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The Wrap from Phoenix: Jokinen in, Kotalik, Higgins out?


                 DENVER----Marian Gaborik’s hat trick, rookie goalie Chad Johnson’s first NHL win and the end of a five-game losing streak with a 3-1 defeat of the Colorado Avalanche was overshadowed in the post-game scene at Pepsi Center last night. 

                                  In search of scoring, the front office was reportedly negotiating a deal with the Calgary Flames to acquire Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. It could be announced today, although the Flames may be asking for more.                                 

                                  Jokinen, 31, is a 6-foot-3 center from Finland who scored 111 goals from 2005-2008 with Florida and is 11-24-35 in 55 games this season in Calgary. He also scored 21 goals for Phoenix in the 2008-09 season. He has a salary cap hit of $5.25 million in the last year of his deal, while Kotalik---who was sent to New York from Phoenix---has two more years left at $3 million per. Higgins, the Smithtown native who was acquired in the Scott Gomez trade with Montreal last summer, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Prust, 25, is a left wing with 98 penalty minutes and a cap hit of $500,000. He has a goal and four assists in 42 games.

                                  Kotalik, 31, who had been a healthy scratch for eight of the last nine games, had gone public with his displeasure several weeks ago, although both he and his agent denied that they had sought a trade or cancelled scheduled autograph sessions.  He has eight goals and 14 assists, but wound up in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse for his defensive play. Higgins had three straight seasons with 20 or more goals for Montreal, but was injured last season and has been snakebit after coming home to the New York area. He has six goals and eight assists.

                                 Meanwhile, Johnson, who had been forced to play back to backs for the first time in his fledgling NHL career and made 34 saves, and Gaborik, who broke a five-game scoring drought in Phoenix and exploded for the 10th three-goal game of his career, had cause to celebrate.

                                 The 23-year-old Johnson, who had allowed three first period goals in the 3-2 loss in Phoenix, was given the game puck by Henrik Lundqvist, who missed his second game with a stomach bug.

                                “They came with a lot of speed and I wanted to be aware of that,” said Johnson. “We competed for the full 60 minutes and we were going into the game on a mission to get a win. You want to get the first one to know you can win at this level. It’s such a relief.”

                                 Gaborik’s goals marked his first hat trick since he scored five against the Rangers on Dec. 2, 2007 in St. Paul, the 10th of his career and his first as a Ranger.He scored in each period, at 6:06 of the first, and the final two came from passes from Vinny Prospal, one a backhand, no-look feed from behind Craig Anderson’s cage at 4:57 of the second period that Gaborik said was a set play..

                                   “We played a good two periods in Phoenix and we talked about carrying it over. When you get the first goal you feel more comfortable. It’s a matter of confidence,” said Gaborik, who said he felt he “got into a zone. It’s a boost of energy for me and the entire team.”


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