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At the Rink blog
Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 1:55 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues back in control of destiny for top spot

ST. LOUIS -- Thursday night couldn't have worked out any better for the St. Louis Blues -- and they didn't even take the ice.

Still in the hunt for the Western Conference's top seed and the Presidents' Trophy, the Blues were vaulted back into position to claim both after the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers lost their respective games.

The Blues (48-21-11), who play host to the Phoenix Coyotes (40-27-13) Friday at Scottrade Center (7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN), control their destiny in the West. If they win Friday and against Saturday in Dallas, the Blues will claim the top spot in the conference and not have to worry about when the Canucks play host to Edmonton on Saturday.

If they win out and the Rangers lose at home Saturday to Washington, the Blues will earn the Presidents' Trophy.

"I think our players recognize that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "As coaches you try not to react one way or the other or overreact, [but] it's nice.

"Winning the division was one goal and then the conference was the other. We're in complete control of it. I think the players recognize that and I think there's lots at stake for both teams. Phoenix has got lots at stake ... home-ice advantage and all the things that matter there. It should be a real good game."

The players had shifted gears earlier in the week. The most important aspect for the Blues is finishing strong and playing well going into the playoffs. But now that there's still more to accomplish, the scope has certainly changed.

"Any accomplishment during the year is cool and something to be proud of," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Winning the Central's obviously a big step for this organization. Whatever we can do here in the next two games could definitely add to that. It's something you look back on when you're done and say, 'Yeah, we did that.' It's definitely something worth noting.

"That should be our focus, is to make sure we're playing well. Obviously we control our future, but the most important aspect is to play well."

Added winger Matt D'Agostini: "We want to be playing our best hockey in the playoffs obviously. ... It's come down to the wire and we wouldn't want to it to be in any other position right now.
"That's definitely something we can be proud of. We know what's at stake and we want it pretty bad, so we'll be fighting hard the next couple games."

The Blues are 3-0-0 against the Coyotes this season. They will be shooting for their first season sweep of Phoenix since 2008-09 and would be the only the second time in franchise history sweeping the Coyotes franchise dating back to their days in Winnipeg.
But Hitchcock is guarded against the success.

"We haven't played their 'A' team," said Hitchcock, whose team has outscored the Coyotes 11-3 in three games this season. "Every time we seem to play them, we get the backup goalie or they've got four or five guys out with injuries. There's reasons. That's why I'm curious to see [this game]. This is their best group, this is our best group. Let's play.

"At the end of the night, I think we're going to get a good read. Phoenix is one of those veteran teams that doesn't beat themselves. They've got a lot of older veteran guys that know how to play. I think they've managed their team really well this year as far as keeping an energy level about them and now it's right in front of them. They see the significance of home-ice advantage and I think we're going to get a real push tonight."
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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Coyotes

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for tonight's crucial Western Conference matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes from Scottrade Center.

BLUES
Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Jamie Langenbrunner - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Ryan Reaves - Vladimir Sobotka - Matt D'Agostini

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

The Blues' scratches include forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

COYOTES

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Adrian Aucoin - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Rostislav Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Smith carries a streak of 155 consecutive saves, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau. He also has a shutout streak of 219:59, which is a personal best.

The Coyotes' scratches include D David Schlemko, LW Paul Bissonnette, D Chris Summers, C Kyle Chipchura, D Michael Stone and RW Scott Arnold.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 6:07 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stamkos has chance to reach 60 in hometown

Toronto native Steven Stamkos has already set a career high with 58 goals. The Tampa Bay Lightning star has a chance to be the first NHL player since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 to reach the 60-goal plateau -- and he'd love nothing more than to do it in his own backyard.

"I think doing it in my home city with a lot of friends and family would be special, but I am not trying to think about that too much," Stamkos said after Tampa Bay's morning skate prior to the Lightning's game against the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Thursday night, "I know everyone is going to be trying to get me the puck, no matter what I say -- that's the kind of guys we have on our team. But it would mean a lot more to me if we were closer or if we were in the playoffs."

When Stamkos reached and surpassed 50 goals for the first time in 2009-10, he did it by scoring five times in his last four games. He's riding another season-ending hot streak with eight goals in his last seven games, but the 22-year-old isn't necessarily buying into the notion there is a push to reach 60 goals.

"The 50-goal plateau is kind of the number in hockey and I hadn't done before that in my career," he said. "We were kind of out of the playoffs. I probably had 30 shots in the last three games with guys were just trying to get me the puck the whole time. I mean it's a big deal to even get the chance to get that number. ... Guys are looking to pass to me, that's obvious over the past couple of games but it's not something I'm pressing."

Martin St. Louis, who leads the club in assists with 47, admits that with a 60-goal season for his linemate in sight, there might be an added incentive for Stamkos' teammates to get the puck to No. 91 whenever possible. "Maybe you tend to look for him a little more with a deadline like this and being so close to a goal," he said, "but he is hard not to look for just because of how good of a goal scorer he is."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 5:34 PM

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

Flyers focused on better starts

PHILADELPHIA -- Having fallen behind 2-0 in seven of their last 10 games, it's pretty obvious the Philadelphia Flyers need to be better at the start.

"I don't think we started well in the last two games," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It hasn't been good. Tonight we'll get a team that probably wants to rip the door off the hinges in Buffalo. Our energy and execution and what we do has got to be spot-on from the time the puck drops. After the first period is over, regardless of what happens, the game's not over, so make sure we're ready for 60 minutes."

Considering the Sabres are desperate for points to keep their hopes alive for making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Laviolette hopes his team won't have any trouble finding the energy to keep up with the opposition.

"There's never anything easy here, never anything that should be a question as to whether or not you're going to have to work hard or try hard or give a good performance," Laviolette said. "You have to be ready to play. If you're not, you'll probably lose a game."

Laviolette added he was happy with how goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov came through Tuesday's game and said he'll be back in the net Thursday.

"I think it was good to get him back in there," he said. "He was out for a bit and off the ice for a few days. To get back in there and get work, I think that's a positive thing. He got sharper as the game went on. This is just more work for him to get back in and get going for the playoffs."

And while the Sabres clearly need the wins just to get into the playoffs, the Flyers also could use two wins to close the season. If they beat the Sabres and the Penguins lose in any form to the Rangers, their game Saturday would be for fourth place in the conference and home-ice advantage in the first-round series between the teams. Just getting a point, however, would mean they could finish no worse than fifth in the conference.

"We've talked all along about collecting points and making sure we're ready to play," Laviolette said. "A lot is still at stake for us. Points are important."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK




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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 3:32 PM

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

Kings defenseman Voynov a game-time decision

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Slava Voynov will likely be a game-time decision for the Los Angeles Kings for a Pacific Division showdown Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.

Voynov took part in all of the morning skate but L.A. coach Darryl Sutter wouldn't say whether the young defenseman would play.

"We'll see," Sutter said. "I'm not going to lie to you and I'm not to give you any secrets, either."

Sutter said on Wednesday that Voynov was "banged up" and he gave him the day off.

If Voynov cannot play, the Kings can insert Davis Drewiske.

Voynov scored the game-winning goal Monday against Edmonton.

Carter out: Jeff Carter skated on his own for about 20 minutes but he is unlikely to play in the final two games.

Carter is recovering from a bone bruise in his ankle and Sutter said he won't play until he has a full practice with the team.

Carter didn't think that would happen Friday, either.

"I'm not sure," Carter said. "I would doubt it. I think I'll probably get back out there and do a little more and see how it responds. We'll see how it feels tonight when I get to the game after skating. It could seize up again. It's kind of a wait-and-see thing."

Carter said he would be ready for the opener of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, assuming L.A. makes it.

"I really don't think that’s an issue," he said. "I should be good to go."

Murray doubtful: San Jose coach Todd McLellan said that even if defenseman Douglas Murray is healthy, he would stick with his current defensive lineup, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Murray has missed three games with a lower-body injury.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 3:30 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avs still pushing for playoffs despite long odds

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche players will know Thursday night whether they still have a chance to earn a Western Conference playoff spot or can begin making offseason plans.

In order to remain in the hunt for the eighth and final postseason berth, the Avalanche need a regulation win against the Columbus Blue Jackets and hope the Los Angeles Kings can beat the San Jose Sharks at home in regulation.

The Avalanche also would need a win Saturday against Nashville, while the Sharks would need to lose in regulation that night to the Kings at home. Complicating matters, the Stars can't collect more than two points in their final two games, Thursday at Nashville and Saturday at home against the St. Louis Blues.

"All we can control is what we do tonight, and it starts with a good start to the game and playing playoff hockey," said Avalanche left wing Jamie McGinn, who will return to the lineup after missing one game with a back injury. "If we do that and set the tempo, we take care of our end and hopefully everything else works out and San Jose loses tonight."

The Avalanche enters Thursday's games 10th in the Western Conference with 88 points and 32 regulation/overtime wins. The Sharks are eighth with 92 points and 33 regulation/overtime wins, while the Dallas Stars sit ninth with 89 points and 35 regulation/overtime wins.

"You can't get too stressed or uptight about it," McGinn said. "We have to be relaxed and just play our game. I hope the Kings pull it out tonight, but we can't worry about that. We just have to worry about what we do tonight, and that's getting two points."

Avalanche coach Joe Sacco acknowledged his team's chances of sneaking into the playoffs aren't good.

"I know the percentages are low, but all of a sudden if we get a win tonight and San Jose loses and they don't come out with a point, Saturday night's games become pretty important for both teams," Sacco said. "We'll see what happens."

These are the projected lineups for both teams Thursday:

BLUE JACKETS
R.J. Umberger - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Vinny Prospal - Mark Letestu - Rick Nash
Ryan Russell - Ryan Johansen - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Darryl Boyce - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin - Dalton Prout
Aaron Johnson - Brett Lebda

Steve Mason
Allen York

Left wing Kristian Huselius (lower body), center Derek MacKenzie (concussion), defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion), Marc Methot (jaw), John Moore (foot) and Fedor Tyutin (hand), and goalie Curtis Sanford (leg) are out.

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Steve Downie
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Mark Olver - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Peter Mueller

Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Matt Hunwick - Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Defenseman Ryan Wilson (torso) is out.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 3:30 PM

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

Projected lineups for Sharks, Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here's how the lineups project when the San Jose Sharks visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Thursday in the front end of a home-and-home to conclude the regular season:

SHARKS

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

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Brent Burns - Jason Demers
Justin Braun - Colin White

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

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

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

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:48 PM

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

Canucks playing for top seed, Flames for pride

CALGARY -- It's pride versus the Presidents' Trophy when the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks collide at the Scotiabank Saddleomde Thursday.
 
While the Canucks staring down the League lead, the Flames are simply left to play out their remaining two games of the season.
 
But there is something left on the line for Calgary, according to coach Brent Sutter.
 
"There is, plain and simple, it is something you better have inside of you to have the pride to go out there for the front of the jersey and for our fans, for our ownership group, for the people that support this team so loyal and for themselves," Sutter said. "You shouldn't have to beg individuals to do that. You should have it internally inside you."
 
Alex Tanguay and David Moss may have already had their last opportunity to display that pride.
 
After missing practice earlier in the week, neither will skate in the game with the Canucks. With another game Saturday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks, Sutter suggested the pair have already played their last games of the season.
 
"Neither of them are playing [tonight]," Sutter said. "Again, it’s day-to-day but you've got to assume that with it being less than 48 hours until the next game after tonight, if they're not playing tonight there's a chance neither one of them will be playing Saturday either."
 
Instead of Tanguay and Moss, the Flames will showcase Akim Aliu, who is set to make his National Hockey League debut 19 days shy of his 23rd birthday.
 
"It's unbelievable," Aliu said. "It's a dream come true. I'm really exited. Sometimes you think this day will never come, but when it does come it's that much more special."
 
The Canucks do not have any players making their debut, but there's still plenty to play for throughout the lineup.
 
Vancouver is tied with the New York Rangers heading into Game 81 with 109 points with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs on the line. The Canucks are also just two points up on the St. Louis Blues for the Western Conference lead.

"It's hugely important," said Cory Schneider, who will start against the Flames. "You look at some of those teams and their home records, teams like St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, they're pretty unbeatable at home. If it comes down to a Game 7 in your building, that makes a huge difference.
 
"We still have something to play for. We're not taking anything lightly."
 
Byron Bitz, recalled yesterday to replace Zack Kassian, knows the importance of the two points.
 
"The team does have a lot of expectations and playoffs are right around the corner," he said. "It's an exciting time of year and I'm very happy to get a chance here."
 
Here are tonight's projected lineups:
 
FLAMES

Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Michael Cammalleri - Matt Stajan - Akim Aliu
Blake Comeau - Blair Jones - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Lance Bouma - Tim Jackman
 
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Cory Sarich
Scott Hannan - Anton Babchuk
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett - Manny Malhotra - Byron Bitz
 
Alexander Edler - Dan Hamhuis
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Christopher Tanev
Aaron Rome - Sami Salo
 
Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:34 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars will have Dvorak for critical game vs. Predators

NASHVILLE -- Veteran right wing Radek Dvorak, who has missed eight of the Stars' last 11 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday against the Predators, as Dallas sits on the brink of elimination.
 
A regulation loss will elimination the Stars. They need, at a minimum, three points in their final two games combined with two regulation losses by San Jose to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
While it might seem like a 35-year-old with only 4 goals and 17 assists in 72 games might not be the most important cog for the Stars, the team has gone 2-6 in the eight games Dvorak has missed and 2-1 in the three he has played over the last 11. He skates on a line centered by Vernon Fiddler with Eric Nystrom on the left. The trio has proved an effective combination.
 
"We play similar style," Dvorak said. "We try to be energy for our lineup. We play a simple game. We try to put pressure always on the opposing team's lines, which means get the puck deep, get in on the forecheck, cycle the puck. We have a lot of speed, so we usually get the puck first and that's how you gain the zone. That's our game."
 
Here's the projected lineup for Dallas:
 
Brenden Morrow - Mike Ribeiro - Loui Eriksson
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish
 
Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
 
Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Devils, Red Wings

DETROIT -- Here are the lineups the Devils and Red Wings likely will use when they face off Thursday here at Joe Louis Arena:

DEVILS
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

RED WINGS
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Gustav Nyquist - Justin Abdelkader - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh