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Wings survive Canucks' late comeback

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we wish Paul Maurice better luck in the second game of his second stint as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes:

"Last shot wins" -- It wasn't the type of game that likely left either goaltender very happy, but the Detroit Red Wings gave the Joe Louis Arena faithful everything they could have asked for in terms of entertainment by hanging on for a 6-5 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

The Red Wings trailed 1-0, led 2-1, trailed 3-2, then scored four straight goals to take a seemingly safe 6-3 lead with just under 14 minutes left in regulation. But the Canucks weren't done -- they closed to within one in the final 85 seconds before the Wings escaped with the two points.

"That was exciting, post-lockout hockey, wasn't it?" Detroit coach Mike Babcock asked. "Last shot wins."

As defending Stanley Cup champions, the Wings understand the importance of never getting too high or too low. So they weren't making a big deal about the final score of the game, but they also weren't happy about letting things get interesting at the end.

"Not much panic sets in among the players," said forward Dan Cleary, whose second goal proved to be the game-winner. "But when you're up 6-3, you've got to tighten up. We can let teams get back in and get a sniff of it."

The go-ahead goal in the third was scored by Derek Meech, a defenseman moved to forward with the Wings battling injuries up front. It was his first NHL goal.

"Obviously it's a huge adjustment from defense to forward," said Meech, who had 5 assists in 49 previous NHL games. "Just as long as I keep skating and try to create something and bang around out there, things should go OK."

Life of the party -- Nobody wants to put a damper on a big celebration -- especially not if you're the Montreal Canadiens and all the hoopla surrounds the 99th anniversary of your franchise being founded as part of the National Hockey Association.

The Canadiens paid tribute to their storied history Thursday night with a pre-game ceremony, then jumped to an early lead and beat the New York Rangers 6-2 at Bell Centre. Maxim Lapierre and Steve Begin led the attack by contributing a goal and an assist each.

"I think it was a big night for everybody," Lapierre said. "We played really hard, the whole team, and we stayed in the system the whole game. We said it this week, when we play simple and good defensively, we're going to have some scoring chances."

Begin was one of three Montreal players to score in the first period and the Canadiens added another early in the second for a 4-0 lead. Although the Rangers got two of those goals back, the Canadiens recovered them in the third and never let the Blueshirts get a bigger rally going.

"We couldn't kind of collect ourselves, really," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "I thought we were OK to start with. We needed to kind of keep them with us or stay with them and we weren't able to do that, where in the past, for the most part, we've been able to kind of reel a team in and get ourselves into a hockey game, and we weren't able to do that tonight."

Cool in the clutch
-- Patrik Elias joined a fairly prestigious tandem by scoring his 15th career overtime goal as the New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at Wachovia Center. Elias tied Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin for the most regular-season OT goals. The League instituted the five-minute extra period to start the 1983-84 season.

"I just like to be in that position when the game is on the line," Elias said. "I just try to settle the play down and wait for my chance."

Elias also scored the goal that forced overtime, beating Flyers goalie Martin Biron with 1:30 left in regulation. The pair of tallies gave him 10 on the season, second on the team to Zach Parise. Afterward, his teammates and coach praised the abilities of the veteran forward.

"He is our clutch player," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He really steps up, especially as of late. I think he's really elevated his game."

Added coach Brent Sutter: "It's a quality that certain people have. Some people get into a groove and handle it better than others. With some guys, things just seem to work for them in those situations and Patty's one of those guys."

Elias has 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in his last seven games -- and New Jersey has won six times during that stretch.

A model opponent -- The Carolina Hurricanes sought to change the course of their season when they replaced coach Peter Laviolette on Wednesday with Paul Maurice, now in his second tour of duty with the franchise that relocated from Hartford in 1997.

There was no quick fix in Game 1 of Maurice Era 2.0 as the Pittsburgh Penguins came into the RBC Center and defeated the Hurricanes 5-2. But if the players were paying close attention, they might have learned something from the loss.

"They've got enough firepower on that team that they actually play a pretty defensive game and then wait for you to make a mistake, because there's a confidence there that you'll make one," Maurice said of the Penguins. "That's the confidence that we'll strive for."
It may take a little time, as Carolina looks to be a fragile team right now. Not only are the Hurricanes missing starting goalie Cam Ward, they're struggling mightily to score. When the Penguins broke on top, it marked the 11th consecutive game in which the Hurricanes have yielded the first goal.

"It's not about systems or anything like that," said Tuomo Ruutu, who scored one of Carolina's goals. "It's about us trying hard every night and then keeping it simple."

Nice time for a goal -- It may not be high up in his job description, but Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear showed he can score goals when they really count.

Known more as a tough guy than for his offensive abilities during his 15-year NHL career, Brashear snapped a 37-game goal drought dating back to last season with the go-ahead tally as the Capitals prevailed 5-2 over the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center.

"It just bounced there and I went to the goal. It looked like a big piece of cheese to me," said Brashear, who, after teammate Karl Alzner sent a drive off the back boards, forced a loose puck into the net before Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald could smother it.

Teammates probably aren't about to confuse Brashear with Alex Ovechkin anytime soon, but that's OK because A.O. also was on top of his game. He scored a goal and added 2 assists to provide the supplementary offense around Brashear's clutch score.

"Alex has got to be the one that stands up and says, 'Get on my back and follow me,"' coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He was dead serious tonight, and I think he made everybody else dead serious. They knew this was a business game. We had to redeem ourselves. You had to get this one at home."

New month, same Bruins -- Anybody who hoped the Boston Bruins might cool down simply because the calendar page changed probably was relying on wishful thinking. December has started -- and at first glance the co-leaders in the Eastern Conference look to be as sizzling as when they finished November with an 11-1-1 mark.

David Krejci scored the go-ahead, shorthanded goal in the third period and Phil Kessel had Boston's other two tallies in a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"It was a tight hockey game," Krejci said. "I think we played good in the second and third periods. We were all over them and we deserved to win. I was just hoping that we were going to score, and I'm glad that it was me."

Tim Thomas probably didn't care much who got the goal, but he was impressed by how Krejci scored it. After taking a Blake Wheeler pass, he made a couple nice moves before putting the puck past Mike Smith.

"That was beautiful," Thomas said. "As a goalie I try to stay even-keeled, but when a guy pulls off a move like that and puts us ahead, I got excited. I couldn't help it. I had to tap my stick on the ice and give him credit. That was one heck of a move, and then to finish it makes it really memorable because if you pull that move and then you don't score, nobody remembers it."

Stating his case
-- Craig Anderson has been tending goal lately like someone who doesn't plan on being a career backup. Making his fourth start in a row as Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer continues to ride the hot hand, Anderson turned aside 45 shots in a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at BankAtlantic Center.

"It was just one of those nights where they were just throwing everything at the net," Anderson said. "Our guys did a terrific job of cleaning up a lot of the rebounds that I was giving out."

Anderson already has two shutouts this season, one more than starter Tomas Vokoun. He came within 8:41 of another before Ales Kotalik got the Sabres' lone goal.

"He was great, especially when we needed him the most, and gave us the chance to win against a very good team," DeBoer said. "That's the type of effort we need in the net every night."

Gregory Campbell scored for the third straight game and set up Keith Ballard for what proved to be the game-winner, giving Anderson all the support he would require.

"I think it was a big night for everybody. We played really hard, the whole team, and we stayed in the system the whole game. We said it this week, when we play simple and good defensively, we're going to have some scoring chances." -- Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre
Numbers don't lie -- Coaches don't always buy into the random stats you'll find in the sports recaps that fans eat up, but the Nashville Predators have some numbers that are tough to ignore -- for example, they're 7-0-0 when leading after one period, 10-2-0 when scoring the first goal and 8-1-0 when defenseman Shea Weber scores a goal.

All of those things happened Thursday night, and lo and behold, the Predators put together a 3-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at Sommet Center.

"Those are good stats and good omens for us," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We have been behind in so many games 2-0 or 3-1, and it is hard to come back night in and night out. It is taxing on your team because you are pushing the envelope all the time.

"I hope we can keep those stats going. When you score first, especially at home, it gets the crowd into the game. It gives you a lot of good karma."

Another positive number as far as Nashville is concerned -- the 5-0-0 record for rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne, who stopped 19 shots by Colorado to stay perfect this season.

"He seals the ice. He is a big body," Trotz said. "He has great instincts and reflexes. He feels confident. He has some flow and feels good about himself."

Making them proud -- Martin Hanzal saved his best offensive performance in the NHL for a couple of very special fans -- his mother and father, who were visiting from the Czech Republic and made the trip to Arena to see him in action for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Hanzal scored the first three goals of the game to record his first career hat trick, and the Coyotes doubled up the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 -- a nice memory with which to send his parents home.

"It was great timing because they're leaving tomorrow," Hanzal said. "It was actually for them. It was amazing. I never scored two goals and then I scored the hat trick."

On the other hand, the Coyotes' goaltending carousel continued. After Mikael Tellqvist earned more playing time lately due to his success and some struggles by Ilya Bryzgalov, it was Tellqvist getting pulled after giving up three goals on just nine shots and Bryzgalov saving the day by shutting out the Leafs in the third period.

"We're a team that needs all 23 guys contributing at all different times," Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. "I felt Telly had got us to that point, Bryz had worked hard the last three games and we needed a pressure cooker out of him in the third. I had the gut feel it was the right time to make the change. I did it more to push the team."   

Still going strong -- The San Jose Sharks have been a remarkable story this season in and of themselves, but when you start to break down the team's roster it's hard to overlook the contributions of veteran Jeremy Roenick, who scored the 511th goal of his career in a 3-2 defeat of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It's pretty unbelievable when you think about how many people have played in this League, and all the great players, and you have little old me, a little kid from South Boston who was 155 pounds when I first got into the League," Roenick said in reflecting after the game. "Never would I have thought that I would accomplish some of the things I've done. It's great to be on a team like this that can allow me to continue to play and have a chance to win this year."

The Sharks won before an appreciative HP Pavilion crowd on a night when they hardly were at their best. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov kept the deficit to 1-0 after one period, San Jose tied it in the second, and Roenick gave the team the first of its two leads -- the second one held up -- by scoring 44 seconds into the third period.

"That's what good teams do," Roenick said. "We wouldn't have won if it wasn't for our goaltender. Our goaltender was as good as he's been all year. He saved us in the first period. It should have been 4-0. He single-handedly kept us in the game. Sometimes you need that as a team. We haven't had to rely on our goaltender at all this year to steal games. Tonight we needed him, and Nabby, just like the All-Star that he is, he was there when we needed him. He was the difference in the hockey game."

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

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