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Wild blanks Oilers, edges closer

by Brian Hunter
The Edmonton Oilers were looking for separation. The Minnesota Wild were fighting for their playoff lives. The more desperate team Sunday afternoon won.

Niklas Backstrom stopped all 31 shots he faced and Owen Nolan scored a pair of goals to lead the Wild to a 3-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center, boosting them into a tie for ninth place in the Western Conference with Anaheim, one point behind Nashville for eighth and three in back of Edmonton for seventh.

"We're in desperate mode right now and have to get everything we can," said Nolan, who leads Minnesota this season with 22 goals. "Especially playing a team that's within reach, we've got to make sure we close the gap."

Stephane Veilleux also scored for the Wild, which entered the game in a 1-2-3 skid. Backstrom was pulled from a 4-0 loss in New Jersey on Friday after allowing three goals on 11 shots, but responded with his seventh shutout of the season.

The game also featured the return of Minnesota forward Marian Gaborik, who underwent hip surgery in December and had missed all but six games this season.

"I was a little nervous before the game, but as soon as I hit the ice, everything went well," said Gaborik, who played just shy of 18 minutes and had six shots.

The same couldn't be said for the Oilers, who couldn't take advantage of a 15-2 advantage in shots during the first period. Dwayne Roloson finished with 33 saves but fell to 0-6-2 against his former team, and Edmonton missed an opportunity to pull within a point of Columbus for sixth.

"You hate to see the 30-plus shot shutouts. That means you're getting pucks to the net," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "If you're committed enough there you should be able to get some offense. We just didn't pay as big a price as we had in the last number of games."

Backstrom kept the game scoreless into the second and Nolan got the Wild on the board with 5:34 left when he pushed the rebound of a long-range shot past Roloson for a power-play goal.

"We came out and we were tight. Really tight," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Not skating, afraid to make mistakes. We didn't move the puck well. We turned the puck over. Everyone knew we would play better in the second."

They continued that strong play into the third, and Nolan made it 2-0 when he converted a nice pass by James Sheppard at the 4:26 mark. Veilleux got credit for a fluke goal with 7:17 remaining when Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert inadvertently banked a pass off teammate Sam Gagner and past Roloson.

It was that kind of day for the Oilers, but they took what little they could from the defeat.

"If you're a team that can generate 15 shots in one period against the Minnesota Wild you know you can create opportunities, so that's one positive we can take from it," center Shawn Horcoff said.

Blackhawks 4, Kings 1
| Video

Chicago snapped a five-game losing streak and reclaimed sole possession of fourth place, though it wasn't nearly as easy as the final score indicated.

Patrick Sharp scored a pair of goals in his return to the lineup and Martin Havlat also tallied twice, but Los Angeles cut a two-goal deficit in half on Drew Doughty's goal with 3:06 left in regulation before Sharp and Havlat each put the puck into an empty net in the final 66 seconds.

"We needed a win badly," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I don't want to say a number, but I still think our motivation is to finish fourth in our conference."

Nikolai Khabibulin needed to make just 14 saves as the Chicago moved two points ahead of idle Vancouver for the final home-ice berth in the first round.

"It was our best defensive game in some time," Quenneville said. "Khabby was solid and very confident in his positioning. He was good the whole game long and handled the puck well."

Sharp, who had missed the previous 16 games with a knee injury, got the Blackhawks on the board during a power play at 9:46 of the first period. Duncan Keith drew the first of his three assists on the goal.

"I just wanted to come in and play a strong game; not necessarily worry about scoring goals and making plays, but just play hard and with energy," Sharp said. "Luckily a couple of pucks went in."

Havlat teamed up with Sharp to double the lead 4:21 into the second, and later credited his teammate with lifting the Blackhawks' game offensively.

"It was great to have him there," Havlat added. "His first goal was a beautiful shot. You can see we create more offense with him in the lineup. We need him."

The Kings managed just five shots in each period against Khabibulin, but Doughty finally got one past him on a late power play. Sharp then added his 25th with 1:06 left and Havlat his 24th with 18 seconds remaining, after Jonathan Quick (30 saves) was pulled for a sixth attacker.

"We played well enough to get by and kept it a close game," Quick said. "We almost pulled off something when we got it to within one goal. A couple of empty-net goals later and the game was over."

Los Angeles fell to 1-4-1 in its last six and stayed seven points behind Nashville for eighth.

"Quick was really good for us," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "In a situation like this, when you've got a lot of desperation basically from both sides, Chicago played well. They beat us to pucks.

"We didn't generate a lot because they we're good."

Ducks 6, Coyotes 2 | Video
Ryan Getzlaf scored two of Anaheim's franchise record-tying four power-play goals and helped turn a close game after two periods into two big points for the Ducks, who moved within one of eighth-place Nashville.

Scott Niedermayer and Andrew Ebbett also struck on the man advantage and Anaheim also got scores from George Parros and Corey Perry in winning in regulation at Honda Center for the first time since Feb. 2 against Buffalo. The Ducks have won four of five overall.

''It wasn't just a one-horse ride here tonight. Our guys got together and played well,'' coach Randy Carlyle said. ''Special teams won the game for us. We have to try to build on more nights like this.''

Petr Prucha and Shane Doan scored in the second period for Phoenix, which trailed only 3-2 heading into the final 20 minutes. But penalties plagued the Coyotes down the stretch and the Ducks were all too willing to take advantage.

''They shoot, they score. That is the difference,'' Bryzgalov said. ''We get a power play, we are not bearing down. They get a power play and they are scoring goals. We can't take the dumb penalties against a team like Anaheim because they've got guys like Getzlaf, Niedermayer and (Teemu) Selanne.''

With Todd Fedoruk off for interference, Getzlaf capitalized at 8:49 of the third for a two-goal lead, redirecting Chris Pronger's snap shot between his own legs and through Ilya Bryzgalov's.

A double high-sticking minor to Scottie Upshall with 3:40 left further hampered any comeback hopes for Phoenix, and they were permanently ended when Getzlaf scored his second of the game with 3:19 to play and then Ebbett struck 26 seconds later.

''The power play has been effective for us at times and ineffective at times,'' Getzlaf said. ''This was one of those games that we needed it big-time, and we were able to deliver.''

Niedermayer had opened the scoring on a power play 4:55 into the first, redirecting a Pronger shot from just inside the blue line. Parros made it 2-0 with 1:49 left in the period, converting a sharp-angle shot for his career-high fifth of the season.

The Coyotes fought back in the second, as Prucha got them on the board just 48 seconds in with a shot that beat Jonas Hiller. Perry answered for the Ducks at 9:55 after Getzlaf made a pretty stickhandling play around defender Zbynek Michalek and centered a pass to his linemate. Doan made it a one-goal game again with 5:13 left in the period, taking advantage of an Erik Christensen turnover to score unassisted for his career-high tying 28th of the season.

''We're playing desperate hockey right now,'' Getzlaf said. ''The situation is pretty much do or die from here on out.. Every night is a playoff game for us, and it's nice to see that we're recognizing the situation we're in. We have a huge game coming up against Nashville on Tuesday, so we just have to continue playing the way we are.

''The games are against the teams that we're going to be playing are going to be tough. We've got to get better and play harder, and we're looking forward to the challenge,'' Getzlaf added.
"We're in desperate mode right now and have to get everything we can. Especially playing a team that's within reach, we've got to make sure we close the gap." -- Minnesota forward Owen Nolan
Sharks 3, Avalanche 1 | Video

San Jose has been the NHL's best team at home this season, and with their recent roll at the Shark Tank they've reclaimed the lead in the President's Trophy race.

Milan Michalek notched a goal and an assist while Evgeni Nabokov turned in another strong outing with 31 saves as the Sharks won on home ice for the third time in four nights and jumped a point ahead of Detroit for the top seed in the Western Conference. Both teams have 10 games remaining.

''For sure we want to finish first, because that gives you the best playoff position,'' Michalek said. ''It's down to the end now, so we've got to try to get every point to be sure we have a chance.''

Jamie McGinn and Devin Setoguchi also scored for San Jose, whose 106 points are also four better than Eastern Conference-leading Boston and just two off the franchise record achieved last season.

Scott Hannan, a defenseman who spent the first eight seasons of his career playing for the Sharks, had the only goal for the Avalanche, his first this season. Andrew Raycroft finished with 25 saves.

''We competed better than we did the other night,'' left wing Ryan Smyth said, referring to an 8-1 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, the worst home defeat in franchise history. ''We got the puck deep and had plenty of chances, but it was a special teams game. They capitalized on their power plays, and we did not. It's a privilege to be on the power play, and we just didn't have it tonight.''

Michalek put San Jose in front to stay with 35 seconds left in the second period. He scored his 22nd of the season off a give-and-go with defenseman Alexei Semenov, who picked up his second assist of the night.

''I saw (Michalek) going to the net, and it was just tic-tac-toe,'' Semenov said with a shrug belying the play's difficulty. ''Sometimes when you don't play for two or three games, it's tough to give your best game, but the team needs me to step up while (Rob) Blake is out. We're getting close to the end here.''

Setoguchi had the only goal of the third when he scored into an empty net with 22 seconds remaining.

After a scoreless first period in which San Jose had to kill off a five-minute major to Jonathan Cheechoo for boarding Colorado defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, the Sharks took advantage of a Marek Svatos interference penalty to get on the board midway through the second.

Semenov took a shot from the point that McGinn deflected past Raycroft at 9:25 for his third of the season. McGinn hadn't scored since Nov. 4, a span of 23 games during which he also spent time in the AHL playing for Worcester.

The lead lasted for just 1:09 before Colorado drew even. Hannan, a first-round pick by San Jose in 1997, scored off a cross-ice pass from Wojtek Wolski, drawing boos from a crowd that once cheered him.

''From start to finish, we played solid,'' said Colorado coach Tony Granato, a former Sharks forward. ''They are No.. 1 for a reason. We had our opportunities, but another reason they are so good is their goalie. Nabokov played well all the way.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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