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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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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:42 PM

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

Win over Jets would give Capitals breathing room

WINNIPEG -- A win tonight over the Winnipeg Jets would allow the Washington Capitals to keep their gaze looking forward and lessen the urge to look over their shoulders.

The Capitals (36-28-6) have used a 7-2-1 run that includes their current four-game win streak to put space between themselves and the Jets, whom they lead by four points. A win tonight would also move the Capitals to within one point of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and mark the first time they have won more than four games in a row since a seven-game win streak opened their season.

"We're getting good goaltending and timely scoring," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said of his club's recent push. "We're basically playing playoff-style hockey."

Settling down the Jets and their rambunctious crowd will be one key for the Capitals, who have split the teams' first two meetings this season in Winnipeg.

"They play with so much emotion and passion," center Brooks Laich said of the Jets.

Hunter is also keenly aware of Winnipeg's home power play, which ranks first in the League this season at a 25.0 percent clip.

"They move the puck well," Hunter said. "They have big shots from the point and get traffic in front. Stay out of the penalty box."

Washington will also regain the services of defenseman Mike Green, who will return after serving a three-game suspension. Tomas Vokoun will return to the Washington net after Michal Neuvirth turned in wins over the past two games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Capitals:

Marcus Johansson - Brooks Laich - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dennis Wideman - Dmitry Orlov
Jeff Schultz - Mike Green

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Jets face critical matchup against eighth-place Caps

WINNIPEG -- The latest in a series of "must-win" games continues tonight for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre.

Washington holds a four-point lead on the Jets (33-29-8) for the Jets for the Eastern Conference's eighth-place slot. With a three-game road trip next week looming for the Jets, ending the Capitals' four-game win streak is crucial. The Jets ended the Dallas Stars' six-game win streak two nights ago at the MTS Centre, where several opponents have seen long point streaks come to an end.

Zach Bogosian's return from a nagging injury appears to be close, but he will again be out of the Winnipeg lineup against the Capitals. Chris Thorburn remains out as well, so former Capital Eric Fehr, who scored only his second goal of the season in the win against Dallas, will again skate on Winnipeg's checking line with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up. Pavelec, an anchor in net all season for the Jets, has spun off a shutout, three wins and a .931 save percentage over his past five games.

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 - Eric Fehr
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Stars finish road trip looking to build on Pacific lead

WINNIPEG -- The Dallas Stars made the short Minnesota-to-Winnipeg trip and spent the morning catching up on their sleep.

The Stars (39-26-5) went to sleep having spun off a 10-0-1 run that includes six consecutive wins. A 1-0 win at Minnesota leaves Dallas holding a four-point advantage in the Pacific Division race. Only the ultra-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won nine games in a row, have been able to match the Stars' pace of late, and the team will head home for Texas after tonight's game to play four straight on home ice.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Richard Bachman will start in goal, with Kari Lehtonen backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Stars:

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Adam Burish
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Alex Goligoski - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Philip Larsen - Adam Pardy

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen

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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres