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Posted On Sunday, 04.17.2011 / 9:18 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay Live Blog

Playoff hockey returns to Tampa Bay

The excitement is beginning to build on the west central coast of the Sunshine State as fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning prepare to host their first Stanley Cup Playoff game in four years.

The Lightning scored a 5-1 victory in Game 2 on Friday to even their best-of-7 series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows keeping emotions in check whether home or away is critical to success.

"Playoff series are a ride of emotions and they came back and answered in Game 2 to tie the series," Bylsma told reporters following Saturday's practice." They are now going home for two home games, home-ice advantage and we have to re-gather ourselves and go in there, and understand how important it is to play our very best game and get a win in Tampa Bay. Change of venues and those emotions are important to manage."

Despite Friday's lopsided loss on home ice, the Penguins aren't in panic mode. In fact, the club feels comfortable playing on the road -- the team led the League in road wins during the regular season with a franchise-record 24 away from Consol Energy Center. That was one road victory short of the Eastern Conference leaders -- the Philadelphia Flyers.

"They have to do the same thing and get ready for Game 3," Bylsma said. "We now know we're going to have to win a game in Tampa Bay to make home-ice matter here in the series. Game 3 and Game 4 will be pivotal games. We have that focus and understanding."

The Lightning will look to grab hold of the series before their sun-drenched fans on Monday in Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. Game 4 is slated right back at St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

I'll be in Tampa for Games 3 and 4 this week, so keep checking back often for game updates and a look at how Tampa is preparing for playoff hockey once again.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 11:54 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Flyers' Betts sees similarties between this year and last

Despite the fact Philadelphia wasn't forced to battle through the final game of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs as they did last year, fourth-line center Blair Betts sees plenty of similarities between this year's club and the one that earned a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season in 2009-10.

"Just looking back, we weren't playing all that well going into playoffs last year either," Betts told NHL.com. "It's not like we won a ton of games at the end of the year to make it in. We kind of limped in and then that playoff atmosphere just kind of lifted our level of play.

"This year, I think we're in the same situation. We were kind of playing mediocre hockey down the stretch. I expect the playoff atmosphere to lift our game a little bit and I think it will. I think we have a team that's built for playoff hockey … guys that seem to elevate their game this time of the year and that's what you need to be successful in the playoffs."

The Flyers certainly exhibited that passion and intensity that may have been lacking over the last few weeks in Game 1 of their series-opening 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. Still, they had nothing to show for it.

Without the services of defenseman Chris Pronger, Betts believes the team needs to manage the puck with special care.

"Making good decisions with the puck and puck management are key," he said. "Chris Pronger is a big part of our team … he has an ability to slow things down when it's hectic. But we've had great games without him and we have the personnel in here to make up what he's taken out of the lineup."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was asked if Pronger would have made a difference if he was in the lineup.

"If Chris Pronger was available, he could be a difference maker," he said. "I think that speaks for itself. But he's not so there is no sense in worrying about things we don't have right now."

Despite a good effort, which saw the Flyers outshoot the Sabres, 35-25, Laviolette believes his team could be even better.

"I think we can be better," he said. "There are things we can get better on and we'll will focus on that (on Friday) and be ready to go for Game 2. It's the scoreboard that we need to make sure we have in check. We did a lot of the things we wanted to do, but that's not good enough in the playoffs."

Betts, one of the League's most underrated defensive-forwards, returned to the lineup on Thursday after sitting out three games with a knee injury.

"(Buffalo) has a little bit of everything … guys who can score like (Thomas) Vanek, guys that make plays like (Tim) Connolly, some gritty, physical players and small shifty guys like (Nathan) Gerbe. Of course, goaltending could make a difference."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 9:45 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Sabres win, 1-0, behind Miller's 33 stops

The Buffalo Sabres have scored a monumental 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round here at Wells Fargo Center.

Leading the way was the best player on the ice, goalie Ryan Miller, who turned aside 33 shots. Miller made 16 saves in the second period.

The Sabres finally broke the ice 5:56 into the third when Patrick Kaleta slammed home a rebound while charging down the slot and avoiding Flyers defender Danny Syvret to retrieve the puck. Marc-Andre Gragnani took the initial shot from the top of the left circle that Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped but couldn't control.

The rebound hit the tape of an alert Kaleta, who connecting for his first goal in 17 games. It was the second of his career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 9:17 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Sabres-Flyers remain scoreless through two periods

OK. It's white-knuckle time for those fans of the Flyers and Sabres!

Fact: One goal might be enough in this one folks.

After 40 minutes of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, the Flyers and Sabres are scoreless. Sabres' Olympic silver-medal winning goalie Ryan Miller is earning his keep with 26 saves. Meanwhile, rookie Sergei Bobrovsky has turned back 19 shots.

The Flyers are certainly taking advantage of their great depth up front and, at this point, might be wearing down the Sabres. Still, there's one more regulation period remaining and Buffalo remains one goal from giving Miller the one-goal lead he might need to pull out the opener.

The Flyers still hold an edge in body checks, 31-26. Yes -- 58 total hits for the game through two periods. The Sabres have blocked 11 shots and the Flyers have three blocks.

Some second-period highlights:

* The Flyers failed to take advantage of a 5-on-3 power-play with 10:18 remaining in the second period. Working a two-man advantage for 38 seconds after Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for slashing, the Sabres were able to kill it off behind the splendid play of Chris Butler, Tim Connolly and Tyler Myers.

* The Flyers have totaled 11 of their shots on four power-play opportunities for the game so far.

* With 3:22 remaining in the second, James van Riemsdyk, who has recorded xx shots, took one in the chops from Chris Butler as he attempted to jam the crease in front of Ryan Miller. Claude Giroux made the play happen with good pressure in front.

* The Sabres appeared a tad slower in the frame after being forced to kill off the Flyers' power-play attempts. Miller stood tall, with 16 stops in the second.

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 8:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Sabres and Flyers close out fantastic first

Despite a scoreless opening period, the Wells Fargo Center was jumping as both the Flyers and Sabres performed at a fast and furious pace.

Both goalies saw plenty of traffic, Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, who was playing possessed throughout, hit a goal post five midway through and both teams combined for 20 shots and 31 body checks -- the Flyers with 19 of those hits.

It was pretty amazing stuff to watch, but par for the course when the Flyers and Sabres are mixing it up.

Some of the highlights of the frame included a big hit by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta on Ville Leino in the neutral zone and along the boards 9:08 into the frame. Mike Richards' had a golden chance off a backhand from the slot that Ryan Miller never saw but got his right pad on at the 12:01 mark. In addition to hitting iron, van Riemsdyk was also diving for loose pucks and had a few choice words for Paul Gaustad following a stoppage of play right beside Miller.

The Flyers' top line was a familiar trio -- Danny Briere, Leino and Scott Hartnell. Briere led his team with four hits and even induced a penalty on Steve Montador in the closing minutes of the first.

The Sabres, meanwhile, received an inspiring effort from Drew Stafford, who topped his team with three shots on net and three hits while logging 4:50 of ice time on six shifts.

Both Miller and Bobrovsky finished with 10 saves.

Time to sharpen up the blades for the start of Period 2 …

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 7:30 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Flyers - Sabres complete pre-game warmups

We're here at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia awaiting puck drop for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round match between the Flyers and Sabres.

Flyers' fans are anticipating Lauren Hart's God Bless America. We'll see -- do they break it out this early in the playoffs? Most likely.

Starting lineups:
Flyers - JVR-Carter-Giroux (Meszaros-O'Donnell) Bobrovsky
Sabres - Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta (Butler-Myers) Miller


Flyers lineups during warmups:
Briere-Hartnell-Leino
Carter-Giroux-JVR
Richards-Versteeg-Nodl
Betts-Powe-Carcillo
OUT: Zherdev and Shelley

Sabres lineups during warmups:
Stafford-Boyes-Ennis
Connolly-Pominville-Vanek
McCormick-Niedermayer-Grier
Gaustad-Gerbe-Kaleta
OUT: Hecht or Mancari

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 3:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Buffalo's Ryan Miller ready for Flyers

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller feels there's no significant advantage his team gained by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers six days ago, 4-3, on home ice other than the fact it helped catapult them among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

Miller, who will get the nod in Game 1 against the Flyers to mark his 41st postseason appearance, enters with a 12-8-1 career mark with a 2.88 goals-against average and .905 save percentage against the Flyers.
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres vs. Philadelphia Flyers,

"Both teams are familiar with each other," Miller said following practice on Thursday. "It's one of those series' where the teams will have a different game plan; maybe they'll be a little loose. The challenge for us and for a lot of teams this time of year, is disciplined. That usually makes a difference, and you have to work through situations."

The Sabres went 2-2-0 in four regular season meetings against Philadelphia this season and three of the contest were decided by two-or-more goals.

Miller admits he doesn't think about preparing any differently for a playoff game than he does a regular season contest. And that's good news for Sabres' fans as Miller finished the year 34-22-8 with a 2.59 GAA, .916 save percentage and 5 shutouts.

"I try not to prepare differently," Miller said. "I always try and look at the grand scheme of things."

The biggest concern for Miller is making certain those big bodies in front aren't completely screening his vision.

"You have to take away their space; they're probably going to earn some space just by their big presence but we can't allow them to do it easily," he said. "It doesn't matter how big you are, they might have strength in some matchups, but not all the time. If we're smart with the puck in some areas, we'll be OK."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 ECQF: Philadelphia-Buffalo Live Blog

Sabres' Sekera out; Grier probable

While Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera skated this morning at Wells Fargo Center, he will not be in the lineup for Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Sekera missed the final two regular-season games and was limited in practice this week because of an upper-body muscle strain. Forward Mike Grier, on the other hand, also skated well and is a good bet to be making his first
Buffalo Sabres' Mike Grier, top, and Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richards vie for a loose puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
appearance  in eight games because of a knee injury.

Against a team like the Flyers, Grier's physical style and ability to block shots would certainly go a long way.

"Yeah, this type of team suits my style," Grier told NHL.com. "This time of year, the hockey is fun to play in. Especially for the bigger guys and grinders … you can kind of have more of an effect on a game and the outcome than in the regular season. I'm looking forward to it. They have a great team with some skill over there, so it's a real challenge for us."

Sabres second-year defenseman Tyler Myers would certainly welcome Grier's presence back to the lineup.

"He's been a very important part of our team," Myers said. "He's a big body who work teams down low and does a lot of little things that sometimes go unnoticed. A lot of young guys look up to him; he's a great guy to have in the lineup."

In 73 games this season, Grier produced 16 points in 73 games, but his presence away from the puck in collecting 112 hits, 48 blocked shots and 26 steals was far more valuable.

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Posted On Monday, 04.11.2011 / 11:30 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin advises top prospects

Boston Bruins rookie forward Tyler Seguin knows what it's like to play the waiting game following the release of NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top draft-eligible North American and European players.

Seguin experienced it just last year. He moved from No. 2 to No. 1 on the final list and was later selected second overall by the Bruins at the Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

Seguin was asked on Sunday that if he could sit down all the top prospects in one room to offer some advice, what would it be?

"I'd tell them to just relax, take it all in and have fun with it," he said. "That's all you can do. Obviously, you're going to get a little nervous before the Draft. I obviously was, but the overall experience comes and goes so quickly that you just need to take it all in and have fun with it. It's going to be a life-changing experience for all of them."

It's pretty hard to fathom that last year at this time, Seguin was playing for the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers in the playoffs. Now, he's with the Bruins, preparing for the rival Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"There are so many positives I've taken from this season," Seguin said. "I have grown as a player and matured as a person. I came in here and found new best friends and it's been a whirlwind and a great experience. I'm happy to get the playoffs going and to see how far we can go.

"As far as the NHL play … the physical grind, the speed, all that stuff is so much better," he added.

That being said, those draft eligible stars certainly have a lot to look forward to, and obviously prepare for.
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Posted On Monday, 04.11.2011 / 9:05 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

CSS set to release final rankings with heavy hearts

The NHL's Central Scouting bureau will release their final rankings of draft-eligible North American and European players at high noon on Monday and while a season's worth of work is now in the books, this year's decision-making process will never be forgotten.

It would turn out to be EJ McGuire's last. And for that reason, it is tremendously sad.

Still, the mission was accomplished -- just as McGuire demanded -- and now the 30 NHL clubs will have the necessary information needed to make those split-second decisions when the NHL Entry Draft is in full swing at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24-25.

McGuire, 58, was the architect of many of the innovations Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the League's clubs with the most comprehensive list of NHL Entry Draft-eligible prospects each season.

Diagnosed this past December with Leiomyoscarcoma, an incurable, rare form of cancer that aggressively attacks the cells that make up the involuntary muscles within the body, McGuire waged a brave five-month battle with the disease.

"I want you to do the job you were paid to do," he'd tell the scouts via speakerphone prior to their meeting on April 2 inside the Conn Smythe Boardroom in Toronto. It was his final inspiring message to the group.

The scouts offered to speak with NHL.com following McGuire's passing on Thursday morning in an effort to relive the life of the man they honored and respected. And they did. They conjured up a few funny moments and plenty of meaningful ones. There's no question McGuire will certainly be on the minds of everyone at this year's Draft.

It's also no secret that McGuire would want to see those hot prospects such as Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Adam Larsson, Ryan Murphy, John Gibson and Mika Zibanejad heating up the airwaves today -- they were all talking points following Central Scouting's mid-term release in January.

But on Tuesday, we remember the life of McGuire as he's laid to rest following a funeral at Mary Mother of God Catholic Church in Oakville, Ont., in the afternoon.

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Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning