and the Buffalo Sabres
turned boos to cheers — and kept their playoff hopes alive in the process.
The Sabres responded to being booed off the ice after the second period by scoring six third-period goals, three of them by Vanek, to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning
on Wednesday night. The win kept the Sabres just one point behind Philadelphia in the race for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
“I think the fans woke us up as we were leaving the ice,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff
said. “We deserved it. That was their way of waking us up.”
It worked, as the Sabres overcame a three-goal deficit for the first time since a 5-4 win over Toronto last March 23. It was Buffalo’s third come-from-behind win against the Lightning this season — and the second in which Vanek had a natural hat trick. He had two goals late in the third period before scoring the winner in overtime of a 4-3 victory at HSBC Arena on Feb. 20.
But for two periods, the teams’ roles appeared to be reversed — the Lightning, the last-place team in the East, was thoroughly outplaying the desperate Sabres. Vincent Lecavalier
scored twice in the second period to give the Bolts a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes, and the sellout crowd serenaded the Sabres with boos as they left the ice.
“We didn’t come out the way we wanted,” said Buffalo’s Jason Pominville
, who had the Sabres’ only goal through the first two periods.
But Pominville gave the Sabres a spark when he poked in Paul Gaustad
’s centering feed at 5:03 of the third period, and when Jochen Hecht
made it 4-3 just 16 seconds later with a snap shot from the right circle, the sellout crowd — quiet for most of the night — was roaring.
''It's a good thing they stuck around,'' Vanek said of the fans. ''We didn't make it easy for us, but it's good to know we can come back.''
Vanek tied it at 8:25 by tipping Derek Roy’s shot past Karri Ramo, then put the Sabres ahead at 13:14 by beating Ramo with a low wrist shot from the high slot. He completed his third hat trick of the season with 3:53 remaining when he batted a rebound out of the air and into the net after Ramo had stopped Roy’s shot.
Hecht added an empty-netter with six seconds remaining as Buffalo completed a four-game sweep of the Lightning this season. Vanek had three of the four game-winners.
''By far, tonight was the best comeback, given the time of year and how important this game was,'' Pominville said. ''This was the best comeback I've ever been a part of.''
In all, the Sabres scored on six of their last 10 shots while outshooting the Lightning 16-4 in the third period — a complete turnaround after they were outshot 8-2 by Tampa Bay in the second period.
''Everything just went their way,'' said Ramo, who made 25 saves, but received little support in the third period. ''Everything just went in the net.''
Third-period problems are nothing new for the Bolts: Tampa Bay has now been outscored 104-67 in the third period, and has lost 19 games when leading or tied entering the final 20 minutes.
''You can write the same story as the last time we were here: Third-period collapse,'' said Martin St. Louis, who had a goal and assist. ''It's a bad feeling.''
Tampa Bay also lost defenseman Paul Ranger, who didn't return after hurting his left shoulder with 8:06 left in the game after being checked from behind by Buffalo's Daniel Paille while chasing a loose puck in the corner of the Lightning zone.
Red Wings 3, Blue Jackets 1 | Video
Henrik Zetterberg really knows how to break out of a scoring slump. Zetterberg ended an eight-game goal drought with a natural hat trick in the third period as Detroit snapped a two-game losing streak and avenged a loss in Columbus on Sunday.
"He hadn't been scoring at the same rate as he normally does here lately," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "So it was good to see him get that one for us, and then get a couple more to solidify the win."
Columbus led 1-0 on Manny Malholtra’s goal at 7:05 of the second period before Zetterberg took over. He tied the game at 1-1 with a spectacular goal at 6:43 of the third period, when he took the puck from his own blue line into the Columbus zone, skated past defensemen Jan Hejda and Rostislav Klesla, then backhanded the puck past goaltender Fredrik Norrena.
Zetterberg put Detroit ahead with 1:54 to play, one-timing Pavel Datsyuk’s perfect pass into the net from the left circle for a power-play goal. He completed his third career hat trick 35 seconds later when he stripped the puck from Jiri Novotny in the neutral zone, skated in alone and faked Norrena out of position before putting the puck into an empty net.
"I picked it up and I think the goalie didn't think I had control of the puck," said Zetterberg, whose last hat trick came against Minnesota on Dec. 7. "He just came out, so I just took a step to the side and put it in from there.”
It was Zetterberg’s first goal since Feb. 29.
"Hank came up real big for us," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "A great individual effort on that first goal to get us back in the game and finally the power play had a goal, too. We had some chances, but he finally capitalized on one."
The win kept the Wings perfect on Wednesdays — they’re 12-0-0, the best record of any team on any day of the week.
The loss was another blow to the Blue Jackets’ fading playoff hopes. Columbus still has 77 points, seven points out of a playoff berth.
''We made a couple of mistakes and they wound up in the net,'' Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said.
Hurricanes 5, Thrashers 3 | Video
|Eric Staal scored his 35th goal of the season as the Carolina Hurricanes improved to 5-1-1 against Atlanta with a 5-3 victory over the Thrashers on Wednesday night.
Carolina took another step toward locking up the Southeast Division title by beating Atlanta for the third time during a hot streak that has seen the Hurricanes win 10 of their last 12 games. Eric Staal scored his 35th goal of the season and Sergei Samsonov had a goal and an assist as Carolina improved to 5-1-1 against Atlanta this season.
Despite the comparatively easy win, ‘Canes coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t thrilled with his team’s performance.
''We were on the short end of a few things — work ethic, determination, grit,'' Laviolette said. '
'As a whole, we need to be better than we were tonight.''
But so do the Thrashers — they’ve won just two of their last 15 games and are 14th in the East.
Trevor Letowski, Samsonov and Staal scored in the first 13:33 as the Hurricanes quieted the crowd at Philips Arena early.
Bryan Little and Steve McCarthy gave the Thrashers a spark with goals three minutes apart early in the second period, sandwiched around one by Carolina’s Joe Jensen, to cut the margin to 4-2. But Cam Ward, who finished with 31 saves, kept the Thrashers at bay before Erik Cole’s goal with 5:09 left in regulation made it a three-goal game again. Atlanta’s Slava Kozlov scored in the final minute.
''I was seeing the puck pretty well,'' Ward said. ''It's always good when you take an early lead in the game.''
The Hurricanes improved to 12-3-1 since team captain Rod Brind'Amour suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. Much of the credit belongs to Staal, who has eight goals and a League-high 26 points in 16 games since Feb. 14. The All-Star Game MVP has six goals and 12 points in seven games against the Thrashers.
''I could've played better tonight,'' Staal said. ''We had some guys step up and let us get the win.''
Hedberg played well despite allowing five goals, and Thrashers captain Bobby Holik said his teammates let their goalie down.
''We were disrespectful to our hardest-working player tonight, leaving him in there like that and to get peppered by great scoring opportunities,'' Holik said. ''I have nothing else to say about the game.''
Ducks 2, Stars 1 | Video
With the playoffs approaching, the defending Stanley Cup champs are playing at the level that carried them to the championship last spring. Todd Bertuzzi’s power-play goal with 27.2 seconds gave Anaheim a victory in Dallas.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped 20 shots as the Ducks improved to 15-3-1 in their last 19 games. They’ve passed Dallas for second in the Pacific Division and fourth in the West — which would give them the home-ice edge in the first round.
With Dallas’ Brenden Morrow in the penalty box, Bertuzzi took a backhander from below the right circle that snuck under goalie Marty Turco’s arm and trickled a few inches over the goal line.
''That was a goal-scorer's goal,'' Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ''I think it surprised Turco that he shot it from that position. That's what goal scorers do.''
It wasn't the prettiest of Bertuzzi's 240 career goals, but with regulation time winding down, he just wanted to get the puck on net.
''I didn't have a lot of time,'' Bertuzzi said. ''I just wanted to get it there as fast as possible.''
Turco blamed himself for the goal.
''It was a bad angle that I got a piece of, but it went in,'' Turco said. ''It's one I'd like to have back, but I can't. It was a save that needed to be made.''
Morrow scored a shorthanded goal in the first period for the slumping Stars, who lost their third in a row and are 1-6-0 in their past seven games. Scott Niedermayer tied it with a power-play goal 4:08 into the second period.
Dallas had been 5-1 against Anaheim this season and 8-1-1 in their past 10 meetings. The game was a possible first-round playoff preview.
''It's important with the way things have been going this year,'' Giguere said. ''It was good we beat them here. Most likely we're going to see them in the playoffs. It's going to be a good battle.''
Blackhawks 5, Capitals 0 | Video
|Former Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito hugs his brother Phil while being honored before Chicago's game against Washington. Chicago went on to defeat the Capitals, 5-0.
Nikolai Khabibulin did Tony Esposito proud. On a night when the Blackhawks honored their Hall of Fame goaltender, Khabibulin stopped 25 shots in his first start in a month to keep the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes alive.
''When we have a ceremony like this, it's nice to win a game,'' said Khabibulin, who hadn’t started since Feb. 20 due to back spasms. ''Even better that it was Tony and even better that it was a shutout.”
Khabibulin preserved the shutout with a spectacular, diving stop on Alexander Semin’s blast from the right circle with three minutes to play.
''That was a big save, one of the best I've seen all year,'' Chicago rookie Patrick Kane said.
Khabibulin also got a lot of help from his defense, which limited Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s top goal-scorer, to two shots on goal.
''The guys in front of me did a good job,'' Khabibulin said. ''When Ovechkin is on the ice, obviously he's a force out there. Usually he has five, six, seven shots and tonight he only had two.''
The Blackhawks made it easy for Khabibulin by beating Olaf Kolzig four times in the first period, ending the Capitals’ four-game winning streak and keeping the Caps two points behind eighth-place Philadelphia in the East.
"We had a gear missing and they played well," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team won 4-2 at Nashville on Tuesday. "I just think we had a real stinker. We stunk in the first period.”
Jason Williams, Jonathan Toews, Yanic Perreault and Patrick Sharp scored in the first period for Chicago. Rene Bourque added a second-period goal for the Blackhawks, who snapped a four-game losing streak at home. The Hawks have 77 points, seven out of the last playoff berth in the West.
“We just want to win every game and see what happens,” Khabibulin said.
Esposito, who played in 873 games for the Blackhawks from 1969 to 1984, posted a team-record 418 wins. His No. 35 is one of five retired by Chicago. Esposito, selected an "ambassador" by the Blackhawks earlier this season, was joined by his older brother and Hall of Fame forward, Phil, during the pre-game ceremony.
"It's an honor to be here with the new, young vibrant Hawks," Tony Esposito said. "I know they're going to get better and we're all going to fill this building."
Sharks 4, Wild 3, SO | Video
San Jose became the second team to clinch a playoff spot when Jeremy Roenick scored the deciding goal in the third round of the shootout. The Pacific Division leaders improved to 13-0-1 in their last 14 games and remained five points ahead of second-place Anaheim, which won at Dallas.
But the Wild, which stretched its lead in the Northwest Division to three points over Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado was far from unhappy despite losing its seventh in a row to the Sharks.
“It was fine to get a point here,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “It was kind of a funny game, but it was a big point for us. We played really hard.”
The Sharks looked like they would skate off with their second win in two nights and 13th in 14 games when Joe Pavelski broke a 2-2 tie by scoring with 2:02 left in regulation. Pavelski beat Niklas Backstrom after Milan Michalek stole the puck and fed a pass to the side of the net.
“Milan made a great play to poke it out,” Pavelski said. “I just turned and fired.”
But Gaborik, who scored a power-play goal at 5:49 of the third period to tie the game at 2-2, forced the overtime by scoring his second of the night and 38th of the season. Just 11 seconds after Christian Ehrhoff was called for hooking and with Backstrom on the bench for an extra attacker, Gaborik took a pass from Brian Rolston and ripped a 40-foot slap shot from the left point that went through a screen and past Evgeni Nabokov.
“We gave up one, and that could have brought us down a little bit,” said Rolston, who had two assists. “But we came back and got one at the end. We feel good about our effort.”
After a scoreless overtime, Pavelski scored on the first round of the shootout, but Brent Burns tied it by beating Nabokov on the second round. However, Backstrom couldn’t hold Roenick’s wrist shot, and Nabokov gave the Sharks the win by stopping Mikko Koivu’s backhander.
“The momentum shifted all night long,” Pavelski said. “We gave up a couple of leads, which you never want to do — especially late in a game. But we got the two points.”
Roenick opened the scoring at 17:54 of the first period with his 12th of the season, finishing off a scintillating three-way passing play by slamming home a perfect feed from Patrick Marleau.
Minnesota tied it 49 seconds into the second period when Stephane Veilleux redirected Kurtis Foster’s shot behind Nabokov, but Curtis Brown put a backhander behind Backstrom at 3:38 to put the Sharks back in front.
Foster was injured later in the period when he was pushed into the boards behind the Minnesota net by San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell while trying to negate an icing. Foster had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher, and the Wild said he will have surgery to stabilize a broken femur in his left leg.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.