GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.
"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."
Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."
Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.
"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
Beauchemin said the issue got worse from the beginning of the season and he wasn't able to be as physical toward the end. The recovery will take about three to four months.
"It's been bothering me for a few weeks," Beauchemin said on Anaheim's day of exit meetings.
"A few months, actually … I'll take care of it now and then. I've got all summer to get it better, rehab it and everything."
Beauchemin was perhaps the team's best defenseman for much of the season and excelled after he signed a three-year contract extension Jan. 20.
Selanne's decision:Teemu Selanne had no update on his impending decision to retire or return for a 20th season.
Selanne has said he will inform general manager Bob Murray his decision by July 1, his 42nd birthday. Selanne has typically delayed that decision until at least August although that happened last year because of knee surgery.
That’s not an issue this time around.
"I'm really thankful that the knee is holding up so well and I had no real issue," Selanne said.
Selanne said coach Bruce Boudreau didn't try to persuade him into returning.
"We had a good meeting," he said. "Obviously he's going to respect my decision either way. He said he's really open arms welcoming back if I want to come back. That’s really good news."
Selanne and Saku Koivu both said they are undecided about playing for Finland in the World Championship.
Visnovsky OK:Lubomir Visnovsky said he's OK from a hit he took last Thursday in Edmonton in which he was upended and banged his head.
"I had the test (for) concussion symptoms and I was OK," he said. "I'll be OK."
Visnovsky said he was quite disappointed with his season, so much so that he contemplated retirement.
"I was very mad in the season because I don't feel comfortable," he said. "I think it was (my) worst season ever for me. My confidence was very low."
Visnovsky said he is "retired" from the Slovakian national team and won't play in the worlds. The tournament was held in Slovakia last year and Visnovsky wanted to end it there.
"That was my world championships," he said.
Ducks headed to the Worlds:Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry confirmed they will play for Canada in next month's World Championship. Bobby Ryan said he will suit up for the U.S. and indicated that Cam Fowler and Nick Bonino will join him.
WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel believes working in the NHL's smallest market will prove to be no hindrance in attracting top-flight talent.
"I think that we've got a good thing going here," Noel said during his season-ending press conference. "For one second, I will not take a backseat to anyone else. This is a great place to play. It's going to be a destination."
Captain Andrew Ladd signed a five-year contract shortly after the club relocated to Winnipeg. The Jets dominate the city's newspapers, radio and television, and Jets apparel is easy to spot across the city of 750,000. The club sold out all 41 home games, a long season-ticket waiting list is in place, and Jets players have been very vocal about the reception and treatment that they have received from the fans and the organization.
Winnipeg's reputation has spread across the NHL as opponents have made their first visits to the city and the cozy 15,004-seat MTS Centre, the League's smallest rink. Players find various locales attractive for an assortment of reasons, but the Winnipeg dressing room believes that the city's all-hockey mentality could prove to be a valuable recruiting tool.
"Guys talk," Ladd said. "We have friends all over the League. Just talking to guys who have played in the building this year, they're impressed with the excitement and electricity in the building. It's fun to be a part of on a consistent basis and know that when you're playing home games that every time you step out onto the ice that is the reaction you're going to get."
Noel compared Winnipeg to football-mad Green Bay, Wisc., a city he visited during his time as coach of the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
"Green Bay wins," Noel said. "What is in Green Bay? I've been to Green Bay, and it's a nice town. For me, Winnipeg is going to be a good place to play. I think players like it. The response that we get from our players is that they love playing here."
Noel also revealed that Hockey Canada has not contacted him about a role at the upcoming 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship that begins in May. Noel will spend the next few weeks reviewing the season, but he will have something else on his mind.
"I have fly-fishing trout on the brain," Noel said. "It keeps going through my brain. I see the trout just calling my name. I see rivers, and I pull over."
WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets will begin to scatter across the globe this week, but more than a handful of players might reconvene when the IIHF 2012 World Championship begins next month in Finland and Sweden.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd indicated that he will play for Canada after participating last spring at the event in Slovakia. Canada finished fifth in the 2011 tournament. Ladd will join Evander Kane, who led the Jets with 30 goals this season, as returnees from last season’s Canadian team.
“I had a great experience last year with it,” Ladd said. “Hockey Canada treats you very well, and it's fun to be a part of.”
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec led the Czech Republic to a bronze medal last year, but his status for this year remains to be determined.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian will not play for the United States, as he battled late-season injuries. Dustin Byfuglien still is considering playing for the U.S. team, but Blake Wheeler seems unlikely to participate.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers revealed Monday he has a broken foot and would not have been able to play in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs if the team had gotten there.
As the players cleaned out their lockers for the final time, Myers revealed the full extent of his injury, which kept him out of the final four games of the regular season. The Sabres went 1-2-1 without him, and had their playoff hopes ended in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in second-to-last game of the season.
Injuries limited Myers to just eight goals and 15 assists in 55 games this season.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
In a game Thursday in Pittsburgh, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was assessed a five-minute major penalty for kneeing Stepan late in the contest. Stepan was so slow to get off the ice and missed practice Friday, but he will be in the lineup against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Madison Square Garden.
Tortorella was fined $20,000 by the League for his comments that followed the game in which he called the hit "cheap" and "dirty" and offered no response to the fine Saturday.
"I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars? Wonder what would happen?" Tortorella said Thursday, referring to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "So I'm anxious to see what happens with the League. There's no respect amongst players. None."
Tortorella moved on from the incident, saying his team his highly motivated to finish with the most points in the NHL.
"I want us to win that trophy," Tortorella said. "I think that's a part of our motivation. I'll tell you that right now. You check off the division, check off the conference. There's two other checks that need to be done here. One is this Presidents' Trophy, and the next is the real deal. We're looking to get No. 3 here tonight."
Lundqvist was dealing with a swollen right arm after a shot by Claude Giroux of the Flyers caught the goaltender in an unprotected area on Tuesday night. Lundqvist received the night off against the Penguins, but never missed a practice and will start against the Capitals.
NEW YORK -- With the Washington Capitals securely in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's not as though 22-year-old Braden Holtby has the weight of the world on his shoulders against the Rangers on Saturday night.
But with a Southeast Division title within reach -- a Washington win coupled with a regulation loss by the Florida Panthers would make if five straight for the Capitals -- Holtby is facing some pressure. If the Capitals lose, they will be right back at Madison Square Garden as the No. 8 seed for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the top-seeded Rangers.
Holtby is 3-2-1 this season and will be filling in for Michal Neuvirth, who is day-to-day with a leg injury that coach Dale Hunter said isn't serious, and Tomas Vokoun, who is out with a groin injury. Holtby played well in road games against the Flyers and Red Wings in March, something Hunter feels will help Holtby against the League's top team.
"He went to Detroit and played well, he went to Philly and played well, and those are pretty hard buildings to play in," Hunter said. "There was a lot at stake. He came up big for us."
The Rangers will win the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since 1993-94 with a win, which means the Capitals won't have anything handed to them.
"We still have stuff on the line, so do the Rangers," Hunter said. "It's one of those games when everyone is going to be battling like any other game. We have to play our best because they're well-balanced, they have good goaltending."
The only lineup change for the Caps will be Joel Ward replacing Mike Knuble. Ward has been out since blocking a shot against the Flyers on March 22. Knuble has just two assists in his past eight games and played just 6:43 in the Capitals' 4-2 win against the Panthers on Thursday.
SAN JOSE – Just two days after playing one of the wildest and strangest games of the season in Los Angeles, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings will meet again Saturday night, this time at HP Pavilion.
The contest Thursday night had three fights, a combined 63 penalty minutes and seven power-play goals – four by the Kings and three by the Sharks – as well as a strange-but-true moment in the third period when Sharks forward Ryane Clowe reached over the bench with his stick and knocked the puck away from Kings center Jarret Stoll.
San Jose prevailed 6-5 in a shootout, but Sharks coach Todd McLellan and Kings coach Darryl Sutter agreed that the last thing they need in their final playoff tuneup is an instant replay.
“We can’t have an undisciplined game like that again from now until the end of the season or it will cost us immensely,” McLellan said. “To give up four power-play goals and win a game, I don’t know how that happens in today’s game, but it did. We can look at the penalty kill. There are some areas, again, that we can be better at, but quite frankly to me it’s the march to the box that was disappointing.
“And from what I understand, Darryl was saying the same thing. It’s two coaches trying to get their teams to play with some focus and some discipline, not cross the line on so many occasions, and get ready to play in the playoffs.”
Phoenix can clinch the Pacific Division title with a win at Minnesota in a game that starts at 5 p.m. PT, but if the Coyotes lose, then the Sharks and Kings will be battling for the division crown and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Sutter said that no matter what’s on the line as far as playoff positioning, he’s more concerned about getting his team prepared for the postseason and playing the right way.
“Quite honestly I want us to do some things better that prepare us for the first game of the playoffs, that we didn’t do as well as we should have last game,” Sutter said.
Stoll said he expects to “a little bit better discipline” from both teams.
“Way too many penalties -- this late in the year you want to be playing hard, heavy hockey, but you want to be disciplined,” Stoll said. “We know if we play our style of game, our way, we’ll be fine. We started off that way in L.A. the last game. Penalties got in the way and some loose play got in the way. A little bit of a track meet started. We know how we need to play. It’s strong defensively. It’s smothering them, being all over them, being hard and heavy on the forecheck and staying out of the box.”
Clowe was not penalized for his pokecheck from the bench, and the NHL did not issue any supplementary discipline. Stoll said the Kings aren’t thinking about on-ice paybacks.
“We move on past that game, past that day and refocus for this one,” Stoll said. “It’s over with now, and we’re moving on.”
Clowe said he doubts that the Kings will target him on the ice.
“If I get targeted, I’m more than willing,” Clowe said. “I’m ready.”
The Sharks will be without third-line wing Torrey Mitchell, who suffered an undisclosed injury Thursday night on a first-period hit by Kings forward Colin Fraser.
Michal Handzus, who played the previous four seasons with Los Angeles, will return to the lineup after missing five games. Handzus is expected to center the third line, with Dominic Moore moving from center to wing.
“We liked the way our four lines were playing, the energy that we got from them. That kept Michal out of the lineup,” McLellan said. “It also gave him some time to heal. Now, him drawing an assignment … tonight gives us a big body, it gives us a faceoff guy, which we were poor in in L.A. for most of the game. It gives us a guy that can play on the penalty kill and the power play, and it also gives him an opportunity to get his game together, at least once, before the playoffs start.”
This game gives Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has 10 shutouts and a 1.93 goals against average, a chance to regroup for the playoffs after one of his worst games of the season.
“It’s a big challenge when you play San Jose. San Jose has a goaltender (Antti Niemi) that’s won a Stanley Cup and quietly goes about his business and doesn’t get much credit, just criticism,” Sutter said. “And we have one that gets a lot of credit.”
Sutter was asked if Quick gets too much credit.
"I’m not getting into that, because you know what happens when you answer those questions. You have to prove it, right?” Sutter said. “That’s’ what it’s about.”
The Canucks can lock up the top spot in the in the Western Conference - and perhaps the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team - by winning Saturday's regular-season finale against Edmonton.
Perhaps more exciting, however, are reports that top goal scorer Daniel Sedin, out since an elbow to the head from Duncan Keith on March 21, has been skating on his own. First reported by TSN's Farhan Lalji Saturday afternoon and confirmed later in a Vancouver Province story, word that Sedin has skated by himself the last few days and is expected to be ready for the playoffs puts a positive spin on his twin brother's comments a bit earlier.
"As time has moved on he's felt better," Henrik Sedin said. "But until you are on the ice and feel comfortable playing a game, [concern is] always going to be there."
Henrik said those concerns are fueled by seeing players like Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has missed 22 games with a concussion, still out.
"For sure, those guys I'm sure after a week they thought they were going got be able to play in three or four days, and 20 games later they still haven't played," he said. "That's always going to be there until he's back."
With the absence of Daniel, and fellow top-six forward Mason Raymond away for the birth of his first child, the Canucks will shake up their forward lines again. Here's how all the lines are expected to look Saturday:
Roberto Luongo is back in goal after watching Cory Schneider start in Calgary on Thursday, giving Luongo one last chance to erase the memories of being pulled form his last start before the playoffs start next week.
Maxim Lapierre, who has played well since moving up from the fourth line to the first line in place of Daniel Sedin, is moving down to try and spark a struggling second line. Andrew Ebbett, playing his fourth game after missing almost three months with a broken collarbone, moves up to the first line, while AHL call-up Byron Bitz centers the fourth unit.
The only line that remains intact is the checking unit anchored by Samuel Pahlsson, which has been the team’s best trio for at least two weeks.
On the back end, Chris Tanev comes back from a maintenance day, while Marc-Andre Gragnani, who now has played enough games to become a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent, will be a healthy scratch.
The Oilers are locked into 14th place in the Western Conference and another lottery pick in the NHL Draft, but coach Tom Renney made it clear they have something to play for beyond just spoiling the Canucks’ night.
“The fact we’ve had the type of season we’ve had is motivation in itself and as I explained to the guys out on the ice just now this is the first game of next year,” Renney said. “Better play that way.”
Ben Eager, who has a long history of antagonizing the Canucks during his time in Chicago and San Jose, draws back into the lineup on the fourth line.
With defensemen Ladislav Smid (neck), Theo Peckham and Corey Potter (both concussions) all still out, prospect Colten Teubert remains with the Oilers on emergency recall and gets to play his first NHL game in front of family and friends form his nearby suburban hometown of White Rock, B.C.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens facing each other on the final day of the season has become somewhat of a tradition, with the game Saturday between the Original Six rivals marking the fifth time in six years they have finished the season against each other.
But for this matchup to be this insignificant is something that is relatively new.
The Canadiens enter the game with no chance of climbing out of the Eastern Conference cellar, but a regulation loss coupled with an Edmonton Oilers win would mean the Habs finish 29th in the League standings instead of 28th - a drop that would represent a 4.6 percent boost in Montreal's chances of landing the top pick in June's NHL Draft, from 14.2 to 18.8 per cent.
The Maple Leafs, however, could potentially jump up from 26th to 24th overall with a victory and losses of any kind by Anaheim and Minnesota. That kind of a move would drop Toronto's chances of winning the lottery from 8.1 to 4.7 percent. On the other hand, a Toronto regulation loss and a New York Islanders win would drop the Leafs to 27th overall, improving their odds in the draft lottery to 10.7 percent.
But don't tell that to Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who represented the opinions of both dressing rooms very well in response to a question regarding draft position.
"That's for other people to talk about, that's not for coaches," Carlyle said. "We've stated before and we'll continue to live by those statements that if we ever sold to our players that we're coming here to tank a hockey game and give up the two points, the credibility of your program has gone out the window. That's not what we're about, that's not the fabric we're made of and we don't want our players to ever think that's a possibility for us."
Here are the potential lineups for both teams Saturday night:
DETROIT -- It's not every day that a player has his contract extension announced in the middle of a game, but that's what happened Saturday with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery.
Emery, who came to the Hawks on a tryout contract in training camp and then signed a one-year deal, will stay in Chicago for one more year according to a release from the team -- which was sent out during the first period Saturday against Detroit.
Multiple reports said the contract is for $1.15 million. Emery, who made a comeback with Anaheim last season after a potentially career-threatening hip surgery, is 15-9-4 in 34 games with a 2.81 goals-against average and .900 save percentage this year.
The Blackhawks signed second-year goalie Corey Crawford to a three-year contract extension last summer, so their goaltending situation now appears to be set for the 2012-13 season.
Emery was also named as Chicago's Masterton Trophy candidate, which is the second year in a row he's earned that designation.
SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida coach Kevin Dineen often said this year he was facing tough goalie decisions, but he might now be dealing with his toughest yet.
Dineen said after the morning skate he had not decided whether Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen would be in net for the regular-season finale Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. He also said he hadn’t determined who would start in the playoffs.
Theodore has been Florida’s No. 1 goalie all season, appearing in 59 games to Clemmensen’s 23.
But Theodore is coming off a shaky performance in a 4-2 loss Thursday at Washington. Dineen pulled Theodore after the Capitals scored in the second period to go up 3-0, but reinserted him 91 seconds later.
Clemmensen, meanwhile, has been outstanding lately. He is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, including a 35-save performance in a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on March 20.
There’s also this factor this consider: If the Panthers clinch the Southeast Division title Saturday, they will face the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In five career games against the Devils, his former team, Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA and a .937 save percentage, including a 3-1 victory at New Jersey this season. Theodore is 8-14-3 in his career against the Devils with a 2.64 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
The combination of factors coming into play has left Dineen with that difficult decision.
“It sure is,” Dineen said. “It’s one that we’ll discuss quite a bit before we make the final call for tonight and next week.”
At the other end of the ice Saturday, the Carolina goalie will be Brian Boucher, who has appeared in only nine games this season as the backup to Cam Ward.
The Hurricanes lineup against Florida also will feature forward Jeremy Welsh, who will make his NHL debut after signing a one-year contract Thursday night after Union lost to Ferris State in the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa.
Here are the projected lineups for the Panthers-Hurricanes matchup:
WINNIPEG – Neither the Tampa Bay Lightning nor the Winnipeg Jets will be bidding for an invitation to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they meet tonight at MTS Centre.
But both clubs have built-in incentives tonight when they play their respective season finales. The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos is one goal away from the 60-goal mark, while the Jets will be skating before a sold-out Winnipeg crowd for the final time this season.
Helping Stamkos to become the first NHL player to reach 60 goals since Alexander Ovechkin did so in the 2007-08 season has been something of a mission this week for his teammates. Still, for a club that reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last May, playing out the schedule has required a mental adjustment from the Tampa Bay dressing room.
“In terms of motivation, it's certainly not ideal for either team,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher admitted after Tampa Bay’s morning skate.
Down the hallway at MTS Centre, Jets coach Claude Noel echoed similar thoughts as his clubs prepares to play in front of the 41st home sellout this season.
“I just want us to play well and play hard for the fans and play for the right reasons for each other.”
Dwayne Roloson will start for the Lightning against Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec. Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Lightning and Jets:
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers accomplished their primary goal of finally ending their long playoff drought just two nights ago, but there’s still a lot at stake in Saturday night in the regular season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Panthers need only one point to clinch the first division title in franchise history and secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which would mean a first-round matchup against the New Jersey Devils.
Florida also would clinch the Southeast Division if the Washington Capitals lose against the New York Rangers in a game that will start at 6:30 p.m., one hour before the opening faceoff of the Panthers- Hurricanes matchup.
So the Panthers could find out they’re division winners during the third period of their game, just like they found out they had clinched a playoff berth during the third period of their 4-2 loss at Washington Thursday with the scoreboard announcement that Buffalo had lost at Philadelphia.
The Panthers don’t really care that they have backed into the playoffs, losing their last five games and eight of their last nine, but they also would like to go into the playoffs on a winning note.
“Right now we’re focused on trying to give our fans and our players a good, strong feeling moving into the playoffs,” coach Kevin Dineen said after the morning skate. “A lot of work went into where we are right now, but now we have to take it to the next level and finish strong. That’s the first step. We look at tonight as a beginning of next week.”
If the Panthers lose in regulation against Carolina and Washington wins at Madison Square Garden, Florida would drop to the No. 8 seed and have to face the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“The division title would be the main thing,” said center Stephen Weiss, who will be playing in his 637th career game Saturday but will be appearing in the postseason for the first time. “It’s accumulation of all the hard work throughout the season and it would be nice to finish it off. Our fans deserve it, I think we deserve it in here, now we’ve got to go out and get it. Home ice is important, too. It’d be nice to start here at home. Anytime you have the ability to play a seventh game at home, it’s huge.”
The Panthers have been on the verge of ending Washington’s four-year run as Southeast Division champion since the Capitals’ 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday put their magic number at two.
But Florida was unable to hang on to a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg at home Tuesday, losing 5-4 in overtime.
Dineen said that was the one game where his players showed some tightness. But Weiss said the pressure of finally ending the Panthers’ 10-season playoff drought has shown in the team’s play the last few games.
“When you look back on the last couple of weeks, I think it has been weighing on us,” Weiss said. “We wouldn’t say it is, but you just can tell with some of our play at spurts in games. We seemed to tighten up here and there. It’s a lot of pressure having this 10, 12 years of not being in the playoffs riding on everyone’s shoulders. It’s nice to know that we’re in no matter what and now we can relax and hopefully have a crisp game tonight.”
The Panthers last faced Carolina on March 21, and the Hurricanes’ 3-1 victory snapped their season-long five-game winning streak.
It also began the Panthers’ current 1-3-5 slide.
“You wind up the regular season you want to win the last game,” forward Tomas Kopecky said. “We put ourselves in a spot where the last couple of games we needed one point. Obviously everybody is looking at the standings right now and where we can be if we get the one point. It’s very important to us. In the playoffs, it’s very important to start at home. If you have that home-ice advantage, if you go to Game 7, you’ve got that home crowd behind you. That’s something we’ve been looking for since the beginning of the year.”
Scoring has been the biggest problem lately for the Panthers, who have tallied more than two goals in regulation only once in their last 11 games.
But the Panthers’ best efforts in recent weeks have come against playoff-bound teams, including a 2-1 shootout loss Sunday at Detroit and the Washington game Thursday.
“In spurts we’ve been really good,” Weiss said. “Our game in Detroit was really good, I liked our game in Washington even though we didn’t get the result we wanted. But we play that hard, that type of style, we’re going to be all right. We’ll get the results we want. We’ve just got to make sure we do it for 60 minutes of the hockey game.”
For defenseman Brian Campbell, one of five players on the Panthers roster to have played on a Stanley Cup-winning team, a victory Saturday won’t mean much once the playoffs start.
Winning the division and starting the playoffs at home, though, would be big.
“It never hurts to go on a good note, but I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all of all things,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you want to be playing good, but the playoffs are the playoffs. You’re in and then anything can happen from there. We need to win to get home-ice, and that’s important in that aspect.
“Having home-ice advantage in the first round is huge. That’s the biggest key for us and I expect a big effort.”
Sheahan, however, will indeed make his debut on Sunday afternon at Joe Louis Arena against the rival Chicago Blackhawks (1 p.m. NBC, TSN2). Detroit general manager Ken Holland told Mlive.com's Ansar Khan that Sheahan -- the 21st pick of the 2010 NHL Draft -- will draw into the lineup in place of rookie Jan Mursak.
Sheahan, who just signed his entry-level contract Thursday after playing six games in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, will most likely play on the fourth line along with fellow rookies Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist.
Emmerton will probably stay at center of the line with the other two flanking him. Reporters spoke with Sheahan after his first official skate as a Red Wing on Thursday morning and he was understandably exited.
"It’s amazing," said Sheahan, a 6-foot-2, 200 pound forward who played center for three seasons at Notre Dame. "You look around the locker room and there’s so many good hockey players. It’s pretty heartwarming, I guess, and it’s a pretty cool experience."
Sheahan also feels like he can bring something to the table already for the Wings, despite his lack of pro experience.
"I feel like I can bring a big body to the team and maybe a physical presence," Sheahan said. "I’m looking forward to getting the chance and seeing what I can prove. I like to use my big body as an advantage and protect the puck and make things happen in the corners. I have to be responsible in the defensive zone."
Sheahan tallied 64 points (20 goals and 44 assists) in 114 career collegiate games. It's apropos that he makes his NHL debut against the Blackhawks, whose top two legendary players -- Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- went to high school and played junior hockey together in Sheahan's hometown of St. Catharines, Ont.
ST. PAUL -- With one game to play, the Phoenix Coyotes control their own destiny when it comes to taking home the Pacific Division title.
It's quite simple: A win Saturday for the Coyotes -- either in regulation, overtime or a shootout -- is enough to win the division and capture the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The title would be the first-ever division crown for the Coyotes.
Phoenix holds a one point lead over both Los Angeles and San Jose heading into the season's final day. If the Coyotes lose to Minnesota in regulation, Phoenix could tumble all the way from third to eighth in the West. The Kings and Sharks play each other in San Jose in a game that should start around the time Phoenix's game ends.
Los Angeles won the season series with the Coyotes while Phoenix edged San Jose -- meaning the Coyotes will be pulling for the home team Saturday night.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be in the playoffs but our goal is to win the division, which we've never done here in Phoenix," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said following a 4-1 win Friday at St. Louis. "It's something that we have to embrace and get those two points."
Of course, beating suddenly-improved Wild will not be easy. Each of Minnesota's last seven opponents are teams that are playoff bound. The Wild's record over that stretch: 4-2-1. Overall, the Wild have won four of five and have generally made life miserable for teams looking to improve or secure its playoff standing.
"It's a different kind of pressure. For a lot of our players, they know they're playing for jobs," said Wild coach Mike Yeo following practice Friday. "When you're playing for your job, you're going to feel some pressure. It's not team oriented, but it's personal pressure guys are putting on themselves."
Each of Minnesota's last four games has gone to the shootout, with the only loss over that stretch coming in Nashville on Tuesday night.
The Wild will dress its 47th different player of the season Saturday as defenseman Nate Prosser was suspended Friday for headbutting Chicago's Jamal Mayers on Thursday night in a 2-1 Wild victory. He will be replaced by former University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway, who will make his NHL debut this evening and become the 15th rookie and 10th player to make his big-league debut for the Wild this season.
Clayton Stoner remains injured and will not play with an upper-body injury, and because the Wild reassigned Tyler Cuma following the win Thursday over the Blackhawks, the team needed to recall another defenseman. This time it will be Kris Fredheim, who played in two games for Minnesota back in November.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams Saturday:
ST. LOUIS -- The Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the same situation as their counterparts Friday in the St. Louis Blues with much at stake, clinched a postseason berth Thursday night without the benefit of being on the ice.
Phoenix (40-27-13) got in when Dallas lost at Nashville, but there's still unfinished business for the Coyotes, who at 93 points trail both Los Angeles and San Jose by one point in the race for the Pacific Division title with a game in hand.
"We certainly have a lot to play for," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We've got a game in hand on LA and San Jose. The division title is still within our grasp, which means home ice in the playoffs. It's certainly something to play for.
"We recognized at training camp that this is going to come down to a point or two. That's what it did, so the consistency and how our group continually prepares and makes sure that every point available, we try to get. You go through a year and there's some points that get away from you, but ultimately the consistency of which our group plays is probably one of our best assets. That being said, there's always times you want more, too. ... Everybody's striving for one of those eight spots. Now we're in the top eight and we want to get into the top three."
Added captain Shane Doan: "We feel like we've got a little bit left to do. We control our own destiny where we finish and we want to make sure we find a way to take care of that."
It's been the year of the goalie this season in the NHL, and Phoenix's Mike Smith is right at the top in success stories.
Smith, signed to a free agent contract last summer from Tampa Bay, carries a personal best shutout streak of 219:59 into this matchup Friday with the Blues including three shutouts. He's also stopped 155 consecutive shots, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
Smith, who is 36-18-10 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season, was reunited with Tippett, who coached Smith in Dallas and has thrived in the desert.
"I had great hopes for him," Tippett said of Smith. "He's a player I had before in Dallas as a young player. He's a great athlete with a great attitude and I think we were just looking for an opportunity. He's taken the opportunity here and ran with it. You've seen what he's done the last three games for us. It's been phenomenal."
When the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, many pundits panned making Smith, the 161st pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, the No. 1 guy, but he has seized the opportunity with Phoenix.
"You talk with the guys in Tampa in [Marty] St. Louis and [Steven] Stamkos, I'm friends with a couple of those guys [including Eric] Brewer, they were saying how great he is and how unbelievable of a team guy he is, a team player, a competitor, a legit No. 1," Doan said of Smith. "Obviously it's been a lot of fun to see him do what he's done."
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."
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.
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."
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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.
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:
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."
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."
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."
"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."
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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:
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.
All three might also miss the regular-season ending game Saturday against the Flyers, but coach Dan Bylsma said they are expected to be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that begin next week.
Neal and Sullivan have lower-body injuries and Niskanen has an upper-body injury, all of which occurred during the Penguins' 5-3 victory at Boston on Tuesday night. Niskanen was injured during a collision with Daniel Paille in the first period and did not return. Sullivan played the entire game, but was seen limping afterward.
"All of us and everyone in the building (TD Garden) saw the puck rise off his stick, it was only a wrist shot, but it was (Zdeno) Chara," Bylsma said. "He got it up and around the head area, so there was concern. It left a mark, but he's doing well and everything seems to be good with him."
The Penguins can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, as early as Thursday if they defeat the Rangers or the Flyers lose to Buffalo in regulation.
TORONTO -- Ahead of their last home game of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul was on the ice Thursday morning. He skated for the first time since succumbing to a shoulder injury on March 6. He will not be in the lineup against Tampa and will also miss the final game of the season in Montreal.
"Hopefully another week or so of rehab and working on some things and I'll be ready 100 percent," said the 28-year-old Lupul, who was arguably Toronto's most valuable player this season before the injury. He had a career-high 67 points in 66 games.
Lupul, who has faced his fair share of set backs throughout his career, feels the timing of the injury could not have been worse.
"It was extra tough because we we're still in the midst of a playoff chase," he said. "We had been struggling right before I went out, and then to watch what happened over the next couple of weeks was pretty difficult. ... Everything went wrong, we didn't get the job done as a team."
Fellow Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski, who is recovering from a leg laceration suffered this past Saturday, also hit the ice but is not expected to play Thursday evening.
Tampa did not hold a skate after playing last night in Montreal, falling to the Canadiens, 5-2.
Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara did not travel with the team -- all three are resting in preparation for the playoffs. MacDermid was recalled from Providence on Wednesday and will start on the fourth line. The Bruins said defenseman Johnny Boychuk is day-to-day after sustaining a knee strain against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Goalie Tuukka Rask (lower body) is anticipated to be back in time for the postseason. Mike Mottau is a healthy scratch.
NASHVILLE -- After not dressing for the Predators' game on Tuesday because of an illness, No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne practiced Wednesday and participated in the team’s morning skate for its regular season home finale on Thursday against Dallas.
Coach Barry Trotz said that "he's probably in, yeah," in reference to a question as to whether Rinne would start on Thursday. Rinne said on Wednesday that he had an IV to help him rehydrate.
Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Predators:
PHILADELPHIA -- The Buffalo Sabres had an optional skate Thursday morning here at Wells Fargo Center. Most of the healthy players were on the ice, with the notable exception of forwards Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy, and goaltender Ryan Miller.
It's the Sabres' first visit to Philadelphia since Feb. 16, when they suffered one of their worst losses of the season, a 7-2 defeat that saw the Flyers score the game's final seven goals.
However, since then the Sabres are 15-4-4, which has put them right in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A win against the Flyers and a Capitals regulation loss to the Panthers would boost the Sabres into the eighth spot.
Here is the lineup the Sabres likely will put out against the Flyers when the teams meet Thursday in a crucial game for Buffalo. It's the same lineup the team used in Tuesday's 6-5 overtime win against the Maple Leafs.
Carolina forward Andreas Nodl skated with the team Thursday morning, but Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said he is unlikely to dress. He has missed seven games recovering from a concussion. Instead, Spacek will join the lineup as the seventh defenseman.
The Buffalo Sabres' road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs just got a bit harder with the news that top defenseman Tyler Myers will be out for the team's final two games with what coach Lindy Ruff called a "bad foot."
"He won't be on the trip," Ruff told reporters Wednesday. "Tyler's out. It'll be a period of time. What time frame that is? It's more than just this week."
Myers already has missed two games with the injury, and Buffalo already is without blueliner Christian Ehrhoff with a knee injury, leaving the Sabres shorthanded defensively at the most critical time of the season.
The other blueliners have been forced to play expanded roles, part of which could be the reason the Sabres have allowed 14 goals in three games without Myers and Ehrhoff.
They'll need to tighten up defensively Thursday against the Flyers, a team that beat them 7-2 the last time they played, on Feb. 16. The Sabres need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“We went through that game [Tuesday's 6-5 overtime win against the Maple Leafs], we went through the first period, went through the chances, and emphasized the importance of staying inside some of the mistakes we made," said Ruff. "Some of it was lack of communication. Some of it was the coverage. But we do have to tighten up, there's no secret. That's on myself and my staff to make sure that we tighten up those areas so it's not a game where you give 16 or 17 [chances]. We've got to get it back to the norm, which is somewhere around 10 or 11, in that area. And not give up the high quality.
"We worked hard on that [Wednesday] morning, went through that with the players. We understand that we know how to play, and we know how to play in our own end. It should be an easier fix. Some of it is adapting to the players we have in. Some of it is just system related."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
ST. LOUIS -- The Detroit Red Wings, who are 0-5-2 in their last seven road games, will play away from the confines of Joe Louis Arena in the regular season for the final time tonight.
And much like their counterparts tonight in the St. Louis Blues, the Red Wings are getting healthy and looking to gear their game towards an NHL-best 21st straight playoff run.
"Going through that injury stretch messed with the rhythm and timing of things, but now that we've got our full lineup back minus (Darren Helm) and (Patrick Eaves), it should give us a good chance the last three games getting our game just right heading into the playoffs," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who has had three stretches this season out with injuries.
"I think it's good for us in the long run," center Justin Abdelkader said of the team's depth. "Guys have played more expanded roles and gotten more minutes. When everyone's healthy, hopefully it's helped taken us in the right direction and our depth has come through. Hopefully we're ready to make a run here in the playoffs."
The Wings, with 99 points and a record of 47-27-5, can reach the 100-point mark tonight for an NHL-record 12th consecutive season with at least an overtime/shootout loss.
It's quite a feat, especially since there is so much parity in the NHL these days and the man-power teams deal with, particularly with so many injuries.
"That is pretty impressive since the last month and a half here hasn't been too kind to us with the injury bug," Howard said. "The guys stepped up and we got ourselves a chance to do it again.
"It just shows you do a lot of winning throughout the years. ... It's difficult. It's not easy by any means, especially with the parity throughout the League. Anyone can beat anyone now on any given night. To be able to hit 100 points here again tonight if we get the opportunity, it would be pretty sweet."
Abdelkader, a part of two of those 100-point seasons and looking for his third, said there were difficult times for the team when it went through a 1-6-2 stretch before winning three of five.
"We tried to sustain what we had going, but it was tough," Abdelkader said. "Our play kind of declined there for a while. When you have so many injuries like that, it's tough to maintain it, but now's the time to get everyone healthy and everyone's been coming around. That's good for us.
"It is an accomplishment (reaching 100 points) and it's a tribute to the owners, the management, the scouts that do all the work. Bringing the teams together each year, I think they've done a tremendous job."
ST. LOUIS -- Instead of solely focusing on finishing in a particular position as the season winds down, the Blues are more geared towards getting their game in order and playing their best hockey when all is said and done by the end of the night Saturday.
From then on, let the chips fall where they may.
"I think that's what we're thinking now, just get back to how we play," center Patrik Berglund said before the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. "I think everybody's been talking about that stuff (top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy) for so long and we've come off it for a little bit. That's why we're focused on that team game and play solid hockey overall."
Added winger Chris Stewart: "We can't worry about anyone else right now. It's all about the St. Louis Blues. We control our own fate. We're going to take it one game at a time and we've got three tune-up games before the big dance. We've got a big opponent tonight in Detroit, then Phoenix and Dallas. Those are all teams fighting for their lives. Those will be good tests for us."
For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the task is keeping his lineup focused while evaluating who plays more when the playoffs roll around.
With the Blues an injury-free team, the bodies are plenty but only so many spots in the lineup.
"This is the deepest we've been. This is the most potential," Hitchcock said of his 48-21-10 team. "This is a chance to get to another level than where we're at, but there is going to be some short-term pain going through this trying to see if we can get these guys up to speed. This lineup that's playing tonight, this is the highest skill level we've been able to put on the ice since I've been here. This is it.
"That's our big focus right now: to get our game in order defensively and puck management-wise ... puck management more than anything. can we get on the same page again. The second thing is where are these guys up to that are coming back? Can we play them where they were up high in the lineup, are they good enough to play there, do they have the energy, do they have the moxie to go there again or do we need to scale them back. We're trying to evaluate that right now."
One of the players being evaluated is winger Matt D'Agostini, who will play his second game since returning from a concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. D'Agostini, who played on a fourth line with Stewart and Scott Nichol on Saturday, will be elevated to play with Berglund and Andy McDonald against the Red Wings (47-27-5).
"I'm just going to try to go out there and skate," D'Agostini said. "I think my game goes right when I'm moving my feet and getting to the places I need to be. Those guys will put in the work. If we play hard and we move our feet, as a line we're pretty quick and can protect the puck and have some success.
"Both their styles, they're easy to play with. Bergy's good at holding onto the puck and using his big body down low. Mac's just good with his speed and he's a smart player all over the ice. Both guys complement my game well. ... They have that they-can-draw-guys-to-them-thing, get defenses on the wrong side. Whenever there's space opened up for me, it's always a better thing and more room for me to handle the puck and move my feet."
Hitchcock said D'Agostini is effective on the go.
"I think just awareness and playing give-and-go ... this is Game 2 for him, let's see how much further he's up to speed so we can evaluate him," Hitchcock said of D'Agostini. "I think the right side makes him more comfortable. He uses his speed more. He sees the ice better."
D'Agostini is still getting his game in gear after missing so much time. He feels he's getting up to speed.
"We've had a lot of practices to kind of get back into the swing of things," D'Agostini said. "I've been feeling better day in, day out. With the game shape thing, it takes a while to play a couple games to get into the mix. Hopefully I can get into one tonight."
It will be Elliott's first action since the third of three straight shutouts recorded. Elliott comes in with a franchise- and personal-best streak of shutout minutes at 186 minutes 33 seconds; Halak, who started the last two games, is the backup.
The 30-goal scorer was skating on a line with Adam Henrique and Alexei Ponikarovsky and showed no visible signs of the lower-body injury that sidelined him. Coach Peter DeBoer said afterward that he expects to have Clarkson back in the lineup Thursday night against the Red Wings.
The Devils have two games remaining -- in Detroit on Thursday night and home against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday -- and still have a chance to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference by winning those games and having the Philadelphia Flyers lose their final two games in regulation.
DeBoer simply wants to avoid injury and keep the Devils, who have won four straight, on the right track with the playoffs a week away.
"The priorities are play well, keep the confidence level high, and stay healthy," DeBoer said. "Obviously winning games is important. It'd be nice to be the fourth team in the division with 100 points. But those are secondary motivators. For me, those are the three main things -- keeping our structure, playing well and staying healthy.
"I don't have any plans on resting anybody right now."
Top-four Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was back on the ice for an optional morning skate, but will miss his fourth straight game Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks as he continues to take an extended "maintenance day."
"I'm just going to take it one maintenance day at a time,” Bieksa said, using the words "maintenance" or "maintain" more than a dozen times during a brief but entertaining back and forth with the media. "There's no problem."
The status of Daniel Sedin, who will miss a seventh-straight game because of a concussion, isn't a laughing matter. Vancouver's top goal scorer still isn't skating, but reports Sedin has been at the rink working out off ice for three-straight days are at least positive, and indicate he could be back for the start of playoffs.
In the meantime, the healthy Canucks are taking motivation in a chance to stay atop the Western Conference and possibly claim a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team. Thanks to a six-game win streak without Sedin, Vancouver is one point ahead of St. Louis in the West, and tied with the New York Rangers overall, with three games left for each team.
The Canucks play all three against non-playoff teams, and will use the chance to lock up home ice advantage in the playoffs as a way to get fired up
"We want to finish as high up in the conference as we can and obviously it's second or first and we want first," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Tuesday's morning skate. "Do we have a shot at the Presidents' Trophy again? Absolutely. Are we focused on making sure we take care of the day-to-day process and the in-game process to give ourselves a chance to do that? Absolutely. We want home-ice advantage. We saw the benefit of it last year, and even though it didn't help us in Game 7 against the Bruins, it was certainly nice going into every round knowing we had home ice. So we'd like that again."
For an Anaheim team in 13th place, the chance to spoil that is a goal.
"It is kind of what we've been talking about," Ducks top-line winger Corey Perry said. "They have something to play for and we just want to go out and play our game and if it happens to be as a spoiler, we're happy to do that."
Here are the expected lines as the 49-21-9 Canucks try to reach the 50-win mark for a second-straight season by extending their longest win streak of this season against a 33-35-11 Ducks team playing out the string -- possibly for the last time for veteran Finnish forwards Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu:
Luongo will get a second-straight start in the late-season goaltending rotation, with Schneider expected to play in Calgary on Thursday.
While the Canucks only have six healthy defensemen right now, Bieksa said he could play now if the playoffs started early, and Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion) are also skating, though Ballard is still wearing a white helmet to indicate he hasn't been cleared for contact.
BOSTON -- After the Pittsburgh Penguins' morning skate Tuesday at TD Garden, star center Sidney Crosby was asked if he wanted to respond to recent comments NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury made about the perennial All-Star in the aftermath of Sunday's Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game.
Milbury used comments in a Monday morning radio interview to describe Crosby's play as dishonest. Milbury has since apologized for those comments.
"I reached out to (Pittsburgh president) David Morehouse and the Penguins about the comments I made yesterday on Philadelphia radio," Milbury said. "In hindsight, I realize what I said was inappropriate and wrong, and I want to apologize to the Penguins organization and their fans."
Crosby offered the following on Tuesday:
"No, not really. I don't really have to get into that," Crosby said." I don't what he's looking for, if he's looking for attention or what it is. I don't have much to say there. I really don't know where that came from. You can really twist something a certain way, and he's obviously showing he's more than capable of doing that. He's pretty good at twisting stuff around, that's for sure."
Crosby and the Penguins face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, looking to hold off the Flyers, who are one point behind Pittsburgh in the race for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage that comes with that seeding.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have a couple of injured players who may or may not be ready to return on Thursday in Minnesota, but one of them isn't star defenseman Duncan Keith.
Keith's return from a five-game suspension against the Wild is a sure thing after sitting out for elbowing Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the head during Chicago's 2-1 overtime win on March 21 at the United Center.
"It's been awhile, five games, but it's gone by quick, too," Keith said after Tuesday's practice. "I'm looking forward to getting back and helping the team here in the last couple games and the playoffs."
Quenneville said that Keith will slide back into his usual spot on the top pairing with Brent Seabrook, while Niklas Hjalmarsson will likely go back to the third pair with rookie Dylan Olsen after playing well in Keith's absence.
"It was tough," Keith said of sitting out. "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 declined to comment on Sedin's condition -- which is said to be concussion-related -- or about the incident itself.
Chicago went 2-1-2 in the games Keith missed, but it might turn out to actually help the speedy, puck-moving defenseman for the playoffs. Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner, usually logs the most minutes in the League each season and is again right at the top at 26:53 -- behind only former Hawks teammate Brian Campbell (26:55).
It was suggested that fatigue from all that skating might've caught up with Keith last season and even stretching into this one, but he's always denied it. However, Keith didn't downplay the potential importance of the time off he just received -- which, per the current collective bargaining agreement, also cost him $149,688.15 in foreited salary to the Player's Emergency Assistance Fund.
"I don't think taking a suspension is ever a good thing, but you know, I think if you're looking at it and trying to look for the positives ... 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."
Meanwhile, he had quite a bit of unexpected down time the past couple weeks. What did Keith do with it all?
"I just worked out and not a whole lot (else)," he said. "I walked the dogs a lot."
Versteeg has used that term to describe his play a couple of times this season, most recently after a 3-2 shootout loss to Edmonton on March 23.
That was one of the nine scoreless games Versteeg has played since returning from a lower-body injury that caused him to miss nine games. Versteeg also went scoreless the six games before the injury, meaning he's on a 15-game goal-less streak.
But after going eight games without even a point, Versteeg picked up an assist in each of Florida's last two games and he's also come close to scoring on a couple of occasions.
"Last four games it's been a lot better and feeling better out there, too," he said. "You come back and you want to be a big part right away and everyone is firing on all cylinders. You've got to, I guess, get back in the game and get back into the swing of things. When you're hard on yourself, it's tough, but I definitely feel the last four games it's been going better, and I expect better every game."
There's no question the Panthers could use some more offense from Versteeg, starting with Tuesday's game against Winnipeg.
"Steeger is a guy that cares a lot and when things don't work out ... he's not a guy that hides his emotions," coach Kevin Dineen said. "When things are not going the right way, he is extremely hard on himself. When you take a breath and you regroup and you go out and start doing little things, even if the points aren't coming, you still feel like you're contributing. He realizes his importance to the team and, as always, when his focus is in the right place, he's a top-end player for us."
Versteeg, acquired last summer in a trade with Philadelphia, said he may have been trying to do too much after returning from his injury.
His last goal came Feb. 12 in a 4-1 road victory against the New York Islanders, but he's not concerned about the goal-less streak.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "It was more so frustration about trying to do stuff when maybe my body couldn't at the time or my mind couldn't at the time because you're trying to get back into it. Now, I'm starting to feel [better] and these last four games are a good step."
Cormier has been recalled from the St. John's IceCaps to replace Kyle Wellwood, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken ankle.
It's the fourth call-up this season for Cormier, who didn't record a point in his first six games. Cormier had 17 goals and 14 assists in 54 games with St. John's.
Wellwood, for his part, ended his season with a career-high 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists). Wellwood, who is fourth on the team in scoring, was injured in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay when he was hit by a slapshot from teammate Grant Clitsome.
The Jets' third-leading scorer, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, will remain in the lineup despite being hampered by a lower-body bone bruise. There had been some thought he might be shut down because Winnipeg is out of playoff contention, but coach Claude Noel said Byfuglien would be in the lineup Tuesday night against Florida.
"Buff is going to play the games," Noel said. "Nothing has changed with him. He still has the same issue and he'll have it the rest of the year. It's something we deal with. He'll be in the lineup."
The Panthers, for their part, have no apparent injury issues beyond their two players on injured reserve -- forwards Matt Bradley and Jack Skille.
NASHVILLE --Warren Peters was expected to return to the Wild lineup on Tuesday against the Predators after missing one game with an upper-body injury.
The Wild had recalled Cody Almond from Houston (AHL) to fill in for Peters, and then sent him down on Tuesday. Almond, 22, who has played in 10 games this season, totaling 1 goal and a minus-5 rating, only played 7:37 in a 5-4 overtime win over Chicago on Sunday, but was even and had two shots. Wild coach Mike Yeo said he liked what he saw.
"I really liked what Cody did last game," Yeo said. "I thought that that was a real good game for him but, obviously, Petey coming in now and we're off emergency, but that was a really good performance by Cody, I thought."
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets are back in action Tuesday night for the first time since being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
But they say they're not concerning themselves with playing the role of spoilers against the Florida Panthers.
"We look at it more as a situation where we want to try to play well and win," coach Claude Noel said after the morning skate. "With our road record being what it is, we'd like to continue getting points and hopefully getting two points and getting a win out of here would be good for us. We talked about finishing out on a positive note and that's what we want to do."
In their first year in Winnipeg after moving from Atlanta, the Jets saw their playoff hopes officially terminated in a 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
The Jets found themselves only two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference after beating Washington 4-3 in overtime on March 23, but have gone 2-5-1 since.
"Obviously, we're disappointed with how our season ended up and being on the outside of the playoff picture," captain Andrew Ladd said. "It's something that as a player, it's the time of year you want to be playing. It's where the fun starts. We've still got some work to do to make sure it doesn't happen next year."
It was fitting that the Jets' playoff hopes would end on the road because that's where the team really struggled this season.
Winnipeg has only 31 points in 39 road games to rank 28th in the League. The Jets' last road game will be Thursday against the New York Islanders before they close the season at home against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
That means the Jets will play a game with playoff implications for the last time Tuesday.
"We should be on the same page, everybody, to finish hard, to finish the season with three wins," goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "Of course, it's disappointing we didn't make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop playing. The fans, everybody deserves for us to play as hard as we can and we'll see how everything is going to go.
"I think it's going to be pretty exciting tonight. Florida is battling for a playoff spot. It should be a great game. It's going to be a big chance. We expect the three wins and finishing strong and having fun."
The Panthers certainly don't expect the Jets to let them clinch the division title without a fight.
"We know Winnipeg is a well-coached team," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "They respect the game, so they're going to play hard. We've got to be on our toes early."
After being traded to Atlanta last season, Ladd once again is playing out the end of the regular season with nothing at stake.
"It's tough," he said. "They mean pretty much absolutely nothing now. At the same time, we owe it to ourselves and to our fans to show up and work and see where the chips fall. It's all part of creating a culture where you show up and you work every day. This is part of it."
NASHVILLE -- Goalie Anders Lindback will play on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks for the Predators, which, by Lindback's standards, is not so long.
Nashville is gearing up for the playoffs and intends to get some rest for No. 1 Pekka Rinne. With three games remaining, Rinne, the League's leader in wins, has played in 71 games. Lindback, by contrast, has made 14 appearances.
The last time Lindack played was in relief of Rinne, giving him playing time in two straight games (March 18 and 20). Not bad, considering that Lindback played in only one game between Jan. 19 and Feb. 27.
That was not the plan for Rinne coming into the season, Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
"No, I think going into it, I looked at it as more of a 65, probably, as a number going into the season," Trotz said. "He's probably best around that number. So it's a little higher…. I think we went into a little bit of a roll right before the All-Star break. We knew the teams in the West are so close and we wanted to get some separation. We rode him hard into the All-Star break."
Trotz said that the Preds have been careful of Rinne's rest and recovery time since the All-Star break. To that end, on Tuesday Nashville recalled goalie Chet Pickard, a first-round pick in 2008, from Cincinnati (ECHL), whose season has ended.
Trotz said that in trying to take some shots off of Rinne, at times they will shorten his practices and will need Pickard for practice. Rinne did not participate in the team's morning skate and Trotz said that if he did not back up on Tuesday, then Pickard would.
For his part, Lindback, 23, was looking forward to the start. He said watching has been helpful in his development process.
"You pick up a lot of things, too, watching Pekka play," he said. "Tendencies every team's got. You try to pick it up and put it all together."
He was asked what in particular he has learned from watching Rinne.
"Just the way he handles the puck around the net and uses his glove," he said. "He prevents so many rebounds. He saves us a lot of shots. Really helps out for the (defensemen)…. It's fun to watch him play and really educational."
About the only place the Rangers have struggled this season is on the power play, and coach John Tortorella said he's hoping to see that area of his team's game improve when it plays the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.
He has reason to expect his team to get better in that category against the Flyers. In five meetings this season, the Rangers are 5-for-19 with the extra man, a 26.3-percent efficiency that dwarfs their regular-season average of 15.1 percent.
In Sunday's loss to the Bruins, though, the Rangers went 0-for-3, including a 22-second 5-on-3 advantage.
"We want to go into the playoffs with our special teams consistent at both ends," Tortorella told reporters. "I think our power play is coming. Our penalty killing has been consistent all year long. If you have those two, it gives you a foundation, it gives you an advantage of trying to find your way."
Tortorella said one way of helping solidify things is putting center Derek Stepan on the point.
"The biggest thing that has helped our power play having Step there is having him have the puck," Tortorella said. "He sees the ice well and he does bring a certain amount of patience to it to where we have the puck under control more."
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Ten years ago on this day, Weiss celebrated his 19th birthday by playing in his first NHL game and scoring his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Florida Panthers center turned 29 on Tuesday, with the possibility of clinching his first NHL playoff berth looming as an even better birthday present.
"I think [I'm] more excited today, more nervous back then," Weiss said when asked to compare the emotions of both days. "But it's cool that it falls on the same day. My mom's in town, so it's nice. Hopefully we'll have something fun to talk about after the game."
Earlier this season, Weiss became Florida's all-time leader in games played. But he has yet to play a game in the postseason.
That's likely to change this year, with Florida's magic number down to two to clinch a playoff berth and the Southeast Division title. That means a victory over Winnipeg on Tuesday will give the Panthers the first division title in franchise history.
"We've got to win," Weiss said. "We know what's at stake. The key is not to think about it, just go through your normal routine that you usually do. Saying that, we've got to have a little extra bite tonight, for sure. We don't want to keep this thing going. We want to finish it off tonight, and we're playing a good hockey club, so we'll have our hands full."
Weiss actually got an early birthday present Monday night from Steven Stamkos, a fellow Ontario native with whom he often trains in the summer.
It was Stamkos' two late goals, including the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, that gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 victory over Washington on Monday night and put the Panthers on the brink of clinching the division title.
"Stammer came through for us at the end," Weiss said. "Gave Stammer a little text there, told him I love him, there at the end of the game. It was big for us, obviously.
"I'm rooting for him to get 60 [goals] obviously. That was a big goal for him and for us, so I thought I'd just give him a little text."
With Stamkos having done his part, Weiss and his teammates now have the chance to make it a truly memorable birthday.
"It's got the makings to be a good day," Weiss said. "We'll put all that aside for now and just focus on going through our routine and our process and playing hard for 60 minutes, and see what happens."
DALLAS -- On Saturday night, the San Jose Sharks dispatched the Dallas Sharks at HP Pavilion, blanking them 3-0, a game where Dallas was clearly feeling the effects of being on the second night of a back-to-back.
These Pacific Division rivals meet for a sixth and final time this regular season on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, and while Sharks coach Todd McLellan would like to see an effort from his club similar to what they delivered just three days ago in the Bay Area, he also knows they will see a different Stars team this time around.
"I think we'll see a better effort on their behalf," McLellan said. "They won't be playing back-to-back. They won't be at the back end of a four-game road trip. They've had two days off. Think they'll get some healthy people back into the lineup. That should just make us elevate our game a little bit more as well.
"I liked our game in San Jose. I liked a lot of the things that we did. We have to take it to another level now in this building and be fully prepared to play."
San Jose (40-29-10, 90 points) has taken four of five meetings from Dallas this season, with the lone exception being a 4-3 shootout loss during its last trip to the Lone Star State back on March 8.
And there's no escaping that the Sharks seem to be one team the Stars have more than a little trouble matching up with on the ice.
"It's just those types of games where they've got players who get under your skin and I think they fire us up," San Jose center Logan Couture said. "I think we rise to the occasion. They're obviously a good team. We enjoy playing against them."
The Sharks currently sit eighth in the Western Conference standings with 90 points, just one point ahead of the Stars, who are currently ninth with 89. The Avalanche are one point behind Dallas in 10th with 88 points, which makes Tuesday's game even more crucial.
"We're sitting in eighth place and it's going to be a battle down to the end. Treat this like a playoff game, so it's a big one tonight," Couture said.
Of course, it might sound cliché to say treating their final three games all like playoff games is an absolute no-brainer, but that's exactly how San Jose is treating the final week of the regular season.
"We've passed the first test. If we're looking at a four-game series to finish the year to get into the playoffs, we've passed the first test with some pretty good results," McLellan said. "Now we're out on the road. We'll find out a little bit about ourselves tonight here in a hostile environment with some pressure that's put on us based on where we are in the standings."
San Jose is now almost completely healthy. Defenseman Douglas Murray, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, did skate on Tuesday morning, but according to McLellan is a game-time decision.
BOSTON --Anton Khudobin nearly missed his chance to get called up to Boston this season.
When Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask went down with an abdominal/groin injury March 3, Khudobin was also sidelined while with Providence of the American Hockey League. Khudobin's wrist injury eventually healed, but by that time the Bruins had already imported Marty Turco from Austria to back up Tim Thomas.
Now with three games remaining in the regular season, Rask is recovering. But it's unknown if he'll be available to play in a game when the playoffs start next week. Turco is ineligible to play in the postseason because he signed after the trade deadline. So now the Bruins might give Khudobin a chance to play in an NHL game or two to make sure he's ready should he have to be Thomas' backup at the start of the postseason.
"Well, you know sometimes it happens in hockey. So it's kind of, yeah, maybe it was time to call me up, but I was hurt, so I just tried to keep moving forward and finally this time comes up," Khudobin said after the Bruins' morning skate at TD Garden. "I'm glad to be here, at least for now."
Khudobin was recalled Monday. He's scheduled to serve as Turco's backup Tuesday night against Pittsburgh. On the season, Khudobin compiled a 21-19-3 record and 2.61 goals-against average in 44 games for Providence.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I played four games there [since returning from the injury] and I feel ready to go," he said.
The New York Rangers held an optional practice Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, but they will use the same lineup that skated in Sunday's game in Boston.
That means Henrik Lundqvist will make his season-high 10th straight start. If coach John Tortorella had any interest in giving Lundqvist off, it's doubtful he would have done it against the Flyers, anyway -- in five games against Philadelphia this season, Lundqvist is 5-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage.
Here's the rest of the lineup the Rangers likely will use against the Flyers:
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are doing their best to remain focused, but they're also well aware what's at stake Tuesday night.
With a victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers not only will secure the organization's first playoff berth since 2000, they also will clinch the first division title in franchise history.
"We're excited as a group," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We've worked all year for games like this. We obviously know the importance of it, what it means to this group of guys, this franchise."
The Panthers can extend their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to five points with a victory Tuesday, and the Capitals have only two games left -- including one Thursday at home against Florida.
When they picked up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss at Detroit on Sunday, the Panthers already knew they could clinch a playoff spot Tuesday. But Washington's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday night, when Steve Stamkos scored the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, set up the division-clinching scenario.
Coach Kevin Dineen said he didn't watch the game, instead waiting for the start of the NCAA Tournament championship game between Kentucky and Kansas. Dineen did say he was made aware of the score by family members.
All Panthers players interviewed after the morning skate Tuesday, on the other hand, saw Stamkos' late-game heroics.
"I kind of let out a good jump on the couch when he scored with around a minute left," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We want to get in and work hard by doing what we need to do. But definitely you're always scoreboard-watching at this time of the season. But now we need to take care of our business."
The Panthers, whose playoff drought is the longest in NHL history, have held first place in the Southeast for 123 days this season, including the last 38.
They've managed to hold off Washington despite winning only once in their last seven games, largely because of their ability to pick up points most outings.
But after going 1-2-4 during that stretch, Florida needs a victory Tuesday to make the playoffs a reality.
"It's an exciting time for us, for sure," Dineen said. "We're confident, but also we understand there's still lots of hockey to be played in this season. It's quiet confidence with the understanding that, as always, work has to come before any kind of carrots. Certainly our players are ready to go in and put in a solid effort tonight."
In Winnipeg, the Panthers will be facing a team that saw its playoff hopes disappear in its last game.
But the Panthers aren't about to take the Jets lightly. Florida has won three of the first five meetings, but was shut out 7-0 the last time it faced the Jets, March 1 at Winnipeg.
After Tuesday, the Panthers have games remaining -- at Washington on Thursday, and at home against Carolina on Saturday. But they want those two points right away.
"You want to take anything the first opportunity you get," Campbell said. "We know what our schedule is like. It's been grueling over the last couple of weeks. It's a good challenge. If we play like we played in Detroit, we're going to have a lot of success.
"We're just trying to lock up a playoff spot here, and it's a great opportunity tonight. We've got a great challenge with Winnipeg and being at home is pretty exciting."
Dineen has spoken several times in recent weeks of being happy his team was relevant late in the season. With a victory Tuesday night, the Panthers will be relevant in the postseason.
"Obviously, there's a lot of clarity that we can do things here at home," Dineen said. "There's still some work to do, and we need to go out and take care of our business. It's right there in front of us."
So when he gets the start against the Boston Bruins tonight at TD Garden, he'll be looking to shake off some more rust before the postseason. However, coach Dan Bylsma stressed that Johnson's start is more about Marc-Andre Fleury's well-being.
"[It's about] giving Marc-Andre Fleury a rest here going into the last week," Bylsma said after his team's morning skate. "And Brent has obviously played only one game in a long time, to get him back in the net and to play in a game ... but really it's about Marc-Andre Fleury getting some rest going into the playoffs in the last week."
Fleury has played in 13 of the Penguins' last 17 games.
Bylsma said the rest of the lineup will be a game-time decision. Both Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang came off the ice much later than the rest of their teammates.
VOORHEES, N.J. --Danny Briere said the upper-back contusion he suffered on a hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale late in Sunday's game in Pittsburgh was causing back spasms, and said he's hoping to be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I don't know much at this point," Briere told reporters. "All I know is that my back is in spasm. … There's no timetable [for a return], but obviously I'd like to be ready for the playoffs. I just don't know at this point."
Briere said he saw Vitale coming at the last second and was able to brace himself for the hit, which he said allowed him to avoid worse injury.
"I saw him at the last second and braced myself," he said. "Try to take the hit. Just one of those things, sometimes it turns out bad, that's kind of what happened on the play."
It's the play itself, however, that Briere wasn't particularly happy about.
"Everybody knows that you put the line that they put on the ice at the end of the game with a minute left when the game is out of hand, everyone knows the intent," Briere said. "Was it a bad hit? No, it was a clean hit. But obviously whatever he was doing, he was obviously trying to hurt me. We all know that. It was a clean hit, I'm the first one to admit to that. I saw him coming at the last second. I braced myself to take the hit like I do when I've taken hits like that. Just turned out bad this time. Not much else to say or do about it. It is what it is. It just makes for a more entertaining series coming up if we face them in the first round."
Briere said the worst part of getting hurt now is he's playing his best hockey of the season. He has just 16 goals, and earlier this season he went through a 23-game goal drought. But in six games since being put on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, he has two goals and seven assists.
"I guess that's the positive side," he said. "I was very excited about our line the past couple weeks, it was starting to click, it was starting to really mesh well together. It's been a big issue all year, trying to find the right combination. It's disappointing in a sense, but I'm hoping we'll be able to pick up where he we left off whenever I have the chance to get back."
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DALLAS -- Just three days after losing 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion, the Dallas Stars get another crack at their Pacific Division rivals, this time Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
And with the Stars (42-32-5, 89 points) currently sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings with just three games remaining, there's no doubt how huge this game is if they are to have any chance of ending a three-year playoff drought.
"Yeah, we've talked about that a lot here the last couple days," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We control our own fate, is what we worked for, and the other thing is the conditions are good. We're not back-to-back or coming in late. We're at home with a practice, a day off and a morning skate. The conditions are what you want this time of year to have success."
Dallas is 4-6-0 over its last 10 games, including a 1-3-0 record on a recently-concluded road trip that took the Stars through Western Canada before ending in San Jose on Saturday night.
On the plus side, the Stars figure to get back third-line winger Eric Nystrom, who missed the last three games after suffering a cut on his leg in a 5-4 loss at Calgary on March 26.
"Nystrom went through a full practice. He's a full go," Gulutzan said.
Dallas may or may not have the services of veteran winger Radek Dvorak, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. Gulutzan termed him as a game-time decision.
"I know Devo's chomping at the bit to go. He's a pro and he's a hungry pro," Gulutzan said. "He takes care of himself and he’s been waiting for an opportunity. We've got to make a decision based more on health than anything."
Other that getting Nystrom back, it looks like the Stars will also have a capacity crowd for this crucial game with the Sharks. And after returning from a road trip that can at best be labled as disappointing, seeing a full house will be a welcome sight for the Dallas players.
"It'll be nice. Last game you look at their crowd [in San Jose] can get into it and it's definitely an advantage. That team over there is a different team on the road than when they're at home," Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "I think that's something we kind of want to establish here. We want to be extremely tough to beat at home and a big crowd will amp it up. It's obviously an important game as it is, so it'll just make it even that much more fun."
In Saturday's 3-0 loss at San Jose, the Stars did outhit the Sharks 42-17 -- and while that statistic can be a bit misleading, Dallas does want to bring a similar level of physicality to its sixth and final meeting of the regular season with their division rival.
"We want to be physical against them," Stars winger Adam Burish. "I think that just goes with the energy -- the way you play, the way you get on pucks, the way we forecheck. They do such a good job with the way they come out of their zone. We're going to have to be more physical, which means getting two guys on the puck."
But no matter how he and his teammates look at it, Tuesday night's game is a definite must-win.
"If you want to control it and tell yourself that you're going to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, you have to win tonight," Burish said. "That's the way I'm kind of approaching it. This is one that you've got to have."
Notes: Not only are the Sharks seeing their second victory over the Stars in a span of three days, but San Jose is also looking to avenge a 4-3 shootout loss during its last trip to American Airlines Center back on March 8. However, the stakes are much higher for this sixth and final meeting between these Pacific Division rivals. A win by San Jose and it takes a major step toward securing a playoff berth -- and in the process, the Sharks could deal a near-fatal blow to any postseason aspirations on the part of the Stars. Saturday's game was a physical affair and this one figures to be no different.
Notes: The Stars head into Tuesday's meeting with the Sharks on the outside looking in as far as the Western Conference playoff race. Saturday's 3-0 loss at San Jose knocked them to ninth, which makes the sixth and final meeting between these Pacific Division rivals crucial for both clubs. It looks like Nystrom will be ready to return. He suffered a cut on his leg during Dallas' recently-concluded four-game road trip, while fellow third-liner Dvorak, who is battling an ankle issue, was called a game-time decision by Stars coach Glen Gulutzan after practice on Monday. Saturday's loss at HP Pavilion marked the first time the Stars hadn't scored at least one goal in 34 games. Dallas had last been shut out on Jan. 16 when it fell 1-0 to the Blues in St. Louis.
BOSTON -- One of the Boston Bruins' main objectives for their final three games of the regular season, now that they're locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, is to get rest for some of their key performers.
Maybe no one on the roster is more important than goaltender Tim Thomas, and tonight Thomas' rest begins. Bruins coach Claude Julien said after his team's morning skate that Marty Turco will start in net against Pittsburgh at the TD Garden tonight. Anton Khudobin, who was recalled Monday from Providence of the American Hockey League, will serve as the backup.
Julien also confirmed that Thomas would play again before the season is out.
"Certainly, we're going to give him some rest. He's done a great job for us down the stretch and this is an opportunity to give him some rest," Julien said. "But at the same time, we’re going to continue to work with him so he's fine-tuned for the playoffs."
Turco is not eligible to play in the postseason because he signed with the Bruins after the trade deadline. So depending on the status of Tuukka Rask's recovery from an abdominal injury he's been working his way back from since early last month, Khudobin might have to be Thomas' postseason backup. That means the Bruins will probably try to get Khudobin some playing time before the season is done.
The Bruins will make a couple lineup changes tonight as well. Up front, Jordan Caron is out with the flu and Gregory Campbell should be back after missing one game with a lower-body injury.
On defense, rookie Torey Krug is scheduled to make his NHL debut. Krug signed as a free agent with Boston last month after his season was through at Michigan State.
NEWARK, N.J. -- After giving his team what he called a "wake-up call" Sunday by sending five defensemen out for one shift against Ottawa, Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he's now looking for nine solid periods of hockey this week so his club can go into the offseason with a positive feeling.
"We talk about the last nine periods of hockey that we need to play and just making sure that the accountability for one another, the compete level for one another, and playing for one another is important," Capuano said Tuesday in advance of the Islanders' game against New Jersey at Prudential Center. "You can't worry about the scoreboard. I've always told the guys your work ethic will dictate the outcome of the game. We have some young guys playing, guys we're taking a look at, and we want them to work hard."
The Islanders are looking to even the season series against New Jersey. They also play Thursday at home against Winnipeg before closing the regular season Saturday at Columbus.
They had won three in a row, including two straight over Pittsburgh, before dropping the last two on home ice against Boston (6-3) and Ottawa (5-1).
John Tavares said if the Islanders close the season with some good games against the Devils, Jets and Blue Jackets, it will boost morale going into the offseason and, eventually, training camp.
"I think you definitely would have a much better feeling with the way it ended," Tavares said. "Playing well and ending on a positive does a lot for morale. I think it's important and what we have to continue to do. As a group this is the last week we'll be together, so you want to enjoy that, end it on a positive note, and build on some things."
Al Montoya will get the start in net. Here is the rest of the Islanders lineup:
The trio of Briere, Schenn and Simmonds had combined for 9 goals and 10 assists in the last six games together.
Simmonds, named Monday as the NHL's First Star of the Week, doesn't see much changing with Read on the line.
"We've still got the same kind of look," Simmonds said. "Our line, with me and [Schenn] and Danny, we played well down low with the puck, and [Read] is really good down low with the puck. I think it'll be a seamless transition."
Simmonds and Read both said the fact that the trio had played together earlier in the season also gives them confidence the line will click.
"Over the course of the season you get comfortable with some guys, and these two guys I've played with and I'm comfortable playing with them," Read said. "I'm kind of excited for tonight, get things back together and take it to the Rangers tonight."
Here is how the rest of the lineup likely will look when the Flyers hit the ice Tuesday:
NEWARK, N.J. -- Larry and Katherine Donovan were getting ready to head home to Oklahoma from Bridgeport, Conn., on Monday after watching their 22-year-old son Matt play for the Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.
They never left. Matt got in touch with them just in time to deliver an exciting message.
"They were boarding a flight when I got the call," Donovan said Tuesday morning from Prudential Center, where he will make his NHL debut against the Devils. "They didn't get on the plane. They got their bags off the plane, and they're going to make the drive here."
Donovan, a fourth-round pick by the Islanders in the 2008 NHL Draft, will be paired with Dylan Reese in his NHL debut. Donovan is an offensive defenseman and he leads all Sound Tigers blueliners with 42 points on 10 goals and 32 assists this season.
He's also unique to the NHL in that he is from Oklahoma. He will be the first Oklahoman born, raised, and trained in the state to play in the NHL.
"My dad is from Boston, so he got me into hockey and he runs ice rinks in Oklahoma," Donovan said. "That's how I got into it and I've been a rink rat my whole life."
Donovan left home at 16 to play midget hockey in Dallas. He went on to play for Cedar Rapids in the USHL and then the University of Denver, where he starred for two seasons before signing his entry-level contract with the Islanders. He won gold with Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship, scoring 5 points and posting a plus-6 rating.
"Being the first kid from Oklahoma in the World Juniors, I just tried to take it all in and play every game like it was my last," Donovan said.
He said he's going to try to treat the game Tuesday as any other, but said he realizes that will be difficult because of his nerves.
"It really hasn't hit me that tonight is the night that I'm going to be playing my first NHL game, but I'm excited and ready to play," Donovan said. "Just try to do the exact same thing I would in Bridgeport. Keep the same game-day ritual: go back to the hotel, eat, try to take a nap. I don't know how well that is going to go with the nerves going and the excitement, but just try to keep the same routine and hopefully my nerves don't get the best of me."
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Bryzgalov sat out the past three games recovering from a chip fracture in his right foot that occurred last Monday prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but has been on the ice most days since the injury happened.
He took part in the pre-game skate Tuesday at the club's suburban New Jersey practice site, and teammates were happy with what they saw.
"It's good to see him out there," Scott Hartnell added. "He's been a big part of our success the last couple months. … I think he wants to get back in the lineup, he wants to get back to feeling good. Tonight will be a good test for him."
In two games against the Rangers this season, Bryzgalov is 0-2-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and .869 save percentage. For his career, he's 1-4-0 with a 3.64 GAA and .887 save percentage in five games.
But the more important numbers are the ones Bryzgalov posted in March, which earned him the NHL's First Star of the Month award -- 10-2-1, 1.43 GAA, .947 save percentage and four shutouts.
With the final three games of the regular season this week -- Tuesday against the Rangers, Thursday against Buffalo, Saturday in Pittsburgh -- it's likely Bryzgalov will start all three.
"I think it is easier to stay on top of your game when you're playing on a regular basis," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He had a little bit of time off, but not too much, so we're looking forward to getting him back in there."
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Sergei Gonchar has a lower-body injury, coach Paul MacLean said. He is day-to-day. Ben Bishop (groin) skated for the fourth consecutive day. "Things are positive and progressing for him," MacLean said.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils will be without one of their three 30-goal scorers Tuesday against the Islanders as David Clarkson will miss his first game of the season with a lower-body injury.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer said Clarkson injured himself Saturday during the Devils' 5-0 win at Carolina. After an off day Sunday, Clarkson was not able to practice Monday and he stayed off the ice Tuesday morning as well.
Since the Devils already have a playoff berth locked up, DeBoer said it's better to be safe than sorry with Clarkson, who scored his 30th goal of the season in that win Saturday.
New Jersey has won three straight games.
"You show up at the rink, a guy is dealing with something, you always assume the next day he's going to be a lot better," DeBoer said. "We got to today and not that he wasn't improved, but he can't play."
Janssen has been a healthy scratch for six straight games and 11 of the last 13.
"He's been working hard in practice. He keeps himself ready," DeBoer said. "He's a great team guy. I think he's handled the role he's had this year with our group as well as anyone could. You have no doubt that he injects some energy in the lineup when he comes in."
The Devils will secure at least the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference if they beat the Islanders and Ottawa loses to Carolina. If Philadelphia picks up at least one point and Florida wins, the Devils will be locked into a 3 vs. 6 series against the Panthers.
More than seeding, though, DeBoer simply wants to see his team continue to play the way it has since a 2-1 shootout win over Chicago on March 27. He has liked what he has seen and said he believes the Devils are playing the brand of hockey they need to be playing with three games left before the playoffs.
"But that's all subject to health and everything else," DeBoer said. "You get a couple of injuries and the whole mix gets thrown into flux. I like where we're at mentally. I like where we're at system-wise. I like how we're playing. We just have to keep it together and hope for some luck on the injury front."
Johan Hedberg will get the start in net Tuesday. He has played in only five games since the All-Star break, but he's 4-0-1 in them. He made 23 saves in a 2-1 win over the Islanders on March 10.
Here is the Devils' full lineup for the game against the Islanders:
EL SEGUNDO, Calif -- Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske came off the ice with the regulars and coach Darryl Sutter indicated he will play him at some point down the stretch "because at some point we're going to need him."
Drewiske last played Feb. 21. He has two goals in nine games this season.
Here's the rest of the lineup the Kings likely will use Monday against the Edmonton Oilers:
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Jeff Carter's from the Kings' lineup has opened a spot for Brad Richardson, who became the odd-man out when L.A. acquired Carter on Feb. 25.
Richardson subsequently was scratched in all but two of the first 16 games following the trade and admitted it didn't sit well with him.
"At times it's not easy," Richardson said. "You always want to be in there. It's a thing you learn as you get older. You got to stay positive. You have to be a good teammate. You don't want the other teammates to see that.
"Even though you're [angry] at not playing, you still have to show up at the rink and have a positive attitude. But it's never easy. There are times where I was [angry] and I did want to be in there, but when you come back you try to be that much better."
So far, Richardson has taken advantage of his playing time. Sutter put him on the top line Saturday and Richardson scored twice, his first points since Jan. 12 and his first goals since Dec. 31.
"We talked to Brad," Sutter said. "He wasn't very happy [sitting out]. I don't blame him. You're not playing, you better not be happy. You better work your butt off in practice. If the coaches tell you that we want you to start preparing to play, then you have to go through that. You have to do that to reinforce it in your mind."
Richardson has played on every line since he came to L.A. Last season he had a prominent role playing with Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, as the trio was the club's most effective line against San Jose in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Sutter still wants more out of Richardson and said that, “OK is not OK."
Sutter didn't have any reservations putting Richardson in a top-line role, but said Richardson has to produce there.
"We're at the time of the year where those kids with that same skill set are playing every other night in (American Hockey League affiliate) Manchester," said Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- An MRI exam on Jeff Carter's ankle revealed the Los Angeles Kings forward has a deep bone bruise and no structural damage, the team announced Monday.
Carter is considered day-to-day but is not expected to play when the Kings host the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. The Kings have two days off the Oilers game and finish the regular season with a critical home-and-home series against San Jose.
Carter caught his toe along the boards in Calgary on March 28 and twisted his ankle. He was seen on crutches with a walking boot.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter did not yet know the results of the MRI after the morning skate but said that the severity of Carter’s injury wasn’t too much of a concern.
"It really doesn't have any impact other than we miss him in the lineup," Sutter said. "What the results are doesn't really matter. He's getting better. We're not going to amputate, I don't think."
The team announced Monday that center Danny Briere is out indefinitely with an upper-back contusion, and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann is out 7-10 days with a lower-body injury.
Grossmann was injured midway through the first period when he collided with the Penguins Joe Vitale.
Vitale's hit on Briere with 1:03 left in regulation sparked the late-game melee that saw 52 minutes in penalties assessed, as well as the ejections of and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato.
The Flyers play their final three regular-season games this week -- Tuesday against the Rangers, Thursday against the Sabres and a rematch with the Penguins on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Monday that Ehrhoff will not play in the final three regular season games. He added that Myers could be back this week, but the towering defenseman was not on the ice for Monday's practice after sitting out Saturday's game with a foot injury.
Ehrhoff has missed the last two games since injuring himself last Tuesday in Washington when he appeared to have a knee-on-knee collision with Capitals forward Troy Brouwer.
Buffalo is 0-2 and has allowed a combined nine goals in the games Ehrhoff has missed. He has 32 points in 66 games this season.
Ruff said Ehrhoff would probably be available for the playoffs, but the Sabres have to get there first and that's not going to be easy.
Buffalo trails the Capitals by two points for eighth place, but Washington could extend its lead to four points with a win Monday in Tampa Bay. If the Capitals beat the Lightning, the Sabres will only stay alive in the race if they pick up at least one point Tuesday against Toronto.
For the Capitals, with three regular season games remaining and a slim two-point grip on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the game has huge postseason implications.
"It's a big game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We need all those points and we have to be ready to battle out there and get our two points."
But for the Lightning, the contest is meaningful, too, as they have the chance to play spoiler and send the home crowd off with optimism for the future.
With that in mind, Tampa Bay is planning somewhat of a fan appreciation night.
"We'll try to give the fans a great show tonight," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Regardless of playoffs or no playoffs, we've always talked about isolating games and this game is isolated. We want to please our fans with a work-ethic show."
To the players' disappointment, there is little else left for them to offer the fans now except hard work.
"We're disappointed that we won't be playing some hockey in April and May," Martin St. Louis said. "It's a tough League and we want to finish strong and make the fans feel good about the last home game. It's not about the wins and losses, it's the effort you put on the ice. The fans will recognize the work ethic and the effort, and if you do that you give yourself a good chance to win games. We'll work on that tonight."
Also on display, though the team is playing it down, will be Steven Stamkos' continued drive to be the first NHL player to get 60 goals since Alex Ovechkin notched 65 in 2007-08. Stamkos currently has 56 with four games remaining.
"I'll be honest, I'm not big on these things," Boucher said. "Nobody in the room talks about that. The only people that talk about it are the media. If he gets 59, does that diminish him as a player? When players chase these intangibles they aren't part of a team-oriented mentality. Steven is the first guy to be an unselfish, team-oriented guy. Whether he stays at 56 or goes to 62 he's still going to be a great leader, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had 59 and an open net, if he didn't pass the puck to someone else."
Boucher might not be surprised, but everyone else in the building would be.
Still, Stamkos has been making a point of telling teammates not to go out of their way to set him up for scoring chances.
"I think what Steven is saying with that is that he wants everyone to understand that he's not going after 60 goals," Boucher said. "He's going after our team winning. But that's him. That's what makes Steven special. He sees things as they are and he's a great leader for it."
This is the sixth and final meeting between these two clubs this season. The Capitals have won three of five, but the Lightning (2-1-2) have points in four of five. They have defeated the Capitals in two home games previously.
NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn't care that his team can clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Sunday night.
When asked if it means anything to get it done immediately against the Boston Bruins and if he discussed the situation with his team, he answered in the negative three times before walking out of the media room at Madison Square Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist will make his season-high ninth consecutive start for the Rangers.
The Rangers need just one point after the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on Sunday afternoon at Consol Energy Center. In order for the Penguins to catch the Rangers, the Penguins must win their final three games and the Rangers must lose their final four all in regulation.
The Bruins can clinch the Northeast Division with a victory. With a win, the Bruins will guarantee themselves the second seed in the East.
Lundqvist stumbled a bit during March, dropping three of four starts before going 6-1-0 in his last seven starts with a 2.11 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
Tim Thomas will make the start for the Bruins. Much like Lundqvist, he too has found his game of late, going 4-1-1 in his last six starts and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any of those starts.
Here are the likely lineups for tonight's game, which will be aired on NBCSN and TSN2:
DETROIT -- The regular season is winding to a close this week and as it does, there are some in the Motor City who are starting to look at possible first-round matchups and hoping for the most favorable opponent for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings, however, are not among those sizing up the opposition in the Western Conference. They know whichever team they face first will pose a tough challenge, which means the only thing they care about now is trying to secure at least one round of home-ice advantage.
Some fans have even hoped the Wings -- currently fifth in the West -- would slip into the sixth seed to avoid playing the well-balanced, defense-oriented Nashville Predators first.
"You know what, with that you're flirting with danger there when you're trying to pick your matchups," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said after Saturday's practice at Joe Jouis Arena. "You want to be playing your best and you want to go in there feeling like no matter who you're playing, you'll beat. You don't want to be flirting with disaster there by trying to pick your opponent."
The Red Wings host the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon at the "Joe" in a big game for both teams in terms of the postseason. Florida is trying to hang onto first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference that comes with it, while Detroit will try to surpass the West's fourth-place Predators and surging Chicago Blackhawks.
Nashville lost at home on Saturday night to the Blackhawks, which pulled Chicago even in points (97) with the Red Wings. Detroit is technically ahead because of tie-breakers, but Chicago could pass both the Wings and Preds with a Panthers win on Sunday in the Motor City and a Blackhawks win on Sunday night in the Windy City.
Why are the remaining games and the points at stake still more important to all three Central Division rivals than who they face in the quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
"Because home ice advantage, even if it's only for one round ... can be vital in the playoffs in a series," Howard said. "By no means can we just coast in there. We've got to be playing and all be on our game."
Neither Florida nor Detroit skated on Sunday morning, but here is a look at how both teams could line up when the puck is dropped:
PITTSBURGH -- Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made a surprise return to the lineup for a key Atlantic Division game Sunday against Philadelphia.
Letang missed three consecutive games with a lower body injury that resulted from him slamming feet first into the boards after he was tripped last Sunday against New Jersey. Letang did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip in which they played the Islanders Thursday and the Sabres Friday.
The Penguins also did not practice Saturday -- coach Dan Bylsma called off a scheduled practice -- but Letang returned to play Sunday despite not being on the ice with the team for a week.
Letang, one of the NHL's premier two-way defensemen, has nine goals and 27 assists in 47 games, missing nearly two months with a concussion earlier in the season.
Letang has 20 points, including three goals, in 26 games against the Flyers, who went into the game trailing Pittsburgh by three points in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division standings.
Fleury gave up nine goals combined in his previous two starts, home-and-home losses to the New York Islanders Tuesday and Thursday. Brent Johnson, returning from a 17-game layoff with an injury, started and beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 Friday for his first win since Feb. 12.
Fleury is 21-12-2 in his career against Philadelphia, which will be coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa Saturday.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang could play after missing three games with a lower-body injury caused when he was tripped and went feet-first into the end boards March 25 against the Devils. Coach Dan Bylsma said he will be a game-time decision.
As expected, Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Flyers -- just as he was for each of Philadelphia's four victories in Consol Energy Center since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Flyers have not lost in Consol, where they play twice this week. The Flyers and Penguins wrap up the regular season there Saturday afternoon.
The Penguins, currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, go into Sunday's game with a three-point lead over the Flyers, 102-99.
The Sabres are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, tied in points with the Washington Capitals who have more non-shootout victories. The Capitals play host to the Canadiens on Saturday.
While Weber was expected to miss the game, the news about Myers came as more of a shock.
“He’s going to miss tonight’s game,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff matter of factly, adding that Myers is “Day-to-day right now.”
Because of the injuries, Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan are expected to play on the back end for Buffalo.
“You’ve got to live off your experiences, we had some really good play out of Brayden," Ruff said. "We had some good play out of T.J. It’s just handling the extra minutes and where we put them that has sometimes been a problem. I think we are going to try and get them some good ice time and see how the other pairs make out.”
Because of the conundrum his club faces, Ruff is counting on his forwards to pick up the slack with two of his regular defenseman out of the lineup.
“We have to deal with it better this time than we did last time," Ruff said. "We’re a little deeper up front. We might have to score a little more. I think we are capable of that. I think our forwards have to pick up a little bit of the slack, we need to control more of the play and take the pressure off our D in this situation.”
Ruff acknowledged that Myers injury came after taking a shot in the foot of a 5-3 loss Friday to Pittsburgh. Weber was felled by a Matt Cooke hit in the same game.
While Ruff would not confirm that Miller is starting in net, there is a good bet he will be between the pipes as playing on back-to-back nights is not uncommon for the Sabres.
“We’re used to dealing with it, we’ve tried to adapt, do the right things, but it’s just part of our schedule," Ruff said.
The Calgary Flames are still technically alive in the Western Conference playoff race, but their hopes dimmed so considerably after a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday night that it’s hard to know how they’ll respond 24 hours later in Vancouver.
For the first time in a while, Canucks players were talking about facing a team that was playing for jobs next season rather than one fighting to make the playoffs this year. It’s an interesting conundrum for the Canucks, who have used their opponent’s desperation as motivation to snap out of their own late-season funk with five straight wins against teams battling for one of the final playoff spots.
“A lot of times those guys are playing for their jobs for the next year,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, who plans to play against Calgary after a sore neck forced him to abandon a scheduled start Friday night against Dallas after warm up. “We have seen it throughout this year, we haven't necessarily had great success against teams like that. We want to make sure we still get ready to play.”
Vancouver clinched at least the second seed a while ago, which contributed to an early-March funk. But their first five-game win streak since November has put the Canucks within a point of St. Louis for top spot in the Western Conference, and two back of the New York Rangers in a bid to win a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL’s regular season team. That should keep them focused.
Luongo returns in goal after ceding a start Friday against Dallas to Cory Schneider in warmups because of a sore neck.
The only change for the Canucks is the return of Andrew Ebbett, who has been out since having his collarbone broken in two places by a clean hit from Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during a Jan. 7 rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Ebbett, who required multiple screws and plates during surgery to repair the damage, was cleared for contact 10 days ago.
"It was actually 12 weeks since I got hurt, so it's about that time," Ebbett said of his return, which allows the Canucks to test his playoff readiness.
The versatile 5-foot-9 forward had four goals and five points in just 14 games. He takes the spot of Dale Weiss on the fourth line.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault also said he hoped to get defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, back in a few games before the end of the season. But Ballard, who went seven weeks without even skating, still hasn't been cleared for full contact, is just hoping to rejoin a full practice on Monday, and didn't sound like he was close to playing a game.
“Right now I know I’m not ready," Ballard said.
Calgary didn’t skate Saturday after flying in late following a 4-1 loss to Colorado, so the lineup is expected to be the same. The big question mark is in goal, where No. 1 Miikka Kiprusoff has played seven straight, 37 of the last 40, and is one game short of 70 for a seventh-straight season.
Kiprusoff has 34 of the Flames 35 wins, with rookie Leland Irving posting the only other victory in Vancouver two days before Christmas. Current backup Henrik Karlsson has only played 20 NHL minutes since injuring his knee in a crease collision with Canucks’ forward David Booth during a 5-1 loss here Dec. 4.
SAN JOSE – After losing back-to-back games and falling from third place to ninth in the Western Conference standings, the San Jose Sharks will take good news wherever they can find it.
Based on the numbers, having back-to-back games against the Dallas Stars certainly qualifies as good news for the Sharks.
The Sharks have gone 3-0-1 against Dallas entering Game No. 5 in the season series Saturday night at HP Pavilion. They’re 2-0 against the Stars at HP Pavilion, winning those games by a combined score of 10-4. In their three wins, the Sharks have outscored Dallas 14-5.
“For whatever reason they bring out the best in us,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after San Jose’s morning skate at HP. “We’ve always played well in their building, and this year we’ve kind of had their number in our building. Hopefully we’ll continue that trend tonight.”
The Stars certainly won’t lack motivation. They can clinch a playoff berth with back-to-back regulation wins over San Jose – Saturday night in San Jose and Tuesday night in Dallas. But the Stars are also playing their second game in two nights after falling 5-2 Friday night at Vancouver. Dallas is 1-10-2 this season in the second game of back-to-backs.
After arriving in San Jose late Friday night, the Stars held an optional skate Saturday morning with only six players on the ice. Most of the team remained at the hotel, getting some much-needed rest.
Dallas owns seventh place in the West with 89 points, while the Sharks are two spots back with 88 points. Both teams have four games left to play.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said one key reason why his team has had so much success against Dallas this season is that it’s been able to grab early leads.
“We’ve been able to establish that in most of the games,” McLellan said. “The special teams, our penalty kill’s been pretty good there. We haven’t given up many goals. And just getting timely goals from people when we need them -- pretty simple formula, and we’ll need that again tonight.”
The Sharks scored only one goal in its past two games, a 3-1 loss at Anaheim and a 2-0 defeat at Phoenix. Some of their top goal scorers have gone ice cold. Patrick Marleau ranks third on the team with 28 goals, but he has scored just two goals in his past 18 games. Logan Couture, who leads the Sharks with 30 goals, has gone nine games without a goal.
Marleau was asked if tries to change his game plan or approach when he’s in a scoring drought.
“Depends on how the game’s going,” Marleau said. “If I’m not getting chances or I don’t find myself in the right spots, obviously I’m going to change that up, but if I’m creating scoring opportunities for my linemates or getting them myself, you got to stick with it.”
During the Sharks’ morning skate, defenseman Douglas Murray was on the ice, and there’s a chance he could return tonight after missing one game with a lower-body injury.
“If he is able to play at 100 percent, we will have him,” McLellan said. “If there’s a risk of him not being able to finish and us being put into a position to play five [defensemen], we won’t.”
Murray was injured in the first period against Anaheim on Wednesday and didn’t play in the second or third periods. He said he felt “good” during practice on Saturday but didn’t sound as if he’s 100 percent healthy.
“I probably felt I could have kept playing the other night, too,” Murray said. “It’s an important time right now, and if you’re somewhat affected by something and you can’t make the play you need – one goal could be the difference. This might have been a little bit different if it was Game 40.”
Lehtonen is expected to make his eighth consecutive start. He is 1-0-0 with a 2.77 goals against average this season against San Jose. Lehtonen is 14-8-2 on the road with a 2.18 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
Vancouver No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo will be back in goal Saturday night for the Canucks against the Calgary Flames, just 24 hours after a sore neck forced to him pull out of a scheduled start against Dallas after the pregame warmup.
Luongo, who was back on the ice Saturday morning, said he woke up with the sore neck Friday and just wasn’t able to move it well enough to track pucks, so he stepped aside at the last minute to let Cory Schneider take over against the Stars.
"A few years ago I might have been a little more stubborn and tried to play,” Luongo said. “But I thought about the team and the fact we have a guy who can obviously step in and do a great job for us. I tried to make a rational decision."
It was an easier decision after teammates kept picking the corners on him during warm up, but obviously frustrating as he slammed his stick before leaving.
"If you are not seeing the puck you are just a fraction of a second late in reacting to it,” Luongo said after an optional skate Saturday. “Going through warmups yesterday and getting lit up high you realize that maybe you are not ready to play."
Just 16 hours later, Luongo insisted he is now ready to play against Calgary.
"Definitely, I was able to loosen it up,” Luongo said. “I am feeling fine, I was able to track pucks with my head and I am not having any problems. … Obviously you don't want to take any chances with something like that, but I felt really good this morning and don't see why it would be a problem."
The Canucks had third-stringer Eddie Lack at the rink Saturday morning – their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, played the night before in nearby Abbotsford – but let him leave with Luongo ready to return.
With Vancouver on its first five-game win streak in four months, Luongo is looking to build on a personal 2-0-1 run that includes a .965 save percentage. That came after taking a week off to “reset” his game following a stretch that saw him give up 25 goals in eight games. But with Schneider also playing well – after making 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the Stars, he is 12-1-1 in 14 starts since Christmas and second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage – Luongo is comfortable continuing to split starts over the final four games to keep both playoff ready.
“I am feeling good about my game right now,” Luongo said. “Obviously, Schneider is playing well also and we are getting wins. It's important to have both guys ready -- you never know what might happen.”
That point was driven home during the pregame warm up Friday night.
Jonas Gustavsson took a shot off his left knee in the warm up prior to a 7-1 loss Thursday to the Philadelphia Flyers. Gustavsson had to be helped to the dressing room where he recieved treatment and then returned to the bench at the start of the second period. When asked if his keeper would be lost for the balance of the season, Randy Carlyle indicated that was not the case.
"Jonas Gustavsson is not available [today]," Carlyle said Saturday morning. "I think the improvement he showed between yesterday and today was very encouraging. The bruise and where it is affects his ability to get up, get down and move around the crease. It's not anything other than a deep bruise. As crazy as it sounds, why there is no padding there is beyond me."
Meanwhile, Jussi Rynnas will back up Ben Scrivens against the Sabres. He spent part of the morning skate working on positioning with Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire.
"He wanted me to do everything a little bit faster, with a little bit more control, play the right corners and find the post, those things," Rynnas said.
Rynnas was pressed into his first NHL start Thursday and said his teamates were encouraging after he allowed seven goals on 30 shots.
"I'm not going to put my head down, its helped me so much that guys said things like the team made mistakes too," he said.
Scrivens has eight career games under his belt, all played this season. The bulk of his workload was in November, shortly after James Reimer sustained a concussion in Montreal on October 22nd. He has posted a 2-4-1 record, and his last start was November 20th in Carolina where he had 38 saves in a 3-2 loss.
“I played a couple of games, Monster [Jonas Gustavsson] was playing really good at that time too, in my mind it was never – I’m here for good, it was focus one day at a time and be ready to go if I was playing that day and if I wasn’t...try and get as much as I could from practice.” said Scrivens by his dressing room stall after a spirited morning skate at Air Canada Centre. “That is my approach at this point too, exactly what I was saying before, one game at a time”
Less than 24 hours prior, his focus was with the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate. Scrivens stopped 33 shots in a 5-4 overtime win against Buffalo's AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, Scrivens and after the game found out that he was called up.
“It’s the life of a third [goalie] I guess, you always got to be ready, you never know when things are gonna’ change and they can change overnight," Scrivens said. "My focus last night was on beating Rochester and we had a gutsy overtime win – hopped in a car and came up here. If I’m going tonight – I’ll be ready.”
The Maple Leafs are facing a tumultuous time with 5-17-3 record in their last 25 games and mounting player frustration along with fan backlash. However, Scrivens is not phased -- in large part because of the success of his AHL club.
“When we are down with the Marlies, we’re not counting off points for the Leafs and seeing about their playoff push, we’re worried about ourselves down there and we’ve got ourselves in a good position for the playoffs,” Scrivens said.
After a 5-3 loss Friday night to Pittsburgh, the Sabres have yet another crucial game in their push for the playoffs. They currently sit in ninth position in the Eastern Conference, tied in points with the eighth place Washington Capitals but with fewer non-shootout victories. Washington plays host to Montreal on Saturday evening. They will also know by puck drop if they can catch the seventh-place Senators, who play Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. They trail Ottawa by just two points.
“I think Buffalo has been a team that has really turned their team around specifically in the last 25 games," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, whose Ducks lost 4-1 to the Sabres in Helsinki, Finland October 7, in what was the opening game of the NHL season for both clubs.
Carlyle also spoke of his players need to be less apprehensive.
“The fear factor around our group is very high right now and when you play with fear it doesn’t allow you to do the things that naturally come to you...you can’t play the game in total fear,” he said.
As expected, after playing last night, Buffalo had only four players take to the ice Saturday morning -- forwards Jochan Hecht, Matt Ellis and Nathan Gerbe and goaltender Jhnonas Enroth.
The clubs have split their first four meetings, with the home team winning each time.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With their hopes for a division title on the line, the Los Angeles Kings look to stay out of the trap that foiled the Florida Panthers here Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Holding a tenuous lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division, the Panthers led the Wild late Thursday, before surrendering a late goal to Erik Christensen in regulation and another to Mikko Koivu early in overtime, essentially surrendering a point the standings.
Los Angeles, which defeated Edmonton 4-1 on Friday night, now leads the Pacific Division by a single point over both Dallas and Phoenix, and by two points over San Jose. A similar let down by the Kings Saturday would be a crushing blow.
Nobody more than Los Angeles knows the tenuous nature of the Western Conference playoffs. Just 72 hours ago, the Kings were in ninth place on the outside looking in. Saturday night, they begin play in third place and in the catbird's seat in the division.
The Kings scored in a variety of ways Friday in Edmonton, netting a power play goal, a short-handed goal and two even-strength goals. Jonathan Quick made 13 saves in the win, meaning it's likely Jonathan Bernier gets the start in goal against Minnesota tonight. Bernier stopped all 26 shots he faced against the Wild in the Kings' last trip to Minnesota Feb. 28. A win tonight would give them the season series.
The Kings did not arrive in the Twin Cities until 4 a.m. local time and had an optional morning skate. Only defenseman Davis Drewiskie and forward Kevin Westgarth took part.
The Wild also had an optional morning skate after a full practice Friday. Coach Mike Yeo said his team can take advantage of the schedule and jump on the Kings early. But that won't be easy, especially with what's on the line for the visitors.
"If you play the game the right way, and play a game that grinds them down a little more physically, certainly that can play into our favor," Yeo said. "But I don't expect fatigue to be a factor in these last games. These are crucial points for them and they're going to come in here and I expect a really strong effort from them."
The game marks the final contest of a four-game road trip for L.A. Getting the game to overtime would assure the Kings of a winning road-trip. With three games left after tonight -- two of which are at Staples Center -- the Kings control their own destiny.
"We got the two points. That's what we want," Sutter said after beating the Oilers. "All of the games are really important right now."
Minnesota will go with Niklas Backstrom again in goal. He stopped 25 shots, earning his 18th win Thursday over the Panthers -- his first game back after injuring his groin almost a month ago.
On the blueline, the Wild will play without Marco Scandella, who Yeo said is out with a minor upper body injury. Kurtis Foster will skate in his place. Scandella is expected to accompany the team to Chicago for its game there Sunday evening.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is also likely to be without forward Jeff Carter, who injured his ankle Wednesday in Calgary. He was in a walking boot afterwards and did not play Friday. He is likely to be re-evaluated when the team returns to the West Coast after the game this evening.
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock warned after a 4-3 shootout loss Thursday at Chicago that maybe the St. Louis Blues needed a good, hard practice Friday.
True to his word, that's exactly what they got.
But instead of fretting over what was to come at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone on Friday afternoon, the Blues embraced a good old-fashioned refresher course on what has made them successful and why they have been able to maintain that edge.
If they're able to follow through on it, the Blues (48-20-10) will clinch the Central Division for the first time since 2000.
"We deserved what we got [Thursday] night and I think we deserved what we got this morning," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It was good for everyone to get out there and get whipped around a little bit. Personally, I know I needed a little bit of it, especially with a big game tomorrow and getting a couple days off in between games. I think it's going to be good for us."
And what was it that the team needed to be reminded of?
"I think just the sharpness and crispness of everything," winger Alex Steen said. "Yesterday was a slower, mediocre team performance by us. Today was just getting back to that quicker step, a little quicker decisions and crisper passes and all that good stuff.
"We play 82 games, we practice, what, 170 times a year? It's good to just get a little reminder. Last night we got away from what had made us successful. [Friday] we got a little quick reminder and we're back on track."
Added defenseman Kris Russell: "It's human nature to kind of get a little soft in some cases. That's where as a team, we've got to be better and recognize that sooner in games.
"It was a good day [Friday]. I thought we did a lot of good things. We worked hard as a team, we were competing hard against each other. If we bring that speed and work ethic in the games, we're going to be successful."
Hitchcock, who conducted a 48-minute practice, hopes so, because what he saw from his 48-20-10 team was out of the ordinary.
"We were rotten. There's no other way to describe it. We were flat-rotten," Hitchcock said of the game against the Blackhawks. "We played the whole game with our eyes. It was just an absolute shock for us. For a coaching staff, it was like, 'Whoa!' To go as well as we played and skated against Nashville [a 3-0 win Tuesday] to come in and play like that [against Chicago], it was like we were playing the friendly games and they didn't want anything to do with it. They hit us, they knocked us around, they were tough on us. We tried everything we could, but we couldn't seem to get a response from our own group. Our own group couldn't get a response from each other. I don't know what it was.
"It's a young team and when you don't practice, you don't play well, and that's where we're at. When we don't practice, it just comes back and bites us every time and it has all year. I think veteran teams can do it and get away with it. You can talk things through, but when we don't get tempo at practice or we don't get everybody on the ice or we get to this playing every second day ... the only time we were good in a pregame skate was when we gassed it and had a hockey practice before the Nashville game. But that's hard to do every time. [Friday] was good. [It] hopefully gets out tempo back where it was before."
When the Blues implement that familiar tempo again against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in hopes of clinching the Central Division title for the first time since 2000, they will do it with a full and healthy lineup for the first time in 160 games.
Hitchcock said Thursday that Andy McDonald (shoulder) would play against the Blue Jackets. Matt D'Agostini (concussion) was activated from injured reserve Thursday and Roman Polak, out the last five games with a bruised knee, is also back in the lineup.
So in practice Friday, there were 16 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.
"It's a team we put together in the off-season, the team that's been practicing and working all year as a group," Steen said. "To finally have everybody healthy is a great feeling. Just knowing that guys have their health is the big thing. Everybody in here is friends. We're like family together. You never want to see a teammate get hurt.
"The coaches have a lot of decisions to make for the lineups and stuff like that. It's a good thing to have. There will be a lot of competitiveness. Guys want to play and play a lot."
It means that six players will sit the remaining games as long as the lineup's in tact the way it is. That will make competition for the 20 roster spots tough to sift through.
"It's always good when you have a healthy team, but shows how deep our team is," Russell said. "We were having success when guys were out, but it's been key guys that have been out. [Polak's] a big part of our defense. He's a shutdown guy, plays heavy minutes, five-on-five and four-on-four. You get guys like [Steen] and [McDonald] back, they help run the ship with the forwards. It's good to have those guys back and the leadership they bring.
"No matter how much money you're making, you've got to be competing, you've got to be earning a spot on that ice. That's the good thing about our team. There's competition. You've got to be at your best and if you're not, there's going to be someone breathing down your neck looking for that chance to get in. We work hard as a team and we help each other out. I think that's why we've been so strong."
The Blues usually bounce back strong after these types of competitive skates, and they typically bounce back strong off a loss.
Nothing less is expected once again.
"We're a team that feels uneasy when we don't play our best and we haven't really poured it all in," Shattenkirk said. "I think once that happens, you almost feel guilty and play harder.
"We owe it to ourselves to put the best product out there every night. Some guys won't have it some nights, but if the effort's there, usually we end up on the right side of things."
All are out indefinitely except for Mason, who is day-to-day. Moore limped off the ice Friday in the first period but returned to finish the game. Coach Todd Richards told reporters after the game Moore is questionable for Saturday and the team might be forced to recall a player from Springfield.
NASHVILLE – Earlier this season, Barry Trotz coached his 1,000th game behind the bench – all with the Predators.
On Friday, he earned his 500th win with a 4-1 victory at Detroit. Talking about the feat Saturday morning, Trotz preferred to point credit in a different direction, saying he hadn’t thought about it much.
“Last night the players were coming off [the ice] and going, ‘Hey, congratulations,’” he said. “And David Legwand [a member of the Predators since their inaugural season] hands me a puck and I say, ‘What the [heck] is this for?’
“I was oblivious to it, so from that standpoint, after the game, really to me, it was good for the franchise and I thought it was real, real great for me that [general manager David Poile] was able to get 500 with two franchises -- which is the only guy in the history of this game, which is over a hundred years old -- to do that. I’m more proud of that for David than anything.”
Poile also guided Washington 500 wins from 1982 to 1997. The Predators are the fastest to win 500 of any expansion team after 1990, needing 1,062 games.
NASHVILLE – Coming off a huge win on the road Friday in Detroit that helped the Predators vault past the Red Wings into fourth place in the Western Conference, it was hard to tell if Nashville coach Barry Trotz was going to go for broke and start goalie Pekka Rinne again Saturday against Central Division rival Chicago.
Trotz said that backup Anders Lindback, who has only played in 14 games, would probably start a game or two in Nashville’s four remaining contests, but he would not say which goalie was going to start Saturday.
All Central Division teams have four games remaining entering Saturday and Nashville leads fifth-place Detroit by one point and the fourth-place Blackhawks by three. It’s possible that Trotz could start Rinne again Saturday and then rest him for one or two of the non-divisional games which don’t have as many playoff implications. One of those teams (Minnesota) is eliminated and another (Colorado) could be by the time Nashville plays the Avs in the season finale.
“We’re going to play sort of game-by-game,” Trotz said of the goalie decisions.
Rinne earned his 42nd win of the season Friday in the 4-1 win against Detroit by making 31 saves, including a sprawling, highlight-reel glove stop on Henrik Zetterberg from point-blank range in the second period. Without revealing anything, Rinne sounded as if he could play if called upon.
Lindback spent plenty of time on the ice during the morning skate; only the players who did not play on Friday participated in it. Rinne also said winning the first end of a back-to-back can be energizing.
“Yeah, for sure I think it’s a help,” he said. “We were talking about that after the game last night. Even though you feel, obviously, sometimes a little tired, but when you win, it gets easier and you feel like you have more energy. That kind of gives a boost for the whole team. Beating Detroit gives confidence to the whole team, so that’s a good thing.”
Rinne was asked if he would rate the win as one of his best performances of the season.
“I don’t know, for sure against a good team like that play a solid game at this point in the season,” he said. “It was a good game. It’s hard for me to rate it. … For sure, good to have a good game like that at the later stage of the season like it is.”
With just two home games remaining and after two consecutive losses, it might appear like the Lightning are just playing out the string, but that assumption would be incorrect. Lightning coach Guy Boucher promises a full effort from his team.
“We play great at home and have respected our fans with our work ethic,” Boucher said. “Our fans have given back to us by filling the stands every game. It’s important that we recognize that, but I want us to recognize that with a 60-minute effort. We’re playing a tough team and I don’t know if we’ll win or lose but there is one thing we can control and that is our work ethic.”
That effort has been absent in Tampa Bay’s previous two games -- losses to Boston and New Jersey. In both games, the Lightning started well but lackluster second periods changed the momentum of the contest completely.
“We get a great focus to start games and we’re short-staffed so I think the players come on the ice and they don’t want to get their butts kicked and it shows,” Boucher said. “But I feel like when the first period is over they have a sense of relief. We don’t want that. The relief is when the game is over, the full 60 minutes.”
The Lightning will debut their newest acquisition Saturday night -- forward J.T. Brown, who signed March 28 as a college free agent from Minnesota-Duluth. The 21-year old was the MVP of the 2011 Frozen Four as he led the Bulldogs to the NCAA title.
Brown is the son of former Vikings running back Ted Brown, but unlike his father, the younger Brown’s sport was hockey rather than football.
“I played football until I was in ninth grade and then I had to make a choice to go one way or the other,” Brown said. “I like football but I have a passion for hockey.”
Brown had plenty of suitors once he announced his intention to leave school after his sophomore season, but said he chose to sign with Tampa Bay (a two-year deal) because he felt the Lightning would give him an opportunity to play right away.
He’s getting that, for sure.
“He’s going to play the remaining five games,” Boucher said. “We’ll give him some ice time with some quality players and give him the time to show us some of the stuff that our scouts have seen in him.
“He’s eager. He’s a young guy who is going to play in the NHL. Those were nerve-racking days, yesterday and today, signing his contract and all that. It’s a dream week but also a tough week to manage for him. We know that and the players he will play with are aware of that, too and they are ready to help him.”
They can start by helping him relax before the game.
“This is an exciting moment in my life,” Brown said. “Your first NHL game only happens once so I’ll try to make the best of it tonight. I usually take a pre-game nap but we’ll have to see if I can get one in today or not.”
Winnnipeg arrives for the second game in a back-to-back series, having kept its meager playoff hopes alive Friday night with a 4-3 overtime win in Carolina.
Saturday’s matchup is the fifth of six meetings between the Jets and the Lightning this season. The Jets have won three of the first four.
Ilya Bryzgalov practiced Friday, but the team will give him another day off to recover from the chip fracture in his right foot that occurred Monday night prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Flyers play again Sunday, in Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET, NBC), and there's a chance Bryzgalov could return for that one. After that, the Flyers next play Tuesday.
In four career starts against the Senators, Bobrovsky is 3-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Jason Bacashihua again will serve as the backup.
While Bryzgalov is out, All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen will return to the lineup after sitting out a game Thursday with an upper-body injury.
Here is the lineup the Flyers likely will use against the Senators:
Alexei Ponikarovsky will play his first game against Carolina since the Hurricanes dealt him to the Devils on Jan. 20. Ponikarovsky was in his first season with Carolina, but struggled to make an impact as the team fell to 15th in the Eastern Conference. After registering 15 points in 49 games in Carolina, he has accounted for 16 in just 29 games in New Jersey.
"We're playing pretty good as a team," Ponikarovsky said. "When you're in a playoff spot, it's a little different than when you're out of the playoffs. The atmosphere and everything else is a little different, for sure. Our focus is to win some games and get some points on the board."
Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, but the Caps No. 1 center was medically cleared this week to return to the lineup after passing a baseline neuropsychological test.
“I'm really excited,” Backstrom said. “It's going to be fun to play again. It's a big game for us and we need all those points. I'm excited to be back in such an important game.
“It feels like I'm ready. I've been practicing hard and stuff and I've been battling with a couple of guys on the team and I've been taking a couple hits. It feels like I'm ready, so I'm excited to be back.”
“He’s been missed in all areas,” Johansson said. “He’s such an all-around player, he plays penalty kill, power play, and he plays at the end of games whether we’re up or down, so that was all missed and it’s good to have him back.”
The Capitals have won 18 of 40 games without Backstrom in the lineup and he remains fifth on the team in scoring with 42 points (13 goals and 29 assists) in 38 games.
The team is hopeful that Backstrom’s return can spark a power play that has gone 15-for-102 (14.7 percent) during his 40-game absence.
“He’s a natural on the half-board, he sees the ice well,” said coach Dale Hunter. “You see him working today; he’s got one of those gifts where he doesn’t have to look at the guy to pass it -- he just knows where he is.”
In the 38 games prior to his injury, Backstrom had a point on 72 percent of Washington’s power play goals (three goals, 15 assists on 25 power play goals).
With four games to play in the regular season, this contest Saturday against Montreal marks just the second time that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green will have all played in the same game since Hunter was hired Nov. 28.
“He’s one of the best at seeing the ice and seeing plays before they even happen and getting pucks in guys hands so that they can score,” Green said. “When I say that I honestly mean that he’s one of the best and so in that aspect he’s going to help out our team big time. We’re very thankful that he’s back before the end of the regular season.”
Washington is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, two points behind the seventh place Ottawa Senators and four points behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.
“It's been frustrating,” Backstrom said of having to watch his team battle for a playoff position. “I think you're more nervous sitting up top in the press box than playing. It's been really tough, but the good thing is I'm back now and I'm just looking forward to it.”
Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Saturday night against the Canadiens:
Michal Neuvirth Braden Holtby
NOTES: Since the Canadiens beat the Capitals in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Washington has gone 6-0-1 against Montreal with four shutouts from four different goalies.
The Caps have won all three meetings this season, outscoring Montreal 10-1. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 against Montreal with a shutout, a 1.82 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
Forward Joel Ward will miss his fifth straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Former Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 12 games overall.
Bourque served a five-game suspension for his elbow against Backstrom, and he has since been traded to the Canadiens. Asked about playing against Bourque in his first game back, Backstrom downplayed the irony.
“You know what? I don't really care about that," Backstrom said. "It happened, and I'm not going to waste any energy on it."
The Canadiens did not have a morning skate Saturday, but backup Peter Budaj is expected to be in net for Montreal.
With the Vancouver Canucks preparing for the playoffs, it's no surprise they've built a shutdown line around new checking center Samuel Pahlsson. With the Dallas Stars in a battle to make the playoffs, it's no surprise they're leaning on a sizzling top line anchored by skilled center Mike Ribeiro.
When the two lines go head-to-head Friday night, however, it may surprise some to learn it will also be a battle of the team's top two lines overall of late.
In addition to seeing more pure matchups against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson's line has been producing offensively, with Chris Higgins scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Colorado last week -- and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Wednesday. Pahlsson, who had two goals and nine assists in 61 games with Columbus before being acquired at the trade deadline, already has a goal and four assists in just 14 games with the Canucks.
That may not sound like much, but with Vancouver struggling to score it's more than Ryan Kesler (three goals, one assist) over the same stretch, and not far behind former Hart and Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik Sedin (seven assists).
"It took a couple games for us to find each other and mesh," said Higgins of a trio rounded out by Jannik Hansen. "Now I kind of know where [Pahlsson] is going to be and that's why we're having success. All three of us know where we are going to be on the ice and that's an underrated element of a line. [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] don't even look for each other, they just know where each other are and it's not as difficult when you don't need to take that extra half a second just to know where your teammate is going to be."
That sounds a lot like the chemistry enjoyed by Ribeiro with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder on a top line that combined for all three goals and eight points in Dallas' 3-1 win in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The trio has five goals and 12 points in the last three games, as well as six goals in three games against Vancouver this season.
"Ribeiro is really tricky to play against," Pahlsson said. "He can really make a fool out of you and make you look stupid, so you've got to be ready for him."
Playing against that line is perfect playoff preparation, said Higgins.
"We're playing some tough minutes against some of the players we'll play in the playoffs, some of the other team's best players, but it's good practice," he said.
"Ribeiro is one of the best passers in the game and sees the ice like few players in the game can, Ryder is having a great year, has an unbelievable shot, and Eriksson is great around the net. So it will be a tough match up for us tonight but I think we enjoy the challenge of playing against those guys."
The results have played a role in the Canucks' success against Dallas. After the Stars' top trio combined for 12 points while winning the first two meetings - and before the Canucks put their current shutdown line together - Vancouver held all three off the scoresheet in a tight-checking 2-1 win March 22. Ribeiro expects the matchup, and welcomes the challenges, knowing it frees up others.
"They've had a few shutouts. It's just up to us to be ready tonight," Ribeiro said. "We'll see probably a few more checking lines, and that's fine too, it gives [Jamie] Benn's line a chance to create more chances and score for us too. It's hard for other teams to match up against two or three lines that can score."
As for tendencies, Higgins may have a slight advantage having played on the same line with Ryder for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
"Yeah I may know a couple things," Higgins said with a smile.
Of course, in a battle of the two top lines, that may work both ways.
Ilya Bryzgalov practiced Friday on the ice, but the chip fracture in his right foot, suffered in warm-ups Monday, could keep the Philadelphia Flyers goalie off the ice this weekend.
According to CSNPhilly.com, Bryzgalov will not play Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, and while there's a chance he plays Sunday in Pittsburgh (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), the best chance for his return could be Tuesday's home game against the New York Rangers.
While the Flyers want to do everything possible to clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference -- they enter the weekend two points behind the fourth-place Penguins -- they won't gamble their franchise's goalie's future health in the process.
"We're not going to put a goaltender in a situation where he goes out there and risks injury," said coach Peter Laviolette.
"You have to be ready and 100 percent to move and stop and react," Bryzgalov told reporters. "If you are not 100 percent, you can't play that game. You're going to be half a second late every time and it's going to be huge consequences -- the puck behind the goal line."
Bryzgalov was injured when he was hit in the foot by a Jakub Voracek shot in pre-game warm-ups prior to Monday's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. X-rays before and after the game didn't show a break, but Bryzgalov said he felt pain the entire game. An MRI Tuesday showed the chip fracture.
"I felt pain," he said of playing the entire game against the Lightning. "In the morning it was the same thing. Not any better. I felt something was wrong and that's why we got the MRI and found the fracture in my foot, unfortunately.
"I was lucky because it was not that bad, because I'm tough and Russian."
Bryzgalov said he had less pain Friday.
"We've already had progress -- you see me on the ice today," he said.
It remains unknown if the Flyers will see him on the ice at all this weekend.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
VANCOUVER -- Kevin Bieksa's maintenance day is turning into a maintenance week.
The Vancouver Canucks' top-four defenseman will miss a second-straight game Friday night against Dallas and is unlikely to play Saturday against Calgary, but is still expected back before the playoffs start in less than two weeks.
"We all know Kevin is one of the fiercest competitors in the League," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Friday's morning skate. "He battles hard every shift, so to give him a few maintenance days is the proper thing to do."
Asked if the necessary maintenance was upper or lower body-related, Bowness said: "We'll just go with the whole body. And mind. Give him a mental break, too."
There is less uncertainty about what's keeping Daniel Sedin out of the lineup, but even more about when he might return. Vancouver's top goal scorer will miss his fifth straight game since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, and despite a report in the Vancouver Sun in which general manager Mike Gillis said he was "hopeful" Sedin would be back by the start of the playoffs, there was no update from Bowness or teammates Friday.
Without Sedin, who leads the team with 30 goals and is second to twin brother Henrik with 67 points, the Canucks have struggled to score, winning their last two games 1-0 and compiling a 4-0-1 run despite only scoring eight goals. All of which prompted another shakeup of the forward lines going into Friday's game against a Dallas team fighting desperately to stay in the playoff picture.
Luongo takes his turn in the Canucks' new back-and-forth goaltending rotation, and will try and build off a 38-save 1-0 shutout of Los Angeles on Monday, while Schneider, who made 43 saves in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday, is expected to play Saturday night against Calgary.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the second of consecutive 1-0 victories was that they came without regular defensemen Bieksa (maintenance), Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion). All but Ballard are expected back for the playoffs, and Ballard has also resumed practicing with the team.
Up front, Lapierre's move from fourth-line agitator to first-line winger with Sedin out is the biggest surprise, with a struggling Kassian going the other way. Lapierre has shown offensive flashes in the past, but knows that's not his main job playing alongside former scoring champion Henrik Sedin.
"Today is a fun day and good opportunity for me, but at the end of the day I know my role is to bring some energy, be physical," Lapierre said. "Try to create some room for these two guys. They have unreal skills and I will be in front of the net. I can make some plays with the puck. But we don't want me ruining every play."
The biggest change from the Stars last visit to Vancouver in early March is between the pipes, with the workhorse Lehtonen expected to play in Vancouver on Friday night and again in San Jose on Saturday night. There was some thought of Bachman, who won here 5-2 back on March 6, but with so much on the line Dallas decided to stick with their unquestioned No. 1 despite the fact Lehtonen is 2-6-0 with a .881 career save percentage against the Canucks.
The Stars are still missing significant players in forwards Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (skate cut on leg), and defenseman Mark Fistric (abdominal strain). But Dvorak and Fistric are skating at least and could return in San Jose Saturday -- the first part of a crucial home-and-home series with the Sharks.
Fourth line center Tom Wandell goes from being a healthy scratch the last game to being out sick.
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars could meet in the first round of the playoffs, but it feels like the postseason already has begun for both teams.
Friday's game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) will be the fourth between the Canucks and Stars in just over a month, a rarity this late in the season for teams that don't play in the same division. With the Stars fighting just to make the playoffs, the intensity has been ratcheted up with each meeting, adding a playoff feel to the season series.
"It's been pretty spirited," Canucks forward Chris Higgins said. “They are fighting for their lives and want to get first in their division so they are going to come with a playoff-type game. It's fun playing these guys. They are a competitive group."
The fact Dallas, which comes in atop the Pacific Division but with three teams within a point, could be a first-round opponent, adds to a budding rivalry.
"It helps set the tone, at least," Higgins added. “It's one of a couple teams we're probably going to play in the playoffs, so you want to make sure they know they are going to be in for a difficult series if they play against us."
The Stars won the first two meetings, but the Canucks won the last one, 2-1 in Dallas on March 22, part of a four-game win streak in which Vancouver has given up just three goals while focusing on improved defensive play.
For the Stars, it will be important to fight through the tighter checking without getting frustrated by it, a balance center Vernon Fiddler says they're ready to manage in a season series with a rising level of dislike between the sides.
“We've both got guys that are a little edgy and it brings the best out of everybody and it's great for hockey," said Fiddler, whose impersonation of Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa's “angry face" during a recent game only added to the budding rivalry. “The games that mean the most, there is a lots of emotion in them and both sides are bringing that. When our team is emotionally in the game we play a little bit better, but obviously we don't want a bunch of stupid penalties."
They need two points more than anything, Fiddler added, but if they also can send a message to a potential first-round opponent in the process, all the better.
“They're a great team over there, but we think we match up pretty good against them," Fiddler said. “It could be a potential playoff opponent, so you want to be at your best and I think we've already played them pretty good this year."
Eight months later, and with four games left to play in the regular season, McPhee may not have a choice.
Vokoun pulled himself from a 3-2 shootout win Thursday night in Boston after aggravating a groin injury which had limited him to just three of Washington’s previous 17 games. Vokoun is officially listed as day-to-day by the team, but Neuvirth and Holtby are preparing to handle the load.
"It's unfortunate what happened the other night with [Vokoun]," Holtby said. "Especially with injuries, you always want to see your teammates back but that's hockey -- that's the way the game goes and now I just have to be ready for whatever."
Holtby has gone 2-1-1 since a March 18 call-up from Hershey of the American Hockey League, but was pulled from a 5-1 loss Tuesday night to the Buffalo Sabres after allowing three goals on 18 shots.
Neuvirth earned the win Thursday night in Boston, turning aside 19 of 21 shots in relief of Vokoun. He is likely to start again Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.
"Obviously I feel bad for [Vokoun] but it is what it is," Neuvirth said. "But I proved last year that I can be the man and I'm excited. … Every game is a good experience for me. Even last year in the playoffs, that gave me a lot [of confidence] and I feel I grew up a little bit from last year and now I feel that I can do the job."
Neuvirth was the Capitals' undisputed No.1 goalie down the stretch last season, starting 13 of the team's final 14 games including playoffs.
Vokoun had been Washington's primary starter for much of the season, but given that he is working on a one-year contract, it is not out of the question to suggest that he has played his final game as a Capital.
"This is what everyone's goal is -- to be a big part of a team trying to win the Stanley Cup," Holtby said. "But there's also a human aspect to it and we want to make sure that in any way possible that [Vokoun] doesn't feel like he's let the team down by an injury. It's our job to pick up a teammate and carry ourselves into the playoffs."
While Vokoun's health remains a concern, injured Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom could return as early as Saturday against Montreal.
Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, but the Caps No. 1 center was medically cleared this week to return to the lineup after passing a baseline neuropsychological test.
The 24-year-old Swede has missed 40 games, but he accompanied the team on their road trip to Boston and skated Friday for the 17th time in the last 18 days.
"There's no target date," Backstrom said. "It depends how I feel. Everything's possible. It's possible that I could [have played] last game, too. It depends how I feel [Saturday]. I felt good out there today, too, so we'll see."
Backstrom said earlier this week that his conditioning was not yet game-ready, but when asked on Friday about catching his wind and working his lungs, Backstrom said he hasn’t felt better. Physically it sounds as though he is ready to play. Preparing mentally may be the final hurdle.
"I think it's more about that you're worried about hitting the head again and maybe I'm out for longer than three months. That's the biggest problem I see. You just got to be mentally ready to face a hockey game."
Capitals coach Dale Hunter is not concerned about Backstrom suffering a similar injury.
"I think through his career here he’s been one of these players that has great vision on the ice," Hunter said. "I haven't seen through the years, some guys take big hits because of their vision -- they don't see the guys coming as much and identifying where everybody is on the ice.
"For him, he's got great vision through the years he hasn’t had big hits. He has his vision still, he has anticipation of the game and he understands the game so he’ll be fine that way."
CALGARY -- The Western Conference playoff race has been nothing short of madness in March.
For a few teams, it's starting have the feel of the Frozen Four, too.
With the collective lives of the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames on the line in Friday's meeting, the game has the feel of the collegiate-style one-and-done tournament format. A win keeps either club alive. A loss buries any hope of an extended season.
The concept is all too familiar to former college players in both locker rooms.
"It's kind of that scenario," said David Moss, who spent four years at the University of Michigan. "Right now we have to win our games and Colorado is in the same situation. It's pretty easy to see that if either of us lose a game here that's the end of it."
"For the college guys it was like that," Cammalleri said. "Our NCAA experience is one and done. I guess it makes it more tournament-style that way, for sure."
Though it's Boston College, Minnesota, Union and Ferris State competing in the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa Bay next week, the Colorado Avalanche feel as though they're a part of it already.
With 86 points and just three games remaining, the Avalanche can ill afford to come away with anything but six points, according to Chuck Kobasew.
"It's do-or-die for us," the Boston College alum said. "Both teams know they're in a tough situation either way and we have no choice but to win out from here."
Flames defenseman Chris Butler is hoping to help Calgary avoid the latter portion of Kobasew's assessment, something he wasn't able to do at the University of Denver.
"We never had a lot of success in college tournaments," he said. "We only made the tournament one year and we lost the first game to Wisconsin. I hope it's not a similar outcome."
The Flames, 11th in the Western Conference, must win all four of their remaining games to have a hope at the playoffs. They've accomplished that feat just twice through 78 games this season -- meaning they'll be facing four consecutive elimination games starting with Friday's contest against Colorado.
"It's more or less a do-or-die situation," Butler said. "We know that realistically we need to win every game, but you can't look at it as you have to string four games together because that's extremely difficult in the League.
"We have four one-game series that we need to win. Our mindset is one at a time."
Any losses along the way for either club will leave both teams out in the cold, on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.
CALGARY --Tyson Barrie is getting some serious on-the-job training.
The 20-year-old Colorado Avalanche defenseman will suit up for just his eighth game of the season Friday night against the Calgary Flames in a do-or-die game that will either end or prolong the hopes of making the playoffs in a wild Western Conference race.
"It's pretty crazy," said Barrie, who is still searching for his first NHL point. "It's definitely exciting. I haven't played too many games, but I'm feeling more comfortable as we go. It's exciting stuff."
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco is hoping Barrie can provide some punch to an offense that has produced just eight goals in its last five games. Four of those contests have been losses. He's opted to insert Barrie to jump start production in place of Ryan Wilson.
"He's really played on his toes when he's been in our lineup," Sacco said. "He's been a difference-maker creating a lot of scoring chances for our team, and I'll expect the same thing here tonight. Just give us some good energy and help us offensively from the back end."
In his first professional season after spending four years with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, Barrie could be settling in when Colorado needs the rookie the most.
"It's cool, but I'm settling down a little bit," Barrie said. "I know the first few games I couldn't even stickhandle I was so nervous. Now I'm settling in and feel good.
"It is tough, but all the guys are good. They keep me loose in the room. My d-partner Shane O'Brien, he's real good at that stuff. He keeps me loose. He's a great guy and he makes it easy for me out there."
The confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome have been kind to Barrie. As a member of the Rockets, Barrie's work in Calgary's rink helped earn a WHL Championship.
"We played the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL final and we beat them," Barrie said. "I've played here a few times and I have some great memories in this barn."
Barrie is hoping to help the Avalanche build a few more.
DETROIT --Jimmy Howard was under the impression all along that Friday night's game at home against the Nashville Predators was his targeted return date from a nagging groin injury.
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, however, seemed like he wasn't 100 percent on board with that plan earlier this week when he told reporters that if Howard wasn't ready to play by Wednesday night's game in Columbus then he wouldn't be facing Nashville.
Howard didn't play in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets, but Babcock decided to give Howard the start against the Predators after consulting with goalie coach Jim Bedard and athletic trainer Piet Van Zant about it.
"I talked to Jimmy B and I talked to Piet and everything seems to be OK," Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate at the United Center. "Jimmy says he's feeling good about himself, so obviously we'd like to get him going. When you look at our last 22 games, he's played in seven of them. We need to get him going. No different than the rest of our team."
Howard said he did know about Babcock's earlier comments regarding his return.
"It was a little discouraging, but at the same time he's the coach and the one who drives the ship here," Howard said. "You know, you've got to respect it."
Howard said he feels good enough to get back in goal and try to regain his sharpness that helped him win more than 30 games and become an NHL All-Star player for the first time in his career. There are only four regular-season games left, but the third-year starter for the Wings thinks that should be enough to get himself ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Everyone wants to feel great going into the playoffs," Howard said. "What's going to be key for me over the next four games is getting back to where I was before the injuries.''
Howard also missed eight games in February with a broken index finger on his right hand prior to the groin issue flaring up. The injuries have interrupted a season in which he was starting almost every time the Red Wings suited up.
Still, Howard said he's not concerned about regaining his top form in such a short amount of time.
"I know what I'm capable of doing out there," he said. "It's just going out there and doing it again. [It's been] on and off for a month a half and not playing a lot, but I've been able to practice a lot. I think that's key for me, because I always practice the way I play. Going out there and working hard translates into games.''
The Red Wings are hoping that's the case, anyway.
"There's a lot of urgency to get playing at the highest possible level going into the playoffs, and he's the same," Babcock said.
DETROIT -- It might be a preview to a first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series when the Nashville Predators pay their last visit of the regular season to the Motor City to play the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.
The Predators are currently fifth in the Western Conference at 96 points and trail the fourth-place Red Wings by just a point. A regulation victory would leapfrog Nashville past Detroit and possibly put the Preds in the driver's seat for home-ice advantage in the first round.
Jimmy Howard will make the start in goal for the Red Wings after missing the past four games with a nagging groin injury, while forward Martin Erat will get back into the lineup for Nashville after missing the past two games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
The last time Nashville was in Detroit, the Red Wings won the 22nd of their 23-game NHL record home winning streak in unlikely fashion. Time was running out in regulation of a 1-1 game when Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg connected on a pair of great passes to set up Pavel Datsyuk with a head of steam coming into the Nashville zone for one last scoring chance.
Datsyuk made a move to get around Ryan Suter in the slot and zipped a wrister into the top left corner of the net past star Preds goalie Pekka Rinne for a stunning victory.
"I'd say that was more like a flukey goal with five seconds left, but [Lidstrom] sees those things right away, even when he has his back turned," Preds forward Patric Hornqvist said after Nashville's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "He threw the puck up to [Zetterberg] and he chipped it to Datsyuk in the middle. They have those guys in their locker room who can really make it happen."
Needless to say, Nashville hasn't forgotten the feeling after that game despite beating Detroit once since then at Bridgestone Arena.
"That can't happen again," Hornqvist said. "We can't stop playing, even when there's five seconds left and they have the puck on the far blue line. That's the lesson we learned from that game."
Here's a look at how the Predators and Red Wings might line up on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena:
Lundqvist will make his season-high eighth-straight start when the Rangers host the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) at Madison Square Garden on Friday. The Rangers hold a five-point edge on the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference, with each team having five games remaining.
Coach John Tortorella has given varying answers this season about his goaltending situation, saying at times he doesn't have a No. 1 goaltender, that he has two goaltenders who he doesn't mind playing, and that he doesn't chart out a schedule for when his goaltenders are going to start.
If Lundqvist starts the Rangers' final five games, he'll finish the season with 63 starts, the fewest since he became the full-time starter in 2006-07.
But with home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs within reach, Lundqvist suddenly has become a very busy man.
"I think it's mentally and physically, you have to adjust a little bit," Lundqvist said about returning to his usual routine. "It's what I'm used to in the past. I play a lot, I feel good. You get a little more relaxed in between games because you're playing all the time, you're in it. Sometimes when you sit out, you might overthink it and come back a little tense. But now I just know I'm going out there to play.
"Right now, it's an exciting time. I love being out there."
As the regular season winds down and the playoffs begin, off-day practices become less frequent, so it's far easier to be at full capacity for a game now than it is earlier in the season, according to Lundqvist.
That perhaps was a problem earlier in the month, when Lundqvist was struggling. He spoke at length about wanting to improve his game and become sharper for the postseason. With fewer chances to work out the problems in practice, he's been doing it in games and said he is starting to feel better about his overall play.
"The last few games, I've played pretty good," said Lundqvist, who is coming off a 3-0-0 road trip and has won five of his last six starts. "I've played the way I want to play. When you're winning, you always feel a lot better. Technically, the last two have been pretty good, so I try to go from that."
Cunneyworth said defenseman Tomas Kaberle still isn't ready to play and that forward Scott Gomez, who skated Wednesday, could get into a game before the end of the season but it won't be against the Rangers.
The Rangers will also ice the same lineup as they did in Winnipeg on Wednesday, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist making his season-high eighth consecutive start. He will be opposed by Carey Price.
The Kings' push to the postseason will have to go on without Jeff Carter for at least one game.
Carter suffered an ankle injury in Wednesday's win at Calgary and likely will not play Friday in Edmonton, according to the L.A. Kings Insider blog on the team's website.
Carter has 6 goals and 3 assists in 16 games since arriving in Los Angeles in the Feb. 24 trade. He has been a regular on the second line with Mike Richards and the Kings are 11-5 with Carter in the lineup.
If Carter can't go, it is possible that Brad Richardson takes his place on the second line with Richards and either Dwight King or Jordan Nolan. Richardson has 3 goals and 2 assists in 54 games this season. He has been a healthy scratch 23 times.
"I haven't decided yet," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Lots of guys can play different positions. We'll see what the Oilers are doing first."
Antropov returns to the lineup for the Jets after missing the past five games with a lower-body injury. Mason will get the start in goal for Winnipeg, his fifth in six games against the Hurricanes this season. Ward will make his sixth consecutive start for Carolina.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an anxious three days for the Phoenix Coyotes as they could do nothing but watch the standings as their Western Conference foes attempted to compile points and leave them behind.
Now the Coyotes enter their final five games of the season with a clear mission -- and in control of their own fate. Win four of five and they are likely headed to a third straight NHL playoff berth. Stumble more than once along the way, beginning with tonight's huge game against the San Jose Sharks at Jobing.com Arena, and things get much more uncertain and gloomy.
"You look at the standings, and if we win our games we're fine," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who returns from a three-game suspension tonight. "You'd rather be sitting where Nashville is or Vancouver is, but we're not, so we have to find way to win our way in and earn it. But we control our own destiny and that's all you can ask. It's right there for us."
In addition to Doan, the Coyotes were able to heal over the three-day break. With the exception of winger Taylor Pyatt, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said everyone else on the roster is available for duty, meaning leading scorer Radim Vrbata and defensemen Adrian Aucoin and David Schlemko are prepared to play. Tippett has a lot of different ways he can go lineup-wise and wasn't tipping his hand at the pregame skate.
The Coyotes finish the season against three teams out of the playoff race -- Anaheim, Columbus and Minnesota -- as well as Western Conference-leading St. Louis. So the chance to improve their position and have a direct effect on a competitor ends tonight.
The Sharks lost 3-1 in Anaheim on Wednesday, making this game incredibly crucial for them as well. San Jose finishes its season with two games each against Los Angeles and Dallas -- the other two Pacific Division teams fighting for three playoff spots along with Colorado and Calgary. Not everyone will survive.
"Our players know exactly where we are and what the scenarios are … but this is the last game that we have that we can have an effect on the one of these teams we are battling," Tippett said. "So that makes it of the utmost importance. After that we have to take care of ourselves, but this is a huge game."
The Sharks will be without defenseman Douglas Murray, who suffered a lower-body injury early against the Ducks. Veteran Colin White will replace him in the lineup.
CHICAGO --Patrick Sharp has already defeated teammate Patrick Kane in an advertising-sponsored burrito contest, so why not take on Duncan Keith for the right to grace the cover of a video game?
EA Sports announced on Thursday that fan votes will determine which player winds up gracing the cover of its EA Sports NHL 13 video game, with two players from each team facing each other in the first round of the competition.
Sharp and defenseman Duncan Keith were chosen to face off for the Blackhawks.
"It's pretty special and we'll see how everything plays out," Sharp said after Thursday's morning skate at United Center. "I'm not exactly sure how all the fans vote for it, so maybe I'll get back on the Twitter or something and get my fan base up. But it's a cool competition."
Keith, who didn't participate in the skate and is serving a five-game suspension for an elbowing incident, wasn't available for comment.
The first-round winners from each team will advance into a field of 32 players that includes two "wild card" selections and from there the field will be whittled to a top 16 through voting. That will net a 16-player single-elimination playoff bracket to determine the ultimate cover player.
The Blackhawks have already had star Patrick Kane (2010) and captain Jonathan Toews (2011) on the cover of the EA Sports NHL series, and both said they'd be thrilled to welcome another Chicago star into the club.
"We've had two in the past couple years, so it'd be nice to have another one, I guess, and have the Hawks well-represented," Kane said. "It's a cool game. I remember growing up saying, 'This is a game I want to play with this guy on the cover or that guy on the cover,' and to be one of those athletes was pretty special. It'd be nice to have the Hawks represented again. Hopefully Duncs wins, though. We don't want Sharp to win."
Toews didn't have a rooting interes other than to see another Hawks player showcased.
"It's awesome," he said. "There's been a lot of Hawks on there lately. That'd be cool. It's one of those things that's kind of like a fantasy a little bit. When you get a chance to do it, you don't really believe it's happening, that you've come that far. But you always have that. I always have that [2011 game] sitting next to my DVDs, so it's pretty cool."
Sharp, meanwhile, got in a friendly shot at Kane after hearing his fellow star forward was rooting for Keith.
"I was [into video games] when I was a little kid," Sharp said, smiling. "I used to play a lot of games with my older brother and my friends, but ever since they put Kane on the cover I stopped being a fan."
How about if he wins this competition, though?
"Oh, well then things will change," Sharp said, laughing. "I'll get back into it."
Voting began on Thursday and fans can vote as often as they want at NHL.com/CoverVote. Fans can also get more information at EA Sports' NHL Facebook page and are encouraged to use the hashtag #NHL13Cover on Twitter to support their favorite players.
Halak will get his first start since March 21 at Anaheim, as Elliott has started the last three games -- all shutouts -- but will sit out tonight.
The Blues activated winger Matt D'Agostini, who missed the last 25 games with a concussion, but he will not play tonight. Also, Andy McDonald (shoulder) will not play, but coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's morning skate McDonald would play Saturday vs. Columbus. Also scratched are right wing Chris Porter, left wing B.J. Crombeen and defenseman Ian Cole.
Defenseman Roman Polak (bruised knee) did not accompany the team to Chicago, but could return to the lineup Saturday as well.
The players were chosen as the St. Louis Blues' representatives to compete for the cover of EA Sports NHL13, which will be decided by fan voting.
Fans can go to NHL.com/covervote and vote for their favorite player to be the next cover star. Perron didn't waste any time spicing up the offer for fans if they vote for him. Perron said if he wins the voting, he'll randomly select one fan to receive a 60-minute private skating session from him, as well as a jersey, stick, gloves and helmet that Perron uses, courtesy of Reebok.
"It's only an hour of my time and a few pieces of equipment," Perron said. "The point is to give back to the fans who are going to vote on you to maybe be on there. It's having fun with it more than anything. I talked with my agent [Allan Walsh] about it and we thought it was a good way to be maybe be a little different from the other guys.
"I was surprised by [the selection]. I think it's a cool way for the fans to vote for whoever's going to be the next guy on there. ... Hopefully the fans enjoy it and it's something I thought about for a while to do it and it's important to do it."
When told of Perron's giveaways, Oshie thought he'd chime in with an idea of his own:
"Hopefully they can just watch my play and hopefully that's enough to win the fans over," Oshie said. "I'll be like Wal-Mart, who says they'll match it. You bring in the better offer and they'll match it, so I'll match [Perron]. Whatever he wants to do, I'll do.
"I might just stay old-fashioned and let the play decide."
Oshie even went as far to say he helped Perron with his idea.
"In the morning, I saw him at breakfast and I made sure he knew what to stay," Oshie joked. "I told him to look at my tweet if he needed any ideas and I guess he wanted to one-up me and go above and beyond and start offering skating lessons ... I don't know what he threw out there."
Both players are quite familiar with the EA Sports collection of games and said they grew up playing them. Both said they're grateful to be part of the voting process.
"It's going to be fun for me and Perry [Perron] to go back and forth even though in the end, if one of us doesn't win, we want the other one to win," Oshie said. "... It's a fun thing, fun thing to be a part of for the fans. EA Sports is a good game. I grew up playing their games all the way up -- NHL, NFL, NBA ... you name it. It's a fun thing for the fans, fun thing for the players."
Perron said the EA hockey games were the only ones he requested for Christmas from his parents.
"I bought every single game ever since it started that I can remember," Perron said. "That was the only Christmas present I would ask for and I would get pretty much when I was growing up.
"I was really excited every year because as much as my parents were saying that they weren't going to get that, I just kind of knew that I would get it for every Christmas. My brother and I would play until we tried to win the Cup."
CHICAGO -- Step by step, the Blues have been presented with goals, and each time, they knock the door down and reach uncharted territory.
First, it was clinching a playoff berth for the first time since the 2008-09 season and only the second time since the work stoppage.
Next up is the Central Division title, and it's there for the taking when the Blues (48-20-9) play against a division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-9) at United Center.
Coupled with Detroit's surprising loss at Columbus on Wednesday night, the Blues have the chance to wrap up their first division title since 1999-2000 with a regulation or overtime win over the Blackhawks.
"It'll definitely be a good accomplishment for us," winger T.J. Oshie said. "You look at the points that are in our division and the teams that are in our division ... even Columbus coming up with a big win (Wednesday). It's a tough division, and to be at the top of that would be a good stepping stone for this team. It would be a stepping stone because we want to get up to that big goal at the end, but it's definitely something we'd like to have on the resume."
The Blues have a chance to knock the Red Wings off the perch for a change. Detroit, which has clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season, has owned the Central, winning it in nine of the last 10 seasons.
"This would be a good feeling for someone else to be able to do this other than those big two (Detroit and Chicago, which won the division in 2009-10) and maybe sometime down the road give them something to think about," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got lots of goals in front of us now between the Jennings (Trophy), the division, the conference, the Presidents' (Trophy) ... they're all obtainable. They're in our control.
"We spent seven months getting to this stage. We want to just keep going. We don't want to give up something that we've earned and kept for a little while. We've got teams pushing us in every aspect. The loss for Detroit to Columbus opens up a door for us tonight, so hopefully we jump all over it."
For a team with so many younger players who haven't experienced what's been presented to them, the Blues have been even-keeled and not looked too far ahead and lost sight of what's in front of them.
"There's been a lot of patience with this team from the fans and management and players," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "To be in the position we are and contending for first place in the division and the conference and potentially overall, it's pretty gratifying and it shows the hard work we've put in this year.
"Everybody's smart enough in this room to know that the Presidents' Trophy isn't going to get you anything in the playoffs. It doesn't give you any freebies, any first-round byes or guarantees you're going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know the toughest part is still to come. We're excited about the potential, but you look at our game in Tampa Bay to be the first to clinch a playoff spot, we didn't bring out any champagne. It was business as usual and moved on."
CHICAGO -- The comeback from an upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related didn't even last one full game for Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador.
The 32-year-old Montador, who'd missed 22 games in a row, was re-injured Tuesday night in New Jersey when his head collided hard with Devils defenseman Mark Fayne early in the third period. Montador did not participate in Thursday's morning skate at United Center and will not play against the St. Louis Blues.
"We'll just say right now he's out indefinitely," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Upper body."
It's been a frustrating second half of the season for Montador, who was acquired by Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman before free agency started last summer and signed a four-year contract extension worth $11 million ($2.75 million cap hit) according to capgeek.com.
He's missed 25 games because of injuries overall, and has five goals with nine assists and a plus-4 rating in the 52 games he's played. Chicago will also play its third straight game without top puck-moving defenseman Duncan Keith, who's serving a five-game suspension for elbowing.
Montador actually played forward on the fourth line in New Jersey, rather than defense, which meant veteran 40-year-old defenseman Sean O'Donnell was on the third pairing with rookie Dylan Olsen. Sami Lepisto isn't ready to return yet, so that appears likely to be the setup for the game against the Blues, as well.
Look for Michael Frolik to grab Montador's spot on the fourth line with rookie Jimmy Hayes likely being a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game.
With James Reimer out with an upper-body injury, Gustavsson likely will start the remainder of the games.
David Steckel will be a game-time decision because of a lower-body injury.
"I've got a sheet of paper, there's about 15 different combinations I have put down there." said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "I would think that you are going to see Tim Connolly go to the middle with Carter Ashton and (Joey) Crabb, that is tentatively on one of those little pieces of paper."
The Flyers are without goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, neither of whom made the trip. Bryzgalov has a chip fracture in his right foot, while Timonen is taking a game off to treat an upper-body injury.
TORONTO -- The Flyers had a special guest on the ice at their morning skate Thursday here at Air Canada Centre -- Eric Lindros, who skated onto the ice in his old black and orange colors, wearing a black helmet, emblazoned with No. 88.
"It was a lot of fun," said Lindros, who spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career with the Flyers. "Anytime you can wake up and head to this building and go have some fun on the ice, it's a blast."
"(Holmgren) gave me a call, said come down to the room, say hello to the guys, go out for a skate," said Lindros.
Philadelphia is back at Air Canada Centre for the second time this month in hopes of sweeping the season series with the Maple Leafs. Philadelphia currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Penguins for the final home-ice slot in the playoffs.
On March 10, Philadelphia came up with a 1-0 victory on the strength of a beautiful shootout goal by Claude Giroux. Ilya Bryzgalov earned the shutout victory that night, but will not play and is not with the team due to a chip fracture in his right foot suffered Monday. Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the start in goal, with Jason Bacashihua recalled from AHL Adirondack to serve as the backup.
He'll miss his 18th straight game Thursday, when the Hawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, but Toews hinted that his return from an upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related could be right around the corner.
"(I'm) getting very, very close," said Toews, who has skated for 10 straight days, including Thursday's morning workout. "I think getting to this point and not playing is probably the toughest thing to do, but at the same time it's smart. I definitely need a few more days to kind of see how it goes through this weekend and we'll see where we're at next week, basically. Right now, I'm feeling great. I've just got to get those legs going and try to get myself back to being as close to game shape as I can."
Toews said he expects to get clearance for contact either Thursday or Friday, which is one of the last steps he'll have to clear in order to return to game action.
"He's getting real close (for contact)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think in the next day or so, so hopefully he gets out there and gets a little bit more (on-ice work), but he had a lot over the last few days and we like the progress."
Toews does, too.
The last time he tried to return from his current injury, he skated hard for four straight days and then had a return of the symptoms that have kept him out. This time, he's gone six consecutive days longer and apparently feels more like himself following each skating session.
"Last time I was on the ice, I was feeling like I was close to being able to play and I (had) more of a setback than anything, so this time around I feel like there's nothing I can do really that's going to make that happen," Toews said. "I've been pushing myself harder and harder every day and I feel good. I feel confident. Any day now I should be ready to go."
The Hawks are likely to take the conservative approach, however, which means Toews' most likely will return in one of two games next week -- at Minnesota or at Detroit in the regular-season finale.
"It (stinks) when you see the season wind down," Toews said. "Of course everyone's excited to get into the playoffs, but I haven't played in what feels like forever, so it doesn't matter to me. As soon as I'm able to be on the ice, I'll be out there."
What, exactly, will be the key thing that will earn him the green light?
"When he's ready to go," Quenneville said. "He's got to be comfortable as a player, and organizationally there's some hurdles you've got to pass."
Chicago is 10-5-2 in the 17 games Toews has been out, but that success doesn't surprised the Hawks' 23-year old captain.
"We have a good leadership group and we don't always just rely on one guy," said Toews. "In these games that I've missed, the guys have realized they want to keep winning and they want to hang in there and play playoff hockey and be competitive once you do get there. So they've kind of committed themselves to doing those little things right and playing the right way. It's been fun to see that."
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.
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  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
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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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:
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:
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."
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."
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.
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.
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."
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
The Rangers (48-21-7) will meet the Winnipeg Jets after taking a 3-2 road decision against the Minnesota Wild. The win and a Pittsburgh home loss to the New York Islanders moved the Rangers three points ahead of the Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead. Both clubs have played 76 games, but the Penguins are idle tonight.
All three of the Rangers' meetings with Winnipeg this season have been wins, and the Rangers have allowed only one goal in the season series.
The Rangers did not hold a morning skate at the MTS Centre. But it is expected that Henrik Lundqvist will start again for the Rangers, with Martin Biron backing up. Lundqvist shut out the Jets when the clubs last met at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 24.
Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Rangers:
WINNIPEG -- The process of beginning to wind down the season begins tonight for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets (35-33-8) will host the New York Rangers at the MTS Centre in their second-to-last home date. A 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators two nights ago effectively ended the Jets' already-thin Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations. They face a four-game road trip that will begin against the Carolina Hurricanes and continue against Tampa Bay, Florida, and the New York Islanders.
"It will be a good test for us against the Rangers," Jets coach Claude Noel said of a season series in which the Jets have gone winless and have managed only one goal in the clubs' three meetings. "They don't give you very much. The games are usually very heavy. Their battle level is high."
Facing the Rangers in front of another sold-out crowd in Winnipeg should prevent any letdowns for the Jets now, Noel believes.
"Out of respect for what they have given us, how could we come up with anything less?" Noel asked. "The fans here in Winnipeg have been a big factor for us having success here and have been like an extra player, so how could we disrespect the fans by not giving all that we have got?"
One day after one of their tougher losses of the season, the Washington Capitals got some good news Wednesday when the team announced center Nicklas Backstrom will travel with the team when it leaves a game Thursday in Boston (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
However, Backstrom and coach Dale Hunter confirmed the top-line center will not play Thursday.
"No. Not (Thursday)," Backstrom told reporters Wednesday. "We'll see. We take it day-by-day and see how it goes."
Backstrom has been practicing with the team since March 24, and passed a neuropsychological test Tuesday, which was required before he returned to the lineup.
The next step for Backstrom is for him to continue working toward a return to game shape. He hasn't played since Jan. 3, when he was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque.
"I'm close to playing, I think," Backstrom said. "Obviously it takes a while to get back in normal shape. But we don't have too much time, either. I'm feeling good, I've been practicing good the last couple days; been pushing it a little bit, too."
Hunter said the reason he wants Backstrom on the trip is so he continue pushing with the full team.
"We just want him with the team so he can practice," said Hunter. "You see the drills that they're doing with him, all battle drills, that if he gets in, that's how he has to play. They're hard drills out there and every day he's been fine, so it's good news for him."
The Capitals suffered a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday which dropped them to ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Caps held an optional practice Wednesday, with Backstrom, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and goalie Tomas Vokoun the only players on the ice with three assistant coaches.
Washington certainly could use Backstrom back in the lineup. In the 39 games he's missed, the Caps are 17-16-6. He was the Caps' leading scorer with 42 points in 38 games at the time he was hurt.
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Holmgren said X-rays of Bryzgalov's foot taken before and after Monday's game didn't show an injury; an MRI Tuesday revealed the fracture.
Holmgren added he didn't believe the injury was serious and that Bryzgalov could practice as soon as Friday.
"We're hoping that he'll be back on the ice practicing with the idea that he can play on the weekend," said Holmgren. "It's just going to be a little bit of pain management for Ilya.
"Obviously when you're dealing with something like this, it might be too painful to skate on Friday, but we'll see. He doesn't feel that bad today. We'll see how it is. It's not a thing that surgery is required; it's nothing like (James) van Riemsdyk's broken foot or anything like that. It's a chip off a weight-bearing bone, and the doctor has said it'll be absorbed back into his system, the little chip that's in there, and there's no real risk here at all. It's just he's in a little bit of pain right now.
"Ilya's a tough kid. He wants to play, and we look forward to seeing him on the ice with the team at practice on Friday."
Bryzgalov has been the best goalie in the League in March, going 10-2-1 in 13 games, with a 1.43 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He was named NHL First Star of the Week for the first two weeks of March, and earlier this month set the club scoreless streak record of 249:43.
He also had a streak of 11 straight games allowing two goals or less snapped Monday when he allowed four goals in a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay.
Holmgren said there never was a thought to pull Bryzgalov from the game Monday.
"Ilya wanted to play," said Holmgren. "To be honest with you, I knew what was going on. I watched the game and I didn't see any issues. The goals they scored were good goals. The last one he wasn't paying attention when Matt (Carle) had the bobble at the side of the net. The other goals were good goals that you can't really fault him on. I didn't have any issues with how he played the game and I don't think his foot was an issue during the game."
Bryzgalov had started 19 of the last 20 games; now Bobrovsky will be pressed into duty. Bobrovsky has played just one game in March, and hasn't won a game since Feb. 9.
The Flyers have six games left, and after Thursday they next play Saturday at home against Ottawa and Sunday in Pittsburgh.
"Ilya wants to play," said Holmgren. "He feels like he'll be OK, but we'll just see how it goes. I think we'll have a better grasp on how he is (Wednesday) ... and then probably more on Thursday and Friday. As I said, nobody's really concerned. The doctors are not concerned, (trainer) Jimmy McCrossin's not too concerned. He's a little sore right now."
The Flyers also announced that defenseman Kimmo Timonen will not play Thursday and is day-to-day due to an upper-body injury. The team recalled defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon from Adirondack to replace him.
Holmgren said giving Timonen a game off is more of a maintenance issue than any injury, and part of a plan put in place following Timonen's five-game absence earlier this month due to an upper-body injury.
"When Kimmo missed the time earlier, it was kind of a planned thing where we wanted to give him some rest and do some rehab," said Holmgren. "This is also part of the plan. It's just take this day off, he doesn't have to fly up, he doesn't have to play the game. He can rest and rehab and get ready to play on the weekend."
In addition to Timonen, defenseman Andreas Lilja is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He did not play Monday against Tampa Bay.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
ST. LOUIS -- With a point tonight, the Nashville Predators could become the next team in the League to clinch a playoff berth. Nashville is coming off a 6-1 rout at Chicago on Sunday night and are now 2-1 since getting Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.
It's pretty telling that a team as successful as the Predators have been this season is going into Game No. 77 still looking to ensure a spot in the postseason.
"That shows the parity throughout the League," defenseman Shea Weber said. "Ever since the salary cap, it's been tight every year. We know right from the beginning of the year that games at the start of the year might end up costing you when you get to that 70th-75th game -- that might be the one that could have had you up a spot or two."
With a victory tonight, it will also mark a milestone for Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz is looking for career victory No. 500, quite a feat for a man who has only known one franchise as his employer.
"There is, and trust me, you can't do it without leadership like (general manager) David (Poile). The next win that we have, David will be the only general manager in the history of the game that won 500 games with two franchises (Nashville and Washington)," Trotz said. "That's pretty elite. You look at things like that -- those are things I'm proud of. There's times when I was younger, he could have said, 'Hey, I've got to go in a different direction.' And he hasn't. Through thick and thin, David's stood by me and believed in what we do."
But Trotz, who's coached in 1,060 games, was not one for reflection for 500 wins in general.
"The only thing I've reflected on is the last game, or last two games really. Zero reflection," he said. "Whether you bring it up or someone else brings it up, it's the only time I reflect.
"It's gone fast. I'm more proud of the fact that we've been consistent as a franchise. I think we're only one of two teams to have 40-plus wins in the last seven years. I'm more proud about that than actually the number of wins because that shows that we've been consistent, a team that is in the mix. Organizationally, as a hockey community we've grown to be a fantastic hockey community. We've grown to we expect to make the playoffs, we expect to be there every year, and we expect to challenge for the Cup. It's the hardest trophy in the world to win. You just want to be in that position to have that opportunity to compete for it."
Added Weber, who's played for Trotz since 2006: "Obviously he's been here for a long time for a reason. He's done a lot of good things. When we're able to get that 500th win, it's going to be something special for him and I'm sure he'll remember it forever."
ST. LOUIS -- It's not often one can be mentioned in the same breath as former Blues greats Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger.
But after picking up 3 assists Sunday night to go with fellow defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo both have eclipsed the 40-point plateau, becoming the team's first d-pairing to do so since MacInnis (46) and Pronger (47) in 2001-02.
Pietrangelo is third among defensemen with 48 points and now Shattenkirk is 16th with 41 points.
With Shattenkirk (23 years old) and Pietrangelo (22), it seems the Blues will have quite the duo for years to come.
"That's insane. For us, it's a huge honor," said Shattenkirk, who has 32 assists among his 41 points. "Whenever you're talked about with those two guys, it's special. You don't really believe it, but we still have some work to do, obviously. Both of us have stuck to our game. The coaches have just allowed us to play our game, and I think it paves the way for all the rest of the stuff."
Since both have been paired together on the power play, both players have accumulated a plethora of points.
"To have two guys where we are, it's pretty awesome," said Pietrangelo, who has 12 goals and 36 assists. "Whether it's him where I am or I am where he is, it's pretty good for both of us moving forward here, especially if we're going to be here for awhile. It's good to have that in the back end.
"A lot of it's come together lately, especially since we were put together on the power play. A lot of our points have been generated from that. We had two points each last game coming from each other on point shots, and my goal, he passed it over to me. That's been the biggest thing for us is we find each other on the power play. It's been the key."
Milestones are meant to be cherished when one's career is done. That's how Blues veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner is looking at career game No. 1,100 tonight when the Blues (47-20-9) host the Nashville Predators (44-24-8) tonight.
"Any time you hit round numbers, you kind of take a look back a little bit," said Langenbrunner, who has 660 points. "It's not something that's big on my radar, no.
"It's definitely something you do when you're done ... at least that's what I'm told. You look back at those sort of things. Right now, I'm in the now and the battle for what this game is and I'm excited for it."
Coincidentally, Langenbrunner's first game in the NHL came with the Dallas Stars ... right here at Scottrade Center in 1995.
"Yeah, it was in St. Louis ... in this building. Long time ago," Langenbrunner said. "I was playing junior with the (Peterborough) Petes (of the Ontario Hockey League) and we just got knocked out, got called up by Dallas to come here.
"I remember walking in the locker room and (the) junior hockey (mentality), dying your hair and stupid stuff like that. My hair was all bleached-blonde or streaked. I remember trying to find a barber shop to try to shave out as much of it as I could for that first game."
Allowing only 139 non-shootout goals through their first 76 games, the Blues broke an NHL record for goals allowed in a 76-game season. That mark was set by the 1968-69 Blues, who allowed 157. But the Blues have loftier goals in mind -- like the 82-game record set by the 2003-004 New Jersey Devils, who allowed 164 goals.
"I wasn't really aware of it actually until this past road trip," Shattenkirk said. "It's something that comes from the way we play, it comes from our team defense, our goaltending especially.
"Any time you have a special season like this in terms of goals-against, you have to look at the goaltending. They've probably been the reason why we've let in so few. It's just been a collective effort from everyone. If we were to achieve that, it would be great, but I think we just focus on what we've been doing well all year."
"The story of our season, no matter what anyone talks about, are our two goalies," Hitchcock said. "They're the story. They've been good all year, and at times taking turns being great. The biggest part of our success ... their save percentages are extraordinarily high. ... Not very often do you say, 'Man, the Blues dominated us, or they outplayed us.' There's stretches during the hockey game where your goalie has to come up big and between the two guys, they've come up big every time. We've benefited from two guys having, I don't want to say career years, but played to their potential every night. At times, Halak's been unbelievable and then Elliott's been unbelievable. It's been the small difference for us."
Elliott and Halak are 1-2 in the NHL in goals-against average (1.52, 1.90) and first and sixth, respectively in save percentage (.941 and .927) as well as first and fourth respectively in shutouts (eight and six).
Edmonton's Taylor Hall will miss the rest of the season, electing to have surgery to fix a chronic injury in his left shoulder.
The first pick in the 2010 Entry Draft was dealing with a concussion since the middle of March, but the team chose to shut Hall down due to a labrum tear that's lingered since before Hall reached the NHL.
"Four years now ... I injured it in junior and it's been wearing away," Hall said. "I've been playing with a pretty bad shoulder for most of this year and I'm excited to see what I can do after it's fixed.
"It's not the way I envisioned my career starting, but I hope to stay healthy after this and be a good Oiler for a long time."
The expected recovery time for Hall is 5-6 months, putting him on track to be ready for the start of the 2012-13 season.
"We're doing the right thing," coach Tom Renney said. "The most important thing is the future of the organization and he's a big part of that."
The 20-year-old finishes 2011-12 with 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games, improving on his rookie season of 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games.
BOSTON -- When he arrived at the TD Garden for his first morning skate with the Boston Bruins today, Torey Krug found out he was in the big leagues in more ways than one.
"I don't know if they build these lockers for him," Krug said, referring to 6-foot-9 Bruins captain Zdeno Chara after the practice, "but I can barely reach my helmet on top."
The 5-foot-9 Krug has been overcoming his size disadvantage his whole life, so he'll figure out a way to adjust to the larger amenities at Boston's home rink. After winning the CCHA Player of the Year award this season, the defenseman decided to leave Michigan State to turn pro. Undrafted, he became a free agent last week and on Sunday signed a deal with the Bruins.
Part of Krug's deal called for him to join the Bruins rather than their AHL farm club in Providence. This means he gets to burn a year on his entry-level contract, and he gets to experience life as an NHL player much sooner than he expected.
"It's awesome," said Krug about joining the Bruins. "The last few days have been a whirlwind, that's for sure. A couple days ago I was sitting in East Lansing getting ready to study for a test. Here I am sitting in a locker room full of NHLers. It's been a great past couple days and I'm looking forward to the next couple weeks."
For now, Krug is focused on getting used to professional life and battling his new teammates in practices. Down the road, however, coach Claude Julien might decide to work the 20-year-old into the Bruins' lineup.
"I've heard a lot of good things about this player, and certainly haven't had a chance to see him play, but we can get a pretty good idea just by watching him in practices, and tomorrow he'll get a chance for a full practice with us and we'll see where we go from there," Julien said. "Certainly not going to tell you right now that he's not going to play, but we may give him an opportunity -- depends on how everything goes. But the one thing he gets to do is experience the, I guess the level of competition here at the NHL."
To his credit, Krug's confident he can hold his own at the sport's highest level.
"Yeah, I feel like that," he responded when asked if he's ready to play in the NHL. "Obviously, the coaches will make that decision. But I'm here, my No. 1 goal is just to compete and work 100 percent 100 percent of the time."
Bylsma usually doesn't do such game-day tinkering unless he plans to go with such a lineup that night. The Penguins (47-22-6), just one point behind the New York Rangers in the race for the Eastern Conference lead, take on the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
"I think more and more in the next seven games you're going to see people who are going to be playing with each other going forward," said Bylsma, who has been trying out different line combinations ever since Crosby returned March 15.
Crosby, for example, played at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams during an 8-4 loss in Ottawa on Saturday. One night later, Crosby not only played a little with the gritty Adams, they both picked up an assist on Dupuis' goal during the second period.
Dupuis has played on Crosby's line regularly in the past, usually with Kunitz. Dupuis and Kunitz were Crosby's linemates before Crosby missed the second half of the 2010-11 season with a concussion, and Bylsma put them together again when Crosby returned to play eight games starting Nov. 21.
Most recently, Dupuis and Steve Sullivan were playing on Staal's line.
"You play with Sid, you play with Jordan, you play with Evgeni, you play with a great player," said Dupuis, who is enjoying a career year with 23 goals and 50 points in 75 games. "You play with a great centerman. When you play on this team, you play with unbelievable talent. It's a matter of clicking together."
Dupuis added, "And we play one way. It's not like somebody is going to do different things on the ice, forecheck differently, we all do it the same. Some do it with more skill than the others, but that's what our game looks like."
By reinserting Dupuis on Crosby's line, Bylsma is restoring the speed element that was present when Kunitz was on the Penguins captain's line. Returning Cooke to Staal's line with Sullivan means Bylsma could be anticipating using them for defensive purposes against opposing teams' top lines in the playoffs.
Cooke is known more for his aggressiveness and physicality than his scoring skills, yet he had 5 goals and 3 assists in seven games on Crosby's line.
And while Bylsma wants all of his lines playing the same way, Dupuis said a wing must anticipate anything -- any pass in any situation -- while playing alongside the gifted Crosby.
"Jordan likes to hold onto the puck, use his big frame to create space, and Sid is also very strong on his skates and he wants to deke guys and spin on guys," Dupuis said. "With Jordan, you go to the net hard and you expect passes, you make plays. With Sid sometimes it ends up on your stick and it’s like, 'Whoa. How did he do that?' But you can't get mesmerized by what he does out there, you've just got to try to keep up with him."
The Penguins' difficult schedule down the stretch may be one reason why Bylsma is starting to look at his potential playoff lines now rather than later. After a home-and-home series with the Islanders that ends Thursday, the Penguins play at Buffalo on Friday, followed by the Flyers at home Sunday and again on April 7, the Bruins on the road April 3 and the Rangers at home April 5.
"For us, we want to make sure we're playing well down the stretch here," Crosby said. "Playing divisional games kind of gets a little more rowdy, too. I think it's a good thing."
Crosby has scored in each of his last two games, a possible sign that he is fully on his game seven games into his second comeback from concussion-like symptoms this season. Before getting goals Saturday against Ottawa and Sunday against New Jersey, Crosby had gone a career-long 12 games -- albeit it over a span of four-plus months -- without a goal.
His goal against the Devils highlighted the improvisational ability that Dupuis talked about.
Crosby swung his stick around Marek Zidlicky to control a pass that the defenseman was attempting to intercept. After redirecting the puck around Zidlicky, Crosby skated hard from the blue line as Zidlicky went in the opposite direction and beat Martin Brodeur on a shot that restored Pittsburgh's two-goal lead in the third period.
The Capitals are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games while the Sabres are 7-1-2 over that same stretch. The teams enter this contest tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and the play of their superstars is a big reason why.
Since Feb. 19, Miller has gone 13-1-3 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Ovechkin’s hot streak has been a more recent development with 10 goals in his last 10 games.
Ovechkin has also scored in five straight games for the first time in more than two years and has nine goals in his last seven games overall.
“He gives us energy,” said Capitals coach Dale Hunter, who adds that Ovechkin is doing “the little things like forechecking and finishing his hits and playing with a reckless abandon a little bit. He’s really going in and trying to take the body and trying to drive in with a strong forecheck.”
In a 3-0 win Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, Hunter dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen and double shifted Ovechkin when possible.
Ovechkin went on to play a team-high 26:19, his second highest ice-time total this season, and finished with a goal and an assist. Hunter is expected to dress the same lineup tonight against Buffalo.
“I think everybody wants to play lots of minutes,” Ovechkin said, “and for me personally, the more time I spend on the ice I feel much better because I’m in the game.”
Added Hunter: “He’s in good shape to play that many minutes. I look on the bench and sometimes if you overplay someone they’ve got their head down to try to catch their wind and [with Ovechkin] I look over and he’s ready to play again so that’s why I play him so much.”
Ovechkin also made a sliding defensive play Sunday against Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu to prevent a quality scoring chance. Later that same shift, the Capitals scored and took a 2-0 lead.
“Right now it looks like he’s having a lot of fun,” said linemate Brooks Laich. “That’s the main thing -- it looks like he’s having fun playing the game. When you score, you have fun and when you have fun, you score -- they kind of go hand-in-hand, but it’s tough to do. But goal-scorers love to score goals and you see him -- nobody gets more excited than him.”
Ovechkin’s 10 goals this month are his highest total since he scored 14 times in Oct. 2009 and his 36 goals on the season are tied for fourth-most in the league behind only Steven Stamkos (53), Evgeni Malkin (46) and Marian Gaborik (37).
“When he’s in that mode you just follow behind him and just ride his coattails,” Laich said. “When he’s playing at that level he’s got that special ability to elevate his game and when he’s at that level he’s fun to watch and play alongside. It’s incredible.”
ST. PAUL --Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota for the second time as a member of the Rangers on Tuesday night when New York faces off with the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
The worries of Gaborik's current team and his former one are completely different as both teams hurdle down the stretch.
New York enters the day just one point ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have gained points in nine of their last 10 games, winning eight of those contests.
"Of course we want to stay there, home-ice advantage is good and you definitely want that during the playoffs," said Rangers forward Brandon Prust. "We're just worrying about ourselves right now, taking this one game at a time and keep getting wins."
Gaborik's return will not be as dramatic as his first one last season, a game where he posted an assist and a minus-2 rating. Time has indeed eased the nerves for Gaborik as he returns to the building where he spent much of the first part of his career. He remains the Wild's all-time leader in goals (219), assists (218), points (437), power-play goals (59), game-winning goals (43) and 30-goal seasons (5).
"It's always special to come to this building," Gaborik said. "The first time, I was a little more nervous. Now, it feels a little different. They have great fans here and it's a special place."
What could be the biggest test for the Rangers is their compete level against a Wild team already eliminated from playoff contention. Prust said the Rangers are prepared to bring their best effort.
"We have to be ready. Sometimes, these are the games that bite you," Prust said. "You take your foot off the gas or something, but there's no room for that anymore. We all know that. And we have to be in playoff mode every game right now."
Tuesday's game also marks a homecoming for three other Rangers who are from the area, including defensemen Ryan McDonagh (St. Paul), Stu Bickel (Chanhassen) and Derek Stepan (St. Paul). All three have played in the building during their college years while McDonagh won a state championship here during his junior year in high school at Cretin-Derham Hall.
Among those in attendance will be McDonagh's high school coach Jim O'Neill and 20 of Stepan's closest family and friends.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is struggling to do much of anything right, having lost two straight road contests over the weekend after winning their final two games of a five-game homestand last week.
While the Rangers battle for the Presidents' Trophy, the Wild are locked in a battle for the second-best odds in the April 10 NHL Draft Lottery, leading Montreal and Edmonton by just a point in the standings.
After playing Buffalo and Washington over the weekend, Minnesota plays four more games this week and seven overall -- all against teams currently in the playoff picture.
"These are important points for them," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "I don't think we're playing a whole lot of teams right now that aren't saying 'We have to win that game.' I'm pretty sure they're saying that [in the Rangers room] right now."
To steal a win, like they did last week in victories over Vancouver and Calgary, the Wild need to score more goals. At just 2.01 goals per game, Minnesota is dead last in the NHL in total offense. It's 3-0 loss to the Capitals on Sunday marked the fifth time in the last 13 games the team was shutout.
More importantly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the loss mathematically eliminated the Wild from playoff contention. Now, all that's left, is playing for pride.
"It's a personal thing for us," said Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck. "We're not going to go down without a fight. We're not that type of group. We've had some unfortunate circumstances and some things unravel for us. It's disappointing. It's not something we're happy about."
Minnesota also announced veteran center Matt Cullen, who injured his right index finger in Saturday's loss to Buffalo, will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the injury.
Chad Rau, called up in his place, will remain in Minnesota for the rest of the season. Also back in the lineup, although in a backup role, is goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Matt Hackett was sent back to AHL Houston to make room.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews continues to skate back in Chicago as part of his recovery from a concussion, but has not yet been cleared for contact. He'll miss his 17th straight game when the Blackhawks play the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at Prudential Center.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville also said defenseman Steve Montador will return to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 7 after sitting out the last 22 games with a concussion. The 32-year-old Montador has 5 goals and 9 assists in 51 games this season. Center Brendan Morrison, who has no points and a minus-3 rating in his last two games, will be a healthy scratch as the Hawks will play with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.
Here are the probable line combinations for the Blackhawks:
Elliott, who leads the NHL in goals against average (1.51) and save percentage (.941), is also tied Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick for shutouts with eight. Elliott has back-to-back shutouts and will take a shutout streak of 126:45 into this game.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw knows he won't be in the running for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie at the end of the season.
And he's fine with that. But to teammates, his coach and general manager, the 20-year-old Shaw has provided the type of energy and enthusiasm required of any player.
"If you look at him right now, there's not much to him, but when he steps on the ice, he's always noticeable," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp told NHL.com. "The other team knows he's there and he goes in the tough areas, takes hits and is smart and confident. His enthusiasm has really helped our locker room."
"He just brings a lot of enthusiasm, excitement and energy," Kane told NHL.com. "He's fun to have around the locker room … he's a young kid, and I think when you watch him on the ice, he may be the smallest player out there but he plays like he's one of the biggest.
"He's in front on the power play, scores a lot of goals from in front of the net by tipping pucks and using his body. He's a huge part of the team right now."
Shaw was passed over in the 2009 and 2010 NHL drafts before the Blackhawks finally selected him in the fifth round (No. 139) last June. He enters Tuesday's game on a five-game point-scoring streak, during which he's totaled 4 goals, 8 points and a plus-5 rating.
"It was a little disappointing not being drafted those first two years, but I had no pressure on me after that and went out there and had fun and stuck with my game," Shaw told NHL.com. "Chicago liked what they saw and decided to draft me. At prospect camp I had everything to prove so I just went out there and gave it my all and they came back with an AHL contract. I didn't want to play in the Ontario Hockey League anymore and knew if I did my best, there may be a shot."
The Blackhawks signed Shaw to a three-year contract Jan. 3. At the time, his 12 goals and 21 points ranked third for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. His 80 penalty minutes ranked second.
"It's amazing," Chicago Vice President/GM Stan Bowman told the team's website. "He wasn't even on an NHL contract until around Christmastime. He was in the American Hockey League on an AHL deal, and we decided to switch him over. He played really well in Rockford the first few months and we thought we might want to utilize him in the second half of the year.
"In order to do that, you have to be on an NHL contract. So we converted his deal to an NHL deal, and here we are. He's got 11 goals in around 30 games and he's been a real difference-maker."
Shaw has 11 goals, including two game-winners, 19 points, 31 penalty minutes and 67 hits in 31 games. The loss of forward Daniel Carcillo, who had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee Jan. 17, has made Shaw a valuable asset for coach Joel Quenneville.
"He's been good for us in a lot of ways; we appreciate the way he competes," Quenneville said. "Offensively, he's got a nice set of hands and he gets rewarded for going into the high-traffic areas. He finds ways to get around the puck through positioning or with his hands. He's getting some assignments against top lines and his line (with center Dave Bolland and left wing Bryan Bickell) has been effective."
Shaw posted a career-high 54 points, including 22 goals, in 66 games last season for the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Owen Sound Attack. He ranked 11th in the league with 135 penalty minutes and was honored at the end of the season as the OHL's Hardest Working Player.
Shaw led all players at the 2011 Memorial Cup with 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in four games.
TORONTO – A season that once held so much promise for the Toronto Maple Leafs is drawing to a disappointing close with just six games remaining. A regulation loss on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight would officially end Toronto’s faint playoff hopes.
The Maple Leafs have lost a franchise record nine straight home games (0-6-3), part of a late season collapse that knocked them out of a playoff position and led to the firing of coach Ron Wilson.
Wilson’s replacement, Randy Carlyle, has challenged his team to end the skid.
"We have to demonstrate more will, pride, passion, because it’s gone on long enough," said Carlyle. "That was our message after practice yesterday, that it’s unacceptable to have the home record that we have right now. And that’s what we’re going to ask of our players, and we as a coaching staff have to find a way to motivate this group to play to a higher level. It has to start tonight."
Carlyle, 4-6-2 since taking over on March 2, has put his squad through a number of grueling practices in recent weeks and hopes to see that extra work pay off in game situations.
"When people go into slumps it’s usually hard work that takes them out of it," said Carlyle. "When you’re in pro sports, either a team or an individual, you go back to the basics and you go to work.
"We’re the ones that are responsible for our record. Now it’s time for us to make a statement."
Goaltender James Reimer, who will make his seventh start in eight games, refused to give up on the Leafs playoff hopes, no matter how remote: "We’re trying to focus on winning the game and keeping our chances alive," he said.
MONTREAL -- The Florida Panthers understand they are in the driver's seat, but they can't help themselves from looking in the rearview mirror from time to time.
While the Panthers prepare to face the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre tonight riding a 5-1-3 stretch in their last nine games, they are acutely aware of just how hot the Washington Capitals have become and how precarious their own hold on the Southeast Division lead is entering the final stretch of the season.
"It's hard not to (notice)," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said of the Capitals' 6-2-2 surge. "We know (Alex) Ovechkin's going crazy right now. But we can control what we can control. We have a three-point lead on them, we're not the ones chasing. So we control what happens to us."
The Panthers have not played significant games this late in the season in years, but securing the franchise's first playoff berth since 2000 is not yet in the bag. The Panthers have a three-point lead on the Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres -- who face each other in Washington tonight -- with a game in hand on both teams.
Still, there's a definite sense of anticipation brewing among the players, coaches and the fans of South Florida.
"Well, seven games (left in the regular season) equals a playoff series, so we still have work to do," coach Kevin Dineen said. "But now that we're in the final stretch, it's exciting. … It's an exciting time to be a Florida Panthers player and fan right now."
A big reason for the Panthers' solid play of late has been goaltender Jose Theodore, who arrives in his hometown riding a 4-1-3 stretch with a .947 save percentage over that span.
"I'd say he's been our team MVP at this juncture," said veteran center John Madden. "We have this belt we give out (for the player of the game), and we can't go three games without him winning it."
However, as great as Theodore's been, he has a poor history against his former team with a 2-2-1 record, 4.62 goals-against average and .861 save percentage in six career games against the Canadiens.
"His record against his previous team, for a guy with his experience, is probably one of the smaller factors," said Dineen, who would not confirm the starting goaltender for the game.
Backup Scott Clemmensen, who left the ice first at the morning skate, is 5-0-0 with a 1.65 GAA and .942 save percentage against the Canadiens in six career starts. It would be surprising if he didn't get the call for this one.
On the Canadiens' side, there is very little to play for other than being spoilers for playoff clubs and auditioning for jobs next season, as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention after Saturday night's 4-1 loss in Philadelphia.
WASHINGTON -- It's not that the Sabres are naïve to the situation. Quite the opposite, in fact. They fully understand how big Tuesday's game against the Washington Capitals is for playoff positioning.
The winning team will finish the night in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with complete control of its own playoff fate heading into the final five games of the season. The losing team will need to win and get some help over the proceeding nine days.
But the Sabres also don't want to overdo it on the hype machine. It's not their style, not what they're about.
"It's a big game for us, we know that and we don't have to hype it up more than it is right now," Derek Roy told NHL.com. "I think guys just want to embrace the challenge, have fun with it."
Asked if this was the equivalent of a playoff game, perhaps similar to one played early in a seven-game series considering neither team will be eliminated after Tuesday's contest, Sabres right wing Drew Stafford said yes, but …
"Every game has been a playoff game for us the past month," he told NHL.com. "It happens to be against the team that is right there with us, but we have been in this mindset, this mode for a long time because we needed to. We were that desperate, and we still are."
The desperation has propelled Buffalo to an 18-5-5 record in its last 28 games. More recently, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in their last eight games.
"We've put ourselves in a position where we're knocking on the door," Stafford said. "Each game is an opportunity to get points and we're trying to empty the tank in each game."
Buffalo will welcome Patrick Kaleta back to the lineup in a fourth-line role. Kaleta missed the last three games with a thumb injury.
"Pat has done a good job of killing penalties with good energy," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
Nathan Gerbe will sit for his seventh straight game with an upper-body injury. He returned to practice Monday, but Ruff said Gerbe isn't quite ready to draw back in.
"(Monday) was his first full practice and it didn't go as well as we had hoped," Ruff said. "It didn't go bad, but we just felt like we'd push it further along."
The Sabres hope to keep the good times rolling on their power play Tuesday. They are 6-for-18 over the last five games, including 2-for-4 this past Saturday against Minnesota. It was the first time the Sabres scored two power-play goals in a game since Dec. 26, when they beat the Capitals, 4-2, at First Niagara Center.
Buffalo's power play went just 10-for-94 in the 36 games that followed that win over Washington the day after Christmas.
"Pucks to the net," Ruff said when asked what the difference has been on the power play of late. "There's not a lot of pretty goals. When you go around watching teams, it's more that teams are doing a good job of getting some traffic and getting that second opportunity. Even the goal last game (against Minnesota), the first one, it's just (Marcus) Foligno off to the side and we're getting a decent bounce."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
WASHINGTON -- If Washington was icing a normal lineup with 12 forwards and six defensemen, odds are Buffalo's new shut-down line of Cody Hodgson with Derek Roy and Ville Leino would be responsible for Alex Ovechkin all night.
Washington, though, will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game, so Sabres coach Lindy Ruff figures his team is going to see a lot of Ovechkin on Tuesday, meaning the responsibility for stopping the red-hot Capitals captain will fall on more than just a handful of shoulders.
"We're going to need two lines," Ruff said. "They've got Ovechkin playing on two lines, they're double-shifting him, and he's playing 25-plus minutes. We know what he's capable of doing, and if you give him space and time, anything on the rush, he's a dangerous player."
Ovechkin, who played over 26 minutes in Sunday's 3-0 win against Minnesota, has been piling up the goals, with seven during his five-game scoring streak. He has 10 goals in 13 games this month.
Ruff thinks he knows why.
"He's shooting more," Ruff said of Ovechkin, who is averaging 4.38 shots per game this month (57 in 13 games). "He's shooting from a lot of different places. He's caught some breaks. When you shoot more, good things happen."
Ruff compared Ovechkin's run to that of his own player, right wing Drew Stafford, who has 4 goals and 12 points in the last seven games.
"Stafford is shooting more and he's shooting in some situations that he (previously) passed off, and more pucks are going into the net," Ruff said.
An obvious key to limiting Ovechkin's chances, especially off the rush, is keeping the puck away from him. The Sabres can do that by continuing their dominance in the faceoff circle.
Buffalo has won the faceoff battle in seven of its last eight games. Not coincidentally, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in those games, with a 29-16 edge in non-shootout goals.
Roy and Cody Hodgson have been the catalysts, going a combined 154-129 in the circle (54.4 percent).
"We've gone up against some tough faceoff teams and we've garnered the edge," Ruff said. "It's a big part of the game. When you're not chasing the puck around all night, when you can start with the faceoff, it gives you an opportunity to get it down ice and in the offensive zone. It's a part of the game that sometimes people overlook, but if you can get the edge in the faceoff circle you've got the edge in puck possession."
They'll need it against Ovechkin and the Capitals on Tuesday.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy, both of whom were hurt Sunday against the Devils, will be out for Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center. Lovejoy had knee surgery and will be out for 3-4 weeks -- a span that runs through the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Letang, who absorbed several hard hits during the 5-2 win over New Jersey, is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He left the ice a bit shaky after colliding with Dainius Zubrus in the second and also was upended by Ryan Carter in the third period, with Carter drawing a tripping penalty.
"Immediately, to look at his reaction on the ice, we weren't going to put him back on the ice until he's been checked out and cleared and wasn't having any effects from the hit," coach Dan Bylsma said of the head-to-head hit with Zubrus.
However, it apparently was the hit by Carter that put Letang out for the Islanders game.
Letang sat out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with a concussion that occurred when he was struck in the head by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, then missed another five games after being hit hard by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang was held out then for precautionary reasons after experiencing headaches and other concussion-like symptoms, but he was never diagnosed with a second concussion.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen will miss a third consecutive game with an unspecified injury.
"We feel confident putting these guys in the lineup," Bylsma said. "It's a playoff time of the year, and if it were a playoff game we'd be confident playing with these guys."
Despres has 1 goal, 3 assists and is a plus-5 in 16 games with Pittsburgh this season, while Strait has played in four games.
"You try to help them out, for sure," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who will continue to be paired with Brooks Orpik. "They've been here before and they know how the game is played. They're good players and they're going to do a good job. We can rely on them in a big situation to play some big minutes and, if they need some help, they know we are there for them."
Forward Matt Cooke likes that Wilkes-Barre plays the same system as the parent Penguins, a situation he believes creates continuity when a player is called up.
"They play the exact same way down in Wilkes, which is a huge strength for their ability to come up and play and have success," Cooke said. "It's our job as forwards to make sure we're making their job as easy as possible."
When Sidney Crosby returned March 15 after being out with concussion-like symptoms for three months, the same night Letang came back from the Nystrom hit, the Penguins finally had their lineup virtually intact for the first time this season. Until then, centers Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal had played together only 10 times over a 15-month span.
By winning Tuesday, the Penguins -- one point behind the Rangers in the Atlantic Division -- would be guaranteed of finishing no lower than fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The likely lineups for the first of home-and-home games between the Atlantic Division rivals, who also play Thursday night on Long Island:
Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer with 31 goals and 75 points, doesn't have a point and is a minus-4 in four games against Pittsburgh this season. The Islanders have only five goals in the season series; they were shut out 5-0 on Nov. 21, the last time the teams met in Pittsburgh, and 3-0 on Oct. 25. Pittsburgh has won all four games to date, also winning 6-3 on Dec. 10 and 3-2 on Oct. 27.
With 225 wins, Fleury is one away from matching Tom Barrasso's franchise record. His 41 victories this season are a career high and tie him with Pekka Rinne of Nashville for the NHL lead. Barrasso holds the club single-season record with 43 in 1992-93, when the Penguins won the Presidents' Trophy. Fleury is 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts, stopping 339 of 358 shots in those games.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Eighteen days ago, then-Hershey Bears goalie Braden Holtby allowed five goals and was pulled in the third period of a 6-1 loss to the St. John’s IceCaps.
Tuesday night, the recently recalled 22-year-old will start in the biggest game of the Washington Capitals season. The Caps play host to the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center with the teams tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and six games to play.
"I'm pretty excited for it," Holtby said. "It's a big game, but at the same time it's just another one. It counts as two points, just the same as all the others do. I'm ready to go into it with that mindset, but there will be a little extra motivation to have the team going and get a win."
While former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller will appear in his 57th game of the year for the Sabres, this will be Holtby’s fifth NHL start this season for the Caps. No pressure, kid.
"I've always been confident in my ability to be an NHL goaltender," said Holtby, who is 2-0-1 since his recall with a 1.29 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.
"Whether it's been some conditioning in Hershey or whatnot, it's been a learning process the last three years and I think I've worked hard with the goalie coaches here to make sure that I would be ready for an opportunity like this."
The Capitals' 2008 fourth-round draft pick had impressive NHL stints last season, going 10-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in 14 games, but Holtby had reason to believe that this latest call-up wouldn't last more than a few days.
Holtby was so sure that this NHL stay would be brief that he left his car at the daily parking lot at the Harrisburg International Airport. At $20 a day, "it’s collecting a pretty big paycheck there right now."
"It's funny, actually," he said. "I got told Saturday night [March 17] -- we were playing in Hershey -- to go up Sunday morning. And I was basically told, 'See you at the start of the week.' Basically, just go [to Washington] for a couple of days."
A couple of days have now turned into a couple of weeks and with Tomas Vokoun still sidelined because of a nagging groin injury, Michal Neuvirth, 24, and Holtby, 22, could play a major role in the Caps springtime fate.
"As for carrying the team into the playoffs, I really don't know how to answer that because I'm focusing on [this] game," Holtby said. "After this game I'm not sure what will be in store. I'd love to, that's the goal, obviously, for anyone."
Here is Washington's projected lineup for the game against the Sabres.
Notes: Capitals coach Dale Hunter is expected to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game. With only 11 forwards in a 3-0 win Sunday against Minnesota, Alex Ovechkin played 26:19 -- his second highest ice-time of the season.
Nicklas Backstrom joined his teammates for the morning skate, marking the 14th time in the last 15 days that the Caps' No. 1 center has skated. Backstrom has not played since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3. The Caps have won 17 of 38 games without Backstrom in the lineup.
Forward Joel Ward will miss his third straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the second straight game and for the seventh time in the last 10 games overall.
Vokoun took part in the skate but is not expected to dress tonight as he continues to recover from his groin injury. The 35-year-old has started just three of the Caps last 16 games dating to Feb. 22.
BOSTON -- Playing his first game for the Boston Bruins after missing 19 with a severely sprained knee, Rich Peverley barely missed a beat Sunday night in their win at Anaheim.
His 16:44 of ice time was just about his season's average, and he skated both on the penalty kill and power play in addition to his even strength time. Tonight he should be once again in the lineup when the Bruins host Tampa Bay at the TD Garden.
"I want to be able to play as much as I can, so that's good," he said after Boston's morning skate. "But [coach Claude Julien] still held me back a few shifts. So it's probably better in the end for that. But I felt good today, I felt good on that Sunday there, it was good to get in the game there."
Peverley said he felt better as the game went on and that he's pretty close to feeling like himself. The Bruins will need him and the rest of their players at their best, as they'll try to earn a three-game winning streak for the first time since December.
The Bruins are also looking to avenge a 6-1 loss they suffered in Tampa on March 13.
"We've made steps in the right direction [since then]," center Chris Kelly said. "That Tampa game was obviously an embarrassing game for us. I think if you ask anyone in this locker room, that wasn't our style of hockey. Give them credit, they came out hard and played well and played right to the final buzzer like they should have. We didn't show up at all that game."
Tampa Bay did not hold a morning skate because they played last night in Philadelphia. Vincent Lecavalier (hand) and Nate Thompson (upper body) have been skating with the Lightning and could rejoin the lineup as early as tonight.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer has opted to give Larsson, the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, a breather and will replace him in the lineup with recent call-up Peter Harrold.
"He's a young guy and it doesn't hurt to sit up and watch and take a step back sometimes," DeBoer said. "I think, since he's come back from his injury, he's had a few bumps in the road and struggled with some consistency. We've talked to him about that. It's getting to the point in the year here where it will benefit him to sit and watch for a night."
The Devils enter Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center having lost five of their last seven games (2-4-1). The club would not only like to clinch a playoff berth as quickly as possible, but start playing the brand of hockey that enabled it to reach this point in the first place. New Jersey has allowed an un-Devil-like 18 goals in its last five games.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get his third straight start between the pipes, is 0-3-1 in his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, in a victory over the Boston Bruins at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, feels Larsson can only benefit from watching.
"He's here for a long time and this is just a bump in the road in his progress," Brodeur said. "It happens with young guys a lot, especially when expectations are high. The depth of our defense has been challenged a little bit with Henrik Tallinder out and (Anton Volchenkov). That makes it tough on younger players with regard to how to deal with it. The games pick up this time of year … the intensity, the drive of teams you play against is higher and you have to step up, and that's one of the hardest things to do as a young player."
Larsson missed 10 games in February with a bruised lower back after taking a check from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In 64 games with the Devils -- he also missed two games for personal reasons -- Larsson has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating.
"You can't hide a defenseman, just like you can't hide a goalie," Brodeur said. "That's because defense is where you get exposed the most. For him, it's a matter of working hard. He'll be here a long time and he'll be back in the lineup sooner than people think. But right now, he has to realize he needs to step up a little bit, and that's fine.
"To be honest, I didn't really see anything that the coaches might have saw (with regard to his play). I thought he was playing alright, but they felt he needed that break."
DeBoer wants to see Larsson fresh and confident entering the postseason.
"You don't get to this stage by just jumping in … you go through a progression, and the progression when he came back from injury was to try and let him fight through some of the inconsistencies," DeBoer said. "But at some point, you have to take a different approach and that's where we're at. He handled it well in our conversation, and I'm confident he'll bounce back."
Harrold, who was recalled from the Devils American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday, will skate with Matt Taormina to start the game. In five games with the Devils this season, Harrold has no points and a minus-1 rating. He last played with the club on Feb. 24 in a loss to Vancouver.
Following their contest with the Blackhawks, the Devils will have three more home games, including Thursday's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two on the road. The club currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, has six games remaining and requires a total of six points to officially clinch a playoff spot.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not practice for a second straight day and will likely miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
While the Devils lose their leading hitter and shot blocker in Volchenkov, center Travis Zajac returned to the lineup on Sunday. Zajac, playing his first game since Jan. 2, notched one assist in his team's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He centered Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky against the Penguins, but was working with Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique during the team's full practice session on Monday.
It will mark the first time this season that Henrique will skate on wing.
"It'll be a little change for him playing wing, but he's a smart player and he'll figure it out quick," Zajac said.
WASHINGTON -- The Sabres are on the ice at Verizon Center in advance of Tuesday night's huge game against Washington for sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Both the Caps and Sabres are tied with 84 points, but Washington holds the tiebreaker and is currently in eighth place due to its 36 non-shootout victories. The Sabres have only 30, but they can make the tiebreaker meaningless with a win here.
Judging from the line rushes early in the morning skate, Patrick Kaleta (thumb) will return to the lineup and skate on the fourth line with Brad Boyes and Cody McCormick. Kaleta has missed the last three games.
Nathan Gerbe (upper-body) has also been cleared to play, but he was skating as an extra forward.
The Sabres announced on their Twitter feed Tuesday morning that Travis Turnbull was returned to Rochester of the American Hockey League.
Ryan Miller is expected to make his ninth straight start. He has started 28 of the last 30 games, going 18-5-5 over the span since Jan. 19.
The Sabres have one of the hottest lines in the NHL going right now with Tyler Ennis playing in between Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno. The Sabres' new top line has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in the last eight games.
Buffalo is 18-5-5 in its last 28 games. The Sabres made the playoffs last season after going 16-4-4 in their final 24 games.
Here are the Sabres' expected lines and defense pairings:
McGinn left as a solid third-line winger, but will return Monday night to HP Pavilion as one of the NHL's hottest players when he faces his former Sharks teammates for the first time.
McGinn has 8 goals (2 game-winners) and 4 assists in 13 games for the Avalanche. He has a pair of 2-goal games, and he reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career Saturday night when he scored on the power play against Vancouver.
Has he ever been this hot on the ice?
"Maybe in junior hockey," McGinn said after Colorado's morning skate at HP Pavilion. "It's nice. It's been a while, but I'm not going to think about it too much. I'm just going to continue to go out there and take every game like it's a new game and continue to work hard. I can't worry about that. You don't want to jinx it or anything. You just continue to work. That's all it is."
But after catching up with "a few of the boys," McGinn said it will be all business Monday night and he'll play the same high-energy, hard-hitting game he always does.
"You have to continue to play hard every night no matter who you're against," McGinn said. "It's hockey. Trades happen. You can be buddies off the ice, but once you're on the ice you've got to forget about it and worry about what's at hand. There's five games left, so every point's important. I can't take a night off."
McGinn has been getting more ice time with Colorado than he did in San Jose, which explains some of his newfound success. He's also a top-six forward in Colorado, and Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said McGinn found instant chemistry with center Paul Stastny and forward David Jones.
"With him and Jones on the wing you've got two bigger guys that hound the puck, that get after it on the forecheck, and you have a very smart centerman in the middle there who can make plays, distribute the puck to those guys," Sacco said. "Both wingers have good shots. Both guys use their size effectively, and when you have that guy in the middle who can make plays, sees the ice well, it's been a good fit for everyone."
McGinn didn't have a point in his first two games with Colorado, but in his third game he had 2 goals, including the game-winner, against Minnesota. Two nights later in a rematch with the Wild, McGinn had the game-winning goal and an assist.
"You want to be an impact player right away," McGinn said. "It's new fans, new teammates. You don't want to be coming in and kind of sitting back just watching. I want to be an impact player, I want to be a part of it, I want to be a guy they can look to to maybe put the puck in the net. I was pretty excited to get the first one out of the way early."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he's not surprised by McGinn's success.
"Well, he's a hell of a player," McLellan said. "He's having a career type year. He's scoring goals and he's given an opportunity to play a few more minutes there with a young team. He gets a little more on the power-play unit, perhaps first line power-play minutes vs. second. He went there, he established himself, and he's a confident player right now. And that's Jamie McGinn. We all liked him when he was here, and now our job is to go out and beat him when he’s over there."
Winnik started heating up just in time to face his former team. He scored a goal in each of the past two games, his first two goals since coming to the Sharks. Winnik, center Andrew Desjardins and winger Tommy Wingels have found some chemistry and given McLellan some offensive production outside of his top two lines.
"You can see that he's found a home and he feels comfortable there," McLellan said of Winnik. "Rewarded with a couple goals. We'd like to keep him going, as well."
Sacco said he's not surprised that Winnik is "popping in some goals here and there" for the Sharks.
"He's a good solid player. He's a good penalty killer, he's a good defensive foreward," Sacco said. "He's strong on the puck, he cycles it well. He gives you some good grind time. And I think with Winny, scoring is a bonus."
Galiardi, who has yet to score a goal for the Sharks, will miss his sixth straight game with an upper-body injury and won't get to face his former team Monday night.
After missing three games with back spasms, Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson will return to the lineup against San Jose, Sacco said, replacing defenseman Tyson Barrie.
Johnson practiced Sunday, and after going through Monday morning's skate, he said he was good to go.
"It was definitely hard being out," Johnson said. "An injury like a back, you kind of have to make sure you're ready to go. I didn't want to take two steps forward and then one step back. It was an injury that wasn't really fun to have, and especially this time of year, it was really bad timing for it."
Johnson said he's ready to resume his roles on the power play and penalty kill, as well.
"I feel good enough to play as much as they want me to," Johnson said. "I'll accept those minutes how they're given to me. Obviously you'd like to play as much as you can, and hopefully I can do that tonight and use the ice time effectively."
"Daniel obviously, as everyone knows, has got a concussion and we're following the protocol," Vigneault said after his team's morning skate, ignoring the fact no one else from the Canucks said so since Wednesday's hit, which resulted in a five-game suspension for Keith.
As for Sedin's timeline for a possible return, Vigneault didn't sound like he'd have updates anytime soon: "I'm not going to address this every day. He's got a concussion and when we've got something more to say, we'll say it."
While it's anyone's guess when Sedin will return, Vancouver could be getting a couple other players back sooner than expected. Utility forward Andrew Ebbett, who has 4 goals in 14 games this season, is practicing after having his collarbone broken in two places by a big hit in Boston on Jan. 7 and needing surgery to repair the damage. And defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, rejoined the team at Monday morning's skate. Ballard, who has been cleared for light contact after missing 22 games, is hoping to practice Tuesday, but wasn't close to thinking about playing in the final seven games.
"How he'll react next couple of days is anyone's guess," Vigneault said.
The same could be said of an up-and-down Canucks team that has been locked into the second seed in the Western Conference for a while -- they can clinch no worse than second and close within two of St. Louis for first place with a win over a more desperate Los Angeles Kings team fighting for its playoff life.
Vancouver will try to build off two-straight road wins and put a decidedly blasé 3-4-0 homestand in the past against a streaking Kings team that won six straight before losing to Boston on Saturday, dropping to eighth in the West -- tied with San Jose and Colorado, but just one point behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead.
Here are the expected lineups for their final meeting of the season:
Coach Darryl Sutter called the 4-2 loss to Boston one of the team's best games despite winning the previous six, so it's no surprise he won't change his lineup as the Kings open a tough four-game road trip that finished with an absurd Edmonton-to-Minnesota trip for games on consecutive nights.
"We know we have a chance to put a team that's competing with us out of the picture -- or almost out of the picture," Nystrom said. "It's huge. We're battling for our lives just like they are. You just have to win hockey games."
"We know what the standings are, we know what our position is, we know what we're trying to accomplish," Sheldon Souray said. "We'll take it one game at a time, and if it means going through Calgary and having one less team in there, perfect. Every night we have our work cut out for us, but obviously the fewer teams in there the better our chances are."
But a win over Calgary isn't all about ending the Flames hopes, according to Jamie Benn.
"We know what we can do, but the biggest picture is the two points and that's what we're going for," he said. "We have to keep climbing, keep playing our game, and hopefully have a strong push for the playoffs."
A strong push from here on out is critical if the Stars hope to have success given the proximity of how teams are situated.
"We're sitting in a position where everything is so ridiculously tight," Steve Ott said. "Their life is on their line. Our life is on our line as well. There are only so many games and so many points left in the season. The tightness is only going to continue to go until Game 82.
"If we continue to get points we'll figure it out by the end of the standings. It puts us in control of our own destiny."
It's something Stars coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching to his club.
"We've got to help ourselves," Gulutzan said. "Anytime you start worrying about those other teams they keep winning. We've really had to look internally in our group to make sure we get points. Truthfully in our locker room all we're talking about is getting points. We've got to get points in every game we play. We can't look around and watch scoreboards."
It boils down to simple math to Nystrom.
"If you win, you're in," he said. "That's the way it works the whole year. It's no different right now. If we win games we're going to be in the playoffs."
And if the team happens to dismiss a few opponents along the way?
"It's nothing personal," said Nystrom, a former member of the Flames. "This is my team. I want us to make it. That's just an opponent that's standing in our way. It's nothing personal against them. I want my team to make it."
CALGARY -- The playoff fate of the Calgary Flames is simple -- win out and get in.
Trailing the eighth and final playoff spot by three points with six games remaining coupled with having to leapfrog three teams, the 11th place Flames have set their sights on winning their remaining games in order to extend their season.
But the Flames can't win six if they don't first win one.
"We know we pretty much have to run the table, but it's with one game," captain Jarome Iginla said. "As far as the way we're thinking positively, we've been in a drought, but the tide will turn and we all have to approach it that it'll be tonight."
The Flames host the Dallas Stars, a team that took two points away from Calgary in the first of a home-and-home series Saturday. Another loss against the Stars puts the playoffs all but out of reach.
"The focus is to win tonight," Matt Stajan said. "If we don't win tonight, nothing else matters. That's our focus. We've got to be ready to go and treat it like Game 7 and go from there. The next game will be a Game 7, but you can't look past tonight."
A favorable schedule, Calgary will play the majority of their remaining games at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"We've got six games left," winger Curtis Glencross said. "We're not out of it yet. We have five home games and we have to take advantage of it."
"We have these games at home and we have this week at home," Iginla said. "It starts with tonight. We've got a shot, but we've got to win our own games. No matter how much help we get, we have to win our own games, and that's what our focus has to be."
Winning six straight is a daunting task for the Flames, whose season-high five-game winning streak in early March has given way to a five-game skid. Though they've earned points in three of their five losses, Calgary hasn't seen the win column since March 15.
“These last five games, we've went into them knowing how big each game is, we know where the standings are, and they haven't turned out well for us, obviously," Iginla said. "Now we just go play. As far as squeezing sticks, teams run into tough stretches where you have a hard time scoring goals. It turns. We need it to turn now. We know the time is running out and we need to get ourselves on a roll. We think it's going to turn."
It just has to start with one.
"The best way is to win one hockey game and we'll see what happens from there," Tim Jackman said. "All of a sudden you win two. Then you win three.
"We believe we can do this. We have the team. We just have to win one game and we'll take things from there."
Because if they can't, the Flames will find themselves watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Dvorak, who missed three games in early March before returning for three, is battling ankle issues that will keep him out of the contest.
"What a warrior," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Seventeen years in this League and getting shot up every night in the ankle to get through. He had some aggravation in the last game, so if we sit him here, that's four days."
Dvorak could return to the lineup as quickly as Wednesday in Edmonton, Gulutzan said.
"Maybe he can be ready for Edmonton," he said. "If not, we can go another two more and get a healthier player. Sixty-five percent when you have healthy bodies, it's easier to put a guy in that’s 100 and try to get Devo to 80."
Gulutzan is pleased with the impression Dvorak has left on his team.
"He's showing these guys what it takes to be a pro in the NHL," Gulutzan said. "I can't say enough about Dvorak. We have a young Czech kid, Tomas Vincour, who has matured probably five years from just the six months he spent with Devo. What a pro. He's done everything you want of a veteran guy for mentorship for young players. He's an invaluable guy for our lo