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Senators blank Canadiens, pull even in Northeast

by Brian Hunter

Jason Spezza scored two goals and Martin Gerber stopped 28 shots for his second shutout, leading Ottawa to a 3-0 win over Montreal. Ottawa took over the division lead by virtue of their 40th win, one more than the Canadiens.
Watch highlights from the Senators' win
The Ottawa Senators served notice they aren’t relinquishing first place in the Northeast Division without a fight.

Jason Spezza scored two power-play goals and Martin Gerber made 28 saves for his ninth career shutout as the Senators skated into Bell Centre and beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Thursday night. The Senators, who led the division for most of the season until a prolonged slump and Montreal’s hot streak put the Canadiens on top, tied the Habs for the top spot with 87 points in 72 games — but have one more victory.

Antoine Vermette also scored as Ottawa won its third straight game.

"You don't want to put too much stock in one game, but it was an important game for us," Spezza said. "We were ready right from yesterday in practice; we were snapping it around pretty good. This morning we were pretty focused. From here on in they're pretty important games, so we've got to get ourselves geared up. I thought we played like a good, solid team and we played a playoff-type game."

Spezza continued his season-long scoring binge against the Canadiens. He has seven goals and 14 points in their six meetings, a big reason the Senators are 5-1-0 against Montreal. Daniel Alfredsson, who returned after missing four games with a back injury and set up Spezza’s first goal, has 12 points in the season series.

"I was pretty confident after the morning skate," Alfredsson said of getting back into the lineup. "It went pretty good, so it obviously was a lot of fun to get in there, especially getting a win."

Ottawa grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period when Spezza scored a power-play goal at 8:21. Montreal was penalized again late in the first and Spezza capitalized 27 seconds into the middle period with a tip-in from behind the net that went off Canadiens goalie Carey Price and into the net. A video review confirmed that Spezza’s stick stayed below the crossbar.

"I knew it was a goal for sure because the only way I could score that was if my stick's below the crossbar because I kind of whacked it out of the air off his back," Spezza said.

The Canadiens, used to hurting opponents with their League-leading power play, went 0-for-4 with the extra man and has trouble killing penalties.

"The special teams obviously played a big role," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "We didn't get our power play going the way we wanted and we didn't create those chances that we usually do. On the other hand, they scored two power-play goals and I thought that was the difference."

Vermette made it 3-0 with his 17th of the season, burying the rebound of Chris Kelly’s shot with 1:59 left in the second. That was more than enough offense for Gerber, who was making his seventh consecutive start and picked up his second shutout of the season.

"We really played good from the start to the end," Gerber said. "We really had a big team effort."

Devils 4, Wild 3, SO | Video
New Jersey was able to shake off a poor first period at Xcel Energy Center and a discouraging goal late in the second to win in a shootout and leapfrog over a pack of teams back into first place in the Eastern Conference.

Jamie Langenbrunner had the only goal in the shootout and Martin Brodeur stopped 34 shots for the Devils, who with 88 points are one ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division and also one up on the Penguins, Ottawa and Montreal in the East.

“We control our destiny in the last 11 games here,” Langenbrunner said after the Devils rallied from a 2-0 deficit. “We have to play better first periods coming down the stretch here — we’re not going to get away with doing that every night — but we can take the positive that we responded well in a big game and were able to get two points out of it.”

Vitaly Vishnevski and Brian Gionta erased the two-goal deficit in the second period, only to have Marian Gaborik put Minnesota back in front just 14 seconds before intermission. Dainius Zubrus tied it again at 5:31 of the third.

“We were a much better team the last two periods,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “Tough way to finish the second period, them scoring a goal like that with (14) seconds left, but guys obviously responded well. Big goal by Zubs, taking the puck to the net. And then obviously Marty played very well again.”

After Gionta and Zach Parise came up empty for the Devils in the shootout and Brodeur made saves on Pavol Demitra and Brent Burns, Langenbrunner started the third round by swooping in on Niklas Backstrom, making a couple of fakes and putting a forehand shot inside the right post. Brodeur then watched as former teammate Brian Rolston missed wide right with a slap shot on the Wild’s final attempt.

"It's just one of those things," Rolston said. "I know I've got to hit the net."

"Anytime we have Marty in net in the shootout," Langenbrunner said, "we like our chances."

Stephane Veilleux and Burns staked the Wild to an early two-goal lead. Veilleux beat Brodeur on the stick side at 3:26 off a pass from behind the net by Branko Radivojevic and Burns followed at 12:58 with a wide-open drive from the right dot.

The Devils, coming off a 4-0 loss in Montreal on Tuesday, hadn’t scored in more than four periods when Vishnevski got them on the board 5:43 into the second. Back in the lineup for the first time in nine games, the defenseman cut the deficit to 2-1 with a drive that grazed off the crossbar and past Backstrom.

Gionta took Jay Pandolfo’s cross-crease feed and put the puck into a yawning left side of the net at 13:46. Gaborik’s 35th of the season put Minnesota back in front, but Zubrus went hard to the net and drew New Jersey even once again.

Lightning 3, Bruins 1 | Video
While teams above them gained points Thursday night, Boston let an opportunity to solidify its playoff positioning slip away, falling to Tampa Bay at TD Banknorth Garden.

Jeff Halpern’s firs-period power-play goal and a second-period goal by Andreas Karlsson gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. Chuck Kobasew’s goal with 12:03 left was all the offense the Bruins could muster, and Vincent Lecavalier put the puck into an empty net with 7.8 seconds left as last-place Tampa won for the second time in three nights.

"It could have been very easy to just kind of call it a year and not work hard," Tampa defenseman Dan Boyle said. "We know our playoff chances are over but we want to prove to ourselves and the guys who are going to be here next year we're not going to accept another losing season again."

While the Lightning are all but mathematically eliminated, the Bruins have their sights set on the playoffs. But with 80 points they are only one ahead of Philadelphia for eighth, and five ahead of ninth-place Buffalo.

"At this point, no matter who you're playing, it's important," defenseman Aaron Ward said. "We've started looking at things from the perspective that every minute counts."

Boston goalie Tim Thomas returned to the net after three games of rest and turned aside 23 shots. He didn’t get much help from an offense that scored two non-shootout goals or less in eight straight games.

"It's down to crunch time, and we can't let this go on too much longer," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "When you don't score goals, every little mistake you make looks a lot bigger than it should be. ... "You've got to find a way to score goals. It's as simple as that."

Halpern made the Bruins pay for a penalty in the first period by scoring seven seconds into the man advantage. Halpern won a faceoff, then got into position to deflect Filip Kuba’s drive past Thomas at 7:41. Karlsson converted on a breakaway 7:43 into the second period.

Meanwhile, Mike Smith had a bounce-back game in net for the Lightning with 35 saves. After yielding 13 goals in losing his previous four starts, Smith was perfect until Kobasew tipped in Marco Sturm’s slap shot to cut Tampa’s lead in half.

"He answered the proper way," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "We defended very well but when we needed some saves Smitty was able to come up with them. He stood in there but I thought we did a very good job of limiting the quality scoring chances."

Thrashers 6, Flames 4 | Video
Atlanta can be a formidable spoiler when Ilya Kovalchuk is at the top of his game.

Kovalchuk scored three times and set up Bobby Holik’s game-winning goal with 3:47 left in regulation as the Thrashers rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits at Philips Arena and handed Calgary a potentially damaging loss.

Jarome Iginla tallied twice and the Flames also got goals from Daymond Langkow and Wayne Primeau, but they lost their second straight on a four-game road swing and let an important two points slip away in an increasingly tight Western Conference.

"It's a tough one to take. Anytime you have a 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 lead, that's a game you should win," Iginla said.

His coach agreed: "I think anytime you have a three-goal lead and don't defend it, it will hurt you," Mike Keenan said.

Kovalchuk, whose 48 goals are second in the League behind Alexander Ovechkin and only four off his career high, scored at 4:29 of the second period to start the Thrashers’ comeback. Colby Armstrong made it 3-2 just 19 seconds later, before Primeau gave the Flames a two-goal lead back with 7:21 left in the period.

Kovalchuk got Atlanta back within one before the end of the second, scoring a power-play goal at 17:36. After Chris Thorburn tied it midway through the third, Kovalchuk worked his magic in the final minutes. He set up Holik, who gave the Thrashers their first lead of the game at 5-4 with 3:47 remaining, then completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal with 1:01 remaining.

"What set it up was a great pass by Kovy,” Holik said. “I had all the time in the world and I shot it as hard as I could, as quick as I could.”

The Thrashers are still 14th in the East, but the comeback win lifted everyone’s spirits.

"It was tough. We were down three goals but we came back and showed a lot of character," Kovalchuk said. "It was good (to get the hat trick) but most importantly to win."

Kings 4, Predators 1 | Video
Nashville’s need for a victory wasn’t enough to overcome plucky Los Angeles and a pair of goals from Alexander Frolov.

Dustin Brown broke a 1-1 tie by scoring 5:02 into the third period and Erik Ersberg made 37 saves as the Kings disappointed the Sommet Center crowd by keeping the Predators two points behind Vancouver for eighth in the Western Conference.

''This is the playoffs for the Kings,'' Predators coach Barry Trotz said. ''We have been in their situation. There is not a better feeling for a team that is out of the running for the playoffs but to be able to anger or really disrupt a team that is still trying to make it. We knew they were going to come and play their hardest. The Kings deserved to win this game.''

Ersberg, who made 40 saves against Ottawa one week ago for his first NHL win and shutout, was again spectacular in earning two points for the Kings. He stopped all 18 shots he faced in the third, and Matt Ellis sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net with 1:53 remaining.

''I felt pretty good out there,'' Ersberg said. ''Obviously, I got lucky a couple of times. But if you are going to beat good teams you've got to have a little luck, too. My defense did a really good job. I saw almost every puck out there. It helps a lot of get that kind of support.''

Brown’s team-leading 30th of the season put Los Angeles in front for good. The goal was originally credited to Kevin Dallman, who fired a shot Brown deflected into the net past Nashville netminder Dan Ellis.

Frolov made it 3-1 midway through the third with his second of the game, redirecting Lubomir Visnovsky’s drive from above the left circle for his 23rd goal.

''Good things ended up happening for me,'' Frolov said.

Ersberg and Ellis were flawless until J.P. Dumont got the Predators on the board 8:50 into the second period when he picked up the rebound of an Alexander Radulov shot that Ersberg couldn’t control.

Frolov’s power-play goal with 1:17 left in the period tied the score. Derek Armstrong set up Frolov for a one-timer from the left of the slot that got past Ellis.

''We got a few breaks, but we earned them going to the net in the third period,'' Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford said. ''But I thought the big story for us was our goaltending and our penalty killing, which were extraordinary.''

Avalanche 5, Oilers 1 | Video
It wasn’t very long ago Colorado found itself on the outside looking in at the eight teams holding down Western Conference playoff berths.

Not only are the Avalanche now one of those teams, they’re in sole possession of first place in the Northwest Division with 84 points, two more than of Minnesota and Calgary, which both lost.

“We’re working real hard,” said rookie forward David Jones, whose second NHL goal highlighted a four-goal second period. “(We’ve got) a tough stretch of games coming up and what a better way to get us ready for the playoffs, so we’re real excited.”

Peter Budaj stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third period and finished with 23 saves to record his fifth win this season against Edmonton. Budaj has a 9-1-2 career mark facing the Oilers.

"You don't want to take anything away from Edmonton, but I think we were a better team," Budaj said. "Tremendous effort by everybody. It was a big win."

The Avalanche took control by scoring late in the first period and early in the second. Defenseman Jeff Finger got the Avs on the board with 1:08 left in the first, then Jaroslav Hlinka scored 18 seconds into the middle period when he stole the puck at the blue line and beat Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon. Tyler Arnason chased Garon from the net at 3:18 when he made it 3-0 with a power-play goal.

Sam Gagner scored with the man advantage at 7:31, giving Edmonton hope, but Jones restored the three-goal cushion at 14:16 with another power-play goal against Dwayne Roloson. Jones scored for the first time in the NHL on Tuesday against Atlanta.

“I thought he had a great game tonight,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought he was solid in all aspects of the game. I think he’s got a real good feel, natural instincts where to go around the ice. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s physical. He’s got a nice set of hands, too, so he’s had a very complete two games in a row.”

Wojtek Wolski would complete the scoring 1:36 later as the Avalanche won for the eighth time in nine games and captured their fifth straight at Pepsi Center. "We have not played well in this building," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "We looked sluggish, lethargic. When you have that problem, you have to rely on your smarts and play around your lack of energy. We made mistakes we haven't been making."

The Oilers’ Andrew Cogliano, who set an NHL record with overtime goals in three straight games entering Thursday, was held scoreless.

Coyotes 2, Canucks 0 | Video
With Phoenix in desperate need of two points to stay in the playoff picture, Ilya Bryzgalov more than delivered.

Bryzgalov stopped all 24 shots he faced for his fifth career shutout and the Coyotes got goals from Niko Kapanen and Daniel Winnik as they closed within three points of Vancouver for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

''Every game is do or die for us,'' said Bryzgalov, who has two shutouts since Phoenix claimed him off waivers from Anaheim in November. He also stopped 35 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory over Anaheim on Tuesday.

''Bryzgalov was sensational tonight,'' coach Wayne Gretzky said. ''He's the real deal. He's a pretty special young man, and he's made us a better team.''

Roberto Luongo was equally stellar in net for the Canucks, who would have virtually put the Coyotes away with a victory. Luongo made 43 saves, including a whopping 24 during a scoreless first period.

“He was outstanding,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said of Luongo. “It’s a matter of getting the offensive part of our game together. Hopefully with the right frame of mind, our guys will be able to get going.”

Martin Hanzal had a hand in both Coyotes goals.

Kapanen made it 1-0 on a power play midway through the second period. Hanzal set up Keith Ballard’s shot from the point, which was deflected in front of Luongo; Kapanen was able to scoop up the rebound and score from the left circle.

Winnik added an insurance tally 7:32 into the third after Hanzal stole a pass in the neutral zone and fed him for a shot from between the circles that easily beat Luongo.

''It's a playoff game, pretty much, for us,'' Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. ''We know that, and I'm sure they know that.''

“They found a way to take a lead on their power play, and our power play didn’t generate anything,” Vigneault said. “Their power play got them a big goal, and then they made us pay on a turnover.”

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

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