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Penguins, Rangers look like winners three weeks after NHL trade deadline

The Canadian Press
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Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas makes a save on the Pittsburgh Penguins\' Bill Guerin earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Gene J. Puskar Author: The Hockey News

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Penguins, Rangers look like winners three weeks after NHL trade deadline

The Canadian Press
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It has been three weeks since the NHL trade deadline and so far, the winners look to be the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes.

Nothing is certain until the Stanley Cup is hoisted in June, but those are the clubs that look to have filled holes with just the right people ahead of the March 4 deadline.

"Calgary did a good job and the Rangers got (Nik) Antropov and (Derek) Morris and they're playing really well, but we'll see what they do in the playoffs," Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk said this week. "It's still the regular season, and the best team in the playoffs will win."

The Penguins landed two wingers for star centre Sidney Crosby - Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz - in trades, and claimed checker Craig Adams off waivers. Former New York Islander Guerin had three goals and seven assists in his first nine games in Pittsburgh, while former Anaheim Duck Kunitz had six goals and six assists in his first 12 contests as a Penguin.

The team has gone 6-1-2 since the deadline, although it was already hot. The Penguins' rally after a mediocre first half has them at 12-2-3 since Dan Bylsma was brought in from AHL Wilkes-Barre to replace the fired Michel Therrien as head coach.

The deals look to have undone much of the damage caused a year earlier when Pittsburgh sent a large part of their depth to Atlanta at the deadline for Marian Hossa. Hossa bolted as a free agent to Detroit after the Red Wings beat Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup final.

The recent return of veteran defenceman and power-play specialist Sergei Gonchar, who spent 56 games on the injury list, was almost like adding another player for a Pittsburgh team now gunning for another long playoff run.

The Rangers not only got a big scoring winger in Antropov, who has four goals and four assists in eight games since he was acquired from Toronto, and a veteran defenceman in Morris, but also added a needed dose of sandpaper in picking up controversial winger Sean Avery on re-entry waivers.

Since the deadline, the Rangers are 7-3-0 and in a battle four the fourth and fifth spots in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina brought back winger Erik Cole. A bust in Edmonton with 27 points in 63 games, Cole has 10 points in as many games since he was reunited with Eric Staal on the Hurricanes' top line.

Carolina went 7-1-2 after the deadline and took a four-game win streak into Wednesday night's game against another hot club, the Ottawa Senators.

But Ottawa's big move was sending centre Antoine Vermette to Columbus for goalie Pascal Leclaire, who is battling an injury and likely won't make his presence felt until next season. The Senators picked up Mike Comrie, but mostly they are still riding the boost they got when Cory Clouston replaced coach Craig Hartsburg as head coach Feb. 2.

Meanwhile, the speedy Vermette has fit in nicely with the Blue Jackets.

"With the loss of (Derick) Brassard, he's really stabilized the second line for us," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a player that's well-defined offensively and defensively.

"He's done a great job killing penalties. And the chemistry between him and R.J. Umberger has been really terrific since Day 1."

Columbus is 6-2-1 since the deadline and looks safe to make the playoffs for the first time in its 10-year existence. Having said that, the Western Conference playoff battle is crowded and tight.

The Blue Jackets' next opponent is Calgary, which probably made the biggest deadline deal when it acquired centre Olli Jokinen from Phoenix. The Flames also brought back defenceman Jordan Leopold from Colorado.

Results have been mixed since then. The Flames were 4-4-1 after the deadline heading into their game Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. But Jokinen had eight goals and 12 points in his first nine games as a Flame.

Hitchcock said Calgary is more about the team than any individual player.

"Calgary is built the right way - through the middle of the ice," he said. "Through the goaltender, the (top) four defencemen and the centre-ice position.

"Between Jokinen, who replaces Matthew Lombardi, (Craig) Conroy, (David) Moss, and (Daymond) Langkow, it's a really unsung group. Everyone talks about the stars, but the stabilization of that team starts with the centres."

The Vancouver Canucks got what they needed before the deadline - signing big centre Mats Sundin - and a recent spurt has them battling the Flames for top spot in the Northwest Division.

The Oilers picked up Ales Kotalik from Buffalo and Patrick O'Sullivan from Los Angeles and while neither has lit it up on attack, the team has gone 4-3-3 and is doggedly hanging on to a playoff spot.

Some teams may take time to see their deals bare fruit.

The Boston Bruins grabbed veteran Mark Recchi and defenceman Steve Montador before the deadline and since then have gone 4-4-1. However, the veteran Recchi may be a valuable addition in the playoffs.

Some teams have been less fortunate.

The Buffalo Sabres are still suffering from an injury to goaltender Ryan Miller, and picking up goaltending depth in Mikael Tellqvist hasn't prevented them from going 2-5-1 in their last eight.

The Montreal Canadiens made moves before the deadline, acquiring Mathieu Schneider to help the power play and Glen Metropilt to provide depth at centre. But the Canadiens lost five in a row before getting a win Tuesday over lowly Atlanta and their playoff spot remains in danger.

The Florida Panthers opted not to trade top defenceman Jay Bouwmeester so they could take a run at the playoffs. But they're 2-4-3 since the deadline and remain just out of a playoff spot.

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Penguins, Rangers look like winners three weeks after NHL trade deadline