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Rask latest masked man to shine for Bruins

by Brian Compton and Brian Hunter
A few thoughts as we get ready for the big game -- Boston at Montreal … and then there's that football game later in the evening:

Back with a vengeance -- Tuukka Rask is one of the bright young goaltending prospects in the NHL, but he's had trouble breaking in with the Boston Bruins in large part because they have a couple of solid netminders by the names of Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez.

Fernandez is currently hurt, however, and after Thomas started eight consecutive games, coach Claude Julien decided it was time to give him a rest. He put Rask in the crease for the first time since the rookie played four games early in the 2007-08 season, and the result was a 35-save shutout and a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon.

"You don't want to fail because if you fail you don't know when you're going to get another chance," Rask said after becoming the third Bruins goalie to record a shutout this season. "If you do good, you've shown that you're capable of playing at this level."

There was little doubt about Rask's ability to play, but he was forced to be at his best thanks to the All-Star goalie at the other end of the ice. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots but Marc Savard managed to keep his stick under the crossbar while deflecting in a Dennis Wideman shot with 22.2 seconds left in the second period. It was all the offense Boston got -- and all Rask would need.

"Give the kid credit," Savard said. "He's been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He's an NHL goaltender. We all know that. He's going to get his time, but right now he came in and did a good job for us."

Wideman seconded the praise for Rask: "He's obviously a highly skilled goaltender and we had a lot of confidence going in knowing that he was going to do a great job," he said. "Did we know he was going to do that great of a job? No, but that's great for him."

In search of more -- It's clear that Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wants more out of newcomer Mats Sundin.

Despite the fact that the Canucks needed a goal late in the third period, Sundin -- who has 557 tallies in this League -- was on the bench. With Roberto Luongo pulled for an extra attacker, Ryan Kesler scored in a 6-on-4 situation at 19:44 to send Saturday's game at General Motors Place to overtime.

Vancouver wound up losing 4-3 in the extra session to the Minnesota Wild on Marc-Andre Bergeron's second goal of the night. The Canucks have dropped their last nine games on home ice, officially putting the team in crisis mode. So far, Sundin has done very little to help the cause. He has just three points in nine games and has been in the penalty box for four opposing power-play goals.


"Mats is working, but he needs to find a way to play better.  … It's that simple," Vigneault said.

That's why Sundin was not on the ice late in the third period.

"We went with our four best forwards and two best 'D.' It was a no-brainer."

Ouch. Nonetheless, Vigneault knows all 20 players have to be better if the Canucks plan on snapping out of this. They'll return to the ice on Tuesday night, when they'll host the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Mats is not the reason we're in this tough time right now," Vigneault said. "But he needs to find his game and play better. There's no doubt about that."

Wake-up call -- He's a perpetual ball of energy who loves to be the life of the party -- as evidenced by the flair he showed during All-Star weekend -- but Alex Ovechkin was a step slow during the first two periods of Saturday's game against the Detroit Red Wings. Seems the Washington Capitals superstar is not a fan of 12:30 p.m. start times.

Ovechkin was raring to go in the third, though, snapping a tie with a pair of goals 1:16 apart and leading the Caps to a 4-2 win at Verizon Center.

"I think in the first two periods I did not have a lot of chances and I was still kind of sleepy," admitted Ovechkin, who nevertheless reclaimed the League lead in goals with 33, one more than Jeff Carter of Philadelphia.

Ovechkin's go-ahead goal with 7:08 remaining was typical highlight-reel material, as he reached back to collect a Viktor Kozlov feed it appeared he had overskated, then put the puck through his own legs and used Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski as a screen before  beating goalie Ty Conklin. Ovechkin tacked on a power-play goal off a Nicklas Backstrom rebound.

"It's a huge victory for us," Ovechkin said. "It gives us a lot of confidence. They were missing a couple of players, but it's very important to play an experienced team and this game meant a lot to us."

The Red Wings, playing without Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, dropped their fifth in a row.

"I thought we did a good job on their top line for the first two periods, but he's a sniper," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of Ovechkin. "He doesn't need much to score goals."

A reversal of fortunes -- When you're the Montreal Canadiens, a losing streak can snowball quickly and cause even the most immune to pressure to grip their sticks a little tighter. The Habs entered Saturday on a four-game skid and were about to extend it in front of an anxious Bell Centre crowd before the breaks started going their way just in the nick of time.

Trailing by a goal late in the third period, Christopher Higgins scored with 1:53 remaining and Saku Koivu got the power-play game-winner with 22.3 seconds to play as the Canadiens stunned the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 and snapped their longest drought in almost two years.

"It's a start, but that's all it is," goalie Carey Price said after winning for the first time since returning from an ankle injury. "It's a start, you know, we've got to keep moving from here."

Higgins got position on Drew Doughty to beat Jonathan Quick for the tying score, then the Kings compounded their problems by taking a penalty with 31 seconds remaining. Koivu quickly made them pay, scoring off a scramble in front to bring down the house.

"I saw the puck when I turned, it was right in front of the goalie and I just tried to stuff it in," Koivu said. "I don't know if I hit it or not and it was just laying down there and kind of got underneath the goalie and I think he pushed it over the line himself."

For the Kings, fighting just to stay on the fringe of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, it was a tough loss to take.

"It was a good 59-minute game, but at this point in the year -- you can say what you want, but we need to start winning these games," captain Dustin Brown said. "We've blown too many of these games, which are valuable points."

Veteran presence -- The point in the season has come for many Western Conference teams where a solid win streak can separate them from the rest of the pack while any sort of prolonged slump could mean watching the playoffs from home. The Anaheim Ducks know it's time to make a push, and they're counting on Teemu Selanne to be a big part of it.

Selanne contributed the tie-breaking goal in the third period of a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center, scoring the 90th game-winner of his career. It was also his first goal since returning to the lineup after a six-week absence with a lacerated left thigh.

"I think it's very important," winning goaltender Jonas Hiller said. "First, he's a great player and second, in the dressing room, he's a great guy and the young kids can learn from him. He knows how to score. He showed it again there in the third and it was the game-winner."

Selanne, who has scored 568 career goals, sounded like a guy who has found the back of the net more than a few times in the NHL when describing the play.

"I think we got a pretty good breakout and a couple of good bounces and I wound up with a puck in front of the goalie," said Selanne, who set an Anaheim record by playing in his 617th game, one more than Steve Rucchin. "I got off a pretty good shot. It was nothing special."

The puck stops here -- One of the big problems for the New York Islanders this season has been the health of their goaltenders. Rick DiPietro was expected to be their stalwart, but is now out for the season after playing in only five games. Joey MacDonald was providing some stability between the pipes until he went down with an injury as well.

Enter Yann Danis, who got off to a rough start by losing his first six decisions but has now led New York to only its second three-game winning streak of the season. Danis made 37 saves and came within 1:27 of a shutout as the Islanders cooled off the Florida Panthers 3-1 at Nassau Coliseum.

"I definitely feel more comfortable out there," Danis said. "I'm just trying to be more aggressive and make myself look bigger in net."

Mike Comrie opened the scoring late in the first period when he took the puck away from Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester at the side of the net and had an easy stuff-in past Tomas Vokoun. The Islanders killed a pair of double minors in the second before adding goals in the third by Bill Guerin and Kyle Okposo, the latter coming on a power play of their own.

Panthers coach Peter DeBoer downplayed the impact of Danis, criticizing what his players failed to do instead.   

"You'd like to say their goalie won the game, but he didn't," DeBoer said. "He played well, but they capitalized on their opportunities and we didn't."

Surging Stars -- Earlier this season they were plummeting toward the bottom of the Western Conference, but the Dallas Stars have recovered to play like the team that came within a round of the Stanley Cup Final last season. They soundly defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 7-3 at Nationwide Arena and find themselves tied for sixth with several other teams.

"The way the team's banded together to play a certain way is most important," goaltender Marty Turco said. "We're going to need to continue to do this. Even tonight when (Columbus) started scoring you didn't see too much panic in our game."

The Stars established themselves early, jumping to a 3-0 lead before the game was 11 minutes old and sending top Calder Trophy candidate Steve Mason to the bench one night after he recorded his League-leading seventh shutout against Ottawa. The Jackets rallied within 3-2, but James Neal's second goal of the game started Dallas back in the right direction.

"We were opportunistic and they pushed back," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "Neal's goal to get it to 4-2 was a huge goal. Any time after that they had any little push we were able to bump it and get one back on the board and push the game along."

Dallas pulled even with Columbus in the standings with 53 points. Edmonton, Phoenix and Minnesota are also tied for the final three playoff spots.

"A complete defensive breakdown -- there's no surprise or secret out there," Columbus defenseman Mark Methot said. "It was embarrassing."

Accelerated development -- Luke Schenn didn't even celebrate his 19th birthday until a month into the season, but the Toronto Maple Leafs' top pick in last June's Entry Draft has come a long way in a short amount of time. In the coming weeks, the team will need him more than ever.

With Tomas Kaberle out around four weeks with a broken bone in his right hand, Schenn played one of his better all-around games of the season in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre.

"He's ready to play every night," said Jason Blake, who scored the winning goal with 9:55 left in the third. "It's good to see, I'm happy for him. I'm happy for the progress he's made throughout the year and obviously the only thing that's going to come is (him getting) even better. He's definitely got a great future ahead of him."

Schenn's responsibilities against the Penguins included defending against the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin line and standing up for himself when challenged after a stoppage in play by Tyler Kennedy. At least one teammate on the Leafs' blue line sees it as only a matter of time before the rookie grows into a veteran with the "C" on his jersey.

"He's definitely got the makings of a leader," Mike Van Ryn said. "When they say he's a future captain, he definitely is. He asked me the other day if it was OK that he spoke and I think it's good that he does. He speaks at the right times and his play has been great."

Thanks, guys -- Cam Ward practically had a night off.

The Carolina Hurricanes limited the Atlanta Thrashers to just 19 shots in a 2-0 victory at RBC Center. It was Ward's second shutout in two weeks.

But even though Ward was required to work about as hard as Paris Hilton, the Hurricanes goaltender was sharp when called upon. Carolina has won four of its last five games, while the Thrashers -- who allowed 40 shots -- have dropped four straight.

''Typically, for a goaltender, these can be tough games, when you're only facing 19, 20 shots,'' said Ward, who made his 16th consecutive start. ''But I felt sharp all night despite not getting much work.''

Meanwhile, some players in Atlanta's locker room are getting awfully frustrated. Combined with the New York Islanders' 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers, the Thrashers are four points from the bottom of the NHL standings.

"I'm getting tired of talking about the starts we've been having,'' Atlanta center Bryan Little said. ''Each game we say we have to have a good start and each game we don't. ... I don't know what it's going to take to get back to playing a full 60 minutes.''

Heating up -- Thanks to goaltender Chris Mason, the St. Louis Blues are in the midst of a nice little run.

Mason stopped all 35 shots he faced for his 15th career shutout, as the Blues earned an impressive 4-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Scottrade Center. St. Louis is now 4-1-1 in its last six games.

''They're blocking shots, letting me see pucks, clearing rebounds, letting me know where pucks are," said Mason, who has three victories during this stretch and has allowed only two goals in his last three starts. "I think it's a combination of everyone kind of getting better as we go here.''

 Mason even chipped in offensively. The Blues goaltender -- who is not known for his stickwork -- sent a long pass to Alexander Steen that led to a 2-on-0 with David Backes, and the latter beat Antero Niittymaki to make it a 3-0 game.

''They probably read the scouting report. They know I don't play the puck a lot,'' Mason said. ''All their guys changed and usually that doesn't happen. I just looked up and all their guys went to the bench and I saw (Steen) hustling across the line and I just fired it up. He did the rest.''

Making, not breaking -- The Buffalo Sabres fully understand this is a pivotal point in their schedule, and they're playing with urgency.

Ryan Miller made 28 saves for his fourth career shutout, while Tim Connolly tallied his fourth goal in three games in a 2-0 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena.

The Sabres have won five of their past seven games and finished the month of January with a 9-4-0 record. Ten of the 13 games were played in facilities not named HSBC Arena.

''It's something we identified on the schedule as being very important to our season,'' said Miller, who denied Coyotes captain Shane Doan of a shorthanded goal in the second period. ''It was going to be make or break and we had to survive it.''

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was happy to see how his team got better as the game wore on. Buffalo allowed 15 shots in the first period, but only 13 over the final 40 minutes. It also killed seven Phoenix power plays.

''The second and third (periods) we had a good effort from the guys,'' Ruff said. ''Defensively and offensively we locked in pretty good and frustrated them for 40 minutes.''

A long time coming -- It took nearly six years, but the Chicago Blackhawks finally found a way to beat the Sharks in San Jose. Because of that, they're being rewarded with a day off in Las Vegas.

''We can be happy about this win and celebrate it the next few days,'' Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after scoring twice in the 4-2 victory at HP Pavilion. ''We played a solid game from start to finish and now it's time to take our game to another level.''

Until Saturday night, Chicago hadn't won in San Jose since March 17, 2003 -- and had lost 13 in a row to the Sharks overall. It was a tremendous way to respond after dropping a 5-2 decision at Los Angeles on Thursday. It marked just the second time the Sharks lost on home ice in 27 games this season.

''The tempo of the game was in their favor and special teams were in their favor,'' San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. ''We're going to put our work boots back on and do a lot of skating.''

Meanwhile, Patrick Sharp has other plans for Super Bowl Sunday.

''Watch some football and go to the spa,'' he said.
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report

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