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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 9:17 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - 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 - Staff Writer / - 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 - Staff Writer / - 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:
OUT: Zherdev and Shelley

Sabres lineups during warmups:
OUT: Hecht or Mancari

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Posted On Thursday, 04.14.2011 / 3:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - 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 - Staff Writer / - 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 "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 - Staff Writer / - 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 - Staff Writer / - 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 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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Posted On Tuesday, 04.05.2011 / 2:08 PM

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

Craig Button reveals Top 5 draft-eligible prospects

Now that NHL Central Scouting is completing its final draft list of the top 210 skaters and 30 goalies in North America this week, no better time than for NHL Network analyst Craig Button to unveil his top five overall 2011 draft-eligible prospects.

Button released his updated list on Monday during 'NHL On the Fly'. While his top two players remained unchanged in center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer in the Western Hockey League and left wing Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League, there was some movement among the bottom three.

Back in March, Button had Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy rated fifth, Saint John center Jonathan Huberdeau fourth and Swedish defender Adam Larsson of Skelleftea third. Murphy was left off Button's most recent list and replaced with Niagara IceDogs center Ryan Strome of the Ontario Hockey League. Larsson was moved to fourth overall and Huberdeau to third.

When NHL Central Scouting released its top five North American skaters in January, Landeskog was considered the No. 1 prospect, followed by No. 2 Sean Couturier of Drummondville, No. 3 Nugent-Hopkins, No. 4 Huberdeau and No. 5 Tyler Biggs of the United States National Team Development Program. Larsson was the top-ranked international skater, following by No. 2 Joel Armia of Finland's Assat in Finland and Mika Zibanejad of Sweden's Djurgarden. Zibanejad, who is moving up the ranks following his promotion to the Elite League, has been said to have better upside than current Devils forward Jacob Josefson.

Central Scouting will release its final draft list on April 12 and will have complete coverage. The 2011 Entry Draft will be held in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.

Here's what Button had to say about each of his top five prospects.
Ryan Strome, Niagara IceDogs

5-Ryan Strome, Niagara (OHL), center: "He's one of those guys who needs some time to physically mature and that will come. He's a guy who's smart, instinctive and can skate and handle the puck. It looks like he has all the ability to take those skills and be a real productive offensive player in the NHL."

4-Adam Larsson, Skelleftea (Swedish Elite League), defenseman: "Is there one area where he's really dominant or flashy, probably not. But he does everything so well. He can get the puck out of the zone, he can shoot the puck from the point, he has size and range and those types of defenseman are extremely rare. When you can get that type of a player who can play a lot of minutes and play all the different situations in the game, they are much coveted."

3-Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL), center: "He has a chance to wind up being the best player in this draft and that's saying a lot. Huberdeau, to me, has it all. He has the determination, he has the skill and I'm going to go back to physical maturity; when he physically matures and is able to carry his weight with confidence and strength, he is going to be a force because he has the combination of skill and will. There has never been a great player in the League who didn't possess that combination.

2-Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL), left wing: "He's a force with skill. He is a hungry player. If they made the rink smaller, he would have no problem because he loves to play in those tight areas and in those areas around the net. He loves physical contract and initiates it. With his skill, he can make a difference as well. He's a real complete player and if there's one guy who might be closest to being NHL-ready, it might be Landeskog."

1-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL), center: "He makes everyone around him better. I say this in the most complimentary way, and not as a comparison to make unrealistic or unfair expectations on this young man, but he reminds me of Joe Sakic in this thinking and ability. Sakic was one of those guys where it didn't matter what type of game you were playing. You always knew you could count on Joe Sakic and you knew he'd made a play and make a difference, and I feel exactly the same way about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If the Edmonton Oilers have the first pick in the draft, and they want a player who can make Hall an even better player, then Nugent-Hopkins is that guy. It will take an enormous effort by another prospect to unseat Nugent-Hopkins in my mind because I think he's a star in the making."
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Posted On Monday, 04.04.2011 / 2:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Signing off from the Conn Smythe Board Room

Well, it was another tremendous success joining the boys at NHL Central Scouting in Toronto this weekend as they put the finishing touches on the final North American list for the top 2011 draft-eligible prospects.

At the time I left the Conn Smythe Board Room, the scouts had dissected and debated the top 123 skaters from North America. I think they feel pretty strongly about the list they put together. David Gregory asked me to speak to the group to provide some idea how important their work is to not only the NHL scouts and GMs, but our hockey fans world-wide. He'd need to look no further than Twitter, actually!

Their efforts are certainly appreciated. The respect I have for these traveling bloodhounds is tremendous, not only from the standpoint of the amount of hockey they see per week during the season in order to "get it right" come June, but the fact just about all of them have families they must leave in order to do so.

That's called dedication. And I was fortunate they welcomed me in with open arms. Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire once told me, "First round picks can only underachieve but those picked from the second round on can only overachieve."

I firmly believe that to be the case this year as there seems to be great talent available right on through the second round this year. Now, I'm not saying these players are NHL ready, but a majority might claim to be ready to roll in two-to-three years. It's going to be very interesting.

And, really, that's what NHL Central Scouting thrives at … finding those diamonds in the rough in the later rounds to make life a tad easier for those NHL scouts and general managers making the big decisions.

Make sure to check back to next week when myself, Adam Kimelman and Steve Hoffner will offer our mock drafts. On April 12, Central Scouting's final release becomes official and we'll have every angle covered at the announcement.

Finally, I was able to catch up with each scout and get their opinion of those potential gems for 2012. Some great stuff, as always. Here is Central Scouting's preview of the 2012 Draft class.
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Posted On Monday, 04.04.2011 / 11:44 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Who's your goalie?

Central Scouting goalie scout Al Jensen finally received his moment in the spotlight just prior to lunch. The overhead projector was switched over to Jensen's side of the room and the boys got a lesson on the goalie prospects around North America.

Keep in mind, the top 8 goalies on the final list will be invited to the NHL Combine in May.

Here are the numbers for the top 5 goaltenders that Central Scouting had listed on their mid-term rankings.

1-John Gibson, USNTDP, 2.60 GAA, .920 save percentage
2-Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi, 2.42, .920
3-Matej Machovsky, Brampton, 2.90, .904
4-Liam Liston, Brandon, 3.77, .880
5-Matt McNeely, USNTDP, 3.82, .893

Jensen went one by one, starting from the top. Many of the scouts, who obviously were involved with keeping tabs on skaters for much of the year, also watched a few of the top goalies. Opinions were raised, but Jensen, of course, had the final vote.

Jensen presented a detailed and statistically sound report -- he didn't hold back anything and, as expected, is regarded as the goaltending guru of the group. Amazingly, he had a spreadsheet consisting of 51 goalie prospects!

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Quote of the Day

I was surprised. I knew I got it. It's tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. I got pretty much all I could into and you just hope for the best.

— Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber after winning the AMP NHL Hardest Shot event at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition