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Sabres gut out emotional win

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts … not about hockey for a change, but for the community of Buffalo and the families and friends of those lost in Thursday's crash of Continental Flight 3407:

A win amid the loss -- Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their shootout win Friday night was that it must have required every last little bit of whatever the Buffalo Sabres had left following a trying 24-hour period.

Many of the players live in the surrounding community where Continental Flight 3407 went down late Thursday night, killing all 49 people on board and one more on the ground. The team decided to go ahead with Friday's game against the San Jose Sharks, and proceeded to put on a show by blowing a three-goal lead, rallying to tie in the final seconds of regulation and then prevailing 6-5 on Derek Roy's goal in the fifth round of the shootout.

"We needed it for our fans," said coach Lindy Ruff, who lives in the area and heard the sirens from his house. "A lot of good things happened in the game and I'd like to leave it at that."

One of the players instrumental in the win was defenseman Craig Rivet, who proved himself to be a true captain with a three-assist night. That included taking the shot that Jason Pominville deflected past Evgeni Nabokov with four seconds left to force overtime.

"Obviously, it's been a real tough day for all of Buffalo," said Rivet, who was dealt by the Sharks to the Sabres last summer. "Tonight, I'm proud of our guys."

Joe Thornton had a four-assist night to lead the Sharks back and put them in position for two points before the Sabres' late heroics. Despite seeing his team drop to 1-0-3 on a five-game road trip that ends Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, coach Todd McLellan was able to put the game in the proper perspective.

"The community is in mourning right now," McLellan said. "It was an entertaining game. Anybody who came here probably got their mind off very serious issues."

Welcome back -- They got a couple of stellar performances by Dan LaCosta in his absence, but the Columbus Blue Jackets were still thrilled to welcome leading Calder Trophy candidate Steve Mason back between the pipes. The NHL's leader in shutouts acted like he hadn't missed a beat, making 32 saves to backstop a critical 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena.

"It's the best I've felt in a really long time," Mason said after missing three games due to mononucleosis. "I've a lot of pep back -- my attitude, my demeanor or whatever. I feel really good right now."


LaCosta beat the Sharks in overtime and blanked the Avalanche, but the Jackets were eager to turn the duties back over to Mason, whose seven shutouts and 2.09 goals-against average pace all goaltenders in the League. One of his best stops against the Wings came in the final minute when he stacked his pads to deny Henrik Zetterberg and earn the praise of the guy at the opposite end of the ice.

"He's good. He's real good," Chris Osgood said. "He kind of reminds me of Tom Barrasso when he used to play. He's real agile and has quick reflexes and he's big. He doesn't just rely on his butterfly. He moves around and makes some big saves."

Ex-Wing Jason Williams had the decisive goal with 6:55 left in regulation, then the Jackets relied on Mason to close the door.

"It was reassuring," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said of Mason's return.

Witness for the defense -- Add up the individual goal totals for the entire New Jersey Devils' defense corps and they still wouldn't match the output of Washington's Mike Green.

The Devils' blue line crew might not make highlight reels or feature a big-name player, but after he recorded his second consecutive shutout in a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins, goalie Scott Clemmensen said the group definitely has what it takes to get the job done down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't think they get enough respect or the respect that they deserve, because they are so solid," Clemmensen said. "They might not be flashy, but that's not what you need, that's not what we want here. The style of play that we have, the system that we have, if they're in good position and they just play solid and do their job and play well together, what more can you ask for?"
In making 31 saves and improving to 24-11-1 in his first season of regular action, Clemmensen relied heavily on the rapport he has built with his defense to keep a Boston offense that has put up the most goals in the Eastern Conference off the Prudential Center scoreboard.

"As a goalie, you don't worry about the other guys on the ice. You're aware of where they're at, but you basically play one guy at a time, the guy with the puck. I'll take the shooter, I'll let the guys play the pass," he said. "They do a great job of clearing out rebounds, clearing guys out, letting me see the puck, for one. It's just a trust factor and it obviously works well."

Playing the hot hand -- Richard Zednik has been scoring key goals of late for the Florida Panthers, so when their game against the New York Rangers went into a shootout coach Peter DeBoer elected to see if maybe he wasn't the answer to the team's season-long woes in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

Sure enough, Zednik solved Henrik Lundqvist in the fourth round, and combined with a perfect 4-for-4 effort from Tomas Vokoun at the other end, the Panthers earned a 2-1 win at BankAtlantic Center.

"We haven't had much luck in shootouts lately, so I thought I'd mix it up a little bit there and threw Richard in there," DeBoer said. "He's had a hot hand lately and he buried a big goal at a big time for us. He'll get another opportunity for sure."

Zednik had a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, in a 5-4 comeback win over Toronto on Tuesday. He scored again in a 5-0 thrashing of Carolina on Thursday. Facing one of the League's top shootout goalies, he elected to keep things simple and put a wrist shot between Lundqvist's pads.

"I saw an opening between his legs and I wanted to shoot it quick," Zednik said. "I didn't want to come too close and have him poke it away. I shot it a little early and it went in."

One they needed -- Everyone knows how jumbled the playoff picture in the Western Conference is, but the St. Louis Blues knew they were putting their position on the fringe at risk by blowing third-period leads and losing consecutive games.

When Brad Boyes got the Blues a goal in the opening minute of the third period, Chris Mason made sure it stood up. He turned aside all 22 shots he saw for a 1-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Scottrade Center, the second time this season Mason has shut out the 'Hawks.

"We've definitely played two great games against them as a team," said Mason, who also blanked Chicago 2-0 on Jan. 21. "They're a good team, so I wouldn't go saying (I have their number) yet."

Regardless of what words you chose to use, St. Louis coach Andy Murray knew one thing: His team needed to have this game. Considering the Blackhawks came in rested while the Blues suffered a demoralizing overtime loss in Nashville on Thursday, it wasn't going to be easy.

"I'm happy for the players," Murray said. "That was a pretty emotional game. There was a lot of energy. What we went through this week and to have the energy to play like we did tonight against a team that was practicing at our rink (Thursday) afternoon and having lots of fun and having dinner while we were fighting a battle in Nashville last night, to find a way to win it, we found a way."

Playing his part -- Big-time goal-scorer might not be part of his job description, but don't tell Joel Lundqvist that.

"I'm a forward, so I should score goals," said Lundqvist, who had played in 24 games for the Dallas Stars this season without netting one prior to Friday. "I haven't been able to find the net. So it's nice to finally get it. I didn't even remember the feeling. But I do now."

That's because the twin of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist beat a member of his brother's fraternity, Jason LaBarbera, for the deciding goal as the Stars edged the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 at American Airlines Center. With the two points, Dallas moved into fifth in the Western Conference.

"Joel had the injury earlier in the year and he's been snake-bitten around the net," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "It's nice to finally see him get one."

An ailing shoulder caused Lundqvist to miss 21 games in November and December. Now that he's back, he's eager to contribute to a Dallas squad on a 14-3-1 run at home.

Had to earn it -- Snapping a seven-game road losing streak wasn't bound to be a simple matter for the Montreal Canadiens or goaltender Jaroslav Halak. And so it went at Pepsi Center.

Halak made a career-high 46 saves, including three on breakaways, and Andrei Kostitsyn finally beat a personal nemesis in Peter Budaj for the go-ahead goal as the Habs doubled up the Colorado Avalanche, 4-2.

"It wasn't easy, it wasn't nice, but we got two points," Halak said. "It was a tough game because they were shooting from everywhere. That sharpened me up."

But the game was tied 2-2 in the final minutes of the third period when Kostitsyn broke in alone on Budaj. With the game on his stick, he put the puck between the goalie's pads with 2:16 remaining and Tom Kostopoulos later added an empty-netter to seal the win.

"I never got one by him before," Kostitsyn said. "I came in hard on the net, made a good move and got it past him. I got it past him."

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

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