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At the Rink blog
Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:57 PM

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

Devils hope to solidify fourth line in last two games

DETROIT -- The loss of 21-year old center Jacob Josefson to a wrist fracture in Tuesday's game against the Islanders leaves the New Jersey Devils scrambling a bit to fill his spot on the fourth line.

Heading into Thursday's game in Detroit, Devils coach Peter DeBoer plans to slide forward Ryan Carter to center and flank him with Eric Boulton on the left side and Steve Bernier on the right.

"We want to find that mix," DeBoer said prior to an optional morning skate here at Joe Louis Arena. "We want to have four lines that we can put out there at any time and some other guys are going to get an opportunity to fill that spot. For me, I've been talking about it for a long time. It's a critical piece for us and we've got to find the right group there."

DeBoer was asked if he thinks the Devils will be a "four-line team" once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

"I don't know," he said. "We'll see. I don't have an answer to that. I want to be comfortable enough that it's an option for us. That's where I want to get to."

Getting center Travis Zajac back March 25 after an extended injury absence should help in that regard. He fits in as the top-line center, which allows standout rookie Adam Henrique to slide into the third-line center role. With veteran Patrik Elias centering the second line, the Devils look particularly strong up the middle.

"It's all about depth this time of year," DeBoer said. "Everyone's got good high-end players. The depth guys are what makes the difference and this team over here [Detroit] is built around depth. You can see the importance of it."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Rangers turn to reliable Biron for 21st start of season

PITTSBURGH -- Martin Biron will play his 21st game of the season in net for the New York Rangers on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. It's probably more than he expected play as Henrik Lundqvist's backup, but not as much as he would like to play.
 
Backup goalies never have it easy, as Biron can attest. They often play when the starter is slumping, is hurt or needs a rest, sometimes under the worst of conditions -- the second night of a back-to-back -- or against the best of opponents.
 
Still, Biron has a 12-5-2 record and a 2.38 goals-against average -- the kind of numbers that would have earned him significantly more playing time on a team other than one that is contending to win the Presidents' Trophy. Biron played in 17 games last season, going 8-6-0 with a 2.13 goals-against average.
 
For a coach, there's nothing like the security of a reliable backup goalie. That's exactly what Biron provides to the Rangers, who have locked up first place in the Eastern Conference and the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
"I think the year went really good for everybody. We struck to the schedule and stuck to the plan and for me, Hank, it's worked out well," Biron said Thursday. "I was happy the way it went. You want to play more, you just want to get it. But you're patient and you practice and when you get that opportunity, you have to respond. We've been able to do that, nut just me but everybody else."
 
Lundqvist (39-17-5, 1.93 goals-against average) injured his right hand as the Rangers beat the Flyers 5-3 on Tuesday, but he was able to handle the stick without considerable discomfort during the morning skate.
 
Coach John Tortorella expects him to be fine, and there is a possibility Lundqvist could play in the final regular season game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
 
The Rangers won seven of nine to secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and Biron likes how they are playing as the playoffs approach.
 
"Some teams finish really strong, some teams don't," Biron said. "It's a matter of timing and being mentally prepared and being ready for anything. If you have to make adjustments, you make adjustments. There's no secret recipe, you've got to go with what you have. Right now we've been playing well, so we've got to go with that."
 
Perhaps that's why Tortorella plans to stay with his regular lineup against the Penguins, who lead the season series 3-2.
 
Forward Mike Rupp showed no signs of a concussion following a fight Tuesday with Jody Shelley and is expected to play.
 
The Rangers' likely lineup:
 
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Brandon Prust
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
 
Martin Biron
Henrik Lundqvist
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:53 PM

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

Red Wings sign Sheahan to entry-level contract

DETROIT -- It took reporters a few minutes to figure out who the guy wearing No. 15 on his helmet was for the Detroit Red Wings during Thursday morning's optional skate at Joe Louis Arena.

Soon it was learned the mystery Red Wing was rookie center Riley Sheahan, who was Detroit's first pick (No. 21) at the 2010 NHL Draft. The team then announced that the 20-year old Sheahan, who played three seasons at Notre Dame, had signed to an entry-level contract after playing seven games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout agreement.

"It was a tough one there today just getting my legs working," said Sheahan, who was put through the paces by Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill. "It’s great to be on the ice and putting on the Wings gear."

Will he be putting on that gear for one of Detroit's remaining two regular-season games?

"I haven't really gotten details right now," said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sheahan, who scored one goal and added an assist for Grand Rapids. "It's the coaches' decision. I'm just looking forward to it."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock seemed to shoot down the idea of Sheahan getting any playing time Thursday against the Devils or Saturday against the Blackhawks.

"I'm not going to take a look at him," Babcock said. "Our guys were there watching him last night [with Grand Rapids]. I'd love to put him in the lineup. I always like to put big people in the lineup. He's a big body and he looks like he's going to be able to play. He's going to decide with his play over time how soon that's going to be. If he's a regular every day Red Wing or just a guy who plays in exhibition and ends up in Grand Rapids ... I don't know the answer to those questions."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:46 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers look to Theodore to wrap up division

WASHINGTON -- For all of general manager Dale Tallon's offseason acquisitions, goalie Jose Theodore could have the biggest say in whether the Florida Panthers clinch their first division title in franchise history.

Theodore (22-15-11, 2.43 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was the first goalie off the ice at the Panthers morning skate ahead of Thursday night's game against the Washington Capitals. He is expected to start for the Panthers in what is being described as the biggest regular-season game in the club's 18-year history.

Florida leads Washington by four points in the Southeast Division and the Panthers need one point in their final two games to clinch not only the Southeast Division but their first playoff berth since 2000. The Panthers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

"Goaltending is always an area that's a difference maker in our sport," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's no different than a quarterback or a pitcher in baseball, but with a goaltender the big save makes a big difference in the hockey game and over the course of the year we've gotten excellent goaltending from both Scott [Clemmensen] and [Theodore]."

Theodore is likely to get the nod against Washington despite allowing a season-high five goals in Tuesday night's 5-4 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets. Theodore is also on a personal six-game losing streak (0-2-4) and has not won since March 17. Clemmensen is 2-0-1 over that same stretch.

"It's always been a hard decision for me this year," Dineen said of choosing a starting goalie. "[Clemmensen] has really given us some incredible snapshots and he's played very well, but at the end of the day Jose has really carried the load and been a real workhorse for us."

Not only can Theodore help the Panthers punch their ticket to the playoffs, but the 35-year-old can also put a serious dent in his former team's chances at returning to the postseason.

Theodore spent two seasons as Washington's No. 1 goalie from 2008-10, but is remembered more for his playoff shortcomings than for his regular-season success.

Theodore went 62-24-12 during his two seasons with the Caps, including a 20-0-3 stretch to end the 2009-10 regular season. But after allowing two goals on two shots in Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens, Theodore was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced by Semyon Varlamov for the second straight postseason. Theodore never played for the Capitals again and he has not played at Verizon Center since.

Theodore did not address reporters on game day but his Panthers teammate Tomas Fleischmann, who also played with Theodore in Washington, does not expect a repeat performance.

"We play a different style," Fleischmann noted of this Panthers team compared with the Caps teams they played for two and three years ago. "We played up and down, but right now we play safe hockey with a good defensive-minded game and that's how we want to play. … He's playing very good."

Added Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell: "He's been solid all season, we've had great goaltending and I think for Jose, he's been there all season, he's been solid and he's given us a chance to win every night that he's been in there. I wasn't aware of how good he is and he's definitely a No. 1 goaltender."

Michal Neuvirth (13-13-5, 2.86 GAA, .901 save percentage) will start for the Capitals.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Helm back on the ice for Red Wings

DETROIT -- Only a few players took part in Thursday morning's optional skate for the Detroit Red Wings, but injured center Darren Helm was one of them.

Helm, who's recovering from a Grade 2 tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, got back on the ice for the first time since being injured himself March 17 in San Jose while trying to make an open-ice hit in the neutral zone.

Helm wore a brace on the knee and skated for about 30 minutes, showing some of the speed that makes him such an effective player on the Wings' third line. He's not ready to return for game action just yet, however, and remains hopeful that he could return midway through Detroit's first Stanley Cup Playoff series.

"Before I came in today, I wasn’t even sure when I'd be on the ice," Helm said. "They wanted me to get on there now and it felt better than I thought. It's still a ways away, I think, but it still helps a lot mentally. As soon as I got going, I felt pretty good. It's kind of feeling it out slowly. It's all feel now, I think. The docs will be keeping an eye on it."

As for being ready to play in the first game of the playoffs, Helm is keeping an open mind but seems to be aiming for later in the series.

"It'd be a nice goal to have," Helm said of returning for Game 1. "Previously they told me probably not Game 1. So I'm not going to be super angry if it's not Game 1. Obviously I want to be back. We have to play it as safe as possible right now. If I re-hurt it, it could be the rest of the year. At the same time, I don't want to milk it too much. It's a pretty exciting time and I want to get out there."

Helm said the biggest challenges right now on the ice are stops and starts plus any sudden side-to-side movements. This is the first time he's worn a knee brace, but he didn't seem to mind it too much.

"It didn't feel too bad," he said "It's a little stiff, a little tight. I don't think it'll be a factor when I get going."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Panthers, Capitals

WASHINGTON -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game at Verizon Center between the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals:

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

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

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

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

Notes: Joel Ward will miss his seventh straight game after taking a shot off his foot from Flyers forward Danny Briere on March 22. … Jeff Halpern will be a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game and for the 11th time in the last 14 games overall. … Jeff Schultz will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game. … John Erskine and Cody Eakin are also scratched.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks get Keith back for final push

ST. PAUL -- After missing five games because of suspension, Duncan Keith returns to the Chicago lineup Thursday as the Blackhawks play at Minnesota.

Keith, who was disciplined for elbowing Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin Mar. 21, will jump back into the Hawks top pairing with partner Brent Seabrook.

Chicago went 2-1-2 in the five games Keith missed, but his return comes at a good time. With a pair of road games against the Wild on Thursday and Detroit on Saturday, Chicago is currently sixth in the Western Conference playoff race. Two points behind Nashville and three behind Detroit, the Blackhawks could jump as high as fourth with a pair of wins and some help. The Red Wings host New Jersey and Nashville hosts Dallas on Thursday.

"It was tough," Keith told NHL.com following practice Tuesday. "Obviously you want to be out there playing and helping the guys. They did a great job and played well. We've been playing well for a long time now, I think. I just want to help out and keep it going."

Keith, who won the Norris Trophy two years ago, is second in the NHL in ice time this season, trailing only Brian Campbell of Florida. And while a suspension is never a positive thing, a break down the stretch for Keith could benefit both him and the Blackhawks. Chicago has already clinched a playoff berth and a rested Keith could make the Hawks a dangerous team over the next few weeks.

"I guess getting some rest at this time of year would probably be beneficial in that regard," Keith said. "I didn't feel like I needed rest. I've been able to play a lot of games every year, so I don't feel that's a reason or anything why I need rest. I feel good and I feel stronger than I was before, so hopefully it pays off."

On the injury front, forward Jonathan Toews is on the roadtrip for Chicago but will not play Thursday. He could play Saturday in Detroit after missing 21 games because of a concussion.

Center Dave Bolland also will not play Thursday. He is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but is also on the trip and could play Saturday.

Andrew Brunette is questionable with a lower-body ailment, but practiced Wednesday.

As a whole, the Blackhawks should be a rested bunch: They haven't played since Sunday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Wild, which they will attempt to avenge this evening.

Here is Chicago's projected lineup:

Jimmy Hayes - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Brendan Morrison - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:32 PM

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

Matching set of knee braces for Flyers' Grossmann

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann wasn't on the ice with the team Thursday at its morning skate due to a knee injury, but he's still hopeful to be back on the ice when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start next week.

Grossmann was hurt in the first period of Sunday's game with the Penguins when he collided with Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He hasn't been on the ice since, and on Thursday was walking around with a brace on his right knee, to match the one he's been wearing on his left.

"I'm pretty used to it, but yeah, we'll see how that [two braces] goes," Grossmann told reporters following the Flyers' practice Thursday at their practice site in Voorhees, N.J. "Me and Forrest Gump."

Grossmann won't play Thursday against the Sabres and is doubtful for Saturday's rematch with the Penguins (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN). While it would be nice to get a game in before the playoffs start, Grossmann isn't too concerned.

"It's always nice, but I'd rather be healthy [for the playoffs] and come back and play," he said. "We'll see. Taking it day-by-day and progressing as much as possible."

With center Danny Briere (back) also out against the Sabres, here's the lineup the Flyers likely will use Thursday against the Sabres:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Matt Read - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Eric Wellwood - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Pavel Kubina
Andreas Lilja - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on  Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:22 PM

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

Penguins still motivated to gain home ice

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins talked it about for weeks -- if they could sweep their final three games against the Rangers, they just might overhaul New York for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma didn't discourage such talk, believing it might be a motivator for the stretch drive.
 
As it turns out, the Penguins could sweep those three games but still not overtake the Rangers, who secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by finishing off a season sweep of the Atlantic Division rival Flyers with a 5-3 victory Tuesday.
 
The Rangers go into the next-to-the-last game of the season for both teams with 109 points, and the most the Penguins could end with is 108 if they beat New York on Thursday night and Philadelphia on Saturday. Both games are at Consol Energy Center.
 
It's not that the Penguins lack motivation. They can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by beating the Rangers. If they can do that -- or if the Flyers lose in regulation to Buffalo -- then their Saturday home game against the Flyers would be relatively meaningless.
 
That's a scenario the Penguins would welcome, if only to give goalie Marc-Andre Fleury another much-needed day off; he is expected to play in his 66th game of the season Thursday. Three injured players -- forwards James Neal and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injuries) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper-body injury) -- also would get another day off. None of the three will play against the Rangers.
 
"It's not everything, but it's nice, though," captain Sidney Crosby said of home ice. "It's something that if you have the opportunity to get, you want to get it, I think it's something that's on our mind the last couple of games, making sure we do that. We love playing here and it gives us a lot of energy."
 
Still, the Penguins are aware they owned the home-ice edge against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season and against Montreal in Game 7 of the semifinals the season before, and they lost both games.
 
To Crosby, that's why it is important for the Penguins to be concentrating on sharpening their game, paying attention to detail and managing the puck well -- and that means cutting down on neutral zone turnovers -- over the next two games.
 
"We've got to make sure we've got our game and it's where it needs to be," Crosby said. "We dropped a couple of games there to the Islanders and we weren't happy with our play. I think it's just a matter of making sure we're on the right track."
 
Those home-and-home losses to the Islanders last week blunted the momentum the Penguins generated by going 14-1-1 over the previous 16 games, and cost them any chance of overtaking the Rangers. Pittsburgh won the last two matchups, 2-0 at Consol on Feb. 21 and 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on March 15.
 
New York isn't entirely without motivation against the Penguins -- the Rangers still can win the Presidents' Trophy for regular season superiority -- so Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma doesn't expect to see a relaxed opponent.
 
"They've certainly locked their position, the top of the conference. They've locked home ice through the
first, second and third round if they advance that far," Bylsma said. "It would seem like they don't have a lot to play for, but you never know what the case will be. We're anticipating the first-place team in here. This is a team we've been trying to catch and win the last three games against them. Our last one is [Thursday]."
 
While the Penguins could finish with the second-most points in the conference, they can finish no higher than fourth because division winners automatically claim the top three spots in the playoffs.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Richard Park
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
 
Fleury (41-17-4) would be playing in his 66th game, one off his career high set twice previously. Johnson played and won two of Pittsburgh's previous three games.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cuma set to make NHL debut on Wild blue line

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota defenseman Tyler Cuma will make his National Hockey League debut tonight when the Wild host Chicago at Xcel Energy Center.

Cuma, a first-round pick in 2008, will be the 46th different player to suit up for the Wild this season. He will be the 15th rookie and the ninth to make his NHL debut -- all League highs.

A series of injuries, however, has derailed his track to the NHL, including a knee injury in 2009, after he nearly made the Wild roster out of his first training camp.

Cuma has played in 68 games this season with Houston of the American Hockey League, chipping in offensively with nine assists.

Here is Minnesota's projected lineup:

Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Tom Gilbert - Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Tyler Cuma

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

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Quote of the Day

You don't see many. The [Drew] Doughtys, the [P.K.] Subbans, those are guys that create offense from the back and then on top of that ability, the size that he has. In the West you play against some pretty big players, and being able to clear the crease and contain the [Ryan] Getzlafs and the [Corey] Perrys and [Anze] Kopitars and players like that, we're excited about him going back there.

— Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Brent Burns returning back to defense