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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Saturday, 03.10.2012 / 4:02 PM

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

Desharnais out, but Markov could return for Habs

Montreal’s miserable season will continued without injured top-line center David Desharnais on Saturday night in Vancouver, but the Canadiens could get their top defenseman, Andrei Markov, back for the first time all season.

Markov, who has only played seven games in the last two seasons as he tries to come back from two major knee surgeries and another arthroscopic procedure, was activated from the injured-reserve list Saturday morning and could play against the Canucks, according to coach Randy Cunneyworth.

“He’s activated and available to us and should everything go as planned he will be in our lineup,” said Cunneyworth, adding the decision will be made after pre-game warm up, which will include 12 forwards and seven defensemen. “If he’s feeling the same way tonight as he is today, then we certainly will (play him).”

Markov averaged 55 points from 2005-2009, including a career-high 64 in 2008-09. But the 33-year-old Russian only played 45 games in 2009-10 and just seven last season before tearing his ACL in a Nov. 13, 2010, game against Carolina.

It’s been a long road back for the puck-moving, power play specialist. He practiced in November, but was shut down after the knee swelled up, and wasn’t cleared again for contact until Monday. He skated alongside Tomas Kaberle on Friday, but won’t speak to the media until after Saturday’s game – if he plays.

“I believe his condition is to a point where he can help out the team and do the work he feels will help our team be successful,” said Cunneyworth, who has indicated he will monitor the Russian defender’s minutes closely. “We’ll figure out best way to manage his ice based on how the game is going and how he is feeling. It's another step in the right direction for a guy we know is a very good player, but we don’t want to throw too much on his plate.”

Fellow Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges knows better than most what Markov is going through after having season ending surgery in January of 2011 and having to wait until the start of this season to make his return. That was an eight-month wait. Markov hasn't played a game in 16 months.

“I don’t expect him to be at his 100 per cent best first game back after this long a break,” Gorges said. “The timing of things has to come back, but mentally he just has to get out there, get a couple shifts early, keep them short, keep them quick, get the feel for the puck, for the timing. Probably the best thing to do would be take a hit, take a big hit, and to know that he can keep going, his knee will be fine and mentally he can overcome that obstacle and he’ll be fine.”

That said, Gorges believes it will be a big morale boost for the Canadiens, who are last in the Eastern Conference, to see Markov finally return.

“It will be a great boost to everyone just to see him playing,” Gorges said.

The news was almost as positive on Desharnais, who suffered a lower-body injury early during a win Thursday in Edmonton and won’t play in Vancouver.

Cunneyworth said the injury to Desharnais, whose 52 points are second in team scoring only to linemate Max Pacioretty (54), isn’t serious, and he could be back as early as Monday in Buffalo. In the meantime, Tomas Plekanec moves up to the top line between Pacioretty, who took the team scoring lead with two goals and an assist against the Oilers, and Erik Cole.

“There’s some chemistry, they've largely stayed together much of the season,” Cunneyworth said of the top line, “But you adapt and others take on the responsibility. It’s a good challenge for our group.”

Louis Leblanc, who was sent down to Hamilton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, has been called back up and will play on the fourth line against the Canucks.

When it was suggested the Canadiens could have tried recalling top prospect Brendan Gallagher, who plays his junior hockey locally, on an emergency basis, Cunneyworth said it never crossed his mind.

"With Louis Leblanc he comes back with the knowledge of our system and he's able to step right in and not miss a beat," he said.

CANADIENS

Assuming the Canadiens dress 12 forwards, the lines will look like this, with Leblanc most likely to sit should Markov play as one of seven defensemen:

Erik ColeTomas PlekanecMax Pacioretty
Rene BourqueLars EllerRyan White
Aaron PalushajScott GomezBlake Geoffrion
Louis LeblancPetteri NokelainenBrad Staubitz
 
Josh Georges – P.K. Subban
Alexei EmelinTomas Kaberle
Yannik Weber – Chris Campoli
Andrei Markov
 
After a rare night off in Edmonton, Carey Price gets the start – his 59th in 69 games – with an estimated 20-30 family members making the trip from his hometown in Northern B.C. Peter Budaj is back to being the back up.
 
CANUCKS

The only change for the Canucks is the return of Roberto Luongo in goal against the team he grew up cheering after Cory Schneider played Thursday.
 
Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Mason RaymondSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreZack Kassian
 
Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander EdlerSami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani – Chris Tanev
 
Luongo is in goal, with Schneider back to backing up.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 6:24 PM

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

Henrik Sedin puts Canucks' struggles in perspective

VANCOUVER -- Canucks captain Henrik Sedin was doing his best Alfred E. Newman after his team's first consecutive regulation losses in four months: What -- me worry?

Sedin downplayed the losses, a 1-2-2 run, and the ongoing struggles of both the power play and the top line he centers alongside twin brother Daniel.

The rest of Vancouver may be panicked over a man-advantage unit that has one goal in seven games and a success rate below 10 percent the last two months, or seeing the Sedins, who combined for the last two NHL scoring titles, manage just 1 assist between them the last six games, but Henrik isn't.

"It feels like we're the least-worried guys in the city," Henrik said after practice Wednesday before exercising the option to skip Thursday's morning skate.

As several teammates suggested Thursday, there might be panic if it was April 8 instead of March 8. There is still more than a month to prepare for the playoffs, but there are things that need fixing, including a power play that led the League by a wide margin after going 4-for-11 during a big 4-3 win in Boston back on Jan. 10, but is just 8-for-68 in the 25 games since then.

That drought has also played a role in the Sedins' slide. In addition to his first six-game pointless skid since 2003, Henrik is pointless in 10 of the last 13, while twin brother Daniel has been blanked in nine of those same contests over the last month. And while history and head coach Alain Vigneault suggested it was just a blip and nothing to worry about, a lot of fans in Vancouver clearly are.

"We just have to execute a little bit better," said Alexandre Burrows, the Sedins' regular linemate at even strength. "I think teams are desperate, they play five guys in front of their net and we just have to create more and be more assertive with the puck and make sure we get to the net with traffic there."

Beyond the Sedins, there are other areas of concern that pre-date the current two-game skid and 1-2-2 stretch. The Canucks were 13-1-3 before that, but nine wins came in overtime and shootouts, and stellar goaltending often masked the defensive breakdowns that finally came to roost during a 5-3 loss to Buffalo on Saturday and a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Tuesday filled with odd-man rushes.

"We're certainly not as sharp as we need to be," defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "It's simple things -- bad passes, poor defensive coverage -- that should be more of an automatic thing by now. Some of those are mental mistakes, maybe a little bit of lack of execution out there, and we need to be better at that."

Part of the problem may be simply matching the other team's intensity.

Both the Sabres and Stars -- and the Jets on Thursday -- are fighting for their playoff lives, while the Canucks have a 16-point cushion atop the Northwest Division and are practically guaranteed a top-two seed with a 13-point gap on the top Pacific Division team. The only question is securing the top spot in the West and chasing a second straight Presidents' Trophy.

"It's tough, we've seen it the last five-six games, teams that are working hard for playoff spots," said backup goalie Cory Schneider, who starts against the Jets. "But we should be able to match that, no problem. We're a team that knows how to play our 'A' game and ratchet up the intensity when we have to, and I think these are the type of games we are going to be playing from here on out and into the playoffs, so we better get comfortable playing desperate teams."

Vigneault even spoke publicly this week about experimenting with his lines over the final 15 games to get a better feel for his options come playoff time. The tinkering will continue with a reunited all-American second line and new third pairing against the Jets, but the coaches and players met beforehand to talk about the need to stay focused for each game.

"Sure, we're not in a battle to make the playoffs, but we need to take pride in how we play and do the right things," Hamhuis said. "If we don't, if we get lazy or start making bad habits, that's not the way you want to go into a postseason."

That said, Hamhuis didn't disagree with his captain's assessment from the day before that it might not be a bad thing to lose now instead of a month from now, if only because it forces the team to assess its shortcomings, especially after being able to get away with them, and win despite of them, earlier this season.

"Sometimes losing is a good thing," Hamhuis said. "When you go through adversity and tough times, that's when you get stronger and it certainly highlights some of the areas in our game that aren't where they need to be, execution being one of them and focus being another. Some of our plays that should be routine aren't right now, and you realize that when you start losing games."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Canucks reunite 'American Express' line

The Canucks continue to tinker with their forward units and defense, re-uniting the American Express line of U.S.-born forwards Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler and David Booth as they attempt to bump their worst slump in four months.

That it’s a two-game losing streak in regulation -- four of five (1-2-2) if you throw in overtime and shootout losses that sandwiched a win over St. Louis -- says a lot about expectations surrounding a Vancouver team that ran away with the Western Conference last season, but comes into this game second.

Still, there are improvements needed, so the changes continue against the Jets on Thursday night, with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani now on a third pairing with youngster Christopher Tanev while the more established Aaron Rome joins fellow veteran Andrew Alberts in the press box as healthy scratches on defense.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups for Thursday night. The Canucks are 41-18-8, while the Jets are 32-27-8 come to Rogers Arena on a 6-1-2 roll, but will have to reverse the trend of being much better at home (21-10-4) than on the road (11-17-4) to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Mason Raymond - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Christopher Tanev
 
Cory Schneider, who cut his professional teeth in Winnipeg with the Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, is back in goal after watching Roberto Luongo start the last three.
 
In addition to the goaltending change, the re-unification of the American Express second line that showed so much promise earlier in the season also changes up the third and fourth units, with the struggling speedster Raymond now on a checking unit, and big trade addition Kassian moving back to more of a crash-and-bang fourth line after a game-plus experiment on that second line.
 
Gragnani, who came to Vancouver with Kassian in the trade with Buffalo, will continue to get a look on a first power-play unit that still ranks third in the League but has just one goal in the last eight games amid a two-month slump.

JETS

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen
 
Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart
 
Ondrej Pavelec starts in goal, with Chris Mason backing up.

No lineup changes for a Jets team that built most of its recent 6-1-2 run during a long homestand, but showed some improvement with a 4-3-0 record the last seven road games. That's a notable number considering they have lost 21 of 32 road contests this season.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 4:52 PM

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

Smarts over size when it comes to Stars' backup

The Dallas Stars will rest their top goaltender against the top team in the Western Conference Tuesday. But the decision to start rookie backup Richard Bachman isn't just about saving workhorse No.1 Kari Lehtonen for an important Pacific Division showdown with San Jose back in Dallas on Thursday.

It's also a reward for the role Bachman played in the Stars' current 6-0-1 run to a playoff position.

Bachman's only other start in the last 16 games was a 26-save, 3-1 win over Chicago 12 days ago -- the second game in the ongoing point streak.

"You look at our schedule, we'll probably rely on Kari quite extensively, and this is maybe a day where we've got travel, and it sets up good to play San Jose," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said after practice in Calgary on Monday. "And you look at our little run we've been on, the game in Chicago, Richard Bachman was a part of it to get us going, and he's 6-3 with a .916 (save percentage)."

Bachman, who was playing in the ECHL just two seasons ago, won the Stars' backup job from ex-Canuck Andrew Raycroft with an impressive call-up earlier this season. He also has a 2.58 goals-against average despite being matched with Sabres rookie backup Jhonas Enroth as the shortest goaltender in the NHL at just 5-foot-10. That, says Gulutzan, forces him to prepare differently, relying more on developing his smarts because he can't just rely on his size.

"Even practicing with our guys, NHL shooters, he's getting better by virtue of being here," Gulutzan said of the Colorado College grad. "He's a cerebral kid, he's a smart college kid, he's mature and he's a goalie that has to study the game to be good at the game, because he's not a big blocker."

That doesn't mean he can't come up big for Dallas down the stretch.

The Stars are counting on it against the Canucks on Tuesday.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 4:18 PM

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

Canucks experimenting with lineup down stretch

With just 16 games left in the season and three new players on the roster, the Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a chemistry experiment, tinkering with their lines, pairings and power play as they prepare for the playoffs.

The biggest change heading into Tuesday night's battle of division leaders with Dallas comes up front, with newcomer Zack Kassian being promoted to the second line.

Kassian's move up comes at the expense of a struggling Mason Raymond, who drops to the fourth line, and could find himself out of the lineup entirely should the Canucks choose size and grit over his speed and go with either Dale Weise or Byron Bitz, who figures to be called back up from the AHL come playoff time.

"I'm trying to figure out where the pieces go," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We have a short focus on the game, but I'm also keeping a big-picture approach with the pieces and how they best help us move forward to get into the playoffs. I've got an idea, but I don't know. The players are going to decide for me."

Kassian is off to a good start since arriving from Buffalo as a key component to a four-player deadline day deal. The big winger started by showing a physical presence on the fourth line, then made the most of a promotion to the second line during the third period of a 5-3 loss to his ex-Sabres team, scoring once and setting up new linemate David Booth for another as they combined with center Ryan Kesler for two goals and several dominant, often physical, shifts.

"They've got speed, size and skill, and two of three have a little edge," Vigneault said. "If it works out, it's a good line. Our scouts felt really highly that Kassian has the potential to be a top-six forward and get there fairly quick. How long that's going to take, I'm not sure. He obviously caught our attention as far as the skill level and physicality that he can bring. Like any young player, can he maintain it and will it continue? Those are the questions we're going to get answered."

Part of the questioning includes what to do with Raymond, who lost an entire offseason and preseason to broken vertebrae from an awkward hit into the boards during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and hasn't been able to rediscover his 25-goal form of two seasons ago.

Vigneault stressed patience given all Raymond had to overcome -- both physically and mentally -- and has so far ignored calls to drop him from the lineup altogether for failing to use his considerable wheels to take the puck to the net. Raymond, who has 8 goals, 8 assists and a plus-8 rating in 41 games since returning in early December, remains in the lineup to help a second-unit power play that lost its playmaker when Cody Hodgson was dealt to acquire Kassian, and as a top penalty killer.

"I am trying to do what is best for the team, and at the same time also looking at his challenges," Vigneault said. "I know we are going to need him down the road. We are going to need that 25-goal scorer, but at the same time I have to look at the big picture right now. For now, obviously I am looking at some other people in that second-line spot and we'll see how that goes and how it affects our team."

The other tinkering involves the power play. Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was the other player coming to Vancouver in the trade with Buffalo, is getting an extended look -- perhaps in part because he needs 12 more games this season to avoid becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this summer -- on a first-unit power play ranked third in the NHL, but with just one goal in seven games.

That dry spell helps explain why top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin have one assist combined in the last five games and over the last six weeks have fallen well off the pace that saw them combine to win the last two NHL scoring titles.

"I've got a lot of confidence in the people we use in that situation," Vigneault said, pointing out the number of chances has also dropped significantly. "For whatever reason there doesn't seem to be as many power plays as there was before, and considering the fact we've played a lot of games in a short amount of time we haven't been able to spend a lot of time in practice working on it, which keeps our execution and momentum good. We have a pretty good month to practice it."

That includes 11 games in March -- and 13 of the last 18 overall -- at home.

That's plenty of time to practice -- and to tinker – before playoffs.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Rookie goalie Bachman in net as Stars play Canucks

The Canucks face the Stars in a battle of division leaders Tuesday night, though it should be noted the Central-leading Stars come in 15 points behind a Canucks squad again running away with the Northwest, and moved into first in the Pacific based on winning percentage only after Phoenix (33-24-9) lost Monday.

Dallas could also drop from the third seed in the Western Conference to seventh by the time Tuesday's game starts -- the Coyotes play earlier -- and all the way down to eighth by the end of a busy and important night in a tight, tough playoff race.

Here are the expected lines as the 41-17-8 Canucks try to bounce back from just their second regulation time loss in 20 games against a 35-26-5 Stars team that is on a 6-0-1 streak and has won four straight on the road:

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

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Raymond may have lost his second-line spot to Kassian, but figures to get time on a second power-play unit that lost its playmaker when Cody Hodgson was dealt to acquire Kassian, one reason he'll play ahead of healthy scratch Dale Weise.

Gragnani, who was the other player coming to Vancouver in the trade with Buffalo, is also getting an extended look -- perhaps in part because he needs 12 more games this season to avoid becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this summer -- and a point job on a first-unit power play that remains ranked among the League's best but has just one goal in seven games.

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

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen

The big change for the Stars is in goal, where the rookie Bachman gets his second start in seven games so workhorse No. 1 Lehtonen can rest up for Thursday's big showdown with San Jose back in Dallas.

Nothing else expected to change from a 3-2 shootout win in Calgary, with forward Toby Petersen told to stay in Dallas and spend some time with his family after leaving the team for the birth of his third child, a daughter.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 5:43 PM

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

Ex-mates pepper Hodgson with good-natured barbs

Cody Hodgson may receive a warm welcome back to Vancouver from the fans that quickly warmed to him during this Rookie of the Year candidate season. His ex-Canucks teammates weren’t so kind.

With all the hype on Hodgson and Zack Kassian playing their former teams just five days after the promising former first-round picks were swapped for each other as part of a four-player deal at the NHL Trade Deadline, the best material after the morning skate came from the rest of the Canucks, who were having a good time with Hodgson’s quick return as a Buffalo Sabre – not to mention his large head and fashion sense.

“Slow feet, big head,” joked defenseman Kevin Bieksa when asked if he had a scouting report on facing Hodgson. “No, he’s a good player. … I feel we put a lot of time into him this year and he’s in a lot better place now than he was at the beginning of the year. He’s dressing a lot better now.”

Vancouver goaltender Roberto Loungo was asked about facing Ryan Miller at Rogers Arena for the first time since the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game.

“I’m a bit more worried about their superstar, Cody,” Luongo said, before delivering his own scouting report in a perfect deadpan. “He’s got a huge head. Apart from that, he’s very skilled, good vision, quick release.”

Hodgson was able to laugh off jokes he probably knew were coming.

“They like to make fun of me for that,” Hodgson, who is known for his smarts on the ice, said of his head size. “Hopefully I put it to good use tonight.”

As for Kassian, he admitted there is extra motivation playing the Sabres.

“Definitely I feel I have something to prove to the Sabres and to Vancouver,” he said. “As a young player in this League you have to make a name for yourself and being traded away from Buffalo I want to play well and show them what I could have been and I want to show Vancouver they didn’t make a mistake.”

That includes being physical – even against ex-teammates and good friends – something Kassian said he wouldn’t hesitate to do Saturday night.

“Once the game is over you go back to being friends,” he said.

The same goes for Hodgson’s ex-teammates.

“Once the puck drops there’s no friends out there,” Bieksa said. “I don’t know if you’ll see a couple guys take a run at Cody or not, but it will be all in good fun.”

It may just hurt a little more than the jokes about head size and shirt choice.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 5:10 PM

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

Sabres turn to German connection on D

The irony wasn’t lost on Alexander Sulzer.

It took a trade away from the Canucks for the seldom-used defenseman to finally get back into a game in Vancouver.

Dealt to Buffalo just before Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline as part of the four-player deal that also landed the Sabres Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Hodgson in exchange for promising power forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, Suzler will make his debut with his new team against his old one Saturday night in Vancouver.

“It’s kind of ironic and that’s what makes it really exciting,” said Sulzer, who played six of 12 games all season in Vancouver, and none since Jan. 15. “I’m really pumped for the game, especially in Vancouver. "I’m excited to play against the boys.”

Sulzer is replacing Robyn Regehr (lower-body injury) in the lineup Saturday. According to BuffaLo coach LIndy Ruff, Regehr rode the bike Saturday and will be re-evaluated Sunday before the Sabres' wrap up a five-game road trip Tuesday in Winnipeg.

In the meantime, Buffalo filled out the roster by calling up 20-year-old forward Marcus Foligno from Rochester of the American Hockey League

Suzler is almost as excited about his defensive partner, Christian Ehrhoff, who will also be playing his first game against the Canucks after being traded last summer when it became clear they couldn’t re-sign the free agent. With only six Germans in the entire NHL, it’s noteworthy for two to be on the same pairing.

“It’s obviously a great pairing with both Germans,” joked Sulzer, who was on past Olympic and World Championship teams with Ehrhoff -- they even roomed together at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver -- but rarely played with him.

Kidding aside, Sulzer was happy to land in Buffalo, even if he’s seventh on the Sabres depth chart and watched the first two games as a healthy scratch. It's better than being eighth -- arguably ninth -- in the Canucks’ pecking order.

“It’s tough to get in the lineup when you are the odd-man out if there aren't a whole lot of injuries,” Sulzer said, “And here it's only seven guys, so if one guy goes gown you are in right away and that makes it easier too.”

Vancouver’s defensive depth also made it easier for the Canucks to let Ehrhoff, coming off a 14-goal, 50-point season, depart as a free agent, trading him to the New York Islanders for a fourth-round draft pick before he hit the open market. The Islanders then dealt him to the Sabres for another fourth-round pick, and he signed a 10-year, $40-million deal in Buffalo rather than test the market.

“I was disappointed to leave,” Ehrhoff said. “I made it clear all last season I would like to stay, but obviously it didn’t work out financially here and that's a business decision (GM Mike Gillis) made and I accept that and I’ve moved on.”

Now that he’s back in Vancouver, Ehrhoff isn’t sure what to expect from the fans, joking they might boo him. More likely they’ll be too preoccupied with the return of Hodgson, who was a fan favorite as a rookie, and Ehrhoff will fly under the radar.

“Maybe,” Ehrhoff said. “And that’s not too bad.”

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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 4:06 PM

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

Probable lineups for Sabres vs. Canucks

The Buffalo Sabres will have to continue their stingy play without one of their best shutdown defenders, as Robyn Regehr won’t play Saturday night in Vancouver after suffering a lower-body injury during Thursday's 1-0 win in San Jose.

Regehr is listed as day-to-day as the Sabres try to extend their shutout streak to three games after also blanking Anaheim 2-0 on Wednesday. Alexander Sulzer, who came to Buffalo with Cody Hodgson as part of the four-player trade that sent Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver on Monday's Trade Deadline day, will make his Sabres debut against his old team in Regehr’s place.

Here are the  anticipated lineups as the 29-27-8 Sabres try to close the four-point gap on the last Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the 41-16-8 Canucks try to increase their narrow lead atop the entire NHL:

CANUCKS

No changes for a Canucks team that is 16-1-3 during the past 19 games and settling into a seven-game home stand that started with a tight 2-0 win Thursday night against the equally hot St. Louis Blues:

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows

Mason RaymondRyan KeslerDavid Booth

Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen

Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreZack Kassian

 

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa

Alexander EdlerSami Salo

Marc-Andre GragnaniAaron Rome

 

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

 

SABRES

Other than the switch on defense to replace the injured Regerh with Sulzer, the Sabres will also maintain the status quo as they try to continue a 5-0-2 run the past seven games and 10-3-3 stretch the past 16 to get into the Stanley Cup Playoff race:

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville

Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford

Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta

Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

 

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers

Alexander Sulzer - Christian Ehrhoff

Andrej Sekera - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

Miller, who stopped al 82 shots in California, will make his eighth-straight start appearance and 19th consecutive appearance in goal. He relieved backup Jhonas Enroth on Feb. 16 and hasn’t had a full game off since Jan. 18. But after a slow start to the season is looking more like the Vezina Trophy winner from two seasons ago behind a Buffalo team that hasn’t given up more than two goals in regulation during the past six, and just seven goals overall during that stretch.
   

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:36 PM

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

Defense the theme in battle for West lead

VANCOUVER -- The battle for first place in the NHL Thursday night comes down to a Vancouver Canucks team that has scored the most goals in the League against a St. Louis Blues squad that has given up the fewest in the Western Conference

If you ask Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, it's a perfect playoff preview.

Asked about the St. Louis showdown as preparation for playing a team like the Blues or Nashville in the postseason, Sedin said: "Keep lining up teams: Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, all good defensively. Everyone plays the same way, so once we get to the playoff it's going to be a grind from game one until wherever it takes us. It's going to be low-scoring games, tight games, so we have to get used to this."

The Canucks have certainly adjusted to tight games of late, going past regulation 13 times in the last 21 games, and winning eight before blowing third-period leads and losing in extra time the last two, snapping their perfect 26-0-0 run when leading after 40 minutes this season.

"This is the way the games are being played this year, it's very rarely you see us or anyone blow out teams," Sedin said. "It's a good sign. We've shown we can win in tight games and it doesn’t matter how they are played -- if it's Boston or Detroit, with more skill -- so I think it’s good for us."

Sedin said it starts in their own end, where they'd try to match the Blues.

Certainly defense has been key to St. Louis' turnaround under Ken Hitchcock, who took over a 6-7-0 team and has since guided them to a 34-10-7 record. Only the New York Rangers, with 124 goals against, have given up fewer than the Blues' 128 -- and in addition to having played three more games than New York, St. Louis surrendered 35 goals in those 13 games before Hitchcock replaced the fired Davis Payne.

The Canucks may not match the Blues defensively, but they have been almost as hot since a slow October start.

In fact, when St. Louis beat the Canucks on Nov. 4, Vancouver was just 6-6-1 and 10th in the west. The Blues were 5-6-0 and 14th.

Now they'll meet with top spot in the NHL on the line.

"Since the beginning of November they've been one, and we've been one of the best teams in the NHL," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, tipping his hat to Hitchcock for the job he's done. "And we both find ourselves right now fighting for that top spot."


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It's hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they've played -- clearly, that was our best game we've played in the series -- and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.

— Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on his team's 3-2 loss to the Canadiens in Game 3 on Sunday