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Red Wings clip Sharks to close gap

THE Detroit Red Wings continued to reel in the San Jose Sharks, setting up a battle for the Western Conference title with a 4-1 home win on Wednesday.

With just six weeks remaining in the regular season and Sharks five points clear of the Red Wings with two games in hand, the final meeting between the West's top two teams was considered crucial if Detroit hoped to make a run for first place.

The Stanley Cup champions confirmed they are still in the race, jumping to a 3-0 lead and then holding on to earn a win and split the four-game series, both teams winning twice on home ice.

"Obviously if we're going to do that (win the West) we had to win tonight," Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters. "But it was about winning tonight; it wasn't about catching somebody. We found a way to win against a pretty good team.

"We had a lot of contributions. To beat good teams you have to have everyone playing."

Elsewhere in the National Hockey League, it was: Maple Leafs 2, Rangers 1 (in SO); Penguins 1, Islanders 0; and Flyers 2, Kings 0.

The contest in Detroit oozed with playoff intensity with plenty of hard-hitting, sharp netminding and some highlight reel goals.

Detroit was on the scoreboard first, Marian Hossa beating a Sharks defender for the puck along the boards and then snapping a shot between Evgeni Nabokov's pads for his team-leading 34th of the season.

Ville Leino added another before the end of the period to put the Wings up 2-0 heading into the first intermission.

Henrik Zetterberg increased Detroit's advantage early in the second with a dazzling short-handed effort, putting on the brakes and spinning in front of Nabokov before backhanding the puck past the Sharks netminder.

Christian Ehrohoff pulled one back for San Jose before the end of the period by converting a powerplay chance but Zetterberg found his second of the night with just under three minutes to play in the third.

"We'll see, we're going to play our games and they're going to play their games and we'll find out after 82 if we are behind or ahead," said Zetterberg.

Ty Conklin made 34 saves for the Red Wings, winning his 12th straight home start.

In Toronto, Nikolai Kulemin scored the shootout winner and Vesa Toskala turned aside all three New York attempts as Toronto spoiled John Tortorella's Rangers debut.

Kulemin beat Henrik Lundqvist on Toronto's first attempt in the tiebreaker. Niklas Hagman scored in regulation for Toronto.

Wade Redden countered for the Rangers, playing their first game since Tortorella replaced Tom Renney as coach on Monday - a day after Toronto's 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers in New York.


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