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Wings' PP spells doom for Lightning

by Brian Hunter / NHL.com
A few thoughts as we encourage you to "Rock the Vote" for the 57th NHL All-Star Game, taking place on Jan. 25 in Montreal:

A potent power play -- With all the offensive firepower they possess, the last thing an opponent wants to do is put the Detroit Red Wings on the power play. That goes for any point in a game, but it holds especially true for any team that happens to have the defending Stanley Cup champions down.

The Tampa Bay Lightning held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes Thursday night, but over the ensuing two periods they took some penalties that had coach
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Barry Melrose shaking his head. Meanwhile, the Wings were all too happy to capitalize. Their NHL-best power play struck twice in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"We know we have good players on it, and we had a good start on it," said Henrik Zetterberg, who tied the game during a two-man advantage 1:38 into the third. "It gives us confidence to go in and do what we want and make the right plays. When you score goals, the confidence keeps growing."

Indeed, Mikael Samuelsson followed by converting 52 seconds later on the ensuing 5-on-4 to give Detroit the lead for good. The Lightning had taken three penalties in a span of 18 seconds late in the second period, which proved to be a recipe for disaster.

"For about four minutes in the second period we were brain-dead," Melrose said. "Three terrible penalties. You can't give the best team in the world a two-minute 5-on-3 and another two-minute 5-on-4. Detroit doesn't do that. Detroit doesn't beat itself. Tonight we beat ourselves."

Mark Recchi, who opened the scoring for the Lightning, echoed his coach's assessment.

"We were doing fine until we got those (penalties)," Recchi said. "It really just changed the momentum of the game."

Youth shines through
Kyle Okposo was playing in his 25th NHL game and Josh Bailey in his second. The pair of first-round draft picks teamed up to give the New York Islanders some much-needed momentum en route to a 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place.

Filip Kuba had given the home team a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal less than two minutes into the game, but Bailey set up Okposo with the Islanders skating up a man at 12:42 of the first. For the 20-year-old Okposo, taken seventh in the 2006 Entry Draft, it was his fourth career goal. Bailey, 19, recorded his first NHL point with the assist.

"After last game, it's good that Coach (Scott Gordon) shows that confidence in me, because then when I get out there I have confidence, too, because he sent me out there in those situations. I'm just trying to make the most of it," said Bailey, selected ninth in this year's draft -- which was held at Scotiabank Place.

Gordon was complimentary of the young center's "puck poise" and used him often in man-advantage situations -- of Bailey's 13:10 of ice time, 5:28 came when the Islanders were on the power play.

"Just the patience that he has to protect the puck, put it into areas where he can get a read and get a look and find plays," Gordon said. "That to me is the biggest thing that he's got going for him."

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Shootout weapons -- Obviously when you have a couple of guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there's no shortage of talent on your roster to turn to when the game's on the line. But when the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves in a shootout against the Philadelphia Flyers, their key contributors turned out to be a backup goalie and a rookie defenseman.

Alex Goligoski scored in the sixth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker on his first career attempt, and Dany Sabourin was perfect on six tries at the other end as the Penguins blew a 3-0 lead, then rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena.

"It's something I practiced during the summer," said Sabourin, who entered the game after the Flyers scored four goals against Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period. "It's something I added to my game."

Despite his relative inexperience in this League, the 23-year-old Goligoski looked like a seasoned veteran when he skated in on Martin Biron, shifted the puck from backhand to forehand and then slid it along the goal line and into the net for the decisive tally.

"It's a move I've done before," said Goligoski, who has 3 goals on the season. "If something was open to shoot I would have shot, but, yeah, I kind of knew what I was doing."

 
 
Only a matter of time -- Technically, the Boston Bruins got the monkey off their backs when they won three games against the Montreal Canadiens before bowing out in a first-round playoff series last spring. But they still had an ugly 0-10-2 regular-season streak going against their Northeast Division rival heading into Thursday's game at TD Banknorth Garden.

The Bruins didn't just put their past struggles against the Habs behind them -- they did it emphatically, as Stephane Yelle and Marco Sturm each scored twice to spark a 6-1 rout that left Boston alone in first in the division.

"Probably one of the better games I've seen since I've been with this organization," Sturm said. "It's great to see we are heading in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go."

The tone for the game was set by each team's goaltenders, as Manny Fernandez played solid all night except for a puckhandling mistake that led to Saku Koivu's goal, while Carey Price yielded three goals in the first period and struggled much of the night.

"I think they just wanted it more," Price said. "They had more of a fight and they put in the effort, and we didn't."

Koivu realized the Bruins getting a win against the Canadiens only was a matter of time: "They'd gone a lot of games against us without a win and we just weren't ready, for whatever reason."

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Making adjustments -- In order to cure a power play that was in a 1-for-21 slump, the Minnesota Wild made a simple adjustment -- have their defensemen go wider. They didn't bother to test the idea out in practice; instead, they unleashed it for the first time against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Four power-play goals later -- including a pair by defenseman Marek Zidlicky, his first goals of the season -- the Wild had a resounding 4-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

"We didn't even practice it. I guess sometimes when the players don't know what they're doing it works," said center Eric Belanger, who along with Andrew Brunette also scored with the extra man. "It's really hard in this League to score goals 5-on-5. The system and everything is really good. It's hard to get some chances close to the net, the goaltenders are so great. Your power play is going to get you a lot of goals. It got us going."

"You can't give the best team in the world a two-minute, 5-on-3 and another two-minute, 5-on-4. Detroit doesn't do that. Detroit doesn't beat itself. Tonight we beat ourselves." -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Barry Melrose
Zidlicky was acquired from Nashville during the offseason to add punch to the Minnesota blue line. He had been limited to just 3 assists in nine games before doubling his point total with the 2 goals and an assist.

"It was a good old fashioned butt-kicking," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "They played as a team. We played as individuals. They deserved to beat us. They outskated us at each end of the ice."

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Opposite ends of the spectrum -- It would be hard to find two teams whose fortunes have changed as much over the past six months than the two that met at American Airlines Center.

The Los Angeles Kings skated away with a 3-2 victory that moved them above .500 after they ended last season as the worst team in the Western Conference and tied Tampa Bay for fewest points in the League. The team they beat, the Dallas Stars, stayed mired in last place in the Pacific Division, a spot unfamiliar to the perennial playoff contenders.

Michal Handzus and Kyle Quincey scored power-play goals and Erik Ersberg stopped 24 shots to lead the Kings to only their second win in their last nine trips to Texas.

"On the road in general it's tough," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "But we played pretty well tonight. We came in here and grinded it out."

Very little has gone right for the Stars this season, and while it's only November, the team's veterans are concerned.

"Our work ethic wasn't there and until we realize it, we'll keep going down in the standings," Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "They're a young team without a lot of experience, but all their guys work hard. I think we've hit bottom. If you're not willing to put your work boots on, it's going to be hard to win in this League."

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Providing a spark — A big reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs have kept their heads above water so far this season has been the line of Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Antropov had a goal and Stajan chipped in 3 assists in a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place that improved the Leafs to 7-6-4. The win was a good bounce back from a loss in Calgary two nights earlier.

"I think our line, we're rolling and we're playing with confidence," Stajan said. "It's resulting in a lot of goals and we know we've got to do that on a nightly basis to give ourselves the chance to win.
"It's a pretty simple game when you keep it simple and you go to the net and you're playing with (Antropov) and (Ponikarovsky), they go to the net, they're big bodies and they can find the puck when there's a scramble in front and right now we're really clicking."

Toronto's power play converted on three of its four opportunities, with Tomas Kaberle, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski making Edmonton pay for its trips to the penalty box.

"Probably one of the better games I've seen since I've been with this organization. It's great to see we are heading in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go." -- Boston Bruins winger Marco Sturm
"The PP was clicking for us, and if the power play is clicking there's more than a 50 percent chance that you're going to win the game," Antropov said. "That's what happened to us."

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Killer instinct -- Although they got one point as consolation, the San Jose Sharks saw their pride take a hit when their home win streak ended at nine with an overtime loss Tuesday to Nashville.

They returned to HP Pavilion two nights later in a take-no-prisoners kind of mood, and made the Calgary Flames pay the price. The Sharks erupted for 4 goals in the first period, including a pair 27 seconds apart by Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek to open the scoring, and raced to a 6-1 victory.

"We talk about it in our locker room -- we're trying to learn to win whether the score's 4-1 or 1-1 going into the third," said Pavelski, who scored two power-play goals in the game. "We want to get that fifth one, we want to get that sixth one and that seventh one. It doesn't really matter the score, we're going to play the same way. We did that at times tonight, but there's still room for improvement."

A sobering through for the rest of the League, considering the Sharks have the best record at 14-3-1 overall, including a 10-0-1 home mark. The defense helped generate the offense against Calgary, setting franchise records for a single game with 9 assists and 9 points.

"That's good. It's been stressed a lot early this year, wanting the defenseman jumping up into the play and getting involved," said Dan Boyle, who had three assists. "We have six guys, seven guys who can participate offensively, and it was great to help out tonight."

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



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