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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers believe they have found close-out mentality

NEWARK, N.J. -- Several of the Panthers veteran players have been in this situation before; up 3-2 in a playoff series with the potential of closing out the opponent in Game 6. However, as a team they are entering that very situation for the first time Tuesday night at Prudential Center against the New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

If recent history is an indicator, the Panthers understand that nothing is guaranteed when you're closing in on something special.

Florida had several opportunities to capture the Southeast Division title late in the regular season, but still had to go down to the very last day of the season to get the job done. The Panthers let Washington hang around and even have a chance to win the division on the last day of the season by going 1-3-5 in the nine games prior to their regular-season finale against Carolina.

The Panthers finally got the job done on April 7, when they beat the Hurricanes 4-1 to win their first division title.

"I think after 10 years of not making the playoffs and you're constantly getting bombarded with that everyday, there's no doubt that it weighed on our shoulders in the last two weeks of the season," Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. "You look back on it now and it's easy to say that yeah, we were squeezing our sticks. We wanted to do it so bad for each other, for the organization, for the fans."

The Panthers don't anticipate the pressure of potentially closing out the series to be an issue Tuesday, but Devils coach Pete DeBoer has already reminded his team of how much of a struggle Florida had down the stretch when it controlled its own destiny.

"When the pressure is on to finish somebody off, it's a different game," DeBoer said.

The Devils know all about it. Three years ago they were up 3-2 on Carolina heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They went into Raleigh and got beat 4-0.

The Devils also lost Game 7 at home.

"It's a hard game (when you're the team leading 3-2)," Devils left wing Zach Parise told NHL.com. "I remember when we were up on Carolina, we went down there and they kicked our butts. It was a really hard game. Their fans were crazy and they just blew us out of the rink. Then all of a sudden Game 7 is a crapshoot."

Obviously the Panthers don't want to gamble with a Game 7, even though it would be in their own building. That's why they feel thinking back to the difficult time they had at the end of the regular season can serve as a motivator now.

"We made the playoffs and I think we learned from it, that it is hard to close out games," veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson told NHL.com. "I think this group, even if guys have been around, as a group you learn what it takes to close out games. We did it in the end. That was big. We ended on a good note. The last game (against Carolina) for us was good."

The Hurricanes, though, were only playing for pride on April 7. The Devils are playing to keep their season alive Tuesday.

"The key is not to focus on that," Weiss said. "It's just to go out and go through your gameday routine, do the same things you've been doing all year. You know in the back of your mind there's a little bit more on the line, but the key is not to worry about, 'Hey, we've got a chance to move on.' You've got to go through your routine … and at the end of the night hopefully the result is what we want it to be."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 7:24 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens need help on the blue line

PHILADELPHIA -- Two summers ago, the Penguins signed defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five year contracts, and last season they traded for Matt Niskanen. But, in their first-round series loss to the Flyers it became obvious -- painfully at times for the Penguins and their fans -- that they still need help on the back end.

Pittsburgh gave up 30 goals in the six-game series loss to the Flyers, including 12 on the power play, and not all of them can be attributed to the inconsistent play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Penguins won the Stanley Cup three years ago with Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi anchoring the defense and the penalty kill. They didn't have anybody as sturdy and consistent as those two against the Flyers and they got burned to the tune of five goals against per game.

Kris Letang and Niskanen are the exact type of offensive, puck-moving defensemen that a team with speed and talent up front like the Penguins need, but Brooks Orpik and Michalek didn't get enough help in the defensive role from guys like Deryk Engelland and Brian Strait.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma even tried to compensate by dressing seven defensemen for the last three games with Martin out with an undisclosed injury, but Simon Despres didn't have much of an effect on the games. And, in the two games he played, Ben Lovejoy showed he was not the answer as he struggled defensively and had a costly turnover.

If the Penguins are going to address a need in the offseason, it's on the blue line with a stay-at-home, solid, sturdy, and powerful defenseman. They needed a guy like that against the Flyers.

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Posted On Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 10:41 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Projected Penguins lineup

PHILADELPHIA -- Penguins defenseman Paul Martin will sit out for the third straight game with an undisclosed injury and the rest of Pittsburgh's lineup will be a gametime decision, coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday morning prior to Game 6 against the Flyers.

However, don't be surprised to see the Penguins go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen again as they try to stave off elimination for a third time and force a Game 7. They are 2-0 when they play seven blue-liners, and Bylsma said he likes it because it forces him to give his top three centers, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, more ice time to potentially allow for better matchups even on the road, where he does not have the last change.

He doesn't have to necessarily worry about rolling four lines because he is essentially using only three lines with extra forwards Craig Adams and Eric Tangradi taking the odd shift here and there. Adams also plays a key role on the penalty kill.

"Depending on the situation we've seen one of those centermen has played with the two extra forwards to make up a line," Bylsma said. "Yeah, I like going to our big guys as much as we can in a situation like this."

Using the extra defensemen also enables Bylsma to have the option to use an extra body on the power play. It also does not tax his top-four defensemen.

Simon Despres played only 5:33 in Game 5, but he was used a bit on the power play. Brian Strait played eight minutes, but he got some time on the penalty kill.

"Each guy gives an element that is important," Bylsma said.

If Bylsma goes with seven defensemen again, here is what the Penguins lineup should look like for Game 6:

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams

Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 7:28 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Van Riemsdyk returns to Flyers lineup for Game 5

PITTSBURGH -- Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk will play in Game 5 Friday against the Penguins. Zac Rinaldo is a healthy scratch.

Van Riemsdyk hasn't played since breaking his left foot on March 1 when he blocked a shot by Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina. He has been practicing with the team and was considered a game-time decision; he will make his 2012 playoff debut and start on a line with Matt Read and Jakub Voracek.

The Flyers can close out the series with a win Friday at Consol Energy Center, where they are 7-1-0 since the building opened. 
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers expect bounce-back effort from Bryzgalov

PITTSBURGH -- If the Flyers want to close out the series in Game 5 Friday, they know they have to be better in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. It would, of course, help if Bryzgalov was better as well.

Bryzgalov was pulled 3:07 into Game 4 after giving up his fifth goal on 18 shots. He has a 4.95 goals-against average and .844 save percentage in the series, but the Flyers remain confident that he will give them a series-clinching performance in net Friday.

"I'm not worried," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "He's a professional. He's a veteran. He knows what to do. I think he'll be great tonight."

Bryzgalov certainly looked loose at the morning skate. Prior to leaving the ice, he was doing snow angels around his net.

"I've got a feeling," Giroux added. "He's focused and he wants to win. He can't wait for tonight."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said it's not about Bryzgalov.

"I don't think it's fair just to say that Bryz has to have a good game," Laviolette said. "He certainly does. We have great veteran players and you can count on them for a win. We've got great youth in the locker room and you can count on them. We have all year. It's a team sport. If we don't play well in front of Bryzgalov it's going to be more difficult.

"We need big performances out of everybody."

The question is will one of those players be forward James van Riemsdyk? He says he's ready to play for the first time since March 1, when he broke his foot blocking a shot, but van Riemsdyk was not on the ice Friday morning.

Neither was Danny Briere, but Laviolette made the morning skate optional for his players.

Provided Briere plays and van Riemsdyk does not, here's is what the Flyers lines and defense pairs will look like:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Eric Wellwood
Zac Rinaldo - Matt Read - Jakub Voracek

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Eric Gustafsson - Matt Carle
Andreas Lilja - Pavel Kubina

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


 
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 1:05 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Grossmann out, Gustafsson in for Game 5

PITTSBURGH -- The Flyers have gone back to their well of defensemen and pulled out Erik Gustafsson to play in Game 5 against the Penguins on Friday. Nicklas Grossmann did not make the trip to Pittsburgh, so Gustafsson said he will appear in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game.
 
The Flyers lead the series 3-1.

Grossmann was injured early in Game 4 on Wednesday. The team has labeled his injury as an upper-body injury.
 
"I think you just have to stay focused and visualize yourself doing good things on the ice," Gustafsson, who played in 30 regular-season games, told NHL.com. "Once I get out there I'm just going to try to keep it simple, don't make any mistakes. Once you get into the game, it's like any other game."
 
While the Flyers have not provided specifics about the injury, center Claude Giroux on Friday morning intimated that Grossman has a concussion.
 
When asked about Grossmann and the challenge of playing without him in the lineup, Giroux referred to his own concussion and said "it's all about your health."
 
"I had a concussion this year and it's just the worst," he continued. "You can't really do anything. You basically sit on your couch and you can't even watch TV because it messes up with your mind. It's not fun. We hope he gets better soon."
 
Grossmann joins a long list of Flyers' defensemen that are not here with the team. Chris Pronger (concussion) highlights the list, but Andrej Meszaros (back) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (upper-body) are also out.
 
However, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he's proud of the way his team has handled the injury situations this season and he expects them to respond in a positive manner again Friday.
 
"The fact that we've lost another defenseman, it's hard to take; but in saying that, our team is filled this spot all year long," Laviolette said. "We have close to 450 man-games lost to injury this year. This isn't something new to us. We'd much rather have Grossmann in there or any of the defensemen you listed, but that's not an option for us. We have to play good team defense and the players that come into the lineup will be expected to play well."

The Flyers have lost 437 man games to injury, but that number includes season-long injuries to Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere.
 
Laviolette said he has confidence in Gustafsson because the Swedish defenseman has earned his spot in the lineup with his play. He suited up for 30 games in the regular season and had five points and a plus-12 rating while averaging close to 17 minutes of ice time per game.
 
"He's a player that got sent back to the minors a couple of times, but it wasn't based on performance, it was based on numbers and being allowed to only dress six defensemen," Laviolette said. "I think he's had a good year. He had one tough injury, but short of that he's done a good job of playing at this level. The minutes he's played, they've increased over time. He's had games where he's played 18, 20, 22 minutes and he's done a good job for us. We have a lot of confidence in Gus and the way he plays the game."
 
The key, though, will be how the Flyers utilize their defense against Evgeni Malkin. Grossman was paired with Braydon Coburn and together they were on the ice a lot against Malkin and his line. Malkin had no goals in the series until he scored two in Game 4.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma credited the Coburn-Grossmann pair for limiting Malkin at even strength even though most of the credit for that has gone to Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier.
 
"They've done a good job of having Grossmann and Coburn play in defensive situations," Bylsma said. "That was really a factor here at home. It wasn't having the Couturier line against Malkin, they really had Coburn and Grossmann on the ice in those situations. Without that matchup for them, if that's the case, there may be some circumstances where you try to have that in your favor given the last change."
 
Coburn pretty much disregarded the question when asked about the challenge of playing without Grossmann.
 
"Every game is a challenge," he said. "They've got world-class talent out there. We've got to find a way to win."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 3:56 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Bryzgalov leaves practice early

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov left practice early Thursday, but it was unclear if he was bothered by any nagging injury or just cut his workout short as he sometimes does on days before games.

Michael Leighton, who recently was recalled from Adirondack of the American Hockey League, finished practice for Bryzgalov. Sergei Bobrovsky was in the other net.

Bryzgalov played in only two of the final six games of the regular season due to a chip fracture in his right foot. He has a 4.95 goals-against average and .844 save percentage in the series against Pittsburgh.

Bryzgalov was pulled 3:07 into the second period of Game 4 Wednesday after giving up five goals on 18 shots. Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 18 shots in relief in the Flyers' 10-3 loss.

Leighton was one of the three goalies that played for Philadelphia in the playoffs last year, and also was the goalie that led them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 3:29 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers still feeling good despite Game 4 rout

VOORHEES, N.J. -- "It's just one loss," is how the Flyers were talking about the 10-3 drubbing they received at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 Wednesday.

"Today is a new day," Flyers center Danny Briere said. "The great thing is we're up 3-1 in the series. We've put ourselves in a good position. We had a bad day and we didn't come prepared to play the same way they did. Now it's time to fix that."

The Flyers skated Thursday for roughly 30 minutes at their practice facility here in southern New Jersey before departing to Pittsburgh for Game 5 Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

They aren't trying to forget what happened Wednesday, when they gave up eight unanswered goals after taking a 3-2 lead, but instead they're hoping to learn from the errors of their ways.

They gave Pittsburgh nine power plays that totaled only 12:26 because the Penguins scored on four of them. In a game that was officiated tightly, the Flyers were whistled for 12 two-minute minors.

"One of the things that we did a really good job of since the beginning of the series was staying composed and disciplined," Briere said, "and those two things we completely threw out the window [Wednesday]."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was just as blunt.

"Let's leave [Wednesday] to the side and just come out and say that we were beat bad by a very good hockey team, and there's a lot of things we have to do better," he said. "We're trying to defend a good hockey team. {Wednesday] we failed miserably."

The Flyers, though, are confident heading into Pittsburgh. They are 7-1 in Consol Energy Center since the building opened its doors last season.

"If you look at Games 3 and 4, they're the exact opposite for both clubs," Laviolette said. "Why didn't their Game 3 resemble Game 4? They churned up their desperation level and they came out and they were quicker and executed better and they won a hockey game. We're looking to get back on track with how we play games."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 1:56 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Van Riemsdyk ready to return in Game 5 if called upon

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk is preparing, both physically and mentally, to play in Game 5 Friday at Consol Energy Center. Nobody is saying if he will just yet.

"He looked good on the ice, and through discussions with everybody involved, if he's ready to play we'll consider playing him," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday before his team flew to Pittsburgh carrying a 3-1 lead in the series. "He's looked better every day, and at some point I guess we'll make that decision."

Van Riemsdyk has been out since March 1, when he broke his foot blocking a shot by Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina. He still uses a walking boot and he's wearing plastic shields on both of his skates, but he said he's ready to go if called upon.

If practice Thursday is any indication, there's a good chance he will be.

Van Riemsdyk was skating on a line with Matt Read and Jakub Voracek while Zac Rinaldo was on a line with black aces Tom Sestito and Matt Ford. Rinaldo has played in every game of the series, but he is averaging less than five minutes per game of ice time and has 46 penalty minutes.

"You know what, obviously we have the luxury of being up and the team was playing great without me so you want to keep that rolling," van Riemsdyk, who had 24 points in 43 games during the regular season, told NHL.com. "I have to be a good teammate and wait for my chance and go from there."

"It's tough to not be in the lineup, but I'm just trying to feel better everyday so I can get out there and contribute."

Laviolette said he would not be opposed to making a lineup change if need be.

"Lineup changes are made all the time, constantly made," he said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Jeffrey ready for first taste of playoff action

UPDATE: Jeffrey was made a healthy scratch by coach Dan Bylsma. He chose to dress seven defensemen instead.

PHILADELPHIA -- As he was unstrapping both of his knee braces, Dustin Jeffrey spoke about his level of excitement and anticipation heading into what will could possibly be his first career NHL playoff game.

Jeffrey played in 26 regular-season games, but he was limited this season after having surgery to repair a torn ACL last April. He's good to go now, and the Penguins need him with three forwards suspended.

"It's been an intense series, lots of action both ways with physical stuff and the goals," Jeffrey told NHL.com. "To jump in is pretty exciting."

Jeffrey insisted that he will not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment, the crowd, or the speed of the game.

"One of my biggest attributes is my hockey sense and being able to read plays," he said. "It's going to be fast and physical, but once you get that first shift under your belt you should be able to read the plays."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl



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