Predators, Canucks Claim First Place


Thursday, February 15th 2007, 5:49 am
By: News On 6


The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks turned key victories into leaps to first place.

Shea Weber scored twice and Tomas Vokoun made 22 saves to give Nashville a 5-0 home win over the San Jose Sharks that vaulted the Predators back on top of the NHL standings Wednesday night.

Nashville jumped over idle Buffalo, the Eastern Conference's top team, and stayed one point ahead of Detroit for first place in the Central Division and the Western Conference. The Red Wings rallied for a 3-1 victory at Dallas on Wednesday.

``The past few games, we didn't play the way we wanted to, and we slacked off a little bit,'' forward J.P. Dumont said of the Predators, who had dropped four of six. ``Other teams caught us, and that game was good not just for everybody, but just for ourselves to show how good we are.''

The Canucks are trying to do the same.

Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo scored 4:20 into overtime, his third extra-session goal of the season, to lift the Canucks to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. Daniel Sedin and Markus Naslund also scored to push the Canucks into a first-place tie with Calgary in the Northwest Division.

Marian Gaborik celebrated his 25th birthday with a goal and an assist, and Pavol Demitra also scored for the Wild, who are one point behind.

``We needed our guys to be totally on top of their game,'' Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said after the Canucks improved to 15-3-3 since Christmas. ``Both teams knew it was an important game with first place up for grabs, and both teams wanted it.''

In other NHL games, it was St. Louis 4, Columbus 2; Ottawa 4, Florida 0; Pittsburgh 5, Chicago 4 in a shootout; and New Jersey 5, Montreal 2.

Vokoun was the beneficiary of a boatload of offense during his sixth start in seven games. He posted his fourth shutout this season and 20th of his career.

``We played from the first minute to the last minute how we are supposed to play,'' Vokoun said.

Martin Erat had a goal and an assist, Dumont and David Legwand each added a goal.

The Predators bounced back from a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles last Saturday that snapped an eight-game home winning streak, and did it by chasing Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala midway through the first period.

The Canucks pulled out their win the hard way, topping the Wild on their home ice and doing it against the NHL's best overtime team. Minnesota is 14-1-4 in games decided after regulation.

Vancouver improved to 8-1 in overtime and won for the first time in St. Paul in four trips this season.

``It's huge to win here,'' Salo said. ``Especially this year, we've struggled in this building.''

Blues 4, Blue Jackets 2

At Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis rookie David Backes had his first two-goal game in the NHL. Backes, playing in his 25th game, notched his third and fourth goals. He has three in three contests.

Bill Guerin scored a goal, Dallas Drake added an empty-netter and Manny Legace stopped 20 shots. Lee Stempniak had two assists for the Blues, who improved to 11-11-6 on the road.

Rick Nash and Alexander Svitov had goals for Columbus, which has dropped five of six.

Senators 4, Panthers 0

At Ottawa, Martin Gerber made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season, and 10 Senators scored points.

Gerber, making a rare start in place of suspended goalie Ray Emery, got his first shutout in 21 games with Ottawa this season. It was the Swiss goalie's seventh career shutout and first in 51 regular-season games since Jan. 7, 2006.

Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher, Mike Comrie and Dean McAmmond all had goals in Ottawa's third straight victory.

Florida's Ed Belfour stopped 29 shots one night after shutting out Montreal.

Penguins 5, Blackhawks 4, SO

At Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin tied the game late in the third period after the host Penguins wasted a multiple-goal lead for the third game in a row, then teamed with Erik Christensen to score in the shootout.

The Penguins earned a point for the 14th consecutive game _ they are 12-0-2 during that stretch _ for the first time since they won 12 times and tied twice from Dec. 19, 1996 through Jan. 21, 1997. They also won their fourth consecutive shootout decision after losing five of six.

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, the NHL scoring leader with 88 points, got an assist but failed to score a goal for the eighth consecutive game _ the longest streak of his two-season career.

Tuomo Ruutu completed Chicago's comeback from a 3-1 deficit. Craig MacDonald, Patrick Sharp and Martin St. Pierre added goals for the Blackhawks.

Ronald Petrovicky, Maxime Talbot and Michel Ouellet also scored for Pittsburgh.

Devils 5, Canadiens 2

At East Rutherford, N.J., Brian Rafalski scored twice during two-man advantages and the host Devils tallied three times on the power play, sending Montreal to a season-high fifth straight loss.

Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Sergei Brylin also scored and Martin Brodeur made 19 saves for his 35th win. New Jersey beat the Canadiens for the eighth straight time, a streak that dates to 2004.

The Devils have won five of six games and 16 of 22 (16-3-3).

Sheldon Souray and Sergei Samsonov scored for the Canadiens, who have lost 11 of 15.

Red Wings 3, Stars 1

At Dallas, Henrik Zetterberg netted the go-ahead goal with 4:36 left after setting up the tying score a little over four minutes earlier for Detroit.

The Stars held a 1-0 lead midway through the third period behind rookie goalie Mike Smith, who was trying for his second shutout in three games. But Pavel Datsyuk tied it at 11:14.

Mathieu Schneider added an empty-netter with 33 seconds left to snap Dallas' three-game winning streak.

Mike Ribeiro had a second-period power-play goal for the Stars.