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At the Rink blog
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 Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:46 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Boudreau has Ducks embracing role as spoilers

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Anaheim Ducks will embrace the spoiler role as they can affect the race with remaining games against San Jose, Phoenix, Vancouver and Calgary. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau is using that to light a fire.

"We know it's definitely not a good-looking situation as far as continuing playing too much in April, but we're playing at home, we've got a chance to derail a little bit of San Jose's opportunities, so we'd love to be able to do that," Boudreau said. "It's motivation for us."

Said Teemu Selanne, "We still have to do our job. Obviously, every team that wants to make the playoffs has to earn it. That's how it goes."

Boudreau said he has an obligation to field his best lineup, although he said Jonas Hiller won't play all six remaining games. Anaheim re-assigned young winger Kyle Palmieri so he can help the Syracuse Crunch secure a playoff berth. Another prospect, Emerson Etem, the WHL's first 60-goal scorer since 2000-01, is helping Medicine Hat in the quarterfinals and there is not an urgency to recall him before the season ends.

As far as his approach down the stretch, Boudreau acknowledged that, "This is new territory for me, quite frankly. I've never been out of it at this stage. But as far as development goes, we won't change the way we play. We might put guys in different situations that they haven't been in before, maybe do a little experimentation in that regard."

Ellis closer: Dan Ellis has been practicing with Anaheim for a few days in his comeback from sports hernia surgery on March 2.

"I've always looked at that last week of the regular season in order to make it back," Ellis said. "I think, given our schedule, this week we've only got two games so it gives you a few practice opportunities -- some time to really push it and see where your body is at. I think I can push it as hard as possible and see where I am at the end of the week."

It would be a personal achievement for Ellis to return. He suffered a tear in his groin in practice on Jan. 7, a freak injury in which he said "the groin comes completely off the bone and you get an ab tear with it."

Ellis has appeared in only 10 games this season and won once.

"It would be nice to finish the season on a good note," he said. "The season didn't quite go the way I would have planned it. But you take it as a challenge to push through. You set some goals for yourself, and you always want to end on a good note."

Here's the projected lineup for the Ducks:

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

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Sheldon Brookbank - Toni Lydman

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:34 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharks don't want to let Ducks damage chances again

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If the San Jose Sharks didn't have motivation already, there is a lingering subplot to Wednesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim dealt San Jose a big blow with a 5-3 victory at HP Pavilion on March 19. That gave the Ducks four wins in five meetings this season.

"I remember the feeling afterward and obviously we were not very thrilled with our performance and some of the things that happened throughout that game," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It's pretty fresh in our minds. But again, it's a new day, a new game and we've got to bring a better effort."

Said San Jose coach Todd McLellan, "It's fresh enough (in our minds), and we're 1-4 against this team. That's really hurt our opportunity to be a successful team this year, is just our record against Anaheim alone. That's not any disrespect to them.

"We've talked to our guys about not letting their guard down. This is a team that's had our number, that's played better than we have and deserved to win the games, and something we're going to have to try and correct it tonight."

Galiardi to return: TJ Galiardi is expected to return after he missed six games with an upper-body injury.

"I believe he's healthy and there's a good chance he can play," McLellan said.

Galiardi went a step further and said he will play with Dominic Moore and Torrey Mitchell. He said their role is to be solid defensively and generate a cycle at the other end.

"We're all pretty good at controlling the puck down there," Galiardi said. "We're not going to score too many highlight reel goals. It's just going to be greasy ones."

Here's the projected lineup for the Sharks:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell - TJ Galiardi
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:30 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sutter vs. Sutter takes back seat to playoff race

CALGARY -- With both the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames fighting for their respective playoff lives, the brothers become a mere footnote.
 
Though Darryl Sutter is manning the Kings' bench opposite Brent Sutter's Flames, the siblings aren't the focal point with both clubs just a point apart in the highly-contested Western Conference playoff chase.
 
"They're intense, they're physical, they're brothers," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "Now it's beyond that. The season is coming down to this. We've played 77 games up to now. This is a very, very important game. No one has even talked about Darryl being on the other side. This is just about beating the Kings tonight and jumping them in the standings."
 
Los Angeles has a one-point advantage over Calgary and holds a game at hand. A win for either team significantly increases their chances in surviving the wild West playoff hunt.
 
"This is just about winning and trying to get into the playoffs and trying to jump them in the standings," Iginla said. "It's nothing personal. This is just about the game and us working to get a win."
 
The contest is as much a must-win as it can get without mathematically eliminating either team. That fact isn't lost on Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
 
"I think we obviously want to win that game for Darryl because it's the battle of the brothers, but we're looking at it as a must-win game," he said. "We're battling for a playoff spot right now, and that's all that matters."
 
Meaning the Sutter brothers will have to take a back seat with a critical two points on the line for both the Kings and Flames.
 
"It is what it is and we understand that, but that being said, they're fighting for the same thing we want and that's the magnitude of the game," Brent said.
 
"This is Kings and Flames. It's not about Darryl and I at all. Neither of us looks at it that way and never have."
 
Even though one Sutter has the opportunity to put the other's playoff chances on life support.
 
 
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:28 PM

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

Lecavalier tweets he's 'happy to get back in lineup'

It appears Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has declared himself ready for game action after missing over a month with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand.

Lecavalier, who has been practicing with the team this week, announced via his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon that he is "happy to get back in lineup tomorrow" when the Lightning travel to Newark, N.J., to face the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Lecavalier, who last played on Feb. 18, has missed the last 18 games. For the season, Lecavalier has 21 goals and 46 points in 58 games for the Lightning. He has scored 372 goals and 839 points in 992 career games spanning 14 seasons.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:10 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kings focused on regaining playoff seed with win

CALGARY -- The Los Angeles Kings are well aware of their position in the Western Conference playoff race.
 
But they're not willing to look behind them when they face the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome -- a team the Kings hold a one-point advantage over with a game at hand in the wild West.
 
"We're fully aware of that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're not too worried about where they are. We just have to worry about ourselves. No matter who we're playing, we have to win every night at this point of the season. Tonight's pretty much a four-point game. It's a must-win game."
 
Anze Kopitar couldn't disagree with Doughty.
 
"It's not just the damage we can do, it can set ourselves up for a good finish," he said. "It's obviously a big game for both clubs. It's going to be an emotional, high intensity game."
 
Coach Darryl Sutter isn't worried so much about the team across the ice as earning the victory and the two points that come with it.
 
"It's two points," Sutter said. "Again, it's really important for everybody. There's the top teams, then there's the teams that have a chance of winning a division, then there's a bunch of guys fighting for seventh and eighth place. Either you're seventh or eighth, or you're not. It's pretty simple."
 
Though the Flames are nipping at their heels, Kopitar said there is no extra motivation to all but bury the Flames by handing them a loss this late in the season.
 
"This time of the year, you really don't need it," he said. "Every game is like a playoff game. It's obviously really nice if you can separate yourself from the other teams, and that's what we're trying to do tonight."
 
Doughty hopes the Kings can show a little more.
 
"There's no doubt in our minds that we're a better team than them and we just have to show that," he said. "We have to come out hard in the first period, take it to them and let them know we're going to be the hardest-working team out there."
 
And if they're successful, the ninth-place Kings will find themselves back in a playoff position.

Here's the projected lineup for the 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
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
 
Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames sticking to motto: 'Every game matters'

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames have preached their season-long motto, "Every game matters."
 
With five games remaining, the anthem has never held truer for the 11th-place Flames. Calgary currently sits two points behind the Phoenix Coyotes, the current residents of the eighth and final berth in the Western Conference's playoff picture.
 
But Calgary isn't looking at the big picture when it comes down to their final five games. With the Los Angeles Kings in town -- another team they're trying to chase down -- the Flames are taking a day-by-day approach to extend their season.
 
"You just have to take it one day at a time," Matt Stajan said. "Today's the game we're focused on. This is fun. We've got to win today to keep this going. We know where we're at. We put ourselves in this position."
 
Forgive the Flames if they sound like a broken record. The club has been preaching the motto for the last half-dozen games. It's been true throughout.
 
"The schedule is winding down and these games are massive with the standings situation," coach Brent Sutter said. "Tonight now becomes the biggest game of the season. When it's over, the next one will."
 
Which makes every game a must, according to captain Jarome Iginla.
 
"For us, we need to have this one," Iginla said. "We needed our last one. We go in with the same mindset. We play, we play hard, and we play confident.
 
"A lot of people have written us off, but from our point of view it's just about this game. If we get this one, a lot of pressure shifts to other teams and we just try to claw back in and keep going."
 
Winning Monday over the Dallas Stars -- another opponent in reach -- to snap a five-game losing streak, Calgary hopes to build on a newfound momentum.
 
"You try to get your emotional level there every night," Stajan said. "It doesn't matter what point of the year you're at. You can't lose. You have to be ready to go this time of year."
 
Because if they're not, the Flames will find themselves further on the outs when it comes to the chase in the wild West.
 
Here's the projected lineup for the Flames:
 
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 - Clay Wilson
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pens' Letang to miss at least two more games

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins star defenseman Kris Letang will miss at least two more games with a lower-body injury that occurred when he was tripped by Devils forward Ryan Carter during Sunday's game.
 
Letang was held out of the Penguins' 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday and did not practice with the team Wednesday. He also did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip that sends them to Long Island for a rematch with the Islanders on Thursday and to Buffalo on Friday.
 
The earliest Letang could play would be Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m., NBC).
 
"Kris Letang was not on the ice," coach Dan Bylsma said following practice. "(He) is still day-to-day with a lower-body injury."
 
Letang absorbed a pair of hard hits during Sunday's game. He was checked by a doctor and was cleared to return after he and Dainius Zubrus collided head-to-head during the second period, but after he returned, he fell feet-first into the endboards after being tripped by Carter 5:30 into the third period.
 
The Penguins are overly cautious about any possible head injury to Letang because he was out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with the first concussion of his career -- one that interrupted what until then was the best offensive season of his career.
 
Letang began producing again after he returned -- he had 6 goals and 6 assists in 18 games -- only to be sidelined again for five games following a collision with Stars forward Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang experienced headaches after that hit, but was not diagnosed with a concussion.
 
Letang, a point man on the power play and one of the NHL's top puck-moving defensemen, has 9 goals, 27 assists and a plus-16 rating in 47 games this season.
 
With Letang, Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy (knee) out against the Islanders, AHL call-ups Simon Despres and Brian Strait took regular shifts in Tuesday's game. Strait also earned his first NHL point by assisting on Tyler Kennedy's goal early in the second period.
 
"Brian Strait and Simon have proven that they can come in, play the right way for us and defend and limit other teams' opportunities in the time they've played," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins forward Joe Vitale, out for five games with an upper-body injury, is on the road trip, although Bylsma did not say if he would play in either game. Niskanen, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, stayed back in Pittsburgh.
 
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he is fine despite being rammed hard by teammate Paul Martin on Frans Nielsen's second goal of the game late in the second period Tuesday. Fleury sat out the third period.
 
"We're lucky we play with good helmets, compared to back in the day," Fleury said. "It's good. There's no injury, so there are no lingering effects. Just a tough game."
 
By losing to the Islanders -- a team they had beaten four straight times this season -- the Penguins fell three points behind the Rangers in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division. The Penguins have six games remaining.
 
"There have certainly been words spoken about where we're at and the situation we're in and how we're playing right now and our mindset in terms of where we're at in relation to the end of the season," Bylsma said.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:42 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ehrhoff will 'miss some time' with knee injury

The Buffalo Sabres announced Wednesday that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will "miss some time" with a knee injury he suffered in Tuesday night's 5-1 win against the Washington Capitals.

Coach Lindy Ruff said the news was more encouraging than he had expected.

"He’ll miss some time," said Ruff, who declined to elaborate whether it was day-to-day or week-to-week, to reporters in Buffalo. "It’ll be a period of time.

"Christian has been logging a lot of minutes and been playing well for us, but every team has to deal with it. We have to deal with it. We have to face a little bit of adversity, and we need players to step up, and I thought last night we did. Some guys played some big minutes and played well for us."

The Sabres are 19-5-5 since Ehrhoff and fellow blueliner Robyn Regehr returned from injury Jan. 24.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:34 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jackets ink Michigan goalie Hunwick to amateur deal

Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason took a puck to the mask during practice Wednesday morning, forcing the team to sign University of Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick to an amateur tryout contract.

The 5-foot-7 Hunwick, who will back up Allen York against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, saw his collegiate career come to an end Friday when his Wolverines were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Cornell.

"We had to get somebody in tonight," Columbus GM Scott Howson told reporters. "(Hunwick) was available, but we would consider signing him for rest of year, too."

An amateur tryout contract is a one-day contract that cannot be signed by any player with professional experience and does not count against the salary cap. It's typically the deal given to players when a team loses a goaltender to injury on the day of a game.

During his final two seasons at Michigan, Hunwick went 46-21-7 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, an amazing accomplishment for a player who joined the Wolverines as a walk-on in 2007-08 and was red-shirted the following season.

Hunwick took over the starting job at the end of the 2009-10 season and reached the NCAA championship game in 2011, losing to Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in overtime.

"He's had to fight for everything he's gotten and had to overcome a lot of things," Howson said.

Hunwick, who is the younger brother of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick, is driving to Columbus from Ann Arbor, Mich., today. Wolverines teammate Lee Moffie (@ljmoffie) offered some words of encouragement via Twitter: "I wouldn't get too excited about @shawn_hunwick dressing in Columbus tonight, the chances of his '86 Ranger making it there are slim to none."

The team said Mason will be evaluated, and his health will determine if the Blue Jackets sign Hunwick or another goalie for the rest of the season.
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Quote of the Day

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

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