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Three in a row for Tampa Bay

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we marvel over the goaltending performances of such immortals as Mason, Quick and Clemmensen:

Can't stop 'em -- Break up the Tampa Bay Lightning! The team that couldn't seem to buy a victory for much of the season suddenly has put together a legitimate winning streak.

Behind a pair of Vincent Lecavalier goals and a four-point night by Martin St. Louis, the Lightning recorded a 6-4 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. Their triumph on St. Pete Times Forum ice gave them a home-and-home sweep of the Panthers and three straight wins overall.

"We've been going good lately," St. Louis said. "The last three games, I really feel guys are on the same page. The most we've been on the same page all year. You can see it in the results."

The Lightning even got out of the basement in the Southeast Division, moving a point ahead of Atlanta into fourth. While it's still a long climb to get back in the playoff picture, they do have the advantage of having gained a point in nine of their losses, which came in either overtime or a shootout.

"It's just good we got the victory," Lecavalier said. "It's three in a row and good for our confidence. Hopefully it carries on."

Tampa will try to make it four in a row heading into the new year when it plays its final game of 2008 at home Tuesday against Montreal.

A close call -- It had to be agonizing for the Buffalo Sabres and the HSBC Arena crowd when what seemed like a certain two points disappeared in the blink of an eye. The game stretched into overtime and then a shootout before the home team prevailed over the New York Islanders, 4-3.

The Sabres carried a 3-1 lead into the two final minutes, but a Mike Comrie power-play goal with 1:34 remaining and Chris Campoli's equalizer with 2.0 seconds left got the Isles even. Both goals came with their net empty and six attackers on the ice.

"We let them back in the game," said Jochen Hecht, whose power-play goal opened the scoring for Buffalo. "They were able to chip the puck in and put pressure on our defensemen. We didn't have many shifts where we created something in their end. They worked hard to get it out, and we couldn't get back quick enough."


In what has been an up-and-down, back-and-forth first half for the Sabres, they won for the first time in four games to tie Carolina for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference standings. But with a lot of hockey left to be played, that wasn't enough to please their coach.

"We have to play better," Lindy Ruff said. "We got a little tight. They started pinching a lot and we didn't handle it very well. Our passing and our execution coming up ice wasn't very good, and it led to them controlling most of the play."

Deep and talented -- It's easy to focus in on the recent scoring streak by Phil Kessel or the injuries suffered by Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron that have them out of action. But you can never start and stop with one player when talking about the Boston Bruins, which is why the team continues to coast atop the East standings.

"We just get key contributions from guys," said Boston center Marc Savard, who assisted on a pair of goals in a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center. Blake Wheeler scored twice for the Bruins.

"When someone is not going, someone else steps up," Savard said. "Tonight it was Wheeler with two goals. That was big for us."

Savard was a plus-2 in the game to take over the NHL lead in that category at plus-23. He's third in assists with 31 and tied for fourth in points with 42, ahead of even Kessel, who is fourth in the League with 21 goals and recently tied Ed Olczyk's record for American-born players with an 18-game point-scoring streak.

The Bruins weren't clicking on all cylinders against the Hurricanes, yielding the game's first goal and needing Michael Ryder's goal with 6:14 left in regulation to put them ahead to stay. But they still won their seventh in a row.

"I thought our first five or six minutes we were good," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "Then for some reason we took our foot off the gas pedal and they started taking it to us. We found a way to win."

The flip side of the coin -- For the third straight game, the Columbus Blue Jackets looked up at the final horn and saw a zero on the scoreboard. This time, however, it was in the other team's column.

Rookie goaltender Steve Mason stopped 20 shots for his third shutout and the Jackets picked up their first-ever victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0 at Nationwide Arena.

"It was really nice (to be ahead), especially because I had been sitting on one-goal and two-goal games," Mason said. "To get the early lead gave me the confidence that it was going to be a good night."

Phoenix and Los Angeles had shut Columbus out in the previous two games, but Jan Hejda scored 3:22 into the first and Mason did the rest. He improved to 10-7-1 with a League-leading 1.87 goals-against average. Andrew Murray and Manny Malhotra added insurance tallies to make Mason's night a little easier.

"If we get a lead on teams we're really difficult to play against and teams don't come back on us," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The players feel like if we have a lead going into the third period, Mason will not get scored on. That's the confidence we have in him right now."

Breaking through -- It would have been easy for the New Jersey Devils to get frustrated, goalie Scott Clemmensen in particular. He let just one puck past him against Boston on Tuesday and again against Pittsburgh on Friday, but the Devils lost those games 2-0 (with an empty-netter) and 1-0 to head into Madison Square Garden in an epic scoring slump.

But the Devils solved Henrik Lundqvist early and often enough to record a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers, their second straight against their cross-river rivals. Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scored 1:20 apart to snap the team-record 159:18 goal drought, and Travis Zajac finished with a three-point night.

"Getting that one on the power play was a big boost for us," Zajac said of Rolston's goal 2:54 into the first. "We know we can score. ... We just wanted to play hard, and it was a great effort."

Clemmensen made the lead stand up by stopping all 17 shots he faced in the second period -- including a 39-second stretch where the Rangers held a 5-on-3 advantage -- and ending up with 31 saves overall.

"We played well right from the start," Clemmensen said. "We felt like we played well (this week) and had nothing to really show for it. Tonight was just what we needed, coming to play our rival in their building."

Hats off to Andrei -- He entered the game with just six goals on the season, but Andrei Kostitsyn collected half of that total in one night — and the Montreal Canadiens needed every last one in order to outlast the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kostitsyn scored his third of the game early in the third period, and unlike the first two times he put the Habs ahead, the Penguins had no answer this time. Montreal went on to a 3-2 win at Mellon Arena, and afterward Kostitsyn's coach said he'd like to see him shoot the puck a little more often.

"We want (Kostitsyn) to shoot," Guy Carbonneau said. "I think he has the best shot on our club. He should be ready to shoot from everywhere, and tonight that's all he did. He got good shots right on the net and turned them into goals."

While Kostitsyn was the scoring star, Carey Price made all the difference in net. The Penguins enjoyed a 34-19 advantage in shots, but Pascal Dupuis and Sidney Crosby had the only ones that got past the Montreal goalie.

"I liked our effort tonight and thought we deserved better," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "There are going to be nights when the result is not on your side. Tonight was one of those nights. Carey Price was outstanding and stole the game."

Be like Mike -- The calendar will read 2009 in a matter of days, but it might as well be 1989 the way Mike Modano continues to play.

Maybe the only difference is that the Dallas Stars didn't exist 20 years ago. Modano was just breaking into the League as a rookie for the Minnesota North Stars, but nearly two decades later he's still going strong. He netted the overtime winner in the Stars' 4-3 win decision over the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center, tying him for second on the team in goals.

"Talent is talent," Stars center Brad Richards said. "He's got size and speed. When you see (Modano), he doesn't seem or act like he's 38. He's one of the great players who's ever played."

Said Modano, who was set up by Richards at 3:34 of the extra period: "Time was winding down. I was just trying to get something heavy on the net."

It was Modano's ninth career overtime goal. He has three game-winners this season and ranks fourth on the Stars in points.

"When you can play like he can, you can stay as long as you want," said Mike Ribeiro, who scored the tying goal late in the third. "He isn't missing a beat. He's a big key to our team."

Not singing the Blues -- It would be difficult to blame the St. Louis Blues if they took account of all their injuries and the fact their opponent was the League-leading San Jose Sharks and concluded this probably just wasn't their night.

But Andy Murray's group continues to be a plucky bunch, and they proved it by rallying on Brad Winchester's third-period goal and a score by Winchester in the shootout to deliver a 3-2 win at Scottrade Center.

"They're a top team in the league, certainly," Winchester said. "We just played hard and played smart. We pressured at the right times and it paid dividends in the end."

Missing captain Eric Brewer and forward Andy McDonald among others, the Blues learned Saturday they would continue to be without Paul Kariya, who is set to undergo hip surgery. Murray said nobody was making excuses, though.

"I don't know if Brad Winchester's concerned whether Paul Kariya is in the lineup or not," Murray said. "I don't think it's really been a theme around the room. I haven't heard the guys asking, 'When's Paul coming back?'"

The Blues managed just fine against the Sharks, with Winchester getting the nod in the shootout after playing a strong overall game.

"You're always ready," Winchester said. "When he let me know, I was ready to go. I just tried to take it in stride."

Off to a Quick start -- Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg each had strangleholds on the goaltending job for the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season. But now there's a new sheriff in town -- well, in net, at least -- and he's staking a claim for more playing time with his results on the ice.

Jonathan Quick turned aside all 30 shots he faced for his second shutout in three games, as the Kings blanked the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 at Arena. It was just the eighth career game and sixth start for Quick.

"I just stop the puck," Quick said. "It's all I really have to do."

While Quick was stopping the puck, his teammates were busy putting it in the opposing net. Alexander Frolov scored twice in the game and helped spark a three-goal first for Los Angeles with one of their two power-play tallies.

"You always want to get the first goal in this game," said Kings coach Terry Murray. "We tried to come out hard, we got pucks on the net and at least gave ourselves the opportunity for the first goal."

Coyotes captain Shane Doan was disappointed in his team's effort: "Tonight we were flat and there really is no excuse for it. You need to be ready to go every night and tonight we didn't have the jump that we needed."

All but automatic -- Statistics show the team to score first in a shootout wins the vast majority of the time, and the Colorado Avalanche have an ace in the hole to lead off in Wojtek Wolski. He's 6-for-7 this season after beating Ty Conklin in what turned out a 4-3 win for the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Wojtek pulled out his signature move against Conklin, skating far to the right before pulling back left and using his long reach and lengthy stick to slip the puck inside the left post.

"That's one I've kind of used a couple of times -- I usually try to do it on goalies I haven't seen," he said. "I tried to stick to the basics, go with a move that I'm comfortable with and has worked in the past."

Said Conklin: "I was looking for him to go across the net and he didn't."

Wolski made sure the Avalanche didn't go home disappointed after seeing a 3-0 lead after the first period get away. The Wings scored three times in a span of less than four minutes in the second to even things up, but Wolski's goal and three stops by Peter Budaj ensured Colorado of two points.

"You knew it was going to be an entertaining game, you knew they were going to be able to make plays," coach Tony Granato said. "It would have been nice to get it done in regulation, but we feel pretty happy with the way the game was played."

Three's company -- Montreal wasn't the only place where hats were flying Saturday night. Hours after Andrei Kostitsyn recorded his first career hat trick for Montreal, the same thing happened for Rene Bourque as the Calgary Flames doubled up the Ottawa Senators, 6-3 at Pengrowth Saddledome.

Bourque helped rally the Flames from an early 2-0 deficit with a pair of second-period goals, then added an insurance tally with 5:35 left in the third.

"I always knew I had the ability to score," said Bourque, in his first season with Calgary and just two shy of his career high of 16 goals. "Confidence is a big part of it. Right now, I've got some confidence and the guys are playing great."

Confidence is not particularly high in the Ottawa dressing room, however. The Senators continue to linger in last place in the Northeast Division and have gone nearly two months without winning a road game. That's a problem, considering they have six stops left on an eight-game road trip.

"Every time we seemed to make mistakes they seemed to be in the back of the net," Jason Spezza said. "When you're losing games, it's hard to get out of it. Obviously, we're not happy where we are right now, but we played pretty hard. We have to find a way to start getting some wins and get above .500 on this trip."

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