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St. Louis wins fifth straight, moves into playoff position

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while I learn how to properly say Bemidji State:

Surprise! Blues in eighth -- With only six games remaining in their regular season, the St. Louis Blues have worked their way into one of the top eight spots in the ever-so-tight Western Conference.

Andy Murray's club made it five in a row  Sunday and moved into eighth placed in the West with an impressive 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

Patrik Berglund had a goal and two assists for the Blues, who will play five of their final six games on the road. Playing away from home surely didn't faze them Sunday.

''We got another two points and we're getting closer and closer,'' Berglund said. ''We want to be in the playoffs so bad. So we really haven't thought about how much we've been climbing, but obviously it's good. But we still have six games left.''

Columbus -- aiming to reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history -- is sixth in the West with 86 points, two points ahead of Nashville and three in front of St. Louis.

Chris Mason made 26 saves Sunday for the victory, the Blues' second-straight against the Blue Jackets. St. Louis earned a shootout victory Saturday on home ice against Columbus.

''I don't believe in momentum, because I don't know what it is,'' Murray said. ''I just know that every game and every sporting event stands on its own. You've got to go out and establish your own credibility. For us to win two games against them is gratifying because they're a really good team.''

Quality comeback -- Marian Gaborik is playing as if the talented forward didn't miss any time this season.

Gaborik scored what proved to the be game-winner 4:13 into the third period Sunday night, leading the desperate Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 victory against the just-as-desperate Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.

The win allowed the Wild to move within three points of eighth-place St. Louis in the Western Conference. Gaborik, who also had an assist, has four goals and three assists since returning to Minnesota's lineup March 22. His return couldn't have come at a better time, as the Wild are fighting for their playoff lives.

''We'll start with winning the next one," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We want the guys to get ready for the next game and focus on one game at a time and hope the teams that are ahead of us lose.''

And also hope that Gaborik's injury woes are a thing of the past. Obviously, his contributions are invaluable -- as are those of goalie Niklas Backstrom, who made 31 saves against the Oilers, including 14 in the third period.

"We were lucky that we had (Backstrom)," Lemaire said. "He was really on his game there. Especially at the end."

Wings lose … and clinch -- It certainly wasn't the way they drew it up, but the Detroit Red Wings won their eighth straight Central Division title Sunday.

Despite a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings were able to clinch the division thanks to Chicago's 4-0 loss to Vancouver.

While the feat is impressive, the Red Wings may have to tweak a few things before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Detroit has dropped two in a row and three of four.

''The bottom line is we got to find ways to win games and we're in it together,'' said veteran goalie Chris Osgood, who made 22 saves.

Detroit's sloppy play contributed to Nashville's final two goals. On Jerred Smithson's goal midway through the third period, Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Ericsson nearly collided in the neutral zone. Smithson capitalized on the turnover.

''We actually checked our own guy in the neutral zone on that one,'' said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who usually witnesses more Lions victories than turnovers in Detroit. ''We found a way to lose the game. That drives you crazy, especially this time of year. It's the time of year you want to be ramping it up.''

First of many -- It had eluded him since his arrival in Ottawa a few months ago, but rookie goalie Brian Elliott finally notched his first NHL shutout Sunday.

Elliott stopped all 20 shots he faced to lead the Sens to a 3-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. Elliott had come close six previous times but this time managed to keep the Lightning off the scoreboard until the final horn sounded.

''That's what you go for every night, so to finally get one, it feels pretty good,'' the rookie goalie said. ''I think it's satisfying for the whole team. We come out -- if we're ahead -- a little sloppy in the third and teams have taken advantage of that. I just had to make a couple of saves, and (my teammates) put the puck in the net pretty well tonight.''

The victory was Ottawa's 10th in its last 13 games. While the Sens are still 10 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, nobody in the locker room seems to be giving up.

''We still aren't eliminated mathematically,'' Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. ''Obviously that's something that we would like to get, but our focus is one game at a time and whatever happens, happens.''

Sending a message -- In a possible playoff preview Sunday night, the Vancouver Canucks showed the Chicago Blackhawks that advancing to the second round will be no easy task.

Daniel Sedin had two goals and an assist and Roberto Luongo picked up his seventh shutout of the season as the Canucks cruised to a 4-0 win at the United Center. With the win, Vancouver pulled even with Chicago at 91 points.

''We came in as possible match-up in the playoffs and we wanted to show we could win in this building,'' Daniel Sedin said. ''Our defense did a tremendous job. They have a bunch of really skilled guys. You're never going to shut them down, but you can limit their chances. I think we did a good job of that.''

Not only did the Canucks move into a virtual tie with the Blackhawks, but they also closed within a point of first-place Calgary in the Northwest Division. Vancouver is 7-2-0 in its last nine and 11-3-1 in its last 15.

''We wanted to make sure we came in here with a goal in mind, and that was to get the win,'' Luongo said. ''We didn't give them a lot of room to make plays. That was key, especially with the speed their forwards have.''

Back on track? -- For a while there, it appeared the Boston Bruins were going to cruise to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After all, they had won 10 in a row and 15 of 16.

But a bump in the road changed things a bit and allowed teams like the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals to stay in contention. After a few adjustments, though, the Bruins appear to be back on track.

Tim Thomas made 45 saves and Milan Lucic scored twice as the Bruins skated away with a 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center. It was Boston's third-straight win after a five-game losing streak.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Thomas said. ''Offensively we were opportunistic and scored some big goals and we're getting that part of our game together. We're making steps forward in the other direction, but I don't think anybody thinks that we're completely there. I think it's a step in the right direction.''

Boston coach Claude Julien agreed.

''I think our forecheck tonight was better than what we've seen in a long time,'' Julien said. ''We were much better defensively, obviously, and had much fewer breakdowns. We're establishing ourselves as a four-line team again.''

Making his case -- While most think Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason has had the Calder Trophy race wrapped up since Groundhog Day, Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan continues to show why he's worthy of the award.

One of the League's top rookies was at it again Sunday night, as Ryan scored twice to lead the Ducks to a 4-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at the Honda Center. Ryan, who was chosen right behind Sidney Crosby at the 2005 Entry Draft, has 26 goals this season.

More importantly, his efforts allowed Anaheim to keep pace with St. Louis in the playoff race. The Ducks are just one point behind the Blues for the final playoff spot.

"We know every two points is incredibly valuable," said Ryan, who posted his third multi-goal game of the season. "Look around; other teams are winning as well, so it's important for us to control our own fate and put another run together like we did last week."

Overall, it was certainly a much better effort by the Ducks following Friday's 5-3 loss to Edmonton that saw goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere get pulled from the net twice. Anaheim begins a three-game road trip Tuesday in Edmonton.

"Everybody in the room realized we dropped one on Friday that we felt like we should have had and we lost two valuable points," Ryan said. "We had a day off to address it, and we knew coming into this one that we had to get off to a good start and come away with two before we go on the road for a couple of tough games."

Contact Brian Compton at:

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


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