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Posted On Monday, 12.19.2011 / 5:08 PM

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

Canucks, Wild both dealing with injuries

Monday night's battle atop the Northwest Division has turned into a war of attrition.

The Canucks announced on Monday defenseman Aaron Rome will be out 3-4 weeks after breaking his thumb blocking a shot during Saturday's win in Toronto to wrap up a five-game road trip, and fellow blueliner Keith Ballard won't play against the Wild after suffering back spasms in the morning skate. Even Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault had to leave the rink early because he wasn't feeling well.

"He has had a tough time," associate coach Rick Bowness, who took Vigneault's place addressing the media, said of Rome's second broken thumb already this season. "We get him back in the lineup, he finds his game and then gets hurt again."

Ballard is expected back in time for Wednesday's game against Detroit, so Bowness said he didn't expect the Canucks, who were already carrying eight defensemen, to recall any more from the AHL -- even if injuries up front forced them to twice play a rearguard up front on the fourth line during the recently completed 3-1-1 road trip.

They shouldn't expect any sympathy from a Minnesota Wild team that led the Canucks by five points atop the Northwest Division, but limped into Vancouver with several key players nursing injuries, and a handful more called up from the AHL to fill in.

The list includes four, arguably five, of their top-six forwards, and is topped by captain Mikko Koivu, who is out with a leg injury suffered Wednesday against Chicago. They are also missing Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), and Casey Wellman (wrist), but Pierre-Marc Bouchard returns after missing two games with a broken nose suffered while being checked head first into the boards Tuesday in Winnipeg.

Bouchard will be counted on to replace some of the missing offense for a Minnesota team that has dropped three straight -- the last two in shootouts -- for the first time all season.

"We're missing some skill in the lineup and he brings that," coach Mike Yeo said. "And he was playing so well before he got hurt, so I'm really hoping he can come back at that level and also what he brings to the power play will be a help for us."

Koivu and Bouchard both took part in practice Sunday after missing a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders the night before, and were back on the ice in Vancouver late Monday morning. While Koivu won't join Bouchard in returning against the Canucks, he did skate hard at the end of Monday's session, and still hopes to play before Christmas, perhaps Tuesday in Calgary or Thursday in Edmonton to wrap up a three-game trip.

"He looks really good out there," Yeo said of Koivu

It would be a welcome return for a team that will use its 34th different player this season when AHL call up Jed Ortmeyer makes his season debut against the Canucks. It could have been 35, but call up Chad Rau, a Minnesota native, isn't expected to play, instead watching as a healthy scratch along with defensemen Greg Zanon and Justin Falk.

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Posted On Monday, 12.19.2011 / 5:06 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Wild

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Vancouver Canucks host the Minnesota Wild:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Maxim Lapierre - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Manny Malhotra - Mark Mancari

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard

Roberto Luongo, 5-0-1 in his last six, starts in goal, with Cory Schneider backing up.

WILD
Dany Heatley - Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Jarod Palmer
Colton Gillies - Nick Johnson - Brad Staubitz

Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Marek Zidlicky - Clayton Stoner

Niklas Backstrom starts in goal, and could play again Tuesday in Calgary, where he always excels, because Josh Harding hasn't played since a neck injury on Dec. 6.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 5:20 PM

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

Avalanche without Stastny against Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Paul Stastny made the trip to Vancouver, but the Avalanche's top-line center won't play against the Canucks on Tuesday night because of a torso injury.

Injured after scoring in Sunday's win over Detroit, Stastny skated before the Avalanche kicked off a three-game western Canadian trip, but is listed as day to day.

Without Stastny, top-line winger Matt Duchene slides over from the left wing to his natural center spot, with David Jones on one side and TJ Galiardi on the other. They were understandably hesitant to break up a second line anchored by Ryan O'Reilly, who has 4 goals and 7 points during the Avalanche's current three-game win streak.

Colorado will dress seven defensemen and just 11 forwards for a second-straight game, with wingers Kevin Porter and Brandon Yip getting a revolving center on the fourth line.

Chuck Kobasew returns after missing one game with a minor injury.

Here's how the lineup projects tonight:

David Jones - Matt Duchene - TJ Galiardi
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
Kevin Porter - Brandon Yip

Kyle Quincey - Shane O'Brien
Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Stefan Elliott

Semyon Varlamov, who is 4-2 with a .939 save percentage in his last six starts, is back in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the backup.

Johnson's return Sunday coincided with the first off night for Elliott, but those first signs of struggles will not keep the rookie from playing in his hometown -- and against the Canucks team he grew up cheering -- for the first time Tuesday. That said, the 20-year-old Elliott, who had 2 goals and 3 points in his first four games, only played 8:57 against the Red Wings and was held pointless for a second straight game.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 3:48 PM

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

Red-hot Hansen gets promotion in Canucks' lineup

With Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins now listed as day-to-day with a foot infection, Jannik Hansen gets a chance to continue his career-best goal pace with a move up to the second line.

Hansen has goals in consecutive games and seven overall, just two shy of his career high despite a terrible start, with only one goal in the first 14 games.

The upward movement on the right side of the forward lines continues with Dale Weise promoted into Hansen's old spot on the third line, and Victor Oreskovich called up from Chicago of the AHL to play on the fourth unit. It's a position Oreskovich lost to Aaron Volpatti with an inconsistent preseason that didn't include nearly enough physical play for his head coach's liking, prompting the Canucks to claim Weise off waivers from the New York Rangers.

"Every player has a different skill set, every player brings something different to the table," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Every player has to figure out to play in this League what he has to do. And every player has to figure out on certain teams, 'for me to play on that team, what's the role I might have to do?'"

With Volpatti now in need of shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, the 25-year-old Oreskovich gets another chance to use his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame more effectively, and earn back a role he played for 35 games last season, including 19 in the playoffs.

"He knows what he had to do and he has to do it consistently," Vigneault said.

As for Higgins, medication reduced the swelling in his foot and he's improving, but the team isn't yet sure if he'll travel to start a five-game road trip that opens Thursday.

Here's how tonight's Canucks lineup could look:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Jannik Hansen
Mason Raymond - Cody Hodgson - Dale Weise
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Victor Oreskovich

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo makes his second-straight start after watching five in a row, with Cory Schneider returning to his backup role for now.

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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 6:35 PM

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

Infection sidelines Canucks’ Higgins

VANCOUVER -- Chris Higgins isn't expected to play Tuesday against Colorado because of a possible foot infection.

Higgins was fine talking to the media after scoring the winning goal and setting up two others in Sunday’s 5-1 win against Calgary; but, according to coach Alain Vigneault, the winger woke up with a swollen foot.

Higgins, who missed six games with a Staph infection last season while he was still with the Florida Panthers, was going to see an infection specialist, Vigneault said, adding he didn't expect Higgins to play again the Avalanche based on how his foot looked Monday morning.

"Chris came in this morning and his foot was all swollen up. According to what he is telling us, he had the same thing happen to him last year in Florida," Vigneault said. "They initially thought it was a skate bite and then they thought it was a spider bite and then they finally figured out it was a Staph infection. Hopefully with their experience in the past they can get this under control real quick."

Chris Higgins
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 17
SOG: 62 | +/-: 2
Higgins said last season that they never did figure out what caused his last infection.

"I got a big zit on my foot, it was disgusting," Higgins said shortly after arriving in Vancouver in a trade. "I've never seen anything like it, it just came out of nowhere and I guess it was pretty dangerous. They tried a couple of different antibiotics, didn't work right away, and then after the third or fourth one it worked.

"It was scary because it came out of nowhere and my foot was like five times the size of normal in hours -- from a dot to totally blown up."

Higgins was offered a variety of possibilities for why he suffered the infection, but was surprised it happened to him given how frequently he cleans his gear.

"I washed my equipment more than anybody else I've ever seen, even before I got the Staph infection. I was it two or three times a week and there are guys that never wash it," he said last season. "It's scary that something like that can happen. I felt something weird and then after the game I took my boot off and it swelled up in two hours."

Without Higgins, who has 8 goals and 17 points in 26 games, the Canucks recalled Victor Oreskovich from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

But judging from practice, Danish speedster Jannik Hansen, who also scored Sunday, is more likely to takes his spot on the "American Express Line" with Ryan Kesler and David Booth.

Manny Malhotra likely moves back up to the third line with Cody Hodgson and Mason Raymond, who is another candidate to play with Kesler and Booth in his second game since returning from a broken back. Oreskovich will take the fourth-line spot left open by Aaron Volpatti’s torn labrum, which requires surgery.
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Posted On Sunday, 12.04.2011 / 6:26 PM

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

Luongo gets the start against Flames

VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo is back in the Vancouver Canucks' net and hoping the extra practice time that came from a recent run as the backup will help him win back the starting job.

Luongo will make his first start since Nov. 13 when the Canucks host Calgary on Sunday night. Injured in a win against the New York Islanders that evening, Luongo returned after missing two games -- only to watch a suddenly-sizzling Cory Schneider start the next five ahead of him. Luongo finally got back in goal Thursday, after Schneider gave up three goals on five shots, but ended up losing after giving up three of his own.

Now Luongo is hoping to pick up where he left off before the upper-body injury – on a 4-2 run with a .923 save percentage in early November after his usual struggles in October – and thinks some extra practice time with goalie coach Roland Melanson will help.

"I felt I was right where I wanted to be. I was getting on a bit of a roll there, so I'm hoping I can just pick up where I left off and pretty much win some hockey games," Luongo said. "I was able to get some good practices in and spend some extra time working with Rollie. So we were definitely able to work on some things that, maybe, we don't have a chance to when I'm playing. Hopefully those will help me out down the line."

Luongo should benefit from the return of Sami Salo after missing one game with a groin injury – and watching the Canucks give up 6 goals and fall to 1-3-0 without the veteran defenseman this season. And there should also be an emotional lift from the return of speedy winger Mason Raymond from fractured vertebrae suffered during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Raymond was supposed to play Thursday, but had the rug pulled out from under him when a paperwork deadline was missed and he couldn't play. He admitted it wasn't easy to hear, but is moving forward.

"At end of the day, what it I've gone through and what I see now, if I'm out there having fun and really enjoying it I'm going too play well," Raymond said Sunday.

The questions about Raymond's readiness are no longer physical.

"Physically everything is good," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Mentally it will be interesting to see how he goes to the areas you need to go to be successful. He's done it in practice and now he's got to find a way to find a way to do it against the opposition."

The Canucks may need the speedy, skilled Raymond, who left on the second line but returns on the third, to find those areas more often than in the past. That's because they lost some grit on the fourth line with the announcement winger Aaron Volpatti, who scored his first goal Thursday after the paperwork snafu put him back in the lineup, needs shoulder surgery and will be out for the rest of the season.

With Manny Malhotra dropping down into that spot to make room for Raymond on the third line, the fourth line has lost some toughness, which has to be a concern for a team many already thought was bullied by Boston in the Cup Final last summer.

"It's going to be a different line with Manny there right now," Vigneault said. "In my mind it's going to be a different identity but it's going to be fine."
 
Canucks expected lineup:
 
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin – Alex Burrows
David Booth - Ryan KeslerChris Higgins
Mason Raymond- Cody Hodgson -– Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler – Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome
 
Salo is expected to return to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury, stabilizing a top-4 that struggles without him, giving up 6 goals on Thursday. Aaron Rome, who drew in for Salo, stays in on the third pairing in place of Andrew Alberts, allowing Keith Ballard to play the left side, where he’s more comfortable.
 
Luongo makes his first starts since an upper-body injury Nov. 13 after coming on in relief Thursday against Nashville after Schneider, who got the nod in seven straight, the last five ahead of a healthy Luongo, finally struggled.
 
Flames expected line-up:
The only anticipated change one day after winning in Edmonton is in goal, with backup Henrik Karlsson replacing Miikka Kiprusoff.

Curtis Glencross- Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Alex TanguayRoman HorakRene Bourque
Blake ComeauMikael Backlund - Lee Stempniak
Tim JackmanMatt StajanTom Kostopoulos
 
Scott HannanTJ Brodie
Jay BouwmeesterChris Butler
Joe PiskulaDerek Smith

Karlsson is expected to start after Kiprusoff played Saturday.


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Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 4:35 PM

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

Kostitsyn out; Predators skates no longer optional

Top-six Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn wasn’t on the ice Thursday morning, but for a change it wasn’t because the Predators’ game-day skate was optional.

Kostitsyn will sit out in Vancouver on Thursday night with what coach Barry Trotz labeled an upper-body injury suffered during a 1-0 loss in Calgary on Tuesday. The rest of the Predators skated, something they hadn’t always been forced to do lately.

“Our skates aren’t optional anymore,” Trotz said. “I changed it because our games started becoming optional so we won’t have optional skates until we get this corrected.”

“This” is a 1-4-1 stretch that includes the shutout loss to the Flames and just three goals in their last three games. Losing Kostitsyn might hurt if he was playing like the guy tied for team lead in scoring last season, but he only has three goals on the season and none in the last 11 games, a stretch in which he only had points (three assists) in one game.

Trotz said “a plethora” of wingers will replace him on the second line, but atop the list for the first shot is rookie Craig Smith, who leads the team with seven goals and 17 points, and has shown signs of chemistry with center Mike Fiscer. Kyle Wilson, called up from the AHL after Blake Geoffrion was hurt in Edmonton on Monday, will make his season debut centering the fourth line, but Trotz isn’t expecting him to help a sputtering offense. He does expect his forwards to spend more time in front of the opposing net.

That’s especially true against a goalie as hot as Canucks starter Cory Schneider.

“He’s seeing the puck right now, everything seems to be in slow motion for him,” said Trotz, who did give his team Wednesday off before wrapping up their second five-game road trip already this season in Vancouver. “You have to get to the net and take his eyes away. A goaltender is less of a goaltender if he can’t see the puck.”

According to Trotz, too many goalies are seeing it too easily against his team.

“We were just too light on the puck, staying on the perimeter too much. We’re going to gave to get to the interior tonight,” continued Trotz, citing Patrick Hornqvist as the one of the few that does it enough. “We need more guys to do that, we’ve got some guys that don’t want to go there. … We have to be a bit more determined to get pucks to the net. We don’t have that shot first mentality, we got a pass-first mentality, a turnover mentality and we just gotta put pucks into that blue paint and go get them.”

Here are the lines Trotz will likely use at Rogers Arena tonight.
 
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Martin Erat - Mike FisherCraig Smith
Jordin TootooJerred Smithson - Nick Spaling
Matt HalischukKyle Wilson - Brian McGrattan

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Jack Hillen - Kevin Klein
Jonathan Blum - Roman Josi

Pekka Rinne will start in goal, and is hoping for better luck after being victimized by terrible bounces during a 5-1 loss in Vancouver in late October, while Anders Lindback will back up.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 3:07 PM

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

Raymond making return after scary injury in Cup Final

Cory Schneider is back in goal for a seventh straight start Thursday against the Nashville Predators, but the team in front of him has changed with the return of Mason Raymond up front and Aaron Rome back in for an injured Sami Salo on defense.

Salo tweaked his groin kicking a puck out of his skates during Tuesday’s 4-1 win against Columbus and was listed as day-to-day by coach Alain Vigneault, who doesn’t think the injury is serious.

Salo’s spot alongside Alexander Edler on the second pairing will be taken by Rome, who hurt his hand blocking a shot four games ago but was ready to return for the last one. With Vancouver winning a season-high five straight, however, he couldn’t get back into the lineup.

“It’s been a mixture of both,” Rome said after a heavily optional game-day skate Thursday morning. “My hand is feeling well but the coach has to make a decision and the guys are playing well and you don’t want to change anything.”

That includes the goaltending, with Roberto Luongo on the bench for a fifth consecutive game as the backup because Schneider has stopped 164 of 168 shots during a win streak that started with Luongo hurt. But it does not extend to the forward group, where Mason Raymond will play his first game since breaking his back in Game 6 of the Cup Final.

Raymond, a top-6 forward with 40 goals over the last two seasons, comes back on a third line with rookie Cody Hodgson at center and fellow speedster Jannik Hansen on the other side. As for what to expect from Raymond, even coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t sure.

“I know physically he feels good,” Vigneault said. “It will be interesting to see mentally how he handles a game. Practicing and playing are two different elements.”

Raymond said he can only control how hard he works, but may feel better after a hit.

“I’ve had some good practice and I’ve had some good bumps but that (first hit) will be a little bit of a benchmark to see how I really feel,” Raymond said of his first game since June 13. “I may feel a little more at ease once I get that first bump.”
 
Canucks expected lineups:
 
Malhotra drops down to the fourth line to make room for Raymond, with Aaron Volpatti coming out of the lineup as a healthy scratch
 
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin – Alex Burrows
David Booth - Ryan KeslerChris Higgins
Mason Raymond- Cody Hodgson -– Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler – Aaron Rome
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 10:43 PM

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

Schneider gets another start; Raymond ready for Canucks

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been loath to tinker with a winning lineup, but after watching his team get outshot 48-34 in Tuesday's win against Columbus he's willing to make changes.

But those changes won't include the goaltender -- not after Vigneault labeled Cory Schneider the best player on the ice in a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets. So it was no surprise to hear Schneider will make a seventh straight start - his fifth while playing ahead of a healthy Roberto Luongo -- against visiting Nashville on Thursday, even if Luongo is already tiring of the topic.

"I know this is a big story but I don't want to keep addressing it every day," Luongo said after practice Wednesday. "I appreciate the appetite for it, but I'm a team guy, I'm behind Cory, we're winning games, all is good. I'll be ready to go when it's my turn and that's the bottom line. It's all about the team. It's not about me. … I know you guys have a lot of interest but it's not something we want to be talking about every day. We've got two great goalies here. We both can play. We're both No.1s."

Vigneault, who insisted Luongo is his No. 1 goalie a day earlier, actually called him 1A and Schneider 1B on Wednesday, but with Schneider No. 1 in the entire NHL over the last five games while stopping 164 of 168 shots, it's hard to argue with his decision. Still, the coach understands it could become a testy one for the incumbent.

"I understand how unpleasant it could become," Vigneault said, "But at the end of the day he's a professional, it's part of his responsibilities. Knowing him, he wants to win, team is winning right now and I'm sure when we need him he's going to be ready."

While the goalie remains the same, the players in front of Schneider will change.

Mason Raymond will play his first since breaking his back in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Raymond, who was cleared for contact more than a week ago and told the coaches he was ready to return Saturday, will debut on the third line alongside Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen. Judging from practice Wednesday, Manny Malhotra drops to the fourth line and Aaron Volpatti heads for the press box as a healthy scratch.

The speedy Raymond spent most of the past two seasons on the second line, scoring 25 goals in 82 games two years ago and 15 in 70 last season. But he hasn't played since June 13, when an awkward hit from Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk left him with broken vertebrae in his back, and in a body brace for two months, giving him a new perspective on a game he wasn't sure he'd play again. Being patient with his comeback is part of it.

"It's a little like starting from scratch," he said. "I just went from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs to Game 25 of the regular season. It's going to be different. Once I get into the game I will feel more comfortable. But is that going to take some time to get back to game shape and game mode? Yeah, but I'm very pleased with the process."

The defense may also change, with Sami Salo skipping practice after tweaking his groin Tuesday and leaving in the third period. He will be reevaluated Thursday, with Aaron Rome most likely to come back into the lineup after three games if Salo can't play.

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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:49 PM

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

Raymond to return, Schneider staying in net

VANCOUVER -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been loathe to tinker with a winning lineup, but after watching his team get outshot 48-34 in Tuesday's win, he's willing to make changes.

They won't include the goaltender. Not after Vigneault labeled Cory Schneider the best player on the ice in a 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But while Schneider makes his seventh-straight start -- and fifth ahead of a healthy Roberto Luongo -- Thursday against visiting Nashville, but the forward lines get a significant addition.

Mason Raymond will play his first since breaking vertebrae on an awkward hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Raymond, who was cleared for contact more than a week ago and told the coaches he was ready to return Saturday, will debut on the third line, alongside Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen. The speedy winger spent most of the past two seasons on the second line, scoring 25 goals in 82 games two seasons ago and 15 in 70 last season.

The defense also may change, with Sami Salo skipping practice after tweaking his groin Tuesday and leaving the win in the third period. He will be re-evaluated Thursday.
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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic