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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 2:12 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Daniel Sedin skates with Canucks at practice

Daniel Sedin rejoined the Vancouver Canucks at practice Monday morning.

Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer last season, took his usual spot on the top line alongside twin brother Henrik and Alexandre Burrows.

Vancouver's leading goal scorer hasn't played since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on March 21, but his return was a positive sign Sedin could be ready for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, Wednesday night against Los Angeles.

Sedin, who still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points despite missing the final nine games, skated on his own with a skills coach before practice and stayed out with the main group when they took to the ice. Sedin wasn't wearing a white helmet the way defenseman Keith Ballard, who has been out since early February with a concussion, did before he was cleared for full contact in practice last week.





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Posted On Saturday, 04.07.2012 / 4:27 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks after top spot in West, Presidents' Trophy

The Canucks can lock up the top spot in the in the Western Conference - and perhaps the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team - by winning Saturday's regular-season finale against Edmonton.

Perhaps more exciting, however, are reports that top goal scorer Daniel Sedin, out since an elbow to the head from Duncan Keith on March 21, has been skating on his own. First reported by TSN's Farhan Lalji Saturday afternoon and confirmed later in a Vancouver Province story, word that Sedin has skated by himself the last few days and is expected to be ready for the playoffs puts a positive spin on his twin brother's comments a bit earlier.

"As time has moved on he's felt better," Henrik Sedin said. "But until you are on the ice and feel comfortable playing a game, [concern is] always going to be there."

Henrik said those concerns are fueled by seeing players like Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has missed 22 games with a concussion, still out.

"For sure, those guys I'm sure after a week they thought they were going got be able to play in three or four days, and 20 games later they still haven't played," he said. "That's always going to be there until he's back."

With the absence of Daniel, and fellow top-six forward Mason Raymond away for the birth of his first child, the Canucks will shake up their forward lines again. Here's how all the lines are expected to look Saturday:

CANUCKS

Andrew EbbettHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Maxim LapierreRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraByron BitzZack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Alexander EdlerSami Salo
Andrew AlbertsAaron Rome

Roberto Luongo is back in goal after watching Cory Schneider start in Calgary on Thursday, giving Luongo one last chance to erase the memories of being pulled form his last start before the playoffs start next week.

Maxim Lapierre, who has played well since moving up from the fourth line to the first line in place of Daniel Sedin, is moving down to try and spark a struggling second line. Andrew Ebbett, playing his fourth game after missing almost three months with a broken collarbone, moves up to the first line, while AHL call-up Byron Bitz centers the fourth unit.

The only line that remains intact is the checking unit anchored by Samuel Pahlsson, which has been the team’s best trio for at least two weeks.

On the back end, Chris Tanev comes back from a maintenance day, while Marc-Andre Gragnani, who now has played enough games to become a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent, will be a healthy scratch.
 
OILERS

Teemu HartikainenRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle
Ryan JonesSam GagnerAles Hemsky
Eric BelangerShawn HorcoffRyan Smyth
Darcy HordichukChris VandeVeldeBen Eager
 
Ryan WhitneyNick Schultz
Cam BarkerJeff Petry
Andy SuttonColten Teubert
 
Devan Dubnyk starts in goal for a fourth straight game – and 12th time in the last 14 – ahead of veteran Nikolai Khabibulin
 
The Oilers are locked into 14th place in the Western Conference and another lottery pick in the NHL Draft, but coach Tom Renney made it clear they have something to play for beyond just spoiling the Canucks’ night.

“The fact we’ve had the type of season we’ve had is motivation in itself and as I explained to the guys out on the ice just now this is the first game of next year,” Renney said. “Better play that way.”

Ben Eager, who has a long history of antagonizing the Canucks during his time in Chicago and San Jose, draws back into the lineup on the fourth line.

With defensemen Ladislav Smid (neck), Theo Peckham and Corey Potter (both concussions) all still out, prospect Colten Teubert remains with the Oilers on emergency recall and gets to play his first NHL game in front of family and friends form his nearby suburban hometown of White Rock, B.C.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 5:30 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bieksa, Sedin remain out of Canucks' lineup

Top-four Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was back on the ice for an optional morning skate, but will miss his fourth straight game Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks as he continues to take an extended "maintenance day."

"I'm just going to take it one maintenance day at a time,” Bieksa said, using the words "maintenance" or "maintain" more than a dozen times during a brief but entertaining back and forth with the media. "There's no problem."

The status of Daniel Sedin, who will miss a seventh-straight game because of a concussion, isn't a laughing matter. Vancouver's top goal scorer still isn't skating, but reports Sedin has been at the rink working out off ice for three-straight days are at least positive, and indicate he could be back for the start of playoffs.

In the meantime, the healthy Canucks are taking motivation in a chance to stay atop the Western Conference and possibly claim a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team. Thanks to a six-game win streak without Sedin, Vancouver is one point ahead of St. Louis in the West, and tied with the New York Rangers overall, with three games left for each team.

The Canucks play all three against non-playoff teams, and will use the chance to lock up home ice advantage in the playoffs as a way to get fired up

"We want to finish as high up in the conference as we can and obviously it's second or first and we want first," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Tuesday's morning skate. "Do we have a shot at the Presidents' Trophy again? Absolutely. Are we focused on making sure we take care of the day-to-day process and the in-game process to give ourselves a chance to do that? Absolutely. We want home-ice advantage. We saw the benefit of it last year, and even though it didn't help us in Game 7 against the Bruins, it was certainly nice going into every round knowing we had home ice. So we'd like that again."

For an Anaheim team in 13th place, the chance to spoil that is a goal.

"It is kind of what we've been talking about," Ducks top-line winger Corey Perry said. "They have something to play for and we just want to go out and play our game and if it happens to be as a spoiler, we're happy to do that."

Here are the expected lines as the 49-21-9 Canucks try to reach the 50-win mark for a second-straight season by extending their longest win streak of this season against a 33-35-11 Ducks team playing out the string -- possibly for the last time for veteran Finnish forwards Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu:

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett - Manny Malhotra - Zack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Alexander Edler
Andrew Alberts - Sami Salo

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Luongo will get a second-straight start in the late-season goaltending rotation, with Schneider expected to play in Calgary on Thursday.

While the Canucks only have six healthy defensemen right now, Bieksa said he could play now if the playoffs started early, and Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion) are also skating, though Ballard is still wearing a white helmet to indicate he hasn't been cleared for contact.

DUCKS
Jason Blake - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Bobby Ryan - Nick Bonino - Devante Smith-Pelly
Matt Beleskey - Andrew Cogliano - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Mat Clark - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers

Veteran defenseman Toni Lydman is out with an upper-body injury, so Clark draws back into the lineup on the back end.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 4:59 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames hope to bouce back against surging Canucks

The Calgary Flames are still technically alive in the Western Conference playoff race, but their hopes dimmed so considerably after a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday night that it’s hard to know how they’ll respond 24 hours later in Vancouver.

For the first time in a while, Canucks players were talking about facing a team that was playing for jobs next season rather than one fighting to make the playoffs this year. It’s an interesting conundrum for the Canucks, who have used their opponent’s desperation as motivation to snap out of their own late-season funk with five straight wins against teams battling for one of the final playoff spots.

“A lot of times those guys are playing for their jobs for the next year,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, who plans to play against Calgary after a sore neck forced him to abandon a scheduled start Friday night against Dallas after warm up. “We have seen it throughout this year, we haven't necessarily had great success against teams like that. We want to make sure we still get ready to play.”

Vancouver clinched at least the second seed a while ago, which contributed to an early-March funk. But their first five-game win streak since November has put the Canucks within a point of St. Louis for top spot in the Western Conference, and two back of the New York Rangers in a bid to win a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL’s regular season team. That should keep them focused.

“That should be good enough motivation,” coach Alain Vigneault said.

Here are the expected lineups as the Flames try to stay alive – at least mathematically – in the west playoff race against a Canucks team looking for its first six-game win streak of the season:
 
CANUCKS

Alexandre BurrowsHenrik SedinMaxim Lapierre
Mason RaymondRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Andrew EbbettManny MalhotraZack Kassian
 
Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Marc-Andre GragnaniAlexander Edler
Andrew AlbertsSami Salo
 
Luongo returns in goal after ceding a start Friday against Dallas to Cory Schneider in warmups because of a sore neck.

The only change for the Canucks is the return of Andrew Ebbett, who has been out since having his collarbone broken in two places by a clean hit from Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during a Jan. 7 rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Ebbett, who required multiple screws and plates during surgery to repair the damage, was cleared for contact 10 days ago.
"It was actually 12 weeks since I got hurt, so it's about that time," Ebbett said of his return, which allows the Canucks to test his playoff readiness.

The versatile 5-foot-9 forward had four goals and five points in just 14 games. He takes the spot of Dale Weiss on the fourth line.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault also said he hoped to get defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, back in a few games before the end of the season. But Ballard, who went seven weeks without even skating, still hasn't been cleared for full contact, is just hoping to rejoin a full practice on Monday, and didn't sound like he was close to playing a game.

“Right now I know I’m not ready," Ballard said.
 
FLAMES
 
Calgary didn’t skate Saturday after flying in late following a 4-1 loss to Colorado, so the lineup is expected to be the same. The big question mark is in goal, where No. 1 Miikka Kiprusoff has played seven straight, 37 of the last 40, and is one game short of 70 for a seventh-straight season.
Kiprusoff has 34 of the Flames 35 wins, with rookie Leland Irving posting the only other victory in Vancouver two days before Christmas. Current backup Henrik Karlsson has only played 20 NHL minutes since injuring his knee in a crease collision with Canucks’ forward David Booth during a 5-1 loss here Dec. 4.
 
Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Lee Stempniak - Matt Stajan - Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos - Blair Jones - Tim Jackman
 
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Anton Babchuk - Cory Sarich
 
Kiprusoff may finally get a night off in favor of backup Henrik Karlsson.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 3:45 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Luongo OK, back in net for Canucks

Vancouver No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo will be back in goal Saturday night for the Canucks against the Calgary Flames, just 24 hours after a sore neck forced to him pull out of a scheduled start against Dallas after the pregame warmup.

Luongo, who was back on the ice Saturday morning, said he woke up with the sore neck Friday and just wasn’t able to move it well enough to track pucks, so he stepped aside at the last minute to let Cory Schneider take over against the Stars.

"A few years ago I might have been a little more stubborn and tried to play,” Luongo said. “But I thought about the team and the fact we have a guy who can obviously step in and do a great job for us. I tried to make a rational decision."

It was an easier decision after teammates kept picking the corners on him during warm up, but obviously frustrating as he slammed his stick before leaving.

"If you are not seeing the puck you are just a fraction of a second late in reacting to it,” Luongo said after an optional skate Saturday. “Going through warmups yesterday and getting lit up high you realize that maybe you are not ready to play."

Just 16 hours later, Luongo insisted he is now ready to play against Calgary.

"Definitely, I was able to loosen it up,” Luongo said. “I am feeling fine, I was able to track pucks with my head and I am not having any problems. … Obviously you don't want to take any chances with something like that, but I felt really good this morning and don't see why it would be a problem."

The Canucks had third-stringer Eddie Lack at the rink Saturday morning – their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, played the night before in nearby Abbotsford – but let him leave with Luongo ready to return.

With Vancouver on its first five-game win streak in four months, Luongo is looking to build on a personal 2-0-1 run that includes a .965 save percentage. That came after taking a week off to “reset” his game following a stretch that saw him give up 25 goals in eight games. But with Schneider also playing well – after making 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the Stars, he is 12-1-1 in 14 starts since Christmas and second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage – Luongo is comfortable continuing to split starts over the final four games to keep both playoff ready.

“I am feeling good about my game right now,” Luongo said. “Obviously, Schneider is playing well also and we are getting wins. It's important to have both guys ready -- you never know what might happen.”

That point was driven home during the pregame warm up Friday night.

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 7:10 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks need to shut down Stars' stars

With the Vancouver Canucks preparing for the playoffs, it's no surprise they've built a shutdown line around new checking center Samuel Pahlsson. With the Dallas Stars in a battle to make the playoffs, it's no surprise they're leaning on a sizzling top line anchored by skilled center Mike Ribeiro.

When the two lines go head-to-head Friday night, however, it may surprise some to learn it will also be a battle of the team's top two lines overall of late.

In addition to seeing more pure matchups against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson's line has been producing offensively, with Chris Higgins scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Colorado last week -- and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Wednesday. Pahlsson, who had two goals and nine assists in 61 games with Columbus before being acquired at the trade deadline, already has a goal and four assists in just 14 games with the Canucks.

That may not sound like much, but with Vancouver struggling to score it's more than Ryan Kesler (three goals, one assist) over the same stretch, and not far behind former Hart and Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik Sedin (seven assists).

"It took a couple games for us to find each other and mesh," said Higgins of a trio rounded out by Jannik Hansen. "Now I kind of know where [Pahlsson] is going to be and that's why we're having success. All three of us know where we are going to be on the ice and that's an underrated element of a line. [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] don't even look for each other, they just know where each other are and it's not as difficult when you don't need to take that extra half a second just to know where your teammate is going to be."

That sounds a lot like the chemistry enjoyed by Ribeiro with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder on a top line that combined for all three goals and eight points in Dallas' 3-1 win in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The trio has five goals and 12 points in the last three games, as well as six goals in three games against Vancouver this season.

"Ribeiro is really tricky to play against," Pahlsson said. "He can really make a fool out of you and make you look stupid, so you've got to be ready for him."

Playing against that line is perfect playoff preparation, said Higgins.

"We're playing some tough minutes against some of the players we'll play in the playoffs, some of the other team's best players, but it's good practice," he said.

"Ribeiro is one of the best passers in the game and sees the ice like few players in the game can, Ryder is having a great year, has an unbelievable shot, and Eriksson is great around the net. So it will be a tough match up for us tonight but I think we enjoy the challenge of playing against those guys."

The results have played a role in the Canucks' success against Dallas. After the Stars' top trio combined for 12 points while winning the first two meetings - and before the Canucks put their current shutdown line together - Vancouver held all three off the scoresheet in a tight-checking 2-1 win March 22. Ribeiro expects the matchup, and welcomes the challenges, knowing it frees up others.

"They've had a few shutouts. It's just up to us to be ready tonight," Ribeiro said. "We'll see probably a few more checking lines, and that's fine too, it gives [Jamie] Benn's line a chance to create more chances and score for us too. It's hard for other teams to match up against two or three lines that can score."

As for tendencies, Higgins may have a slight advantage having played on the same line with Ryder for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.

"Yeah I may know a couple things," Higgins said with a smile.

Of course, in a battle of the two top lines, that may work both ways.

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bieksa given another 'maintenance day' vs. Stars

VANCOUVER -- Kevin Bieksa's maintenance day is turning into a maintenance week.

The Vancouver Canucks' top-four defenseman will miss a second-straight game Friday night against Dallas and is unlikely to play Saturday against Calgary, but is still expected back before the playoffs start in less than two weeks.

"We all know Kevin is one of the fiercest competitors in the League," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Friday's morning skate. "He battles hard every shift, so to give him a few maintenance days is the proper thing to do."

Asked if the necessary maintenance was upper or lower body-related, Bowness said: "We'll just go with the whole body. And mind. Give him a mental break, too."

There is less uncertainty about what's keeping Daniel Sedin out of the lineup, but even more about when he might return. Vancouver's top goal scorer will miss his fifth straight game since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, and despite a report in the Vancouver Sun in which general manager Mike Gillis said he was "hopeful" Sedin would be back by the start of the playoffs, there was no update from Bowness or teammates Friday.

Without Sedin, who leads the team with 30 goals and is second to twin brother Henrik with 67 points, the Canucks have struggled to score, winning their last two games 1-0 and compiling a 4-0-1 run despite only scoring eight goals. All of which prompted another shakeup of the forward lines going into Friday's game against a Dallas team fighting desperately to stay in the playoff picture.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups as the 47-21-9 Canucks try for their first five-game win streak since late November against a 42-30-5 Stars squad that leads the Pacific Division, but has Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose all within a single point after alternating losses and wins for the last six games:

CANUCKS

Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Manny Malhotra - Zack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Alexander Edler
Andrew Alberts - Sami Salo

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Luongo takes his turn in the Canucks' new back-and-forth goaltending rotation, and will try and build off a 38-save 1-0 shutout of Los Angeles on Monday, while Schneider, who made 43 saves in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday, is expected to play Saturday night against Calgary.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the second of consecutive 1-0 victories was that they came without regular defensemen Bieksa (maintenance), Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion). All but Ballard are expected back for the playoffs, and Ballard has also resumed practicing with the team.

Up front, Lapierre's move from fourth-line agitator to first-line winger with Sedin out is the biggest surprise, with a struggling Kassian going the other way. Lapierre has shown offensive flashes in the past, but knows that's not his main job playing alongside former scoring champion Henrik Sedin.

"Today is a fun day and good opportunity for me, but at the end of the day I know my role is to bring some energy, be physical," Lapierre said. "Try to create some room for these two guys. They have unreal skills and I will be in front of the net. I can make some plays with the puck. But we don't want me ruining every play."

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Tomas Vincour
Brenden Morrow - Vernon Fiddler - Adam Burish
Reilly Smith - Jake Dowell - Ryan Garbutt

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
Adam Pardy - Trevor Daley

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

The biggest change from the Stars last visit to Vancouver in early March is between the pipes, with the workhorse Lehtonen expected to play in Vancouver on Friday night and again in San Jose on Saturday night. There was some thought of Bachman, who won here 5-2 back on March 6, but with so much on the line Dallas decided to stick with their unquestioned No. 1 despite the fact Lehtonen is 2-6-0 with a .881 career save percentage against the Canucks.

The Stars are still missing significant players in forwards Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (skate cut on leg), and defenseman Mark Fistric (abdominal strain). But Dvorak and Fistric are skating at least and could return in San Jose Saturday -- the first part of a crucial home-and-home series with the Sharks.

Fourth line center Tom Wandell goes from being a healthy scratch the last game to being out sick.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 4:36 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Plenty of playoff implication as Canucks host Stars

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars could meet in the first round of the playoffs, but it feels like the postseason already has begun for both teams.

Friday's game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) will be the fourth between the Canucks and Stars in just over a month, a rarity this late in the season for teams that don't play in the same division. With the Stars fighting just to make the playoffs, the intensity has been ratcheted up with each meeting, adding a playoff feel to the season series.

"It's been pretty spirited," Canucks forward Chris Higgins said. “They are fighting for their lives and want to get first in their division so they are going to come with a playoff-type game. It's fun playing these guys. They are a competitive group."

The fact Dallas, which comes in atop the Pacific Division but with three teams within a point, could be a first-round opponent, adds to a budding rivalry.

"It helps set the tone, at least," Higgins added. “It's one of a couple teams we're probably going to play in the playoffs, so you want to make sure they know they are going to be in for a difficult series if they play against us."

The Stars won the first two meetings, but the Canucks won the last one, 2-1 in Dallas on March 22, part of a four-game win streak in which Vancouver has given up just three goals while focusing on improved defensive play.

For the Stars, it will be important to fight through the tighter checking without getting frustrated by it, a balance center Vernon Fiddler says they're ready to manage in a season series with a rising level of dislike between the sides.

“We've both got guys that are a little edgy and it brings the best out of everybody and it's great for hockey," said Fiddler, whose impersonation of Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa's “angry face" during a recent game only added to the budding rivalry. “The games that mean the most, there is a lots of emotion in them and both sides are bringing that. When our team is emotionally in the game we play a little bit better, but obviously we don't want a bunch of stupid penalties."

They need two points more than anything, Fiddler added, but if they also can send a message to a potential first-round opponent in the process, all the better.

“They're a great team over there, but we think we match up pretty good against them," Fiddler said. “It could be a potential playoff opponent, so you want to be at your best and I think we've already played them pretty good this year."
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 4:38 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Schneider starts for Canucks against desperate Avs

Fighting for their playoff lives, the Colorado Avalanche will face a backup goalie when they play a must-win game Wednesday night in Vancouver.

The only problem is Vancouver's No. 2, Cory Schneider, is anything but.

Schneider is second among all NHL goaltenders in save percentage at .934, and fifth with a 2.04 goals-against average. But it is still somewhat surprising that he’s starting Wednesday, just two nights after Roberto Luongo pitched a 38-save, 1-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings. It is a sign the Canucks want to have both parts of one of the League’s top tandems on a roll and ready when the playoffs start in two weeks.

“It is very important,” coach Alain Vigneault said of keeping both playing well. “I think we've done a good job of keeping both guys on top of their game throughout the year. It's something we worked into our planning.”

The start against Colorado will be Schneider’s fourth in the last six games, and with back-to-back contests against Dallas Friday and Calgary Saturday, he figures to play at least one of the final five games as well. The sophomore stopper is 10-1-1 in 12 starts since Christmas, while Luongo struggled through early March, giving up 25 goals over eight games before taking a week off to “reset.” Luongo is 2-0-1 with a .965 save percentage since coming back.

“We've got two great goaltenders and we’re using them both,” VIgneault said.

That’s tough news for a Colorado team that needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive, but has yet to beat the Canucks this season. Vancouver is 5-0 against their Northwest Division rivals, including one shutout each for Luongo and Schneider early in the season, and a 3-2 overtime victory in Colorado four days ago.

The Avalanche, who are only one point behind Phoenix and Dallas for the final playoff spot but only have three games left after Wednesday (both the Coyotes and Stars will have five left), could get one break if top-four defenseman Kevin Bieksa can't play for the Canucks. Already missing Aaron Rome to a knee injury, Bieksa took a maintenance day Tuesday and might have it extended.

“Just playing tough hockey, a couple little maintenance issues we're dealing with right now,” said Vigneault, adding he wasn’t worried about Bieksa for playoffs.

As for the Avalanche, which may need to sweep its final four games after going 0-2-1 in the last three, there will be a couple changes up front.

Captain Milan Hejduk, who hasn’t scored in 21 games, is slated to drop down to the fourth line, while fellow forward Peter Mueller, a surprise healthy scratch the last two games, gets back in at the expense of Chuck Kobasew. On the back end, coach Joe Sacco indicated rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is from B.C., is a game-time decision and may be scratched for a second-straight game after getting knocked off the puck on the play that led to Vancouver’s game-winning goal last week.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups as the Canucks prepare for a 400th straight sellout dating back to November 2002 – the longest active streak in the NHL and third longest in North American pro sports – by launching a “This is Our Home” campaign promoting responsible playoff celebrations from their fans:

CANUCKS

Mason RaymondHenrik SedinZack Kassian
Alexandre BurrowsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreDale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Alexander EdlerKevin Bieksa
Marc-Andre GragnaniSami Salo

If Bieksa can’t play Andrew Alberts will draw in, likely on the left side of a pairing with Gragnani, while Salo moves up to take Bieksa’s spot alongside Edler.
 
Cory Schneider starts in goal ahead of Roberto Luongo
 
AVALANCHE
 
Steve Downie - Ryan O'Reilly - Gabriel Landeskog
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Mark Olver - Matt DuchenePeter Mueller
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Milan Hejduk
 
Matt Hunwick - Ryan Wilson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson 

Semyon Varlamov makes a sixth-straight start ahead of veteran Jean-Sebastian Giguere despite a suspect outing in a 5-1 loss in San Jose.
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 4:34 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Vigneault confirms Daniel Sedin has concussion

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault confirmed what most already suspected Monday, when he said leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin suffered a concussion on an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith.

"Daniel obviously, as everyone knows, has got a concussion and we're following the protocol," Vigneault said after his team's morning skate, ignoring the fact no one else from the Canucks said so since Wednesday's hit, which resulted in a five-game suspension for Keith.

As for Sedin's timeline for a possible return, Vigneault didn't sound like he'd have updates anytime soon: "I'm not going to address this every day. He's got a concussion and when we've got something more to say, we'll say it."

While it's anyone's guess when Sedin will return, Vancouver could be getting a couple other players back sooner than expected. Utility forward Andrew Ebbett, who has 4 goals in 14 games this season, is practicing after having his collarbone broken in two places by a big hit in Boston on Jan. 7 and needing surgery to repair the damage. And defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, rejoined the team at Monday morning's skate. Ballard, who has been cleared for light contact after missing 22 games, is hoping to practice Tuesday, but wasn't close to thinking about playing in the final seven games.

"How he'll react next couple of days is anyone's guess," Vigneault said.

The same could be said of an up-and-down Canucks team that has been locked into the second seed in the Western Conference for a while -- they can clinch no worse than second and close within two of St. Louis for first place with a win over a more desperate Los Angeles Kings team fighting for its playoff life.

Vancouver will try to build off two-straight road wins and put a decidedly blasé 3-4-0 homestand in the past against a streaking Kings team that won six straight before losing to Boston on Saturday, dropping to eighth in the West -- tied with San Jose and Colorado, but just one point behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead.

Here are the expected lineups for their final meeting of the season:

CANUCKS
Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Zack Kassian
Alexandre Burrows - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Sami Salo

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

The only change for the Canucks is Gragnani coming back into the lineup for Aaron Rome, who suffered a minor knee injury Sunday in Colorado and is expected to be out seven to 10 days as a result.

Luongo is back in goal for a second straight game after splitting the four-game road trip with Schneider, and playing his two best game in recent weeks, including 38 saves in the 3-2 overtime win in Colorado Saturday.

KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Coach Darryl Sutter called the 4-2 loss to Boston one of the team's best games despite winning the previous six, so it's no surprise he won't change his lineup as the Kings open a tough four-game road trip that finished with an absurd Edmonton-to-Minnesota trip for games on consecutive nights.

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— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins