
''For a defensive player, for a guy that brings energy to the game, it's always fun to contribute in other ways,'' Carbonneau said. ''At the start of the year he was getting rid of the puck a little too much, he didn't want to make mistakes. Now he's playing with more confidence.''

One for the road -- The Columbus Blue Jackets began a season-long six-game road trip with exactly what they expected -- another brilliant effort from Steve Mason.
The rookie goaltender earned his fourth shutout of the season by stopping all 24 shots he faced, leading the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.
Mason, who may as well have the Calder Trophy mailed to his home by Groundhog Day if he keeps this up, entered Monday's action with an NHL-best 1.87 goals-against average.
''Playing a lot helps because you get into a rhythm. Shutouts are nice, obviously, but what we're looking for is wins right now,'' Mason said.
Monday marked the fourth straight game Columbus was involved in a shutout, and now has won the last two. Mason, meanwhile, has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his seven road starts.
''The seven defensemen, plus Mason, we're trying to make ourselves a very hard group to play against back there," said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock. "We're not the prettiest group or the fanciest, but we kind of maul you a little bit.
''That's the way we're built. They're able to keep the shots to the outside and they're confident that he can stop those outside shots.''

Thanks, Nabby -- In need of a big game from their goaltender, the San Jose Sharks received just that from Evgeni Nabokov on Monday night.
The All-Star goalie stopped 28 shots for his 20th win of the season as the Sharks earned a hard-fought 3-1 victory against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center.
''He made some big saves to get us some momentum,'' San Jose coach Todd McLellan said of Nabokov, who became just the second goalie this season to reach the 20-win plateau. ''And we had penalty kills in the third period where he had to make some tremendous saves. He was magnificent.''
While the Sharks are well on their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams such as Dallas are battling to stay in the race. Nabokov admitted that because of the amount of squads on the bubble, the games only will get tougher.
''It will get even harder because we're facing desperate teams that are hungry for points,'' Nabokov said. ''We have to match it every night. It'll be harder and harder from now on.''
But if the Sharks are up to the task, there's little doubt they will be hosting Games 1 and 2 of at least the first two rounds in the 2009 postseason.
''We're looking for playoff positioning,'' said San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored his sixth goal of the season Monday. ''We're not just going to be satisfied to make the playoffs. We want to secure home-ice advantage.''

Sweet moves -- Eric Nystrom said the move he used to beat Josh Harding in the Calgary Flames' 2-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild wasn't premeditated.
If that's the case, the gritty forward sure has great instincts.
Nystrom's shorthanded tally broke a 1-1 tie at 8:56 of the third period and sent the Pengrowth Saddledome crowd into a frenzy. It was just his second goal of the season and first since Nov. 1 -- a span of 25 games.
''It's funny, you don't even think about it,'' Nystrom said. ''I just went in, my body just made the move and made it happen. It's crazy how sports works like that.''
"I don't score too many goals so to get that type of reception, everyone was so excited.  I just had the adrenaline pumping right through me, it was awesome." -- Eric Nystrom
With the win, Calgary (21-11-4) extended its unbeaten streak to eight games (5-0-3) and widened its Northwest Division lead over the Vancouver Canucks to three points. Unquestionably, Mats Sundin's impending arrival in Vancouver made Nystrom's goal that much bigger. The reaction from the Calgary crowd was enough to place No. 23 -- the same number his father Bob wore on Long Island -- on Cloud 9.
''I don't score too many goals, so to get that type of reception, everyone was so excited,'' Nystrom said. ''I just had the adrenaline pumping right through me; it was awesome.''
Whatever works -- The Colorado Avalanche benefited from a couple of lucky bounces Monday night. It didn't bother them one bit.
Cody McLeod had his second two-goal game this month and Peter Budaj made 25 saves as the Avs won their third straight with a 5-1 victory against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center.
"It definitely wasn't one of our prettier wins, but sometimes you're fortunate and you get those bounces," said Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles, who had a goal and an assist to go along with a plus-3 rating. "I think that was definitely the case tonight."
With Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny out for extended periods, the Avs are aware they will have to grind out victories over the next couple of months in order to stay in the thick of a very tight Western Conference playoff race. They did just that Monday.
"We were focusing on getting the puck in deep tonight and we did a good job of doing that," McLeod said. "We've lost two key players in Joe and Paul, but we got others contributing."
And they got some bounces, much to the dismay of Preds goalie Pekka Rinne.
''They got a little help from the hockey stars,'' Rinne said. ''They got some lucky bounces, but that's life. I am not happy with the result. It's just one of those nights when they seem to have scored on every chance they had."    
Contact Brian Compton at

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

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