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Roundup: Blackhawks increase lead in Central

by Brian Compton and Brian Hunter /
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville knew his team would have to put forth a 60-minute effort on Saturday if it had any hope of increasing its lead in the Central Division to six points.

That's exactly what he received from his club.

The Blackhawks fired 40 shots and goaltender Cristobal Huet made 25 saves en route to a convincing 4-1 win against the Nashville Predators at the Sommet Center in the first of a home-and-home series between the first- and second-place teams.

"It was an important game for us and we responded," Quenneville said. "We did a lot of things right. I thought we got to the net well. I thought we moved the puck well. Every line was contributing. We were good in all areas."

The teams will meet again in Chicago on Sunday night, when the Blackhawks will have a chance to extend their lead to eight points. Chicago, which received goals from Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp, is 16-4-1 on home ice.

"When you play back-to-back games winning the first one is always nice," Huet said. "I think we can expect a little more from Nashville when we play them again."

Despite being outshot 15-8 in the opening period, the Preds managed to erase a 1-0 deficit on Martin Erat's goal 7:38 into the second. But Kane, Ladd and Sharp scored just 6:21 apart later in the period to put the game out of reach. Nashville went 0-for-3 on the power play.

"There has to be more urgency and more fire in the belly," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "It was not just another game against Chicago. It's not one of 82. You are battling for something. If we're not battling then our expectations for ourselves are too low."

Jonathan Toews and Tomas Kopecky each had two assists for the Blackhawks, who wrap up their season series with the Preds on Sunday night in the Windy City.

"It's fun to see guys get scoring chances," Towes said. "What makes our team dangerous is you can't just key on two or three guys, especially forwards.

"All four lines were producing. This was one of those games where we needed an effort from everybody. We are going to have to give an even better effort Sunday night."

Senators 3, Sabres 2 (SO) | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Days don't come much worse than the one Ottawa had on Wednesday, a six-goal loss to Pittsburgh in which the Senators also lost captain Daniel Alfredsson for 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder.

But they bounced right back Saturday, edging Northeast Division-leading Buffalo at HSBC Arena in the shootout despite their plane not arriving until around noon Saturday due to freezing rain that delayed the flight.

"It was a different day today," said Pascal Leclaire, who made 20 saves before stopping Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly in the penalty-shot tiebreaker. "With our key guys missing, we obviously have to step up a little bit. Everybody goes through it, but it's up to the guys that are playing to raise our game a little bit."

Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher scored in the shootout for Ottawa, while Ryan Shannon and Chris Neil had goals 50 seconds apart in the second period.

"We came out with a lot of energy," Fisher said. "We pressed their defensemen, and they didn't have much time. They turned the puck over and we capitalized on that. If it wasn't for Miller we'd have had a few in the first."

Vanek and Jason Pominville scored late in the second to rally the Sabres, who received 39 saves from Ryan Miller. The goalie stood tall during the opening period, keeping the game scoreless despite the Senators enjoying a 19-1 advantage in shots.

"We can't react to teams and what they want to do," Miller said. "We have to dictate play. A point's OK. When you get to a shootout it's a toss-up."

The Senators, who will play for the foreseeable future without Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who has a knee injury, finally broke through against Miller when a Kovalev pass from the right circle went off Shannon's stick and the body of Sabres defenseman Steve Montador at 5:15 of the second. They quickly doubled their lead when Neil scored off a rebound.

Vanek beat Leclaire on a slap shot from the right faceoff dot with 2:45 left in the period and Pominville converted a 4-on-3 power play with 41.9 seconds remaining to send the two teams into the third all tied up.

In the end, Ottawa would pull out its seventh consecutive win over Buffalo, pulling to within six points of the Sabres in the Northeast.

"We play them tough, and we play them well," Fisher said. "We seem to not give them a whole lot. We're ready for the challenge against them."

Flyers 4, Hurricanes 3 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

A grand return to Carolina for Michael Leighton turned sour in a hurry. But the veteran goaltender recovered after a three-goal, third-period lead slipped away and helped Philadelphia pick up its second win in a row.

Danny Briere and Mike Richads scored in the shootout and Leighton stopped former teammates Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen as the Flyers climbed a little higher in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

With Ray Emery sidelined indefinitely after abdominal surgery and Brian Boucher nursing a cut to his hand, Leighton has started in wins over Tampa Bay and Carolina. He started the season playing for the Hurricanes but was claimed off waivers by the Flyers after Cam Ward returned from injury.

"They know me, I know them, so I know their moves and they know what I do," Leighton said.

Jokinen, who had been 4-for-6 this season and is the all-time leader with 26 career shootout goals, had Leighton beat in the second round but rang his shot off the post. Richards then beat Ward to clinch the victory.

"(Jokinen) does that move every time. I knew it was coming," Leighton said. "It's just hard to stop."

When Briere scored a power-play goal nine minutes into the third period, Philadelphia had a 3-0 lead. Richards and Jeff Carter had beaten Ward in the first to build an early lead for the Flyers.

But Jokinen scored just 24 seconds after Briere, and all of a sudden Carolina was on the comeback trail. Brandon Sutter brought the Hurricanes to within one on a power-play goal with 4:02 left and Jokinen added his second of the game 49 seconds later.

"We know (Leighton) hasn't played that much hockey this year, and his confidence can't be too high, so just shooting lots of pucks, we were able to find some ugly goals, which we haven't been able to do this year," Jokinen said.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who led the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, faced them for the first time since being fired last season. The third-period comeback hardly surprised him.

"When you give up the next goal like that, it's easy for the momentum to switch," he said. "And it did, and you could kind of feel it coming. Carolina's notorious for that -- being down and never being out of a game."

Red Wings 2, Blue Jackets 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

In a season plagued by injuries and scoring woes, the addition of Todd Bertuzzi is a huge reason why Detroit is treading water in the Western Conference playoff race.

Bertuzzi scored both goals Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, giving him 12 for the season. He has 23 points in 38 games. Jimmy Howard turned aside 28 shots and the Red Wings snapped a three-game skid that included getting shut out twice by the Central Division rival Blackhawks. They finished the night a point behind Vancouver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

"Everyone knows where we're at and this team isn't very familiar with the position we are in," Bertuzzi said. "There are only so many excuses. It's up to us in here to get the job done and get on that playoff ladder and then wait for reinforcements to come."

Antoine Vermette opened the scoring in the first period for Columbus, which went on to lose its ninth straight. The Blue Jackets have dropped 17 of 19 overall and extended their road losing streak to 11 games.

"Obviously, it's a struggle for us right now," veteran forward Fredrik Modin said. "We're trying for anything positive to build on here."

Vermette's goal seemed to be a good starting point. Jakub Voracek intercepted a Derek Meech turnover in the Detroit end and took a shot from the right circle. Howard stopped it but Vermette netted his 11th of the season off the rebound with 7:50 left in the first.

The Wings saw their scoreless streak reach 167 minutes, 38 seconds before Bertuzzi tied the game 6:38 into the second on a power play. After taking a Pavel Datsyuk pass, he cut in off the left wing, put a move on Jackets goalie Mathieu Garon and backhanded the puck into an empty net as he cut across the slot.

Bertuzzi then gave Detroit its first lead in just over 201 minutes when he put in the carom of a Brian Rafalski shot off the end boards into another wide-open net 2:44 into the third.

"That was quite a quality bounce there. A pretty lucky play," Bertuzzi said. "I was fortunate to be there, but I will take it. I am happy we got this win, now we've got to get ready to go to the Horseshoe (the Red Wings complete a home-and-home in Columbus on Monday night) and win again."

"I don't think Todd is going to get an easier goal," Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore said.

Lightning 4, Thrashers 3 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Mike Lundin said he was "relieved" to finally net his first NHL goal. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, got a much-needed win coming out of the break before a post-holiday St. Pete Times Forum crowd.

Alex Tanguay and Ryan Malone scored 1:41 apart in the third period as the Lightning snapped a 2-2 tie and won for just the fourth time in 15 games. The talk after the game was Lundin, just recalled from Norfolk of the AHL, who scored for the first time in 111 games with the big club.

"Relieved, I guess," Lundin said. "Pure joy to get it."

He gave Tampa a 2-1 lead 4:44 into the second by scoring from the low slot off a pass by Vincent Lecavalier, who finished with three assists.

"I didn't know if I was going to get called up again or not this year, and all of a sudden get my first goal," Lundin said.

Nik Antropov, Marty Reasoner and Ilya Kovalchuk had goals for Atlanta, which had won all seven of its games this season when tied after the second period.

"We played a good game and then we stopped playing for whatever reason," said Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who made 30 saves. "I don't know what's going on. It's almost every game like that."

Antropov and Steve Downie traded goals in the first, while Lundin and Reasoner did the same in the second.

Tanguay scored the go-ahead goal 5:04 into the third, taking Downie's pass and beating Pavelec from in close. Malone's insurance goal would turn out to be the game-winner after Kovalchuk beat Mike Smith with 3:10 remaining. Smith would finish with 24 saves in a winning effort.

"If we're going to play the same way like that, we're going to be out of that (playoff) picture," Kovalchuk said. "We need to wake up and play as a team. It can't be one guy or two guys or three guys."

Wild 4, Blues 3 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

St. Louis' bid to go 4-0 on its four-game road trip came up a tad short.

Guillaume Latendresse scored twice and Niklas Backstrom faced only 18 shots as Minnesota edged the Blues at the Xcel Energy Center.

Acquired on Nov. 23 from the Montreal Canadiens, Latendresse has six goals in 13 games for the Wild, including four in his last four contests. He scored 46 goals in his first three years in Montreal, but had three points in 23 games for his hometown Habs this season.

"I didn't have a lot of ice time. I was a third-line or fourth-line player playing maybe 10 minutes a game. I was averaging 15 goals a year," he said. "Here I get the opportunity to play with some great players. I get a lot of ice time, so I'm happy to have the opportunity to produce."

Andy McDonald and David Perron scored for the Blues, who earned victories in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in the first three games of their trip. Saturday's loss was just their seventh in 18 road games.

"It was the kind of game where whoever got that next goal, it was going to be a big one, and they found a way to get that one," Blues coach Andy Murray said.

Latendresse opened the scoring 14:55 into the first, but McDonald evened things up with his 10th goal of the season at 12:52 of the second in a 4-on-4 situation. But Minnesota responded with two goals early in the third from Shane Hnidy and Kim Johnsson to grab a 3-1 lead.

"Shane Hnidy can really shoot a puck. What he showed on the play was just great patience," Wild coach Todd Richards said.

Perron cut the lead to 3-2 with 6:56 remaining, but Latendresse tallied his second goal of the night when he poked a rebound past Chris Mason (16 saves) at 16:19 for the seventh two-goal game of his career. Patrik Berglund scored with 1:40 to go, but the Blues failed to notch the equalizer.

"We got away from our structure a little bit and gave them too many easy opportunities. Some bad changes and some bad puck support all over the ice kind of led to some of their goals," said Blues defenseman Erik Johnson.

Avalanche 4, Stars 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Four days after squandering a two-goal lead in the final 7 1/2 minutes of regulation in a stunning loss to Anaheim, Colorado skated past Dallas at the Pepsi Center before 18,007 -- the first sellout since opening night.

"We've responded all year any time where we felt we didn't play well as a group, which really hasn't happened too many times," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We've always come back and responded with a good, solid effort, and I thought tonight's game was no different."

The Stars managed to draw within 2-1 at 7:44 of the third period on a goal by Steve Ott, whose backhander from inside the left hash marks eluded Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj, who made 39 saves.

But the Avalanche responded at 13:34 when Chris Stewart led a 2-on-1 rush with Wojtek Wolski. Stewart skated into the lower left circle and fired the puck past goalie Alex Auld, who started because Marty Turco was ill. He finished with 29 saves.

"The downfall of our team has been (trying to protect) 2-1 leads in the third period when we've failed to put the nail in the coffin," said Stewart, who added an empty-net goal with 57.5 seconds remaining. "I gave (Auld) a shoulder fake, he went down, and I shot it."

Budaj, who made his first start since Dec. 9, stopped 16 shots in the third period. He made a highlight-reel save when he gloved defenseman Jeff Woywitka's shot on a 4-on-1 rush.

"I was seeing the puck really well tonight," Budaj said. "It feels good and hopefully I can keep it up that whenever I get the chance to play, I can help the team win and show the coaching staff that they can play me. I feel good right now, but it's a reflection of the entire team in front of me."

Chris Durno gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead at 6:04 of the first period when his attempted pass for Cody McLeod from behind the net hit Auld and caromed across the goal line for his first NHL goal.

"It felt amazing," said Durno, 29, who has played in 15 NHL games. "It is something that you work to get for a long time. To finally get it, words cannot describe it."

Canucks 4, Oilers 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

Daniel Sedin had a power-play goal and two assists and twin brother Henrik had a goal and an assist as Vancouver cruised past Edmonton at GM Place. Ryan Kesler and Christian Ehrhoff also scored for the Canucks, who received a 24-save performance from Roberto Luongo and completed their eight-game homestand with a 6-2-0 record.

"We needed this win," Luongo said. "We've got four games on the road here coming up, so we really wanted to end this homestand on a win. At the end of the day, the two points is all that matters."

Ryan Potulny scored the lone goal for the Oilers (15-19-4), who have lost six in a row and have the fewest points in the Western Conference.

Early in the second, the Oilers gave the Canucks a 5-on-3 power play when Ethan Moreau was called for goalie interference and Potulny took a delay-of-game penalty.

Daniel Sedin opened the scoring off a pass from Henrik Sedin, firing a shot in off Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray. Eighteen seconds later, with Potulny still in the penalty box, Kesler deflected Alex Edler's point shot past Jeff Deslauriers to make it 2-0.

"Not a very good job," Edmonton coach Pat Quinn said. "There seems to be loose pucks around the front (of the net). Until that point, it was a pretty good hockey game from our standpoint. The result at the end of the game is another loss. They're getting tough to handle."

Potulny cut Vancouver's lead to 2-1 via the backhand at 11:22 of the second, but Ehrhoff restored the Canucks' two-goal edge 3:23 into the third. Henrik Sedin sealed the deal with an empty-net tally in the final minute. It was his 17th goal of the season.

"The execution and the intensity was much better in the second period," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our power play, obviously, got us on the right track. The third period, we just kept at it and got the goal that sort of broke their back."

Sharks 5, Ducks 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Patrick Marleau scored twice -- including his 300th NHL goal -- and Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves for his 20th win of the season as San Jose handled Anaheim at HP Pavilion for its fourth straight victory.

Kyle Chipchura and Bobby Ryan scored for Anaheim (15-16-7), which lost star center Ryan Getzlaf in the second period with a leg laceration. He is listed as day-to-day.

"We had all kinds of shots," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "On one power play we had six scoring chances. We just didn't find a way to put it over the line. That's the difference with a 2-0 game. It makes it 2-1 and then we get back into it."

Marleau scored the milestone goal at 2:15 of the first period, when he took a pass from Dany Heatley and ripped a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere for his 24th tally of the season.

"It's a good feeling," Marleau said. "Everyone still wants to win that championship, so I'd trade those in for a ring any day."

Marleau added No. 301 on a power play with 4:41 left in the period when he controlled Heatley's rebound and poked it past Giguere. Four of Marleau's 25 goals this season have come against the Ducks.

"Three hundred goals is quite an accomplishment," center Joe Thornton gushed. "I can't say enough about Patrick. He's played great since Day One for this team."

Heatley added his 23rd goal of the season at 7:41 of the second period when he put his own rebound past Giguere. Thornton assisted on the first three goals to push his NHL-leading total to 44. He also leads the League with 54 points.

San Jose made it 5-0 with two quick goals by Ryane Clowe and Jamie McGinn midway through the second. The Sharks improved to 6-0-0 when McGinn scores.

"The first 35, 40 minutes, we were the faster team," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We moved pucks, we came out of our end a lot cleaner. We did all of the things we want to do on a nightly basis."

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

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