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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rangers look to sweep Jets, increase lead in East

WINNIPEG -- The New York Rangers have another opportunity to put further distance between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

The Rangers (48-21-7) will meet the Winnipeg Jets after taking a 3-2 road decision against the Minnesota Wild. The win and a Pittsburgh home loss to the New York Islanders moved the Rangers three points ahead of the Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead. Both clubs have played 76 games, but the Penguins are idle tonight.

All three of the Rangers' meetings with Winnipeg this season have been wins, and the Rangers have allowed only one goal in the season series.

The Rangers did not hold a morning skate at the MTS Centre. But it is expected that Henrik Lundqvist will start again for the Rangers, with Martin Biron backing up. Lundqvist shut out the Jets when the clubs last met at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 24.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Rangers:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Brandon Prust - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Michael Del Zotto
Anton Stralman - Stu Bickel
 
Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets determined to play hard for home crowd

WINNIPEG -- The process of beginning to wind down the season begins tonight for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets (35-33-8) will host the New York Rangers at the MTS Centre in their second-to-last home date. A 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators two nights ago effectively ended the Jets' already-thin Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations. They face a four-game road trip that will begin against the Carolina Hurricanes and continue against Tampa Bay, Florida, and the New York Islanders.

"It will be a good test for us against the Rangers," Jets coach Claude Noel said of a season series in which the Jets have gone winless and have managed only one goal in the clubs' three meetings. "They don't give you very much. The games are usually very heavy. Their battle level is high."

Facing the Rangers in front of another sold-out crowd in Winnipeg should prevent any letdowns for the Jets now, Noel believes.

"Out of respect for what they have given us, how could we come up with anything less?" Noel asked. "The fans here in Winnipeg have been a big factor for us having success here and have been like an extra player, so how could we disrespect the fans by not giving all that we have got?"
   
Grant Clitsome will replace Randy Jones on the Jets' third defensive pairing and partner with Mark Stuart. Nik Antropov and Chris Thorburn remain sidelined with injuries, but they will make the upcoming road trip. Dustin Byfuglien is battling a nagging bone bruise, but he will dress against the Rangers.

Ondrej Pavelec will make his 13th consecutive start, with Chris Mason backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Tim Stapleton - Ben Maxwell - Spencer Machacek

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:48 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Win would move Ottawa within two points of sixth

WINNIPEG -- A win tonight against the Winnipeg Jets would provide the Ottawa Senators with some separation from one cluster of clubs and nudge them into a higher echelon.

A win would move the seventh-place Senators (38-28-10) four points ahead of the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres and to within two points of the sixth-place New Jersey Devils. They would also move to within three points of the Northeast Division lead the Boston Bruins hold at the moment.

Going against a desperate Winnipeg club poses a challenge for the Senators, they admit.

"They play hard and are desperate, just like we are," coach Paul MacLean said.

But Ottawa rebounded from a road shellacking against the Montreal Canadiens to take an 8-4 home decision over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. Captain Daniel Alfredsson registered a season-high four-point evening and six Senators managed multi-point nights.

"We hope that the big goal output that we had [against Pittsburgh] can give guys some confidence," leading scorer Jason Spezza said. "I think it was a pretty good bounce-back game for us, a good character game for us."

The win cost the Senators the services of goaltender Ben Bishop, who exited the game with a lower-body injury. Bishop's absence means that Craig Anderson, who missed 12 games with a hand injury before returning last week, will start tonight's game. Alex Auld will back up Anderson.

After tonight's game, the Senators do not resume play until Saturday, when they visit Philadelphia, and will have just five games remaining.

"Desperate teams are tough to play against," Nick Foligno said. "They're fighting for their lives, and we have to treat it the same way for us. We're a desperate hockey team as well. It's a tight race for us. It's a push to the playoffs for us, as well."

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Senators:

Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Zack Smith - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil
Rob Klinkhammer - Kaspars Daugavins - Erik Condra

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Game against Senators represents last stand for Jets

WINNIPEG -- The end is not yet here for the Winnipeg Jets, but it certainly looms near.

A 1-2-0 road trip last week through Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville dented the Jets' Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations severely. A loss tonight against the Ottawa Senators at the MTS Centre would spell near-certain doom for the Jets (35-32-8), who have seven games left in the regular season entering tonight's game. Sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the Jets trail the eighth-place Washington Capitals by six points.

"For us, you can say all the clichés, but we have to win the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "That's clear for us."

The Jets' fourth line featuring recent AHL recalls Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell, plus Tim Stapleton, carried them on the road trip. Stapleton holds a three-game goal streak, Machacek has 1 goal and 6 points in four games since his recall, and Maxwell has 1 goal and 4 points in his past three games. However, captain Andrew Ladd, leading goal-scorer Evander Kane, and Blake Wheeler all failed to produce a goal during the road swing, and Noel expects to his use his fourth line more.

"They've been really good, given minimal minutes," Noel said of his fourth line. "I don't know if they continue at that rate, but there is no reason why I can't play them more in games, especially if things don't go the same with other lines, because you can't be a one-line team.

"You've got to give [the fourth line] full marks," Noel said. "My hat goes off to those guys."

Nik Antropov and Chris Thorburn remain sidelined with injuries.

Ondrej Pavelec will make his 12th consecutive start for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Tim Stapleton - Ben Maxwell - Spencer Machacek

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 12:54 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Learning experiences continue for Skinner

WINNIPEG – The learning experiences continue for Jeff Skinner, the Carolina Hurricanes’ star second-year forward.

Skinner has completed his two-game suspension for a kicking incident against the St. Louis Blues this past Thursday night. Skinner’s teammates eased some of his guilt by taking two come-from-behind wins in a two-game road swing through Minnesota and Winnipeg that put the Hurricanes back on the edge of postseason discussion.

The 19-year-old has 20 goals in 55 games this season after a 31-goal rookie season that earned him the Calder Trophy.

“It’s always tough sitting out,” said Skinner, who earlier this season missed time with a concussion. “It definitely has been a learning experience. It has been a little bit of a tough year.

"As you go through the League, gain more experience and become more mature, you benefit just as much from going through the tough times and learning how to handle them.”

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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Carolina's Staal putting up the good fight

WINNIPEG – On a night when Eric Staal took his turn as the object of scorn among Winnipeg fans, the Carolina Hurricanes’ dressing room countered with ample praise for its captain.

Staal saved the best work of his two-goal, one-assist performance for the third period of the Hurricanes’ 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Winnipeg Jets. Staal’s breakaway goal midway through the final period tied the game at 3-3 and he then set up Chad LaRose’s game-winner with 1:22 remaining. The win was the third time this season that Carolina has taken two points after trailing at the second intermission.

Afterward, Staal’s teammates jokingly chanted “Jordan’s better!” in reference to a chant that Jets fans unleashed comparing Staal to his brother, Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Staal’s good-natured retort to the crowd?

“I mean, Jordan’s good, but I don’t know if he is better,” Staal replied.

Staal has rebounded from a dismal start that plagued both him and the Hurricanes, led to Paul Maurice’s firing and buried the club at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for much of the season. Staal had managed just nine goals by the 40-game mark. But Staal spun off a 12-game point streak for the Hurricanes in the season’s second half and helped power the club back into semi-contention.

“He has taken this team and has been an unbelievable leader,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “Everybody talks about his start, but I think that people should talk about how he has played his last 40 games.”

Goaltender Cam Ward, who won a Stanley Cup alongside Staal in 2006, agreed with Muller.

“It was a huge win for us,” Ward said. “We were led by Staal, who took the game up on his shoulders and was dominant.”

Now the Hurricanes have moved to 11th place in the Eastern Conference and are only three points behind the Jets and five points behind the Washington Capitals for eighth place. While the club’s poor first half may ultimately doom any Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations, the Hurricanes are, if nothing else, making themselves a relevant player again in postseason conversation.

“We’ll take [the win],” Staal said, “and keep working, because stranger things have happened, and we’re going to keep playing hard.”
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pesky Hurricanes happy with their recent form

WINNIPEG – Loose, relaxed and intent on finishing their season on a strong note, the Carolina Hurricanes have become a dangerous team capable of dragging opponents down with them below the playoff line.

The Hurricanes (28-29-15) shut out the League-leading St. Louis Blues at home on Thursday night before hitting the road for a two-game sojourn to Minnesota and Winnipeg. Carolina handed Minnesota a 5-3 loss on Saturday afternoon to continue a stretch in which the Hurricanes are playing 10 of 12 games away from home.

Goaltender Brian Boucher played his first game since Dec. 3 and turned in a 23-save effort. Despite the road-heavy schedule, the Hurricanes have won three of their past five games, leaving coach Kirk Muller happy with his club.

“We compete every night and play hard,” Muller said of a club trying to atone for a poor first half that doomed their playoff chances and led to coach Paul Maurice’s firing in November. “Everyone is engaged and feeling a part of it.”

Leading scorer and captain Eric Staal echoed Muller’s words.

“We like our game,” Staal said. “We like the way our team is preparing to come into games and pick up points. We’re still trying to fight and climb and get back into the thick of things and go from there.”

Jeff Skinner will conclude his two-game suspension for a kicking incident on Thursday night against the Blues. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek exited the game at Minnesota with an injury after he had returned from a two-game absence. Carolina recalled Bobby Sanguinetti from the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers to replace Spacek. As well, Joni Pitkanen skated with Skinner during the Hurricanes’ morning skate.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes, with Boucher backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Hurricanes:

Jiri TlustyEric StaalChad Larose
Drayson BowmanJussi JokinenTuomo Ruutu
Andreas NodlBrandon Sutter – Pat Dwyer
Tim BrentAnthony Stewart

Tim GleasonJamie McBain
Jay HarrisonJustin Faulk
Bobby SanguinettiBryan Allen

Cam Ward
Brian Boucher
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets face another critical home test

WINNIPEG – The big games continue to pile up for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets (34-29-8) will play host to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at MTS Centre and continue their bid to overtake the Washington Capitals for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Jets must also fight off the Buffalo Sabres, with whom they are tied at 76 points. After tonight, the Capitals, Sabres and Jets will all have played 72 games.

Winnipeg has won its past four outings on home ice and fended off a stubborn Washington club in a 3-2 win at MTS Centre two nights earlier. A three-game, Pittsburgh-Washington-Nashville road trip this week looms for the Jets, who have endured road struggles all season. Winnipeg will play seven of its last 10 games away from home after tonight.

The Jets will welcome Zach Bogosian back to their blue line. Bogosian has missed 12 of the club’s past 13 games with nagging health problems. Bogosian’s return means that Randy Jones is a candidate to sit out tonight.

Winnipeg will also again audition a new right wing on their checking line with Tanner Glass and Jim Slater. Eric Fehr, who played two games in place of the injured Chris Thorburn, was banged up against the Capitals and will not play tonight. Winnipeg recalled Spencer Machacek from their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, to replace Fehr.

Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start again in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up. Pavelec has started 11 of the Jets’ past 12 games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew LaddBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Evander KaneAlexander BurmistrovKyle Wellwood
Tanner GlassJim SlaterSpencer Machacek
Tim StapletonNik AntropovAntti Miettinen

Tobias EnstromDustin Byfuglien
Ron HainseyGrant Clitsome
Mark StuartZach Bogosian

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin latest target of MTS Centre faithful

WINNIPEG – Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin is the latest in a long line of NHL stars to feel the wrath of MTS Centre and its hockey faithful.

Winnipeg Jets fans serenaded Ovechkin with comparisons to his long-time rival, Sidney Crosby, during the Jets’ 3-2 win over the Capitals. Ryan Miller and Steven Stamkos have received similar welcomes in Winnipeg over the past month.

“Crosby’s better!” chants poured down from the rafters inside the compact arena. But if Jets fans thought that the serenade would bother Ovechkin, the move seemed to have little impact on a player who has 17 goals over his past 32 games.

“It’s good,” Ovechkin said of being the focus of Winnipeg fans. “It’s always nice when they talk about you and give you attention. I love it. It’s great for the League. It’s great for us. Everybody [debates] who’s better and who’s not. For me, it’s a nice atmosphere, and I love it.”

Jets coach Claude Noel found humor in Winnipeggers’ creativity, as well.

“It's classic,” Noel said. “That’s what you’ve got to like. It’s not the standard [cheers]. They come up with new things. They are just ruthless.”
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 1:49 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets must avoid letdown against Hurricanes

WINNIPEG – Rather than overlooking a visit this weekend from the Carolina Hurricanes, might the Winnipeg Jets still be looking back at their crucial – and highly emotional – 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals?

Beating Washington at MTS Centre moved the Jets to within two points of the eighth-place Capitals in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Florida Panthers, who meet 10th-place Buffalo tonight, sit five points ahead of the Jets for the Southeast Division lead.

Given the Jets’ road woes this season, every point earned at home is all the more crucial. A three-game road trip that winds from Pittsburgh through Washington and on to Nashville awaits the Jets after meeting the Hurricanes. Points squandered against the Hurricanes on home ice would damage the Jets’ playoff aspirations badly.

The Hurricanes took a 2-0 decision from the League-leading St. Louis Blues on Thursday night after Cam Ward’s 40-save effort. Entering a road date Saturday at Minnesota, Ward has put together a .949 save percentage in his past four starts.

“They were very good,” Jets coach Claude Noel said of the Hurricanes and their effort against St. Louis. Ward picked up his 200th NHL win in earning first-star honors against the Blues. Jeff Skinner, who received a two-game suspension on Friday for a kicking incident, hit the 20-goal mark, as well.

“One thing that will be clear is that we will not take them lightly,” Noel said. “That’s a really hard thing to manage, because you can say all the right things, but the emotional level might not be there. But you get to see what your team is about, too.”
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Quote of the Day

You get the right whistles at the right times, you can leave him out there. He's a beast when it comes to being on the ice. I thought [Saturday] he was a big man. That first period, he did that lateral cut and it was like three bowling pins bounced off him. There's not too many guys that can do that.

— Capitals coach Barry Trotz on Alex Ovechkin, who enters February tied for the NHL lead in goals