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Sharks on the prowl in the Pacific

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Sharks beat the Ottawa Senators last night 3-2 to climb closer to Dallas in the Pacific division. Watch Senators-Sharks highlights
Some random thoughts while the confidence rises in Detroit:

Here Come The Sharks -- The hottest team in the League took another step toward first place in the Pacific Division on Wednesday night.

Patrick Marleau’s goal at 3:05 of overtime pulled San Jose to within three points of the first-place Dallas Stars with a dramatic 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators at HP Pavilion. The Sharks jumped ahead of Anaheim and into second place in the division with the victory.

”We knew we could pick up some ground,” said Marleau, who has three goals in his last two games. “We’ve got to have everybody going.”

Ottawa, playing without captain Daniel Alfredsson due to sore ribs, mustered only 19 shots on goal. While they failed to gain a second point in the standings, the Senators did move ahead of Montreal in the Northeast Division. While the teams have the same amount of points (81), Bryan Murray’s club has one more victory than the Canadiens, who were idle Wednesday.

"I thought we played well defensively and we did a good job shutting down a strong team," Murray said. "I thought we played a solid game.”

Nobody Beats The Bryz -- The Phoenix Coyotes are still very much alive in the race to the postseason, and Ilya Bryzgalov, as usual, is a main reason why.

Entering Wednesday’s action with a 1.30 GAA over his last four games, Bryzgalov was sensational again in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. Bryzgalov finished with 20 saves as Phoenix pulled within three points of the eighth seed in the West. The Coyotes have not reached the postseason since 2002.

Bryzgalov

”Our goaltending has to be strong if we're going to make the playoffs,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “Bryzgalov has given us a chance. Our goaltending has been strong all year. That's why we're in this position.”

The Coyotes aren’t there yet, though, and coach Wayne Gretzky knows it will take an all-hands-on-deck approach if Phoenix intends on making the playoffs for the first time in six years.

”We've got our work cut out," Gretzky said. "There's a tough haul ahead. But the light at the end of the tunnel is strong. Nothing will be given to anyone."

Anybody else get pumped up when they hear Gretzky speak like that? It’s basically on par with Yoda’s conversations with Luke Skywalker. Work cut out for us, we have. Tough haul ahead, there is. … You get the idea.

Sweet Home Chicago -- They may be young, but the Chicago Blackhawks have played like a scrappy, veteran club as of late.

Dustin Byfuglien and Cam Barker each had two points, and Corey Crawford shut out the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his second NHL start as the Blackhawks beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 at the United Center on Wednesday night.

It marked only the second time the Ducks have lost since Teemu Selanne returned to the lineup. Chicago, meanwhile, has won three in a row to pull within four points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Blackhawks’ defense buckled down and allowed only 19 shots. Chicago, which had 16,666 in the crowd, the old standing-room-only number from Chicago Stadium, held a 14-3 edge in that department after the first period.

Crawford

"I wanted to go out and do my best," said Crawford, who had played just 44 minutes in relief this season. "I never expected this. They had no second chances. The guys played awesome in front of me and I could see the puck real well."

The only good news on the night for Anaheim was the return of All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger, who missed two games with a broken jaw.

”We didn't play to our level,” Pronger said. “When we don't do that, teams beat us. We did get some traffic in front, but (Crawford) was able to see everything, and they were able to box us out.”

Because of his injury, Pronger was forced to wear a face shield, which just didn’t seem right. Kind of like Drew Carey on The Price Is Right.

This Season, They Mean More -- Alex Ovechkin is pumped up about the fact his Washington Capitals are fighting for a playoff spot. The Buffalo Sabres learned that the hard way Wednesday.

The Hart Trophy candidate scored his League-leading 53rd and 54th goals of the season in Washington’s 3-1 win over the host Sabres. The victory pulled the Caps within three points of No. 8 Philadelphia in the East, as Ovechkin hopes for a chance to play for Lord Stanley for the first time in his career next month.

Unlike the past two seasons, Ovechkin’s tallies at this point of the year could be the difference between Ottawa and Aruba.

"The last two years, we didn't play for something. ... We started thinking about vacation," said Ovechkin, who has six goals and four assists in his last four games. "It's more interesting when you play for something."

Getting Strong Now -- Attention, readers: Please play the Rocky soundtrack in the background while reading this portion of the Water Cooler. Thank you.

Rafalski

They’ve struggled mightily since the All-Star break. Their double-digit lead in the Western Conference has been trimmed to as little as three points. But the Detroit Red Wings have carried on. They’ve been able to hang on to the No. 1 seed despite a funk that saw them lose 10 of 11 games.

And now, they’re getting healthy.

After missing the past eight games with a groin injury, defenseman Brian Rafalski returned to the lineup Wednesday night and promptly found the back of the net in the Wings’ 4-1 win against the St. Louis Blues. Rafalski became the second of four injured blueliners to return to Detroit’s lineup. Nicklas Kronvall returned last Friday, while Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios are expected back in the near future.

”Finally to have these two guys back, it really helps our defense,” Wings goalie Dominik Hasek said after facing only 19 shots against St. Louis. “Not only defense, but I would say, once we get to the puck, they can skate with the puck, they can move the puck very quickly and give it to the forwards. It looked like we didn't spend as much time in our zone. One of the reasons was because we moved the puck much, much faster than before.”

OK … cut the Rocky music.

Do We Really Have To Go? -- There’s something about Atlanta that brings out the best in Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal.

Staal

The All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player was at it again at Philips Arena on Wednesday night, as he scored twice and added an assist in a 6-3 win over the struggling Thrashers, who have lost eight in a row.

In 13 games in Atlanta, Staal has seven goals and 10 assists. The Hurricanes are 20-5-3 this season when he finds the back of the net.

”Personally, I have had some pretty good games in this building,” he said. “We needed to come in here and do a job. We need to make sure we stayed ahead of them.”

As Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg pointed out, lots of teams will be ahead of the Thrashers at season’s end unless they can figure out a way to turn things around quickly. Only Tampa Bay (59) has fewer points in the East than Atlanta’s 65.

“For some reason we got away from things we're supposed to do,” Hedberg said. “If we keep doing this to ourselves it's going to be a long end of the season."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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