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Stanley Cup Final
Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals dealing with relentless Rangers forecheck

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the first two games of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, the Washington Capitals were quickly introduced to the New York Rangers' relentless forecheck.

"They buzzed us real good at the beginning of [Game 2]," Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said.

The consensus among Washington defensemen is that the Rangers are providing them with far less time and space than the Boston Bruins did in Round 1.

The Rangers are sending pucks deep, gaining the Washington blue line, and finishing their checks on whichever Capitals defenseman is first to retrieve the disc.

"I think that if we can get them slowed up through the neutral zone a little bit, and not let them come through with so much speed, that will give us a little bit more time," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "Then we've just got to go back a little bit harder. When they're coming hard on you like that, you've got to move the puck quick. They're coming. That's the way it is in the playoffs."

The Rangers had 45 hits in Game 2, with 37 of them coming from forwards. Ryan Callahan (eight), Chris Kreider (seven) and Brian Boyle (six) led New York in hits, marking a significant change for the Capitals, who dealt with defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as the heavy hitters in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"Sometimes you have to maybe cheat a little bit to get back or find a different way to get to that puck first because they come with so much speed and they always finish that first check that you're going to get hit no matter what," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "I think you've got to make sure that you're not getting thrown off by those hits and you just absorb it and get back into the play. It's a good forechecking team. There's not a whole lot you can do."

Far too often in Games 1 and 2, the Capitals were pinned in their own zone for long stretches, unable to overcome New York's forecheck and their pinching defensemen. Caps coach Dale Hunter says that more is needed from his backchecking forwards.

"They're a forechecking team and their D pinch," Hunter said, "so we just have to move the puck quickly. The key to everything is their wingers being good on the boards and chipping pucks out."

Added Wideman: "You can move the puck real quick, or get it off the glass, you might be able to catch them in the middle sometimes. But they come back extremely hard as well. … As hard as they come, we know we can't really make that pass to the winger because their Ds are pinching a lot, so we've got to just get it out, get it on the neutral zone and just try to get it on the forecheck."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:46 PM

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

Projected Game 3 lineup for Rangers

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers will likely roll out the same lineup they used against the Capitals in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Monday night when they take the ice for Game 3 on Wednesday.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also made it known he has zero interest in discussing the ice time of Caps star Alex Ovechkin.

"No, I don't really care either, honestly," Lundqvist said when asked if he noticed Ovechkin's 13:36 of ice time in Game 2. "I focus on my game and what we have to do and if he plays 20 or 10 or 5 or 30, I don't really care."

Rangers coach John Tortorella said forward Brandon Dubinsky, out with a lower-body injury, made the trip to Washington. He also said defenseman Stu Bickel, who hasn't played more than five minutes in the past six games and committed a turnover that led to a goal in Game 2, needs to be sharper or he'll find himself playing even fewer minutes.

"He'll be fine. He has to be," Tortorella said. "If he isn't, he'll play less."

With no changes expected, here's what the Rangers' lines and d-pairs will likely be at Verizon Center for Game 3 with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - 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

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:32 PM

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

Rangers bring road show to Washington

WASHINGTON -- The New York Rangers were one of the NHL's best road teams during the regular season, going 24-12-5 away from Madison Square Garden for a League-best 53 points.

That success has spilled into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers went 2-1 at Scotiabank Place during the first round against Ottawa Senators and will look to keep it rolling at Verizon Center for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals.

"I think our game is not a game that's relying on a lot of pretty, wide-open plays," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "When you play a certain style like that, there's a lot of things that can go wrong."

The Rangers can be described in a lot of ways, but pretty and wide-open will rarely be among them. They allowed 96 goals in 41 road games in the regular season, third-fewest in the League, and held the Senators to five goals in three road games during the first round.

"We have a foundation that is about the will and paying the price and playing a sound game we want to play," Rupp said. "I don't want to say that's easy, it's a mindset you have to have every night. It's much easier to resort to that than it is to making pretty plays all night."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 11:42 AM

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

DeBoer: Kovy return could be 'sooner than later'

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils were back at the friendly confines of Prudential Center on Wednesday less than 24 hours after unleashing an all-out offensive assault on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal.
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer gave his players a day off the ice and while talk of the big win to even this best-of-seven series 1-1 was fresh on everyone's mind, there was also concern regarding the status of forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
 
Kovalchuk missed Game 2 with what general manager Lou Lamoriello termed a "lower-body injury." Prior to faceoff on Tuesday, Rich Chere of the The (Newark) Star-Ledger reported that two anonymous sources told him Kovalchuk "has been icing a back injury, which got progressively worse in the last few days."
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer told radio station WFAN 660 AM on Wednesday morning that he doesn't know if Kovalchuk will suit up for Game 3. Kovalchuk is scheduled to meet with doctors today and a decision will be made at some point on Thursday prior to puck drop.
 
"I'm sure you're going to see him again in the series," DeBoer told the station. "It could be sooner than later."
 
Lamoriello told the media on Tuesday morning that Kovalchuk was injured at some point during the middle of their seven-game series win over the Florida Panthers in the conference quarterfinals. He said it got to a point where if he couldn't play at 100 percent, it wouldn't benefit either the player or team for him to be on the ice.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 10:17 AM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited on Caps' top line

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For the better part of the Bruce Boudreau era, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were fixtures on the Washington Capitals' No. 1 line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through nine playoff games under coach Dale Hunter, Ovechkin and Backstrom have yet to start a game on the same unit, and their shifts together have been limited primarily to the power play.

But based on line rushes at the Caps’ morning skate Wednesday, it appears a reunion could be in store on Washington's No. 1 trio.

In preparation for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC), Backstrom skated with the No. 1 line Wednesday morning, flanked by Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.

"We haven't [played together] much at all," Backstrom said of skating alongside Ovechkin since returning from a concussion March 31. "But we should know each other because we've played with each other for a long time [in previous seasons]. We've got to go out and do our job out there and make sure we get some chances and stuff, work hard and do all those little things right, too."

Ovechkin has two goals in his last five games, with Backstrom assisting on both -- the result of Backstrom winning a faceoff directly back to Ovechkin, who was able to beat Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist with shots from just inside the blue line.

Hunter said before Washington's first-round series against the Boston Bruins that he wanted more size alongside Ovechkin to help create space against Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

Brooks Laich fit the bill in Round 1, but against the smaller and more mobile Rangers defense, Backstrom provides Hunter with a different look. Backstrom will be counted on to generate speed with the puck through the neutral zone and find Ovechkin for open looks.

"I think we have good chemistry," Ovechkin said, "but when I played with [Brooks Laich] it was a good time for me and for him, too, I think. But right now I'll start playing with [Backstrom] -- I don't know how it will go, if we're going to play a whole game or maybe just one period or maybe one shift, we'll see."

Backstrom (16:18) and Ovechkin (13:36) saw career-lows in playoff ice-time in Monday's 3-2 Game 2 win in New York, but both are likely to play more in Game 3. Hunter has made it a point to match lines, and will have the home-ice advantage of the last change in Games 3 and 4.

"I'm just going to try to get the puck to [Ovechkin]," Backstrom said. "Me and Marcus are passers on that line, we know he has a good shot and we've just got to make sure he's open and then we'll try to find him. We'll all three go hard to the net and try to get goals."

Added Ovechkin: "I think we have chemistry, it's not a secret. He can control the puck in the neutral zone and skate and find me in open spots. He's a top center in the League, I've played with him and it's nice."

Regardless of history, ice time or matchups, the Capitals need more from their skilled forwards. Four of Washington's last five even-strength goals have come from their third and fourth lines, while top-six forwards Laich, Backstrom, Johansson and Alexander Semin have all gone at least five games without a goal.

Still, Hunter downplayed the significance of the line changes during practice.

"I don't know if they're playing together," Hunter said. "It's one of those things where they do know each other, but [Laich] has been here a long time, too, so it's just one of those things -- I thought I'd try it in practice."

The Caps' third and fourth lines remain unchanged, as do all three defensive pairings.

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
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 10:55 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers defy 'score first and win' trend

Scoring first is usually the best way to win an NHL game. Someone has failed to get the message to the Philadelphia Flyers and their opponents during this year's playoffs.

For the seventh time in the Flyers' eight games, the team that scored first lost. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they opened the scoring against New Jersey on Tuesday, but went home with a 4-1 loss in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

The team that scored first lost all five games in the Flyers' first-round series against Pittsburgh before Philadelphia closed out the Penguins after scoring the first two goals of Game 6. The Devils scored first in the series-opener on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime loss, but dominated the Flyers in Game 2 after rookie Matt Read's early goal put the Flyers ahead.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:24 PM

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

Kings aim for 60-minute effort in Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Little has gone wrong for the Los Angeles Kings thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there was one teachable aspect that they brought back home after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Kings jumped on the St. Louis Blues for a four-goal opening period, but they were outshot 24-5 the rest of the way as St. Louis got reorganized, although it was too little, too late to prevent a 5-2 loss.

L.A. reconvened at its home facility Tuesday feeling good about owning a 2-0 series lead. But the Kings know the last 40 minutes weren't the ideal way they would have liked to take to victory. 
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:21 PM

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

Report: Kovalchuk may have back injury

Ilya Kovalchuk
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 25 | +/-: -5
PHILADELPHIA -- It's quite possible New Jersey Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk may be suffering from a back injury that will sideline him for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.
 
According to Rich Chere of the The (Newark) Star-Ledger, two anonymous sources told the paper that Kovalchuk "has been icing a back injury, which got progressively worse in the last few days."
 
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told the media on Tuesday morning that Kovalchuk is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Kovalchuk's status for Game 3 will likely be updated on Wednesday when the team returns to New Jersey.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 4:12 PM

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

Del Zotto becoming bigger factor from blue line

NEW YORK -- Before the Rangers fell to the Capitals 3-2 on Monday night in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series that is tied at 1-1, they erased a 2-0 deficit and were a bounce away from forcing overtime.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was a factor in all of it, picking up a secondary assist on Brad Richards' goal late in the first period and firing a shot in the third period that deflected off the leg of Ryan Callahan and became a game-tying power-play goal.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin put his team in front with 7:27 left in the third period, but Del Zotto nearly tied the score in the final minute when his long blast rang off the post and deflected away from the net.

It was Del Zotto's second shot of the period that hit the post.

"He played very well," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday.

Del Zotto, 21, played 25:08 in Game 2, by far his biggest workload of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a sign he's earning more trust from Tortorella.

"Whatever minutes I get out there, I'm going to play my best," Del Zotto said. "I had some good chances and unfortunately I hit two posts there."

Del Zotto said he's grown more comfortable in his first postseason experience. In his first five games, he had just one assist but has three assists in his last four games.

"It's been fun. I've enjoyed every game," Del Zotto said. "I was happy with my game yesterday. It was a good confidence boost. But getting one late would've nice. But as it goes on, you get more and more comfortable and having more games under your belt definitely helps too. I'm just trying to be better every single day."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Boyle feels fine, wants to improve upon return effort

NEW YORK -- The good news for Brian Boyle after Game 2 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is that he felt no ill effects from a concussion that cost him the previous three games.

The bad news for Boyle was that he didn't exactly play his best game in the Rangers' 3-2 loss Monday. Boyle had one shot in 15:20 of ice time in his usual spot centering the Rangers' third line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, but he was beaten cleanly on a faceoff by Nicklas Backstrom and didn't get to the point in time to block Alex Ovechkin's shot that became the game-winning power-play goal late in the third period.

"I stunk. I have to be better," Boyle said. "I'm not going to accept that, and coaches won't either."

Boyle had three goals in five games during the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators, but none of that matters in the second round with the Rangers and Capitals tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series.

"That's a long time ago," Boyle said. "That's a different series against a different team. If I want to be a big part of it, like I want to be, I have to play better."

The positive for Boyle was he felt fine physically and the concussion was in the rear-view mirror. He tested himself right away during Game 2 and finished the game with six hits.

"Physically, I'm good," Boyle said. "After I got banged around, we had some physical battles, I wasn't thinking about it too much. It was good. No ill effects."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Quote of the Day

That's the biggest goal I've ever scored. It's a great feeling any time you do that, especially at home. We're one game away from a Stanley Cup berth. It was a huge goal and it felt unbelievable.

— Anaheim forward Matt Beleskey on scoring the overtime winner Monday to give the Ducks a 3-2 series lead against the Blackhawks