Not even the quick return of All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo
was enough to help the Vancouver Canucks
end their slump.
Niklas Backstrom stopped 28 shots for his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota whipped Vancouver 4-0 on Friday night. Vancouver’s fourth straight loss, combined with Nashville’s 2-0 victory at Columbus, dropped the Canucks behind the Predators in the race for the last playoff berth in the West. Both teams have 86 points with four games remaining, but the Predators have 39 wins to the Canucks’ 38.
The heat is now on the Canucks, who’ve gone from contending for the division title to battling for the final playoff berth.
“There's a lot of character in this room. Right now we're going through a little adversity, but that's when we're at our best,'' center Ryan Kesler said when asked if his team could rebound.
Luongo flew from Florida to the Twin Cities early Friday morning after his wife gave birth to their first child. But he didn’t last long: Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Luongo for the second straight game, this time after he allowed four goals in 33:28. Luongo has allowed nine goals in two games — in a total of 65 minutes. He got the hook this time after Todd Fedoruk knocked in the rebound of Marian Gaborik’s shot to complete the scoring.
Canucks captain Markus Naslund absolved his goaltender of the blame for the loss.
''The guys in front of him have to play better in every area,'' Naslund said. ''He's been there for us all year, and if it wasn't for him we wouldn't be where we are. It's up to us to play hard for him.''
The Northwest Division-leading Wild increased their margin over Calgary to three points. They can clinch a playoff berth with a victory at home against Colorado on Sunday.
''The end is coming, and we need the guys to be at their best,'' coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Backstrom was unquestionably at the top of his game. He set a team record with his 31st victory of the season.
''I feel OK out there, but it goes with the team,'' Backstrom said. ''When you know the team is playing well, then it's easier for everybody.''
Minnesota grabbed the lead at 11:37 of the opening period when Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s slap shot squeezed soared over Luongo's stick. Mikko Koivu made it 2-0 at 17:21, eight seconds after a power play ended, when he faked his way past defenseman Willie Mitchell and poked the puck past Luongo.
Brent Burns beat Luongo with on a blistering slap shot to make it 3-0 at 8:28 of the second period, and Fedoruk’s goal five minutes later ended Luongo’s night.
The Wild survived a lack of discipline in a third period that saw lots of penalties and the Canucks unable to take advantage of an abundance of power-play time.
''I know the guys were ready and they wanted to play a good game,'' Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ''Obviously, it didn't show on the ice. We made a couple of mistakes that they made us pay for. Our power play didn't capitalize, and when they did make mistakes 5-on-5, their goaltender came up big for them.''
Predators 2, Blue Jackets 0 | Video
Meanwhile, the Predators got their third straight superb goaltending performance by Dan Ellis, who stopped 43 shots and blanked Columbus for the second time in four days to put Nashville barely into the top eight in the West.
Ellis has allowed just one goal in winning his last three starts after being pulled in the two prior games. His best save came midway through the third period, when Nikolai Zherdev fed Ron Hainsey for a point-blank one-timer in the slot that Ellis smothered. He also stopped Aaron Rome on a similar shot with 5 1/2 minutes left.
"They had 43 shots but there weren't as many hard quality chances,” Preds coach Barry Trotz said. “It wasn't a hard 43 shots, but they had some chances."
A couple of games with Columbus were just what the Predators needed to make up ground in the playoff race. The two wins this week gave Nashville a 15-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets in the past two seasons. Columbus’ only win was a 2-1 shootout victory on Jan. 12.
"We could have done a lot more,” Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We only have a few people who are thinking in terms of scoring … we're teaching people how to work, but the scoring part doesn't come naturally. We have to spend some time on that.
"If you look back on it, we're not able to finish (against Nashville). We just don’t win the one-on-one battles in the offensive zone."
Nashville got the only goals of the game on consecutive shots early in the second period. Jan Hlavac redirected Ryan Suter’s blast from the high slot into the net at 4:28, and Radek Bonk beat Fredrik Norrena with a shot from the top of the left circle at 6:04.
“We were able to capitalize on our chances,” Trotz said. “In the third, we probably gave up way too many chances, but I thought Elly was good.''
Bonk said Ellis has given the Predators a much-needed jolt.
''We're very confident with him the last couple of games,'' he said. ''Over 40 shots and two shutouts — it's just unbelievable.''
Avalanche 5, Oilers 4, SO | Video
Edmonton was 5.9 seconds from being one point out of a playoff berth before Colorado’s Joe Sakic scored to tie the game and later got the deciding goal in the shootout.
With Jose Theodore on the bench for an extra attacker, Peter Forsberg threw a pass in front of the net. Sakic picked up the puck in a scramble and flipped it over Dwayne Roloson to tie the game.
“It was a battle in front of the net, and the puck was rolling,” Sakic said. “I just tried to get some wood on it, and it went in.”
The Oilers then lost for only the fourth time in 19 shootouts. Wojtek Wolski, Sakic and Milan Hedjuk all scored against Roloson, while only Robert Nilsson connected for the Oilers. The unexpected win gives the Avs 90 points, tied for sixth in the West with Calgary.
“They played a heck of a game. Getting a point was like getting a win,” Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. “Getting the extra point is gigantic.”
But getting one point instead of two left the Oilers with 84 points, two out of the last playoff spot, going into Saturday’s game at Calgary.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up,” forward Sam Cogliano said. “Tomorrow night is basically our season.”
Andrew Brunette and Hedjuk scored 40 seconds apart to give Colorado a 2-0 lead 8:02 into the game. But Tom Gilbert cut the margin to 2-1 just over four minutes later, and Jarret Stoll pulled the Oilers even at 13:56.
Curtis Glencross put Edmonton ahead when he scored from the left boards at 7:54 of the second period. Brunette tied it with his 19th less than four minutes later when Forsberg fed him from behind the net, but Sam Gagner gave Edmonton a 4-3 lead with a shot from a sharp right angle that beat Jose Theodore at 17:03.
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said his team paid for the inability to get an insurance goal in the third period, despite numerous opportunities.
“We were guilty of not being able to extend the lead,” he said. “We had the resolve to rally and take the lead. We played a textbook third period — we just couldn’t make a play at the end to win.”
Sharks 3, Ducks 1 | Video
San Jose clinched the third Pacific Division title in franchise the hard way — by ending the Ducks’ 10-game home winning streak.
Brian Boucher won the battle of backup goaltenders by making 22 saves and Jeremy Roenick broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal midway through the second period as the Sharks improved to 16-0-2 in their last 18 games. San Jose can finish no worse than second in the West; the Sharks train Detroit by five points in the race for first place in the overall standings.
“We know it takes the little things to win,” said captain Patrick Marleau, who scored the game’s first goal at 6:38 of the opening period. “Guys are buying into that, but it’s easy to buy into it when you’re winning.”
Clinching in Anaheim was an extra bonus for the Sharks.
“They’re our rivals and the defending Stanley Cup champions,” Marleau said. “It was sweet.”
Roenick put the Sharks ahead to stay at 11:10 of the second period during a power play. He got the puck near the left post and knocked it past Jonas Hiller during a delayed second penalty call on Samuel Pahlsson. It was Roenick’s his 14th goal of the season — but his 10th game-winner.
Curtis Brown made it 3-1 at 17:06 when he picked up a loose puck just to the left of the crease and poked it past the sprawling Hiller for his third goal.
Marleau opened the scoring when he wristed a shot past Hiller at 6:38 of the first period for his 17th goal. Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer evened it at 11:09 of the period with a slap shot from the slot that sailed through a crowd in front. It was Niedermayer's eighth of the season.
The Sharks, who haven't lost in regulation since Feb. 20, won for the 10th time in 11 road games to improve their NHL-best mark to 27-8-4 away from home.
“It’s nice to secure the second spot,” center Joe Thornton said. “We’ve stayed consistent all year, and we’ve been great the last 18 games.”
Though they’ve clinched a playoff spot and could finish as high as fourth, the Ducks are still having trouble scoring goals — they managed only two in losing to the Sharks on consecutive Friday nights.
“We have to get more hungry,” center Doug Weight said. “We have to get uglier — make some simple plays and get more pucks to the net.
“We had made up some ground (in the division) in the last couple of weeks. We’re not happy with our last two efforts against the Sharks.”
Devils 5, Flyers 4, SO | Video
A visit from the Flyers was just what New Jersey needed to snap a five-game losing streak, even if the Devils had to go to overtime to do it. Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner all scored in the penalty-shot competition as the Devils beat Philadelphia for the 12th consecutive time in New Jersey.
The win didn’t come easy. The Devils blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3, and Mike Knuble gave the Flyers a point when he snapped a quick wrist shot past Martin Brodeur with 55.2 seconds left in regulation. But after a scoreless overtime, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards hit the post on the first shootout attempt — and the remaining five shooters all scored, with Langenbrunner giving the Devils the win with a short wrist shot past Martin Biron.
''You have to look at the real positives here,'' Devils coach Brent Sutter said. ''There were a lot of them. We went into a shootout and were able to score on all three of them. That doesn't happen very often.''
Said Brodeur: “We’ll give them a point but take our two and move on.”
The loss ended Philadelphia’s four-game winning streak, but the point moved the Flyers into seventh place, one ahead of Boston and three in front of ninth-place Washington.
''It was a good sign to be able to battle back on the road against the Devils,'' Flyers coach John Stevens said. ''It's a big point. I love the fact we just kept coming.''
The Devils’ 18th victory in their last 21 meetings with the Flyers moved them into fourth place in the East with 93 points, one ahead of Ottawa and two in front of the New York Rangers. Finishing fourth would give the Devils the home-ice edge in the opening round of the playoffs, something Langenbrunner says the Devils really want.
“It’s important,” he said. “Being able to start at home is a definite advantage.”
After Vaclav Prospal put the Flyers ahead by beating Brodeur from the top of the right circle 9:35 into the game, defenseman Johnny Oduya scored twice to give the Devils the lead after the first period.
Langenbrunner banged a rebound past Biron 3:25 into the second period for a 3-1 lead, but the Flyers got one back when ex-Devil Jim Dowd tipped Randy Jones’ shot past Brodeur at 9:14 of the second period. Jones’ screened shot caught the top corner 8:18 into the third, tying the game at 3-3.
The Devils went back in front with 4:53 left in regulation when Gionta tipped John Madden’s pass behind Biron, but Knuble’s goal wound up sending the game into a shootout.
''It's disappointing the way the game ended,'' Philadelphia’s Daniel Briere said. ''You wish that such an effort would get two points. We'll take the point at this point. Every one is critical.”
Hurricanes 7, Thrashers 1 | Video
The Thrashers kept parading to the penalty box and the Hurricanes kept making them pay, scoring five power-play goals to move a step closer to the Southeast Division title. Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Hamilton each had a pair of goals with the man advantage as the Hurricanes moved four points ahead of Washington in the race for first in the Southeast Division.
''All the time we were talking about shooting the puck,'' Ruutu said after the Hurricanes improved to 12-2-2 in their last 16 games. ''We did tonight, and that's why we got those goals. If you don't shoot, you're not going to get goals.''
Joe Corvo had the other power-play goal, while Eric Staal scored once and set up two other goals as the Hurricanes finished 6-1-1 against the Thrashers this season.
''We could feel the energy in (the dressing) room, before the game even started, that we were going to be ready to play and fired up,'' Staal said. ''And we came out hard, we came out flying. We were going after them in the beginning of the game.''
The Hurricanes led 4-0 before Jim Slater’s short-handed goal at 16:53 of the second period ended Cam Ward’s shutout bid. Carolina added three goals in the third period, including power-play tallies by Ruutu and Hamilton and a short-handed score by Trevor Letowski.
''We just wore (the penalty-kill unit) out,'' Thrashers coach Don Waddell said after his team gave Carolina 11 power plays. ''We tried to use some new guys in there because they were so worn out. ... You take that many penalties, it's going to get to you.''
Blues 4, Red Wings 3, OT | Video
St. Louis will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, but the Blues haven’t packed it in. Brad Boyes’ second goal of the game 2:43 into overtime stunned the crowd at Joe Louis Arena.
Boyes got his second of the game and 40th of the season when he rifled a wrist shot from the left circle past Chris Osgood.
''Almost exactly like the other night. We were playing well with a two-goal lead and, before you know it, it's tied,'' Boyes said. ''But this time we were able to be resilient and come back and get the win.''
The one point gave Detroit 109 and moved the Wings closer to clinching first place in the overall standings.
The Blues looked to be comfortably in front when Andy McDonald beat Osgood with a wrist shot from the right circle at 9:28 of the third period. But Johan Franzen, one of the NHL’s hottest scorers, tied the game with two goals in less than two minutes. He banged in a rebound with 6:33 remaining in regulation and pulled the Wings even by tipping Henrik Zetterberg’s pass from the left boards behind Manny Legace with 4:41 to play.
''The second one, it was a great pass by Hank (Zetterberg) and I couldn't really miss it,'' said Franzen, who has 13 goals and four assists in 12 games. ''So I have to thank him for that one.''
Boyes opened the scoring at 12:20 of the first period when he slammed Paul Kariya’s pass behind Osgood. Erik Johnson made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 4:29 of the second period when his one-timer from the right point ticked Franzen’s skate and went into the net.
Brian Rafalski’s power-play goal 38 seconds later made it 2-1.
The game featured the return of Darren McCarty, who made his season debut with the Red Wings. He had been nursing injured ribs after being recalled from a conditioning stint with Grand Rapids of the AHL on March 7. McCarty spent a decade with the Wings from 1994-2003 and hadn’t played in the NHL since suiting up for Calgary last season.
McCarty and his old “Grind Line” mates — Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper — were in the starting lineup, and he received several ovations.
''There was a lot of gratitude. It's tough to talk about because there is so much gratitude,'' he said. ''The response from the people, it almost becomes uncomfortable, but in a good way. I really appreciate all of that.''
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.