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Wild prevail on Koivu's shootout goal

by Brian Hunter
Winning on home ice against divisional opponents is normally considered important to any team's success, but down the stretch in a Western Conference playoff race that becomes more muddled by the day it's nothing short of vital.

Mikko Koivu made sure the Minnesota Wild didn't let a crucial point slip away Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.

Koivu's goal in the fourth round of the shootout lifted the Wild to a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers and gave them sole possession of second place in the Northwest Division, one point ahead of Edmonton and idle Vancouver.

Eric Belanger and Antti Miettinen scored in regulation and Niklas Backstrom stopped 28 shots for the Wild, seventh in the West. At the end of play Sunday, just six points separated fifth from 13th in the conference.

"The teams are so equal, especially in our conference," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We're all there. So when we play each other, it's going to be intense, close games."

Sheldon Souray and Sam Gagner scored for the Oilers, who along with the Canucks are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. Dwayne Roloson made 37 saves a day after giving up five goals in the first period and getting pulled from an 8-3 loss in Detroit.

"In the Western Conference now, every team is in it," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "We're competitive and we battle hard. We've just been short against the best teams in the league."

Koivu finally broke through in the penalty-shot tiebreaker after Roloson denied Miettinen, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns. At the other end, Backstrom stopped Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Ales Hemsky and Tom Gilbert before Koivu skated in and went five-hole on Roloson to secure the victory.

"We're fighting for the same playoff spot as (the Oilers) are, so every game is going huge against them," Backstrom said. "We need every point we can get, so it was a good game for us to get two points."

Despite there being just over two months left in the regular season, the game had more of a playoff atmosphere from the start. When the Oilers were awarded an early 5-on-3 advantage for 21 seconds, MacTavish used his timeout to set up a play. It paid off, as Souray's blast from the point at 6:26 beat Backstrom high on the glove side, with three seconds remaining on the first penalty.

Belanger tied the score with 1:41 left in the first, and following a scoreless second period the Wild took their first lead 4:20 into the third on Miettinen's shorthanded tally. It didn't last, however, as Gagner forced overtime by scoring with 6:04 remaining, capitalizing on a rebound after Backstrom kicked Nilsson's drive back into the slot.
"We showed some good resolve," Oilers left wing Ethan Moreau said. "It comes down to a shootout. Pretty happy with the way we responded to a bad loss, and we competed. We were physical. They competed hard too."

Stars 4, Predators 1 | Video

Marty Turco made his 23rd straight start for Dallas and doesn't show signs of relinquishing his spot between the pipes anytime soon.

Turco stopped 25 shots and Brad Richards provided a pair of specialty-team points, scoring a power-play goal and assisting on a shorthanded tally by Brian Sutherby as the Stars put an end to Nashville's four-game winning streak and tied Anaheim for fifth in the Western Conference.

Mark Parrish and Steve Ott also collected goals for Dallas, which improved to 11-1-1 in its last 13 games at American Airlines Center. Turco, whose struggles early in the season mirrored the team's, has gotten into a groove. He's 7-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in his last eight starts, and eschews any idea he might wear down from such a heavy workload.

"It doesn't feel like it's been 23 straight. We had the All-Star break in between, which was huge," Turco said. "The way I feel and the way my team's playing alongside me, they're making it easy on me so probably the last half of these 23 have been the easiest, and we look forward to doing it some more."

Stars coach Dave Tippett isn't overly concerned about burning his goalie out. He talks to Turco regularly about how he's feeling and said maybe a little bit of fatigue isn't such a bad thing.

"He tells me that he's better when he's a little bit tired," Tippett said. "His game is more efficient. … He's not chasing the game, he's letting the game come to him. And tonight is a perfect example -- that was a tough week for him. He goes (and plays) probably the best game of his week tonight."

Jason Arnott had the Predators' only goal and Dan Ellis made 18 saves. Nashville remained in a three-way tie for 11th in the West.

''We definitely had a bunch of chances in the second period, but it was a case of running into a hot goalie,'' defenseman Shea Weber said. ''We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period, and it's tough to play from behind, especially against a good team like this.''

Sutherby had a game-changing goal for the Stars early. Mike Modano received a double high-sticking minor for drawing blood on Steve Sullivan, but the penalty-killing unit held the Predators off the board until the first half of the penalty expired and Sutherby then converted Richards' feed at 5:07 to get Dallas on the board first.

"I'm getting to play with some pretty good hockey players that if you work hard and go to the right areas, they're going to find you and it's just a matter of finishing a couple off," said Sutherby, who has six goals on the season.

Parrish made it 2-0 on a tap-in with 4:28 left in the first, getting to a loose puck behind Ellis after the goalie stopped a shot by James Neal but didn't realize it had squirted loose.

Arnott had the lone goal of the second, getting the Predators on the board with 5:56 remaining, but a four-minute penalty to Sullivan at the end of the period and a delay of game call against Ellis seven seconds into the third gave the Stars a long 5-on-3 advantage. Richards connected at the 1:42 mark for a 3-1 lead and the Stars carried that into the final minutes, when Ott notched an empty-net goal with 1:34 to play.

"We weren't at our best, played a lot better in the third," Richards said. "Found a way to win where maybe earlier in the year we didn't find a way to win those games."

Flyers 3, Thrashers 2 | Video

Jeff Carter crept his way closer to Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goal scoring and Philadelphia continued its climb in the Atlantic Division standings by holding off Atlanta on Sunday afternoon at Philips Arena.

Carter's power-play goal 2:51 into the third gave the Flyers a 3-0 lead. It was Carter's second of the game and 34th of the season, second in the League and three behind the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner.

"We see each other," Carter said of his line, which also includes Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell. "When you stick together for a while, you get to know what the other guys are doing."


GOALS: 34 | ASST: 24 | PTS: 58
SOG: 226 | +/-: +15

Lupul had the Flyers' other goal and Antero Niittymaki finished with 29 saves as they moved to within four points of the Devils in the Atlantic while also moving a point ahead of the Canadiens for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Vyacheslav Kozlov almost rallied the Thrashers with power-play goals in the final 16 minutes, but the Flyers held on as Niittymaki improved to 13-0 career against Atlanta.

"The first couple of games this year, I didn't think they played that well," Niittymaki said. "This was actually the best game they played against us."

Philadelphia scored a goal in each period, with Carter opening the offense on a shot past Johan Hedberg's glove side 8:25 into the first. Lupul picked up his 16th of the season 52 seconds into the middle period after the Flyers caught the Thrashers on a line change.

When Carter scored again in the third, the Flyers had outscored the Thrashers 19-6 in the season series, but they had to work hard to sweep the four games. Kovalchuk, celebrating the recent birth of his second child, got loose down the middle and fired a shot that trickled through Niittymaki at the four-minute mark, ending his shutout bid. Kozlov added a second power-play goal with 6:56 left, scoring from the right circle.

"We didn't make it easy on ourselves," Hartnell said. "But we got the points, and that's what counts. A win's a win. These two points are huge."

Thrashers coach John Anderson was pleased to see his team's power play come to life, snapping a 1-for-33 stretch.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win," Anderson said. "Our effort was way better. We played smarter. But it still wasn't good enough."

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

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