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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:52 PM

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

Gaborik back in Minnesota as Rangers cling to first

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.

Here's the projected lineups for tonight's game:

WILD

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

Marco Scandella - Tom Gilbert
Kurtis Foster - Steven Kampfer
Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

RANGERS
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Brandon Prust - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Michael Del Zotto
Anton Stralman - Stu Bickel
 
Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:50 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Montador returns, Toews skating

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:
 
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Michael Frolik
 
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen
Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Carter Hutton
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:42 PM

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

Projected lineups for Predators, Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for a Central Division clash Tuesday night between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators from Scottrade Center.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Scott Nichol - Chris Porter

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Kent Huskins

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

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.

The Blues' scratches include Andy McDonald (shoulder), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Roman Polak (knee), Ryan Reaves, B.J. Crombeen and Ian Cole.

PREDATORS

Andrei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Colin Wilson
Brandon Yip - Paul Gaustad - Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Kevin Klein - Hal Gill
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

The Predators' scratches include Martin Erat (upper body), Jordin Tootoo (upper body), Craig Smith, Brian McGrattan, Jack Hillen, and Jack Maclellan.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks' Shaw showing teams what they missed

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."
 
Teammate Patrick Kane agrees.
 
"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.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dennis Ryan -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Leafs playing for pride on home ice vs. Carolina

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.

Forwards Mike Brown (knee), Matt Frattin (ankle) and Clarke MacArthur (shoulder) are expected to return to action tonight, while Carlyle will likely dress seven defensemen.

Here are tonight’s projected lineups:

HURRICANES
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain

Cam Ward
Brian Boucher

MAPLE LEAFS
Matthew Lombardi – Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail GrabovskiMatt Frattin
Tim Connolly - David SteckelJoey Crabb
Jay RosehillMike Brown

Dion PhaneufCarl Gunnarsson
John-Michael LilesLuke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Mike Komisarek

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:25 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers hit home stretch trying to wrap up division

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.

Head coach Randy Cunneyworth confirmed Carey Price will get the start in goal for the Habs.

Here are tonight’s expected lineups:

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

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

Scott Clemmensen
Jose Theodore

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Louis Leblanc - Tomas Plekanec - Rene Bourque
Mike Blunden - Lars Eller - Ryan White
Brad Staubitz - Petteri Nokelainen - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Frederic St-Denis - Chris Campoli

Carey Price
Peter Budaj
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres keeping hype to a minimum

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


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres know full team effort needed vs. Ovechkin

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.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:52 PM

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

Pens down two defensemen, as Letang, Lovejoy hurt

PITTSBURGH -- So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins finally being back at full strength.
 
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.
 
With Letang and Niskanen out, defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait were called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to oppose the Islanders. Despres will be paired with Deryk Engelland and Strait will be with Paul Martin.
 
"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:
 
ISLANDERS
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Marty Reasoner - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Jay Pandolfo
 
Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew MacDonald
Milan Jurcina - Steve Staios
 
Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
 
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.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Steve Sullivan
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
 
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.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:39 PM

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

Caps turn to Holtby for showdown with Sabres

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.

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

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

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

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.
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Quote of the Day

I watched many times this year the series between the Russians and Canada in 1972, and he was a dominating player there. After I watched the tapes, I respect him a lot more because he turned the series around. He was the guy. In that time, he was the best in the world. It’s a big honor for me to tie him.

— Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr on scoring the 717th goal of his career to tie Phil Esposito for fifth on the NHL's all-time goals list after a 4-3 win vs. the Lightning on Sunday