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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 4:04 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Grossmann returns to Flyers practice

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann appears to be on the mend after missing Games 5 and 6 against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Grossmann practiced Thursday in a regular jersey, meaning he was able to take contact, for the first time since suffering what is reportedly believed to be a concussion in Game 4 against the Penguins.

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who is recovering from back surgery, skated toward the end of practice.

Also, Flyers forward Maxime Talbot was hit in the mouth early in practice and had to leave. His injury is not believed to be serious.

Philadelphia won't find out its next opponent until after the Game 7s are completed Thursday. The Flyers will face one of Florida, New Jersey, Washington or Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:32 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

In-season hirings Sutter, Hitchcock set to face off

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In addition to having teams that mirror each other in playing style, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter and St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock were both early-season hirings brought in because of poor starts under their predecessors.

Sutter replaced Terry Murray [and interim coach John Stevens] on Dec. 20, when the team was 15-14-4, and guided the Kings to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season. After nearly two years away from coaching in the NHL, Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and went a stunning 43-15-11 with the Blues, including a 27-5-5 record at home.

Overall, St. Louis went 30-6-5 at home, a number that has gotten Sutter's attention when he looks at the differences between his club and Hitchcock's, who are set to meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.

"They have 30 wins at home, and that's a significant number," Sutter said on Thursday before the Kings departed for St. Louis. "I don't care how you cut that. You win 30 games at home, that's something special. And if you look at seasons, both teams made coaching changes that have impacted how the teams play. I know Ken's style really well and he knows my style really well, and that's sort of where you leave it."

The two have a seven-year difference in age. Sutter playfully noted that Hitchcock was "a '51," meaning he was born in 1951 while Sutter is "a '58" for his birth year of 1958. But the two have similar backgrounds and paths to getting behind the bench.

Hitchcock grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta, not far from Sutter's hometown of Viking. Hitchcock began his NHL coaching career as an assistant in the 1990s and guided the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. Sutter started out as assistant and head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and later took the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Final.

The respect between the two is clear. Sutter, of course, isn't surprised by what Hitchcock has done with the Blues.

"It's a pretty good hockey club and he's a pretty strong leader, [with] a good veteran group and kids that probably just needed a clear focus," Sutter said. "Hitch can establish that in a hurry … that's what good coaches do. Guys who have coached for a long time, they can adapt, and they have a good pulse on the room. He does that."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Blues endured wait to learn when series would start

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Blues prepare for the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, the element of surprise was when it would all get started.

Both teams had to wait for the NHL to release at least a partial schedule, which came Wednesday, to have a better idea when to mentally and physically prepare for the start of the series.

It's tougher for the Kings, who traveled to St. Louis Thursday for Games 1 and 2. But as much as they want to practice, the Blues also were looking for a better idea of when to really get the game preparation underway.

"It's the first go for a lot of guys without knowing the starting date; I think that was the bigger distraction," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Having the down time, knowing when you're starting, players can plan their week. Not knowing in the first practices what day we were going was a little bit of a concern for everybody because you didn't know when to amp it up, how much to amp it up. You didn't have any idea.

"Once we got down [Wednesday] and we knew it was Saturday, then you saw even a bigger focus today. We had a very good focus today at practice."

For the players, staying even-keeled is key.

"You've just got to keep telling yourself that it's going to happen, just keep working every day," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I can't remember when we've practiced this many days in a row except training camp. This time of year, you just want to be playing hockey. I think we're all ready right now."

Now a plan can be put in place.

"I think we we knew it was going to come Friday or Saturday from the start," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've been getting some stuff done for L.A., but today and tomorrow are kind of the key days of practicing and getting ready for them.

"Now that there's a set day, we know it's going to be Saturday, it's a little nicer to plan your week out and get ready."


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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:18 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Halak ruled out for first two games against Kings

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower body) skated before Thursday's practice and is progressing, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, but is still ruled out for Games 1 and 2 of the series.

"He skated before the team at practice," said Hitchcock, who announced Halak not being available early because he didn't want it to be a distraction. "He's getting better. Not ready for the first two games, so we'll just see from there. ... We've got our two goalies and away we go."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 2:06 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Sens believe Norris nomination could boost Karlsson

NEW YORK -- As flattered and happy as Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson is to be a finalist for the Norris Trophy, he said it will have no bearing on how he performs in Game 7 Thursday against the Rangers.

"It's totally based on the (regular) season and has nothing to do with playoffs," Karlsson said. "(Game 7) is one of the most important games I've ever played, and hopefully I can play my best hockey today."

Some of Karlsson's teammates, however, believe getting the word only hours before the biggest game of his life could be a confidence builder for Karlsson, who has struggled against the Rangers with only one point in six games. He had 78 points in the regular season, clearing all other defenseman by at least 25 points.

"He's had a great season; he deserves to win the Norris," Ottawa forward Jason Spezza said. "To get nominated on the day of a real important game can be exciting for a guy. I don't think it'll be a distraction. I think it'll give him a little jump."

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean admitted Thursday that he was as surprised as anybody at how Karlsson developed this season. The still 21-year-old Swedish blueliner had 75 points in his first 135 NHL games from 2009-11.

"I just knew that he could skate real good," MacLean said. "I knew if we could get him to be active and to skate he could be a very good player, but I don't know if we felt at that time he'd be good enough to be a Norris candidate. He's certainly played well enough this season to be a legitimate candidate."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Rangers sticking with Game 6 lineup

NEW YORK -- Things went so well for the Rangers in Game 6 that they won't make any changes to their lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

The Rangers won 3-2 in Game 6 to force the deciding game Thursday.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brandon Dubinsky - Brandon Prust
Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Brian Boyle (concussion) will miss his second straight game.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Statuses of Carkner, Konopka cloud Senators' lineup

NEW YORK -- Ottawa coach Paul MacLean has a couple of lineup options for Game 7, but even if he has already made them he wasn't about to reveal the final decisions in front of the media Thursday morning at Madison Square Garden.

Senators defenseman Matt Carkner and forward Zenon Konopka did not participate in the optional morning skate after not practicing either of the past two days. MacLean, though, said both Carkner and Konopka -- who are believed to be injured -- are available.

Judging by the morning skate, if Carkner is unable to play then Matt Gilroy will likely take his spot. Gilroy was off the ice well before Mark Borowiecki, who has not played in this series and played in only two regular season games. Gilroy played over 13 minutes in both in Game 1 and Game 3.

If Konopka can't play, look for either Mark Stone or Bobby Butler to take his place. Butler played in Games 3, 4 and 5 while Stone was in the lineup for Game 5 only. They both came out for Game 6 because Daniel Alfredsson returned to the lineup and Jacob Silfverberg made his debut.

"I'm contemplating a lot of things at this moment," MacLean said. "At this point we're keeping our lineup options open. We're looking to ice our best team, the one that gives us the best chance to win the game."

With all the uncertainty about the Senators' lineup, it is impossible to configure their possible line combinations going into Game 7.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Rangers leaning past Game 7 experiences

NEW YORK -- Brad Richards not only knows what it means to play in a Game 7, but he has plenty of experience in what it takes to win one.

As a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, his club came away with wins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final, and Richards captured a Conn Smythe Trophy along the way. Along with Marian Gaborik, Ruslan Fedotenko and Mike Rupp, Richards is one of four current Rangers to win a Game 7.

That experience will be valuable with the Rangers facing the Ottawa Senators on Thursday in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"That's part of the process, is not losing your cool and channeling everything and using the energy in a positive way," Richards said. "I don't know how it will all work out, but everybody individually has to remember to do that and treat it more as an opportunity and fun and not think of any of the pressure or anything like that. There's pressure on both teams. It's Game 7. We both want to go on. We just want to have fun and enjoy it. It's a great time to be a hockey player when you get to play in a Game 7."

Several Rangers were part of the 2009 club that lost Game 7 to the Washington Capitals in the conference quarterfinals. The seventh-seeded Rangers held a 3-1 lead in that series before losing three straight to the second-seeded Caps.

This time around, the confidence level is different. The top-seeded Rangers are coming off a 3-2 road win in Game 6 and feel a lot better about their chances entering this Game 7.

"There's a little more positive energy in the group here winning the last game under pressure and going into this game compared to last time, when we let it slip," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "Once you're out there you're going to have the same feeling and approach it the same way, but right now I think the feeling is a little different, yeah, having won the last game under pressure."

Coach John Tortorella believes home-ice advantage is meaningless except for when it's a Game 7. He wouldn't delve into details, but said, "I just feel that we are at an advantage coming into our building for a Game 7."

The Senators probably feel differently. They went 2-0-0 at Madison Square Garden in the regular season and took two of three at MSG during this series. But the Rangers, who went 27-12-2 at home this season, believe all that goes out the window in a Game 7.

"We're in our comfort zone," Richards said. "I'd rather be here than anywhere else because it's comfortable. It doesn’t always mean you're going to win. It's still your building you've played in all year in front of your fans."

The Rangers are a young team with many of its players getting their first taste of a Game 7. Lundqvist said having the home-ice advantage -- and someone like Richards -- on which to lean can make a difference.

"I think it calms down a lot of guys to have been part of things like before," Lundqvist said. "They know what it takes. All year he has stepped up at critical moments and it just shows what kind of player he really is. Hopefully he can keep doing it here."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Devils want to replicate effort from last game

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The possible returns of goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison to the Florida Panthers lineup won't change much in terms of strategy for the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.

To a man, Devils players believe that if it can replicate the effort put forth in Game 6, when they outshot the Panthers 42-16 en route to a 3-2 overtime victory, they'll be in good shape.

"I would expect our approach to be like it was last game with a little desperation," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We can't afford to come out lifeless and without energy. We can't allow them to get the crowd going. If we play our game, we should be fine."

The last time Theodore was in goal, he posted a 30-save, 3-0 victory in Sunrise in Game 5.

"Theodore has played solid here against us and he's given them an opportunity to win," Devils forward Patrik Elias said. "But it's more about us and how we play."

When Garrison was in the lineup, the Panthers were converting at a 60-percent clip on the power play (6 for 10) over the first three games of the series. In the last three games without him, the club has scored just one goal with the man advantage on 13 chances.

"He a big part of their power play and we have to be aware of him," Parise said. "[Brian] Campbell likes to walk it down the wall and give it to him for one timers, so we have to try and take that pass away. Both those guys like to jump up into the play, but we've done a pretty good job of limiting them. One of their strengths is their offense from the back end, but we've done a good job."

The Panthers have gotten three of their 15 goals in this series from defensemen, all in a Game 3 victory.

Here are the projected lineups for the Devils in Game 7:

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

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

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 11:50 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison expected back for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Mums the word on who will start between the pipes for the Florida Panthers in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.
 
Well, sort of.
 
While head coach Kevin Dineen offered his usual post-practice soliloquy regarding how confident he is with the play of both goalies, keep in mind that Jose Theodore was manning the cage that the Panthers will defend in the first and third periods. He was also the first goalie off the ice, which is also a pretty good indication he'll get the nod as the Game 7 starter.
 
When Theodore is officially given the nod, it will be his second career Game 7.
 
"It's do or die," Theodore told reporters on Wednesday after practice. "These are the kind of games you want to be part of. I mean, everybody, when you’re a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that it’s Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So obviously it’s a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."
 
Said Dineen: "Jose has a tremendous amount of respect in this League and he's given us credibility and stability and deserves a start if he can go."
 
After posting his second career playoff shutout in Game 5, Theodore was suffering from a lower-body injury in Game 6 and was replaced in net by Scott Clemmensen. Both Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom were taking turns at one end of the rink during Thursday's practice.
 
In addition to Theodore, the Panthers might also welcome offensive-defenseman Jason Garrison back to the lineup. Garrison has been sidelined the last three games with a lower-body injury.
 
"It's tough watching regular season games from the stands, let alone playoffs," Garrison said after his team's morning skate on Thursday. "But I'm fortunate there's still a game left, so I'll try and contribute and help the team."
 
How confident is he that he'll start the game?
 
"I don't want to jinx myself, but it would take a whole lot," Garrison said.
 
Here is the probable Game 7 lineup for the Panthers:
 
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
 
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
 
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Quote of the Day

It is really special. I had a lot of friends and family here tonight, and for my first [NHL] game in here it was great. I played here as an elementary-school player in the city championships and this was my first time back. It was a lot of fun.

— Toronto native Brandon Pirri after scoring 2 goals for Panthers in win at Maple Leafs on Thursday
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