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Southeast: Anderson knows jobs are on the line

by Mike G. Morreale
Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson knows future jobs are at stake over the final two months of the season for his struggling hockey team.

"Jobs, especially mine, and I would think pride, are on the line," Anderson said. "We're all getting paid. We owe it to the Atlanta fans to play as good as we can."

The Thrashers, who entered the weekend with seven losses in their last nine games, dropped to 14th in the Eastern Conference with 43 points.

"I've never worried about my job because the only thing I can do is the best I can," Anderson said. "I'm trying to do that right now. As a coach I want to win every game. I'd like to win all 82 but that's not a reality. We're not going to sit back and say woe is me because nobody cares about us. We're the only people who care about us. We want to push on and win as many games as possible. I'm going to do my best for as long as I can here. I don't want to leave here; I like to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

To that end, Anderson admits his evaluation of the team and its players is a never-ending process.

"We always evaluate," Anderson said. "We try to look for what do we need to do to make us better more than anything. But if you ask some of the top teams, they're doing the same thing right now and that's tweaking to get it to the point where they can win some hardware."

Player support -- Whether or not the Tampa Bay Lightning make the playoffs this season, it appears one thing is certain -- players have the back of interim coach Rick Tocchet.

Tocchet was given the interim tag Nov. 14 after Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton dismissed coach Barry Melrose. Tampa Bay has gone 14-18-7 since Tocchet took over and the club entered the weekend 12th in the Eastern Conference with 49 points. Despite the sub-.500 record, there have been positive signs.

With Tocchet in command, the Lightning have improved in scoring (2.06 goals per game under Melrose, 2.53 with Tocchet), penalty killing (78.4 to 80.8), shots per game (28.8 to 29.5) and shots-against per game (35.7 to 32.1).

"I can't believe they haven't taken the interim tag off already, to be honest with you," veteran forward Mark Recchi said. "I just don't see anybody coming in here and doing a better job than he has done. He has made everyone accountable, and the way he has handled this says a lot about him and it says a lot about the players in this dressing room."

A decision on a permanent coach won't be determined until the season ends.

"At the beginning of the year there was a lot of stuff going on, but not any more," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. "Toc and the coaching staff are really trying to make it so that when we're in the locker room, we're talking about hockey and not anything else that goes on outside. We're thinking about our game, our next game, and go out there and practice hard."

Panther pride -- No one would have blamed Panthers left wing Richard Zednik if his mind began to wonder during a Feb. 10 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was exactly one year ago that the skate blade of a teammate cut Zednik's external carotid artery, leaving all who witnessed the horrible incident wondering if the 33-year-old Slovakian ever would play again -- or even survive.

"Fortunately I'm still playing hockey,'' Zednik said. ''I'm enjoying it right now, and like I said, the team's doing very well, so I just want to enjoy the hockey right now."

Instead of reflecting on the past, however, Zednik led the Panthers to one of their biggest comebacks in franchise history. After pulling the team even, 4-4, with 5:29 left in the third period, he sealed the deal 1:08 into overtime in a dramatic victory against the Leafs at BankAtlantic Center.

''To get the game-winning goal is a great feeling,'' Zednik said. ''It's amazing. It has been exactly one year, and to get a game-winning goal is great. After the second period I thought I needed to score two goals. I don't know why. When I got the second, it was like, 'Wow. This is amazing.'''

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the win was Florida's first three-goal, third-period comeback in franchise history.

''It's a great story,'' Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "From what he came back from, you wonder what you would do in that situation. He's had a battle the first half of the year, but he's starting to play the best hockey at least since I've been here. That's a good sign."

Zednik had 11 goals and 23 points in his first 43 games, including 4 goals, 2 assists and a plus-6 rating over four contests prior to Friday's game against the Rangers. Florida entered the weekend tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with Buffalo.

Olympic dreams -- Center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green of the Washington Capitals are aware of the fact the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver are just about a year away.

Backstrom, who entered the weekend second on the Caps with 56 points, would consider it a dream come true to play for his native Sweden. He already has represented his country in five international competitions, including the World Junior Championship twice and World Championship each of the past three seasons. Last year, he tied for third on the Swedish team with 7 points in nine games at the World Championship.

"I think it would mean a lot to play for your country," Backstrom told "If I make the team, I'd be very excited. I remember Sweden taking home the gold in 1994 and how great it was watching Peter Forsberg. I don't have any insight whether or not Forsberg will play for Sweden in the Olympics, but I know I'll be working hard to try and make the roster."

Green, who is in the midst of a career season with 21 goals and 49 points entering the weekend, realizes the challenges he'll be faced with in trying to make the cut for Team Canada's roster. He represented Canada in the 2008 World Championship and was the leading scorer among defensemen in the tournament with 12 points as Canada finished second.

"It would be a true honor to play for my country in the Olympics, and it's even tough for me to think about it," Green said. "It's almost like, now I know I'm working toward that goal and will be trying hard to get there.

"The greatest memories I have of watching Team Canada was Mario Lemieux and all those sweet moves -- incredible."

Going deep -- Carolina's trade for forward Jussi Jokinen from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 7 was more about acquiring depth for the stretch run than anything else.

Only time will tell whether the move will pay dividends for the Hurricanes, who entered the weekend ninth in the Eastern Conference with 59 points and coming off a successful three-game road swing during which the team scored victories in San Jose and Phoenix.

"Jussi is a skilled, two-positional player that will give us depth, whether at wing or center," Hurricanes President/General Manager Jim Rutherford said at the time of the deal. "He can play in all situations. He can help kill penalties, he can play the power play, he has had success in shootouts. He's an experienced NHL player, a young player coming into his prime. He should be a good addition for us and give up depth for the stretch run."

The Hurricanes dealt left wing Wade Brookbank, defenseman Josef Melichar and a 2009 fourth-round pick for the rights to Jokinen, who had 6 goals and 16 points in 46 games this season with Tampa Bay.

The native of Kalajoki, Finland, a 2001 sixth-round draft pick by the Dallas Stars, is in his fourth NHL season. He had not scored a goal in the 30 games since Rick Tocchet took over as coach in Tampa.

"He does a lot of different things," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "Of course, everybody knows he's a shooter in the shootout. Depth is a word you use sometimes when you talk about guys that play on your bottom. He's forward depth. He can span the first to fourth line."

Jokinen, who made his Hurricanes debut with an assist and 13 wins on 16 faceoffs in a 7-2 victory against Phoenix on Feb. 7, is the third Finnish player to arrive in Carolina over the last year, joining Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen. The trio played together in World Junior tournaments and World Championships.

"For me it helps to have a few other Finns here so I can ask some questions in my own language if I don't know something," Jokinen told the Hurricanes' Web site. "With Pitkanen, we played pretty much on the same team since we were between 15 and 20, so I know him very well. I've played a little bit on the same line with Tuomo -- he's a great player and I think those two guys have been a big reason why this team has been as good as it is."

Ice chips -- The Capitals claimed defenseman Staffan Kronwall off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 6. He's the younger brother of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. ... Thrashers forward Marty Reasoner and his wife, Katie, had their first child last Wednesday, a daughter, four days after the birth of Ilya and Nicole Kovalchuk's son, Philipp. ... The Panthers are second in the NHL with 12 different players (David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Cory Stillman, Michael Frolik, Gregory Campbell, Radek Dvorak, Bryan McCabe, Ville Peltonen, Keith Ballard, Richard Zednik) with at least 20 points. Florida also is second in the League with eight players who have recorded at least 10 goals (Booth, Horton, Stillman, Bouwmeester, Campbell, Frolik, McCabe, Zednik). ... Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun notched the 29th shutout of his career, stopping 42 shots Wednesday in a 5-0 win against Carolina -- the first time the Hurricanes have been shut out this season. ... Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo ranks first among NHL blueliners in game-winning goals (4), is tied for eighth in power-play goals (6) and is tied for ninth in total goals (9). ... Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour was back in the lineup Wednesday after missing two games with a groin injury. Brind'Amour played a little over 14 minutes, finishing with two shots and seven wins on nine faceoffs.

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