Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 11:17 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Preds turn into 'gang that couldn't shoot straight'

If the Nashville Predators don't get past the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Semifinals, their inability to capitalize on Grade-A chances in Game 4 will be a big reason.

Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
GAA: 1.85 | SVP: 0.946
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was flawless in stopping all 25 Nashville shots that were on net in Friday night's 1-0 win. But the Predators hurt themselves even more by firing shots that were off-target -- Nashville missed the net on 14 shots, including a handful of excellent scoring chances in the second period when the Predators carried the play but couldn't cash in.

No player symbolized Nashville's off-target shooting more than Patrik Hornqvist, who ended the second period having taken eight shots at goal -- and getting none on target. He had three blocked and missed the net on the other five, including three glorious chances that saw him hit a post, fire a shot over the crossbar and push a pass from David Legwand wide of the right post.

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 9:57 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX@NSH - 12:48 of third period

At 12:48 of the third period video review was initiated by the Situation Room in Toronto because the puck crossed the goal line. The referee determined that the whistle had blown and the play was dead before the puck crossed the goal line. No goal.

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 7:28 PM

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

Blues struggle against team that mirrors them

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The series has played out the way Blues coach Ken Hitchcock envisioned in that his team is running into a Kings club that has been dialed in since late February-early March.

L.A. had to come on like gangbusters just to get the eighth seed, and now the Kings' grinding style is perfectly suited for the playoffs against a team that plays the same way.

"I think we're getting done to us what we've done to teams all year," Hitchcock said. "I think we're getting it done to us. It's how do we react to this now?

"Everybody that watched the West saw this coming around 65-66 games. I think we all saw this coming. We saw it before we got here. The game 75 [on March 22] that was here was better than any of these games of these playoffs so far. We were on top of it. They were on top of it. It ended up 0-0 (the Kings won 1-0 in a shootout). … When we left the Staples Center we all said, 'Man, whoever gets that team in the playoffs got their hands full.'"

Said forward Jamie Langenbrunner," They're playing a very sound, smart, controlled game. They're forcing us to make mistakes and we've been the one to crack in every game -- and that's kind of been our calling card all year."

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 7:23 PM

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

Blues look for answers to keep season alive

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- St. Louis held an optional skate and most players practiced as the task at hand crystalizes for the Blues.

It's not only that they've lost games, but the way in which they've gone down is disturbing. St. Louis has not led this series since the first period of Game 1, and coach Ken Hitchcock had a telling quote about being in that unfamiliar position.

"We're not built for coming from behind all the time," Hitchcock said.

St. Louis seemed to take back Game 3 when it tied it at 1 at the start of the second period, but then disintegrated with more undisciplined play and poor goaltending and fell behind by two goals.

"When we do find ourselves playing from behind we tend to do things that are uncharacteristic of us and dig ourselves in a deeper hole," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said.

"We've only played with the lead once in the series and that was short lived. I think we've been a really good team all year playing with the lead. There's no reason things will change now. We just got to find a way to get that lead and carry some sort of positive momentum our way."

The Blues were still at a loss to explain the undisciplined play. They took roughing and slashing penalties in the first period of Game 3 and failed to make Los Angeles retaliate.

Getting a lead in Game 4 would help, but staying at even strength would also go a long way toward extending this series.

"It's huge," Colaiacovo said. "We keep shooting ourselves in the foot by giving then all the momentum. In a series like this we've got to find better ways to control our emotions and make sure we do stay out of the box. Those are some key moments in the game where we took some questionable penalties. Our discipline has to be a lot better in all areas of the game."

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 4:06 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils players having a blast during postseason

NEWARK, N.J. -- If you never considered how infectious winning was to a locker room, all you needed to do was listen to the comments made from the two sides involved in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils scored a 4-3 overtime victory over the Flyers in Game 3 on Thursday to grab a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes Sunday at Prudential Center.
What does Flyers forward Scott Hartnell think?
"I think everyone's frustrated. I know me, personally, I'm frustrated," Hartnell said. "Whether it's losing a puck battle at the wrong time or whatever, it seems like it's almost contagious right now."
Meanwhile, farther north and over in Devils camp:
"It's been awesome," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We're having fun as a team and having a blast. We're excited for everyone when we score … we're having a blast and that's making us play better. We're enjoying being here."
Patrik Elias, who snapped a six-game goal-less drought in Thursday's victory, knows exactly what Parise is talking about.
"It's a looser locker room and, in a way, we have the right approach, we're mentally committed," Elias said. "We're taking some days off, but we're still mentally and physically [engaged]. We're having fun and enjoying it."
Forward Ilya Kovalchuk and goalie Martin Brodeur credit coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants for providing the perfect setting this season.
"It's a great atmosphere … the atmosphere in the room is unbelievable and we enjoy playing for each other and that's very important to be successful," Kovalchuk said. "We know we didn't win anything yet. But we've played the way we expected to play, and we have a long way to go.
"I think Pete and his coaching staff has been unbelievable. We have great communication between coaches and players and the door is always open. We communicate a lot and it's made a big difference, and we have a great mix of guys who are all really excited to be in this position."
Brodeur, who turns 40 on Sunday, said it's been a while since stability has really set in within the locker room. Of course, he's referring to the fact that since the 2004-05 work stoppage, DeBoer is New Jersey's seventh coach in seven seasons, with Jacques Lemaire and GM Lou Lamoriello each holding the position twice.
"We're trying to build something together and we're having a lot of fun," Brodeur said. "It's a little more relaxed as far as guys being around and doing the things we're doing. We're well-organized, and nothing is hidden. It's wide-open and constructive all the time, and that makes it a lot different than before when maybe there was a little more private side when things were going wrong."
Brodeur feels that's a direct reflection of the coaching staff.
"Everyone has a part in that, but definitely the coaching staff," he said. "I think they put us at ease and don't try to embarrass. There's no blame and everybody wants the best of everybody, and that line of communication has been tremendous.
"As long as I've been in this organization, it's as good as I've seen it."
While DeBoer is ecstatic to hear his players are having a blast, he realizes times are a little more stressful right now for the men behind the bench.
"That's the difference between a player and a coach," DeBoer said, laughing. "[The players] should be having fun. They shouldn't be thinking about anything other than showing up and executing and being ready to play their next game. When they have down time, they should enjoy their down time. It's a different mindset with [coaches]. That's why it's a lot more fun to be a player."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 2:52 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Being merely good wasn't good enough for Coyotes

NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes played pretty well for about 58 1/2 minutes Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena. Some nights, that will be enough to mask a couple of glaring errors in the other 90 seconds or so.

A road game in the Western Conference Semifinals is not just "some nights," though. The Nashville Predators took advantage of the Coyotes during that blip and captured a 2-0 victory in Game 3.

Phoenix has another chance to assert its control of this series Friday night in Game 4, but the Coyotes want to limit the gaffes and apply more pressure in the offensive zone.

"We've talked about it. We didn't play a bad game. We were OK, but OK isn't going to win on the road in the playoffs. We have to be better than that," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said Friday morning. "We gave them ... both goals were not normal mistakes that we've had throughout the playoffs, and we've got to limit them. If we can limit those and play the game that we want to play -- a little bit harder, a little bit more direct at the net. If we do that, good things should happen."

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said he wasn't expecting to make any lineup changes after Game 3, but also didn't rule it out. One missing guy who isn't expected to return is Lauri Korpikoski, who has been absent for the past two contests in this series with an undisclosed injury.

Center Boyd Gordon did not skate Thursday at practice or Friday during a very optional morning workout, but if Tippett does make a change, it could be if he was unable to play after blocking a Shea Weber slap shot at close range Wednesday.

"There's adjustments to make, but we’ve got some healthy people and some non-healthy people," Tippett said. "We'll look at all the options. I'm not ruling out a change, but right now it looks like it will be the same."

Tippett made it clear Thursday that goaltender Mike Smith was not the primary player at fault when Nashville's David Legwand scored after Smith's pass behind his net was intercepted. The second goal came after Martin Erat stripped the puck from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has probably been Phoenix's top defenseman in this postseason, and set up Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher for a 2-on-0 at point-blank range.

Phoenix missed its own opportunities. Rostislav Klesla hit the far post with a shot during an odd-man rush, and the Coyotes squandered a 5-on-3 in the third period.

"There's some areas that we can clean up," Tippett said. "I thought the two goals we made some mistakes, and I would classify those as unearned chances for them, so there's some areas you got to clean up. There's always subtle little tweaks here and there to grab an advantage. If you take those two goals out, it was a pretty tight game. You're looking for a player to make a big play, or a line to have a great shift.

"There's ways to win. We've been a pretty good club at finding ways to win in tight situations. We just have to try to get back to that."

Here’s what the Coyotes lineup could look like for Game 4:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Kyle Chipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

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

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 2:20 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor / - World According to JR

JR: Kings are rolling at the right time

If we've learned one thing in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's that there is no home-ice advantage anymore. Yes, one second-round series has seen the home team win each of the first three games entering Friday, but road teams have still won 60 percent of the games in the playoffs this spring. That is down slightly from 65 percent in the first round.

If we're going to talk about home-ice disadvantage, we need to talk about the Los Angeles Kings, who are 5-0 on the road and 7-1 overall in the postseason. In order to win the Stanley Cup, you need a team that gels and goes on a roll at the right time. I don't think there is a team in the National Hockey League right now that fits that description better than the Kings. They snuck into that eighth spot at the end of the year when it looked like they could possibly miss the playoffs. Then they started Game 1 against Vancouver, with nobody giving them a chance to win, which made them a dangerous team. When you have no expectations and everybody is expecting you to lose, you can just play hard and prove everyone wrong. That’s a good situation to be in.

I don't think there is a team in the League that is working in all facets of the game harder than the Kings in all three zones. Their feet are moving faster than anybody else's, their positioning is bang on, their puck movement has been fantastic. Defensively, they've been sound and their goaltender is the best goaltender in the National Hockey League right now, bar none. Nobody even close.

I've watched Jonathan Quick and his mechanics are so sound. His concentration on the puck is so intense and I don't see the kid breaking. With the way he is playing, he is very quickly moving himself up to the superstar level in the National Hockey League. It's always nice to see an American kid do well in the National Hockey League and I'm biased to the New England area because I grew up there. You like seeing guys who come from the United States system do really well and I think Quick is the upper echelon of American hockey right now.

A lot of it has to do with Darryl Sutter and what he implemented coming into Los Angeles. His mentality has been, "Listen, we're going to do it my way and we're going to do it hard or you're not going to play."

Whether he has scared the guys into doing it or the respect is naturally there for Darryl Sutter, this team is clicking at the exact right time. They're 7-1 in the playoffs, they haven't lost a game on the road yet, and they're doing it against two teams that everyone thought would blow them out. Not only are they doing it, but they're making it look easy.

Bringing in Sutter was a turning point for this team, but they also brought in Jeff Carter at the NHL Trade Deadline, a guy who has been a proven goal scorer for a long time. Dean Lombardi needed a goal scorer. The Kings were No. 30 in scoring for most of the season and ranked No. 29 by the end of the season.

When you need something and your GM goes out and fills that void, that sends a message to your team. Especially with a guy like Carter, who has a big salary. That shows dedication from management.

The guy some people thought the Kings might trade at the deadline, Dustin Brown, has also raised his game. I've played with Dustin and I've watched him for the last three or four years, but this is the best I've seen him play. And when your captain does that, everyone else has to follow.

One last thing that people don't understand is that the Kings have a great fan base. Staples Center is not a very cozy arena to play in because it's so vast and so big, but the Kings pack it every single game. People in that area don't get enough credit for the support they give the Kings. Before this year, the Kings hadn't had too much playoff success, yet their fans continued to come back day in and day out. I don't think there were any empty seats when I played there in 2005-06 and there haven't been any in the last couple of years.

That great fan base is important now that the Kings are playing the way they are.
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:44 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Hornqvist capitalizing on additional ice time

NASHVILLE -- Even before he was moved up to the Predators' second line when Alexander Radulov was held out of the lineup in Game 3 for violating team rules, right wing Patric Hornqvist started earning more ice time.
It’s a statement about Nashville's depth that coach Barry Trotz could take a player who led the team in goals with 27 during the regular season and put him on the third line for the first seven games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hornqvist admits that being on the third line changed his role somewhat to be more of a checking one than a scoring one.
"If you're on the third or fourth line, you have to make sure you don't get scored on," Hornqvist said. "Of course you want to create some offense, but first thought is always not to get scored on, and I think we did a really good job against Detroit (in the first round). Our line, we didn't get scored on, so, plus-3. Now, I just have to get on the board here, and think we really get going last game, so hopefully we can do the same here tonight."
Hornqvist has one goal in eight games so far, but his three assists in this Western Conference Semifinal series with Phoenix lead the team. He also was on ice for the Preds' first goal in Game 3, as his forechecking set up his linemates for the score, even though he did not earn an assist on the play.
Trotz said he has begun to increase Hornqvist's ice time. The Swede did not play more than 15:49 in the first round but has topped 16:29 in each of the first three games of this round, including 20:18 in Game 1, which went to overtime.
"I just think Patric is one of those guys who is capable of elevating his play all the time, and he is one of the most caring players that you'll find," Trotz said. "He is full of energy. He brings everything he's got every night, and when it's playoff time he brings a different level. I just felt that he needed to move up and be a bigger part of our success."
Trotz admitted that Hornqvist's ice time suffered as he was trying to get more time for others. That would be the late-season arrivals of Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.
"I think I can't really control my ice time, that's about the coaches," Hornqvist said. "Against Detroit, I didn't play that much and I didn't play that good, and now this series I'm playing better and I play more. It's all about me, if I play good he put me out there."
While no one on the Preds would want to say it aloud, Hornqvist is perhaps the primary beneficiary of Radulov's being out of the lineup. He is the only change to Nashville's second line, which is centered by David Legwand and has Gabriel Bourque at left wing.
"I think we have a good line," Hornqvist said. "We play together before Rads come here and play really good. We have to get on our forecheck and get the puck deep and work their (defense). I think we did a great job with that last game."
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers lines at Friday's practice

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers had a different look to their lines in their first practice Friday since winning in triple overtime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Capitals.

The Rangers hold a 2-1 best-of-seven series which will continue Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center in preparation for Game 4 (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC). This is what coach John Tortorella showed at their final practice before Game 4:

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

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

Henrk Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps back at practice knowing season not over yet

Despite what Brooks Laich thought when he woke up Thursday morning, the Capitals are still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I woke up and for some reason I thought the season was over. I had a deep sleep, a long, deep sleep," Laich told reporters after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. "I woke up and thought the season was over. And it refreshed in my mind: we only lost one hockey game and it's two to one [in the series]. We're still in a good position."

The Capitals returned for a full practice Friday, two days after losing 2-1 in triple overtime to the Rangers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Despite losing a marathon game on home ice, the wind isn't out of the players' sails. They know they were in this position in the first round against the Boston Bruins and rallied to win the series in seven games.

"We're in the same position we were in, in round one," Laich told reporters. "Somebody's going to win that hockey game and somebody's going to lose. Unfortunately we didn't win it; all it's going to do is motivate us more to win Game 4."

Coach Dale Hunter didn't have any changes in his lineup at practice from what he used in Game 3. Here's what the lines looked like Friday:

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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Quote of the Day

Sick. I said a couple of bad words in Russian, but I said, 'Sick.'

— Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov on Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal in Game 2 against Rangers on Saturday