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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Dan Myers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Weiss, Panthers nearing a postseason spot

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps it is because the Florida Panthers are based in Miami, but one of the NHL's best teams has flown under the radar all season.

That's fine with forward Stephen Weiss, who is just happy the Panthers are on the radar at all.

Weiss has been a full-timer with Florida since 2005-06 and has played more games in a Panthers sweater than anyone in franchise history. He's never played in a playoff game as a NHL player.

That could change if the Panthers continue to take care of business. With six games remaining, Florida leads Washington by five points in the Southeast Division and is on the verge of winning its first division title in history.

"It's what it's all about, being in the mix this time of year. Haven't done it too many times in years past," Weiss said. "Playing in big hockey games, it's a lot of fun."

Because the Panthers don't play in a traditional hockey market, little has been said about Florida lately. It is a team with a lot of known, and unknown, talent, but more has probably been written about their opponent Thursday, the Wild, and their historic collapse.

That's fine with Weiss though. He said he enjoys avoiding the headlines.

"We're not worried about what other people think," Weiss said. "We knew it was going to be like that all year. We're content flying under the radar and just going about our business and winning hockey games.

"Hopefully we can continue to do that over the last six games and get into the playoffs. Maybe then, we'll get a little bit of respect."

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen says it would mean a lot to the franchise to get back to the playoffs, especially for a guy like Weiss.

"He takes a lot of pride in wearing the Panther uniform," Dineen said. "He's a large part of our identity. Certainly, he's suffered some games this time of year that have not been relevant. I think he's enjoying this process right now and I think his teammates are enjoying it for him as well."

Weiss credited his teammates, coaching staff and front office for making this season's run possible, saying it would be big for the South Florida hockey community as well.

"It would mean a lot. Not having success over the years, to bring it together that quickly, if we can manage to get it done, it would be huge," Weiss said.

In the lineup tonight will be former Wild forward John Madden. The veteran didn't play Tuesday at Montreal, but will replace Mikael Samuelsson.

Madden scored 12 goals and 13 assists as a member of the Wild last season. He has two goals in 25 games with Florida this year.
Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Stamkos' scoring ability wows opponents as well

NEWARK, N.J. -- The return of Vincent Lecavalier to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday comes at a time when Steven Stamkos seeks to become the 39th player in League history to score 60 goals in a season.
The Lightning visit Prudential Center on Thursday for the fourth and final meeting of the season with the New Jersey Devils. Stamkos has produced an NHL-leading 55 goals in 2011-12, recording 12 goals in his last 14 games.
Is 60 goals on his mind?
"With six games left, I'm not thinking about [60] too much as I was thinking about 50," Stamkos said. "That was more in my head a little bit. But I'll go out there and whatever happens, happens. It is a possibility, and I'll try for it."
He would also trade in all those gaudy statistics if it meant a playoff berth.
"You'd trade in some of these individuals stats and goals to be in the playoffs, especially for me, going as far as we did last year and, ultimately, believing that we had a team that could have won it," Stamkos said. "It's tough. That's what you play for. You don't play for individual stuff, you play for the Stanley Cup, and when you're not in it, it's tough and frustrating."
His 55 goals are the most by a center since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96. The fourth-year center has 174 goals and 322 points in 319 NHL games.
Not surprisingly, Stamkos has become one of the more respected players in the League.
"I think he's phenomenal," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think he may be the best scorer to come along in the last 20-25 years in my mind, because he's found different ways to do it. He came in as a power-play, one-timer type of scorer, and the game takes that away from you because of the preparation and studying that was done. But he's found other ways to score."
Said Devils captain Zach Parise: "He goes about his business, scores goals and dominates games, but you can tell he respects other players. He plays hard and he'll hit you and do whatever he needs to do between the whistles, but he's not a dirty player. He plays the right way, and because of that you appreciate and respect what he does even more."
DeBoer finds it rather remarkable that Stamkos has been able to light the lamp so frequently at a time when coaching and goaltending are so good.
"You listen to comments on how hard it is to score in the League nowadays … Zach Parise discussed how hard it was to reach 30," DeBoer said. "That puts that number [50 goals] in perspective. I think the game is faster and better, the coaching preparation and film work and system play is at an all-time high. I know the hours the staff put in to matchups every night. I don't think I've seen it at this level ever before, so that's what makes scoring 50 so impressive to me."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Myers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Zucker will make NHL debut for Wild

ST. PAUL -- With their playoff hopes dashed, it's nights like tonight Wild fans have been waiting for for weeks, as Minnesota faces off with the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center.

Rookie left wing Jason Zucker, a Wild second-round pick in 2010, will make his NHL debut in front of the home crowd this evening, in a building he is very familiar with.

Just six days ago, Zucker played in his final collegiate hockey game in the NCAA Tournament as a member of the University of Denver. Two weeks ago to the day, Zucker scored the game-winning goal, in this building, as the Pioneers defeated Michigan Tech University in the WCHA Final Five.

Asked that day if he had planned on turning pro after the season, Zucker said he wasn't sure. Little did he know he'd be making his big-league debut in the same arena just 14 days later.

"I actually slept better than I thought," Zucker said.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he doesn't have any expectations from Zucker, either high or low. He will play tonight next to playmaking center Erik Christensen and fellow rookie Nick Johnson, whose speed should play well with Zucker's.

"This is an incredible experience for him," Yeo said of Minnesota's final six games. "It will be what he makes of it, that's for sure."

The Wild will go with Niklas Backstrom, who is finally recovered from a litany of dings, most recently a groin. He has backed up Josh Harding some recently, including Tuesday night's loss to the Rangers. Backstrom hasn't played since Mar. 1 in Montreal, when he left after just 2:52 with an injury.

Minnesota will also get back defenseman Justin Falk back from a leg injury. He hasn't played since March 4 against Colorado. His return will push Kurtis Foster out of the lineup.
Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Lightning captain Lecavalier set to return

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will get their captain, Vincent Lecavalier, back in the lineup on Thursday when they visit the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
Lecavalier has missed the previous 18 games with a fractured right hand sustained Feb. 18 against the Capitals when he was hit by a puck. Lecavalier actually announced his return via his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm ready to play and happy that it's six games," Lecavalier said. "It wouldn't have mattered if it were six games, one game or three games. To me, when you're ready to come back, you come back and these guys have been working so hard the last month. I wanted to come and play and have some fun and play the game and try to finish strong."
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said Lecavalier's minutes will be monitored, but he expects the big center to provide some extra energy to the lineup.
"My minutes won't be limited as a result of the injury more than the fact I've been away for five weeks," Lecavalier said. "We'll keep the shifts short and simple, but I'll be ready. I've worked out hard and I feel good."
Additionally, center Nate Thompson will miss his seventh straight game with upper-body injury. Boucher will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for Thursday's contest.
Despite the lost time, Lecavalier has 21 goals, 46 points in 58 games while averaging 19:04 of ice time. He's second on the team with five game-winning goals and also second with 505 faceoff wins -- five behind Steven Stamkos.
Tampa Bay is a longshot to qualify for the playoffs. The team is nine points behind eighth-seeded Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings.
Here are the projected lineups for the Lightning:
Teddy Purcell - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
JT Wyman - Tom Pyatt - Tim Wallace
Trevor Smith - Adam Hall
Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brett Clark - Brian Lee
Keith Aulie - Brendan Mikkelson
Bruno Gervais
Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Capitals get Vokoun back between the pipes

BOSTON -- After six games out with a lower-body injury, Tomas Vokoun is scheduled to be the Washington Capitals' starting goaltender tonight against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden.

Vokoun carries a 25-17-2 record with a 2.53 goals-against average and .916 save percentage into the vital game for the Capitals, who trail eight-place Buffalo by two points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

After practicing Wednesday, Vokoun declared himself ready to return. The morning skate today did nothing to change that.

"We are basically with our backs against the wall," Vokoun said. "You want to be on the ice and make a difference, a positive one. So I'm glad I'll get the chance to play."

Joel Ward and Nicklas Backstrom both skated for the Capitals but will remain sidelined with their injuries.

Here’s a look at Washington's projected lineup:

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

Dennis Wideman - Karl Alzner
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
John Carlson - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth

Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:01 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Likely lineup for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Here is the lineup the Chicago Blackhawks likely will use when they take the ice Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.

The Hawks have a lot to play for, as a win could help them clinch a playoff spot tonight. They need to beat the Blues and then hope the Coyotes lose in regulation tonight to the Stars to become the fifth Western Conference team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Seidenberg to miss first game this season

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has played in all of the team's 76 games so far this season, but he has been ruled out of tonight's game with Washington at the TD Garden.

Seidenberg suffered a cut from an opponent's skate last Saturday in a win over Los Angeles. He played in Boston's two games since then. However, according to coach Claude Julien, the cut has become infected and Seidenberg is on antibiotics. The blueliner is classified as day-to-day and he's being kept out of the lineup as a precaution.

That means the Bruins will re-insert Joe Corvo tonight as they try to earn the two points that will clinch them a playoff berth. Corvo, who had a cortisone shot in his right hand a couple weeks ago, has been scratched for six straight games.

As for the playoff berth, the Bruins are looking to make it five trips to the postseason in the five years under Julien's tutelage. Julien believes his team is playing the perfect opponent to make sure it doesn't try to coast to those two points.

"That's a first step in the right direction, right? Clinching a spot is something, and you're playing a team that's really battling hard to get themselves in the playoffs," said Julien about the Capitals, who sit ninth in the Eastern Conference. "We all know here, and we can say and pretend it's just smoke coming out of my mouth, but really this team here is going to be tough to play against tonight. Really, desperation makes it tough. So, again, I like those kind of challenges. Those are the kind of challenges you need to finish the season with in order to bring the best out of your hockey club. And we're going to need to be at our best if we expect to win tonight."

Here's the Bruins' projected lineup:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Jordan Caron - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
Greg Zanon - Joe Corvo

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco

Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:07 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Flyers have special guest on ice

With the Philadelphia Flyers coming to his hometown, a former Flyer joined the club for Thursday's morning skate.

Wearing an orange practice jersey and his familiar black helmet with No. 88 on it, Eric Lindros skated around, took shots and chatted with a few players and assistant coach Craig Berube, a former Flyers teammate, prior to the Flyers' game Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's another step in the improved relationship between the former star player and the franchise. Lindros memorably pulled on a Flyers jersey for the first time in more than a decade at the Flyers-Rangers alumni game as part of the 2012 Winter Classic.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Devils get shot-blocker Volchenkov back in lineup

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils will have a key cog back in the lineup on Thursday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center, with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
The (Bergen) Record reported on Wednesday that Volchenkov did skate on his own Wednesday morning after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Peter DeBoer informed the media that there was a chance he could return to the lineup.
The return of Volchenkov is huge for the Devils, who currently stand sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-seeded Ottawa.
Volchenkov, who has 2 goals, including a game-winner, 11 points and a minus-3 rating, leads the team with 166 hits and 120 blocked shots while averaging 18:02 of ice time. During the team's morning skate on Thursday, Volchenkov was paired with Peter Harrold.
"He's one of the better D-men on our team and it's kind of good for me to play with him because he's a good stay-at-home defenseman who takes care of his own end … it's comfortable back there with him," Harrold said. "I played a little with him the last stint up, but it's a comfort level with all the defensemen. Everyone here talks a lot and everyone knows what's going on, so they make the transition pretty seamless."
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will sit out his second straight game as a healthy scratch. Larsson was forced to leave a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2 with 5:58 remaining in the third period after being hit hard by defenseman P.K. Subban.
The rookie Swede would produce just 2 assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough, listing him as a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
"We had a good conversation prior to the Chicago game about my reasons for doing what I was doing and he understood," DeBoer said. "We had an assistant coach sit with him during the Chicago game and kind of watch the play and point out things we felt would help him when he got back in and be more successful."
For the season, Larsson, drafted fourth by the Devils last June, has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He ranks third on the team with 44 giveaways but also has 93 hits and 67 blocked shots while averaging 20:44 of ice time.
"There's lots of communication going there, but it's not a daily conversation for me," DeBoer said. "This time of year, we've got a lot of bigger things on our plate and Adam Larsson is a huge part of this organization going forward. But he's not the focal point; the focal point is our team and how we're playing."
DeBoer inserted Harrold, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, into the lineup in Larsson's absence on Tuesday. He responded with two blocked shots in 19:06 of ice time.
There are several players looking to snap out of unusual offensive slumps, including Patrik Elias, who has 1 goal in his last eight games. Zach Parise has 3 goals in his last 13 games, David Clarkson is in the midst of a season-long nine-game goal drought and rookie Adam Henrique has 1 goal in his last 20 contests. DeBoer will have Travis Zajac centering Parise and Kovalchuk to begin the game to see if he can generate more offense.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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