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Thrashers finally end home skid

by Brian Compton /
A quick recovery by Kari Lehtonen in the first period and a world-class performance in the third on Saturday night finally put an end to the Atlanta Thrashers' woes on home ice.

After allowing two goals in the first 8:15, Lehtonen settled down and made 23 saves in the third period, leading the Thrashers to a 4-3 victory against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning at Philips Arena. Atlanta -- which was outshot 24-6 in the last 20 minutes -- hadn't won at home since Nov. 14, a span of seven home games.
''He sure picked it up in the third period,'' said Thrashers coach John Anderson, who winced when he saw the disparity in shots on goal in the final period. "Yikes."
Slava Kozlov put Atlanta in front just 18 seconds into the game, but the Lightning bounced back as both Martin St. Louis and Adam Hall beat Lehtonen to give Tampa Bay the lead.
Lehtonen, though, didn't allow another puck past him until St. Louis notched his second of the night with 2:32 remaining in regulation.
''It ended up being a good game,'' said Lehtonen, who made 31 consecutive stops in his first start since Oct. 30. ''The start wasn't the way I wanted it. The first two shots went in. I didn't give up. ... It was great to see the guys respond. Hopefully, I can help this team win games.''
The Thrashers regained the lead prior to the end of the first period. Eric Perrin made it a 2-2 game when he beat Mike Smith at 15:13, and Todd White put Atlanta in front with a power-play goal at 18:23.
Alaska native Joey Crabb doubled the Thrashers' lead when he notched his second goal of the season 4:06 into the third period.
''This is an all-time low," said Smith, who made 26 saves. "It's embarrassing. It makes me sick to my stomach.''
The Lightning -- who dropped to 4-15 in one-goal games -- have lost 17 of 19.
''It's frustrating,'' St. Louis said. ''I don't think there are enough guys that really want to win. When you're six or seven games above .500, everything is rosy. When you're in our situation, it's plain and simple embarrassing.''
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet -- who replaced the fired Barry Melrose the same day the Thrashers won their last home game prior to Saturday night -- admitted there's not much more he can do to fix his hockey club.
''The coaching staff is running out of answers," Tocchet said. "We roll up our sleeves and give them the information to play good. To see the way they played the first two periods was disheartening. I feel bad for our fans.''

Maple Leafs 7, Penguins 3 | Video
Nik Antropov had a goal and two assists, and six other players scored as Toronto earned an impressive victory at Pittsburgh.
Two nights after a poor outing in an 8-5 loss at Boston, Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala bounced back with a 20-save effort.
''I think this was one of the easiest games I've had with the Leafs,'' said Toskala, who allowed four goals on 11 shots against the Bruins. ''It was lots of fun to play.''
The seven tallies were a season high for Toronto. Tomas Kaberle had three assists, while Pavel Kubina, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jonas Frogren, Dominic Moore, Jeremy Williams and Niklas Hagman all found the back of the net. The win was the Leafs' fourth in their last five games.
''We just worked hard,'' said Antropov, who has scored in three straight games and has six points in that stretch. ''We wanted to bounce back from what happened in Boston, and we did it. I thought everybody played excellent tonight, and we got two points.''
The Penguins, who hadn't allowed seven goals on home ice in more than a year (Dec. 11, 2007 against Philadelphia), were outshot 33-13 after 40 minutes and 40-23 overall. Pittsburgh has lost five of its last seven games.
Petr Sykora scored twice, while Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist.
''It was a bad game by everyone involved,'' Pens coach Michel Therrien said. ''We didn't show up.''
Malkin erased a 1-0 deficit with his 15th goal of the season at 9:49 of the first period, but the Leafs responded with four unanswered tallies. Williams scored what proved to be the game-winner just 1:14 after Malkin's goal, as he beat Marc-Andre Fleury for his fourth goal in five games since being recalled by AHL Toronto.
''I thought overall this was easily our best game of the season,'' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ''We dominated in all areas of the game.''

Red Wings 6, Kings 4 | Video
At times, Detroit has experienced difficulty playing with that killer instinct from the first drop of the puck. Such was the case again on Saturday night, but Los Angeles couldn't create enough damage to put the defending champions away.
Jiri Hudler erased a 4-3 deficit with 3:43 remaining, and Dan Cleary gave the Red Wings the lead just 2:09 later as Detroit pulled out the victory against the Kings at Joe Louis Arena.
''I think we play way better when we're down a goal," Cleary admitted. "When the chips are down, we find a way to tie it or win it. We just have to get that urgency and mindset early in games -- when we're ahead or even.''
Nicklas Lidstrom had three assists for Detroit, which moved him past Larry Robinson into eighth place on the NHL career list for points by a defenseman (959). Ty Conklin made 22 saves, while Hudler and Pavel Datsyuk each had a goal and an assist for the Wings.
''I thought we showed a lot of character,'' Lidstrom said. ''Especially in the third period, when we were down.''
Dustin Brown and Kyle Calder had a goal and an assist each for the Kings, who were forced to play without goalie Erik Ersberg (sore groin) for a third straight game. Jonathan Quick made 30 saves in his stead.

''We had the win with three, three-and-a-half minutes left ... they got two goals at the end,'' Quick said. ''It was disappointing.''
Flyers 7, Capitals 1 | Video
So much for Washington's five-game winning streak.
Scott Hartnell scored three times in under 12 minutes in the third period and Antero Niittymaki made a season-high 47 saves as Philadelphia pummeled the Capitals at the Wachovia Center.
Hartnell, who has five career hat tricks, had never scored three times in a period until Saturday afternoon. He also notched a hat trick in the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 11.
''It's been a good couple of weeks,'' Hartnell said. ''I just want to keep going, stay positive, and stay confident.''
Joffrey Lupul added a goal and three assists for the Flyers, who had won five straight games before losing at Montreal 5-2 on Thursday. Philadelphia is unbeaten in regulation in its past 11 home games (9-0-2), a big reason for its resurgence in the Eastern Conference.
''We're just coming out with determination in our home building,'' Hartnell said. ''People aren't going to come in here and have an easy game. We're getting physical. The coaches have us prepared and 20 guys are coming to play. We want nothing short of that.''
Lupul scored the lone goal of the opening period, which came at 4:29. Jeff Carter extended Philadelphia's lead to 3-0 with a pair of tallies in the second period, the second coming shorthanded. Carter now has 24 goals this season, tying him with Buffalo's Thomas Vanek for the League lead.
Carter's shorthanded goal was the Flyers' 13th of the season, tops in the NHL. They scored 13 shorthanded goals all of last season. After the game, Carter praised the play of his goaltender, who has won six of his last seven starts. Niittymaki -- who stopped all 25 shots he faced in the first period -- made three phenomenal saves on Alexander Ovechkin on Saturday.
''Niitty won us that game,'' Carter said. ''They could have had four or five or six goals in the first period. Niitty stood tall and gave us the momentum.''
Hartnell scored his first goal of the day at 4:45 of the third, but Brooks Laich countered for the Caps just 24 seconds later to make it 4-1. Hartnell scored again -- this time on the power play -- at 7:29 before Simon Gagne put the game out of reach at 9:19. Hartnell completed the hat trick with 3:35 remaining.
''The start wasn't the way I wanted it. The first two shots went in. I didn't give up. ... It was great to see the guys respond. Hopefully, I can help this team win games.'' -- Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen
Brent Johnson started the game for Washington, but did not start the third period after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Jose Theodore went 11-for-15 in the third.
''I wasn't as sharp as I needed to be,'' Johnson said. ''It was an odd hockey game. We had all the pressure in their zone in the first 40 minutes at least and just couldn't get one in.''

Bruins 4, Hurricanes 2 | Video
It would have been considered business as usual in Boston on Saturday, if not for the injury Patrice Bergeron suffered in the second period of the Bruins' win over Carolina at TD Banknorth Garden.
Bergeron -- who was limited to 10 games last season due to a concussion -- was forced to leave the game midway through the second period following a collision with Dennis Seidenberg. After several minutes, Bergeron left the ice with what appeared to be a head or neck injury.
''The doctors have been looking at it,'' Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ''They haven't given us any indication as far as the severity of it. Obviously, he went down a little dazed. We're not able to give you a verdict. That's all I can tell you about that situation.''
Julien said he spoke with Bergeron during the second intermission, and that the latter was alert.
''He got dinged pretty good,'' the coach said. ''He was speaking to me and then I took off and coached the third period.''
Unlike Bergeron's previous injury -- which came on a hit from behind by Philadelphia's Randy Jones -- Julien did not blame Seidenberg for what happened on Saturday.
''It was not a cheap shot by any means. It was a collision,'' he said.
As for the game itself, the Bruins responded to Joni Pitkanen's power-play goal in the first period with three unanswered goals. Boston's first tally was notched by Marc Savard off a pass from Phil Kessel. The assist extended Kessel's point streak to 17 games, the longest by a Bruin since Adam Oates had a 20-game streak in 1997-98.
David Krejci and Shawn Thornton gave Boston a 3-1 lead by scoring eight minutes apart against Cam Ward (32 saves) in the third period. Ray Whitney cut it to 3-2 with his 11th goal at 15:24, but Stephane Yelle scored an empty-net tally at 19:57. Manny Fernandez made 32 saves for the Bruins.
''They changed gears in the second period,'' Carolina coach Paul Maurice said of the Bruins. ''Our goaltender kept us in the game. We're getting the feeling that if we're just a little bit faster we'll be OK, but it's clear that our legs are not there yet.''

Senators 5, Stars 4, OT | Video
Jason Smith's first goal with Ottawa couldn't have come at a better time.
The stay-at-home defenseman beat Marty Turco 3:30 into overtime on Saturday night, lifting Ottawa to much-needed win against Dallas at Scotiabank Place. It was Smith's first goal in 104 games.
How timely was Smith's goal? Well, consider this: the Senators had lost five of six and netted only five goals in their previous five games, including one into an empty net.
''I don't score very many, but it's obviously nice to score a goal and help the team get a big win,'' said Smith, who signed as a free-agent with the Sens in July.
Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette, Jason Spezza and Alexandre Picard also scored for the Senators, who beat Turco five times on 33 shots -- a statistic that bothered Dallas coach Dave Tippett afterwards.
''We gave that point away,'' Tippett said. ''I don't think our goaltending was that great. I think (Turco) could have stopped a couple.''
Ottawa capitalized in the special teams department, as it went 3-for-6 on the power play. Sens coach Craig Hartsburg was pleased with his team's effort, and believed it was only fitting that Smith notched the game-winner.
''It was a real good game by our team,'' Hartsburg said. ''I'm really proud of them. They played like a team, they battled, they worked, paid a big price and kind of fitting that Jason Smith scores the winning goal for us in a game like that. That's a huge win for our team.''
Dallas got goals from Matt Niskanen, Brad Richards, Toby Petersen and Loui Eriksson. The Stars were trailing 4-3 until Eriksson tied the game with his team-leading 18th goal of the season with 5:34 remaining.
Dallas -- which is 2-0-1 in its last three games -- visits Toronto on Tuesday in its final game prior to the holiday break.
''Even though bad things are happening you've got to stay in the moment and that's the way we have to look at every game,'' Turco said. ''It's an interesting time right now.''
Predators 1, Islanders 0 | Video
Nashville is experiencing difficulty scoring goals these days. Fortunately for the Preds, so is the team from Long Island.
Vernon Fiddler scored 6:48 into the game, and Pekka Rinne stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Predators blanked the fading Isles at the Sommet Center.
''I think we play way better when we're down a goal. When the chips are down, we find a way to tie it or win it. We just have to get that urgency and mindset early in games -- when we're ahead or even.'' -- Red Wings forward Dan Cleary
The Islanders lost their ninth straight game (0-8-1) and dropped both ends of a two-game road trip on consecutive nights, scoring only one goal. New York was beaten 4-1 at Minnesota on Friday, allowing three goals in the third period. The Isles' only point in their skid came in an overtime loss to Washington at home on Tuesday.
New York was forced to play without defenseman Andy Sutton, as the 6-foot-6 blueliner suffered a broken foot on Friday, joining a long list of injured Islanders. Doug Weight also went down on Saturday with a strained groin.
''Nobody's going to get us out of this slump but ourselves,'' said goalie Joey MacDonald, who stopped 27 shots. ''We know this and the coaches know this. Everybody has to get together and keep working.
''We are short on bodies, but we just have to keep battling and working hard. We'll get out of it. I thought tonight we made a few good steps.''
Despite the Predators' lack of offense, they improved to 2-2-1 during this stretch. The only game to produce more than one Nashville goal was a 3-0 win over Dallas on Dec. 13.
''I try to focus on my own game,'' Rinne said. ''Personally, I like holding a lead like that. When you lead after the first period, the other team has to chase you all of the time and play a high-risk game. It is good for us.''
The shutout was Rinne's third of the month. While he didn't face too many Grade-A chances, Nashville coach Barry Trotz was pleased to see his goaltender continue to play well.
''Pekka was really good,'' Trotz said. ''They didn't have a lot of point-blankers, but the Islanders had some interesting pucks. There were some pucks bouncing around, and he had to be real sharp on those. I thought he was.''

Blues 4, Wild 2 | Video

Roman Polak had a night to remember on Saturday.

The Blues defenseman scored his first NHL goal and added an assist, helping St. Louis end a five-game skid with a win against Minnesota at the Scottrade Center.

Playing his first full season with the Blues, Polak scored just 30 seconds after Pierre-Marc Bouchard tied the game 2:21 into the third period. Manny Legace (24 saves) took it from there, and Jay McClement added an empty-net tally at 19:45.

''It was exciting. It was my first one, so I was standing on the ice screaming with the guys,'' Polak said. ''It was on the rush. It was a great play and (Brad Boyes) is trying to shoot it. He missed it at first and then passed it to me, and it was a wide-open net. It was pretty easy for a first one. I'll take it every night.''

Niklas Backstrom made 20 saves for the Wild, who snapped a six-game losing streak with Friday's win over the Islanders at the Xcel Energy Center. Nick Schultz scored for Minnesota in the first period in between goals from Blues forwards Patrik Berglund and David Backes.

''That's the way it seems to be going for us now,'' Backstrom said. ''The bounces are not going our way. We have to find a way to turn that around, and it has to happen now.''

Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire would like to see his team play with more urgency. The Wild went 0-for-5 on the power play.

''We didn't score at the proper time, and when we got our goals, they came back right after and took the lead again,'' Lemaire said. ''It seems like it's not working for us at all lately. If you tie it up, we're giving the goal right back. That's not how you play. You've got to be more solid and we're not at this time.''

Coyotes 2, Blue Jackets 0
| Video

Ilya Bryzgalov recorded three shutouts for Phoenix after being acquired by the club from the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 17, 2007.

On Saturday night at Arena, he notched his first one since March 13.

Bryzgalov stopped all 33 shots he faced, and the Coyotes got goals from Steven Reinprecht and Mikkel Boedker en route to their fourth win in six games.

''He has the ability to be a special player, and no question, he was the difference in this hockey game,'' Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said of Bryzgalov. ''He seems to be seeing the puck very well, and this is as solid as I've seen him play.''

''It was a real good game by our team. I'm really proud of them. They played like a team, they battled, they worked, paid a big price and kind of fitting that Jason Smith scores the winning goal for us in a game like that. That's a huge win for our team.'' -- Senators coach Craig Hartsburg
Twelve of Bryzgalov's 33 saves came in the third period. The 28-year-old entered the contest with a record of 11-11-3 and a 2.81 goals-against average.

''I feel pretty good physically,'' Bryzgalov said. ''The most important thing is that I helped the team. They have trust in me, and we have a pretty good chemistry.''

Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock declined to speak with reporters after his team's third loss in four games. Rookie goalie Steve Mason made 22 saves for the Blue Jackets, as Reinprecht beat him at 10:23 of the second period before Boedker made it 2-0 with his seventh tally 6:52 into the third.

''I don't think we tested him very much,'' Columbus captain Rick Nash said of Bryzgalov. ''I can't remember a beautiful save he made. He was just consistent, and I don't think we were good enough.'' 

After allowing just four shots in the opening period, the Blue Jackets gave up 10 in each of the last two. Columbus defenseman Kris Russell believes the effort needs to be more consistent.

''We're professionals and have to do better for 60 minutes,'' Russell said. ''We have to outwork goalies and we didn't do that. We all have to be accountable.''

Blackhawks 3, Canucks 1 | Video

Cristobal Huet made 30 saves, while captain Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks won their seventh straight with an impressive victory against Vancouver at GM Place.

Chicago hasn't enjoyed a stretch like this since it won a franchise-record eight straight from Jan. 4-21, 1981. The Blackhawks have had seven six-game win streaks since then.

''We aren't getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we are having fun with this,'' said Chicago forward Patrick Sharp, who scored his 18th goal of the season at 6:17 of the second period. ''This is new territory for a lot of the guys in here. The playoffs are our goal but we are learning how to win games right now.

''It's very exciting. Guys are bouncing off the walls. Hopefully we can stay healthy and keep this thing going.''

The Blackhawks fell behind 1-0 just 3:45 into the game on Daniel Sedin's 15th goal of the season. But Patrick Kane tied the game at 2:51 of the second, and Sharp followed with what proved to be the game-winner less than four minutes later. Toews added an empty-net goal with 39 seconds remaining to secure yet another victory.

Curtis Sanford made 31 saves for Vancouver, which went 0-for-6 on the power playa and failed to secure its third straight victory. Mats Sundin is set to join the Canucks on Dec. 27.

"Their goalie stepped up great for them," Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra said of Huet. "We got over 30 shots and we got great chances in the second and third, and he was there all the time. I think our power play has to do better and that was the difference." 

Sharks 3, Rangers 2 | Video

San Jose was exhausted on Saturday night, having traveled more than 5,000 miles in the past week and suffering a pair of losses.

Despite the understandable fatigue, the Sharks fought through it and put an end to their "slump" with a victory against New York at HP Pavilion.

Evgeni Nabokov led the way with a 32-save performance. Seventeen of those stops came in the third period, as Nabokov carried his club to victory after Ryan Callahan had cut San Jose's lead to one midway through the second.

''We were a pretty determined team, and I say that including the last 15 or 18 minutes there when we had nothing left,'' Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. ''We found a way, and that's the sign of a good team, so I'll take that.''

The Sharks built an early 2-0 lead as Dan Boyle and Ryan Clowe scored just 25 seconds apart. Boyle broke the scoreless tie 4:27 into the game, when he converted on San Jose's two-man advantage. Clowe then quickly doubled the Sharks' lead with some quick stick work in front of the net before beating Henrik Lundqvist for his 14th goal of the season.

San Jose had a golden opportunity to really put the Rangers in a hole when Nigel Dawes went off for boarding at 9:30 of the first. Instead, Nikolai Zherdev kept the Blueshirts in the game when he beat Nabokov shorthanded at 10:34.

''These guys are tough to play against when they have the lead,'' Rangers defenseman Wade Redden said. ''It was too bad that we gave up those early ones. I think we did a good job when they started to sit back, but we couldn't score.''

New York had plenty of opportunities to tie the game in the third period, but Nabokov was there time and time again in the Sharks' net. However, the Rangers were able to earn four of a possible six points on their three-game trip to the west coast.

''There were a couple of times there where we had them sort of spent, and we weren't able to get it on net,'' Rangers coach Tom Renney said. ''Their goaltender played great. We waited a little too long to turn up the heat a little bit on them. Had we done that a little bit earlier, we would have had a different outcome.''

San Jose will host Vancouver on Tuesday night before beginning another three-game road trip after the holiday break.

''We were probably not as fresh as we've been, but we battled,'' said Nabokov, who matched Lundqvist and Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff for the League lead with 18 wins. ''That's the way it should be.''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.   

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