Penguins Finish Sweep of EC's Top Teams

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 8:03 am
By: News On 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ ``Sid The Kid'' and the Pittsburgh Penguins are showing signs a return to the postseason might be special.

A season after losing 60 games and missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year, Sidney Crosby and his young teammates have to be considered a Stanley Cup threat, especially based on the past two days.

Backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault stopped 25 shots for his first shutout in more than three years, and the Penguins completed a two-night sweep of the Eastern Conference's top two teams with a 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Twenty four hours earlier, the Penguins beat Buffalo 5-4 in a shootout in a game in which they outshot the Sabres 38-19.

``We need to start to get into the playoff mode,'' Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. ``We have to start thinking about ourselves and having the right attitude. Again, we had the right attitude to approach that game. Those young guys, they keep surprising a lot of people.''

In other NHL games, it was Detroit 4, Nashville 2; Colorado 3, Calgary 2; and Columbus 5, Anaheim 4 in a shootout.

A couple of older guys _ Thibault and Jarkko Ruutu _ also contributed to the Penguins' third straight win and fifth in six games (5-0-1).

Thibault, 32, withstood a slow start by the Penguins and some early pressure by the Devils. Ruutu, 31, got the winning goal on a deflection off a Devils stick and then set up an insurance score by Erik Christensen in the third period.

``It's awesome, the past two nights,'' Thibault said after giving starter Marc-Andre Fleury a break. ``I thought we played great last night against Buffalo even though it was 5-4, and to come here to New Jersey and shut them out, it's tremendous. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is a good start.''

Crosby, who earned his NHL-leading 104th point on Ruutu's goal late in the second period, said the Penguins are starting to play a full 60 minutes of hockey every game.

``Every night is new,'' Crosby said. ``We can't sit on this and think we've accomplished everything. It's still a big climb for us.''

Martin Brodeur made 19 saves for New Jersey, which had a two-game winning streak snapped and failed to tie Buffalo for first overall in the East. The Sabres have a game in hand.

``I think we missed a bunch of good opportunities early in the game,'' said Devils center John Madden, who missed the net on a second-period breakaway when the game was scoreless. ``They came out flat and we missed some good opportunities. They just kept chipping away, the way they should have after their game last night. They kept putting the puck deep and we kept turning it over.''

Thibault played a good positional game in posting his first shutout since Oct. 8, 2003, stopping Sergei Brylin and Zach Parise on good chances in the first period, and Scott Gomez in close after the center picked up a loose puck and broke in.

``You want to earn the start, so every game you have to be sharp when you're the backup,'' said Thibault, 5-2 since Feb. 18. ``If you're not, you might not play for a while.''

The Penguins' two third-period goals were well-earned in handing New Jersey its fourth straight loss at home.

``We've been struggling playing 60 minutes, and the last two nights we have done that,'' Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. ``It's a good effort against the top two teams in the conference. So it's a good feeling to know we can play with anyone.''

Red Wings 4, Predators 2

At Detroit, Jiri Hudler scored twice and the Red Wings beat Nashville to move ahead of the Predators atop the NHL and also in the Central Division.

Hudler scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period after making it 2-2 with 3:37 left in the second.

The Red Wings beat Nashville on back-to-back nights, giving them one more point in the division and a league-high 99.

Nashville went ahead on goals by Alexander Radulov in the first period and Jason Arnott in the second, but the Red Wings responded each time. Nicklas Lidstrom made it 1-1 early in the second and Hudler scored off a rebound late in the period.

Dominik Hasek made 27 saves for Detroit, 5-1-1 against the Predators.

Avalanche 3, Flames 2

At Denver, Paul Stastny extended his NHL rookie record points streak to 19 games with a third-period goal and Colorado stayed in the playoff hunt.

The Avalanche are eight points behind Calgary and the playoff cutoff in the Western Conference with 12 games left.

Stastny has nine goals and 26 assists during the streak.

Joe Sakic scored his 602nd goal to move past Jari Kurri into 16th place on the NHL career list. Milan Hejduk added a power-play goal, and Andrew Brunette had two assists. Peter Budaj made 17 saves.

Jarome Iginla scored his 34th of the season, and Stephane Yelle added a power-play goal for Calgary.

Blue Jackets 5, Ducks 4, SO

At Anaheim, Calif., Nikolai Zherdev scored twice and David Vyborny got the only goal in a five-round shootout to lift Columbus.

It was Columbus' second stunning road victory over the Ducks this season.

The Blue Jackets twice rallied from one-goal deficits to grab a 3-2 lead. Zherdev had two goals against Jean-Sebastien Giguere during a 63-second span of the second period, matching his output for his previous 38 games combined.

Fredrik Modin scored his 200th NHL goal and Rick Nash also found the net for Columbus.

The Ducks tied it 3-3 in the second period on defenseman Francois Beauchemin's second goal of the game and sixth this season.

Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz also scored for the Ducks, who had won their previous five games and six straight at home.