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Young talent shining for St. Louis

by Brian Hunter
A few thoughts coming off a night when road teams posted a 4-0-1 mark:

Making an impact -- Shrewd drafting is paying dividends for the St. Louis Blues, and the evidence was all over the ice Friday night in a 6-4 win over the Vancouver Canucks at G.M. Place.

Patrik Berglund, the team's top pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, continued to play like one of the top rookies in the League, scoring his 13th goal and adding an assist for his 27th point of the season.

Meanwhile, T.J. Oshie, who has missed significant time this season due to an ankle injury, broke a 3-3 tie in the third period with his fourth career goal. The Blues' first-round pick in 2005 has four points in four games since returning to the lineup.

"It's feeling good," Oshie said about the ankle. "I'm just going out there and working hard, and my philosophy is to let everything else follow and tonight it did."

St. Louis continues to find itself at the bottom of the Western Conference, in part because the Blues have had trouble keeping not only Oshie but veteran talents such as Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald healthy and on the ice. But against a Vancouver team that expects to contend for the Stanley Cup with Mats Sundin now in the fold, they showed fight in overcoming a pair of one-goal deficits and recovering from blowing a pair of one-goal leads.

"Like coach Andy Murray says, the next game's the biggest, so we came into tonight thinking that," Oshie said. "We didn't have the first period we wanted, so we figured we'd come out in the second and third and show what we can do, and that's what we did."

Finally foiled -- Shootouts have been one of their strong points all season long, but even the New York Rangers can't win them all.

Ales Kotalik scored on the first shot of the breakaway competition to give the Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 win over the Rangers at HSBC Arena. Ryan Miller stopped all three New York attempts, including the last one by former teammate Chris Drury, to prevail in a goaltending battle with Steve Valiquette.

"Both were good," Drury said. "Ryan's one of the best in the league. You could tell right from the start he was locked in pretty good. It was a heck of a game by him."

Miller made 43 saves prior to the shootout. He was happy to get the win, but equally impressed with the play of Valiquette, who made 32 saves as Henrik Lundqvist got a night off.

"It was fun. I can't imagine Steve's feeling as high about it, but he should be happy with his game," Miller said. "He played really well. These nights don't come around too often where you go head-to-head with the other guy."

Valiquette looked sharp even though it was only his 10th appearance and eighth start of the season. He was philosophical about his role playing behind a goalie in Lundqvist who has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy in each of his first three seasons.

"If I go a week or three between games, I know I'm going to be ready to play," Valiquette said. "We can't control the outcome of the game, but our performance is very much within it."

Toughing it out -- By the end of their six-game road trip, the Columbus Blue Jackets were more than just a little banged up. They were missing eight regulars for their game against the Washington Capitals, and almost had to do without the League's rookie sensation in net, Steve Mason.

Unbeknownst to his teammates, Mason was suffering from muscle spasms in his upper body and spent time in the trainer's room prior to making the start against the Caps. They didn't get any inclination of it through his play on the ice, as he stopped all 45 shots against him in a 3-0 win by the Jackets.

"Seriously? I thought he was in the whole day," R.J. Umberger said when informed that Mason had been iffy. "Whatever they worked on, they seemed to work it out. He can decide every day at 6:20 if you're going to play like that."

The shutout for Mason was his League-leading sixth of the season -- he already ranks first in goals-against average and save percentage. And he's never given up a goal in two career starts against Washington. Meanwhile, the Capitals lost for only the second time in regulation at Verizon Center this season.

Mason made 18 saves in the first period to hold the Jackets in the game until their offense kicked into gear. Umberger picked up the only goal Mason would need. Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll added power-play scores for insurance.

"It's huge for us," Mason said. "Obviously, with a lot of guys out of the lineup it was a big opportunity for other guys to step up. They did that. We had a down first period, but the guys bounced back in the second and the third."

The big 3-0 -- One night after Boston became the League's first team to 30 victories, the San Jose Sharks joined them and jumped back ahead in the race for the President's Trophy. The Sharks accomplished this by winning in a building, Rexall Place, that hadn't been kind to them in the past, as they topped the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1.

Patrick Marleau scored twice, Devin Setoguchi added a goal and enjoyed a three-point night and rookie Brad Staubitz recorded his first NHL goal. San Jose coach Todd McLellan was less concerned with numbers than the body of work the Sharks have put in along the way.   

''We don't look at it is as 30, or 31 or 32, we look at it as the input into the game, the process and did we compete hard enough,'' he said. ''It was more rewarding that way than the win itself. Playoffs are a long ways away. What we are trying to do right now is build so that we are prepared to play these type of games night in and night out.''
While the playoffs are all but a certainty for the Sharks, the Oilers are battling for every point in the hopes of getting there themselves. Defenseman Steve Staios knew Friday's setback was hardly a step in the right direction.

''We have to be able to find a way to prepare and come out and play with emotion every night,'' Staios said. ''That's been lacking in this room. Whether we win or lose we have to do it in the fashion we are used to and that hasn't been happening for a while here. Since I have been, here we have had some down times but we have always been able to find a way to bring back the type of game that is Oiler-type hockey, that is passion and energy. We haven't had that so far this year. We've just had it in spurts."

Leading the way -- In order to win more games, the Tampa Bay Lightning need their best players to play their best. That was the case in a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.

Ryan Malone scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner in the third period. Martin St. Louis assisted on both of Malone's tallies and got the Lightning on the board early with a shorthanded goal. Vincent Lecavalier assisted on the score by St. Louis and another by Vinnie Prospal.

"I think this team needs guys to show them, 'Let's go, guys, follow me,' and fortunately we have some good leadership in this room," St. Louis said. "Tonight it just happened to be me and a couple of the guys just tried to set the tone from the get-go."

It's been a step or two forward, then several steps back for the Lightning this season, even since they made the coaching switch to replace Barry Melrose with Rick Tocchet, but Malone believes the team is starting to head in the right direction.

"These last 12-15 games we've really been coming together and playing more as a team," Malone said. "I think everybody's realizing that when we're playing the system the right way, we have success. Everybody is on the same page, and everyone knows where each other's going to be in the neutral zone and the offensive zone."

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

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