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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 6:35 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Brown's more than a hitter now

Dustin Brown has been one of the NHL's most prolific hitters since entering the NHL eight years ago. He's still one of the League's top thumpers -- his 293 hits during the regular season were second to Matt Martin of the New York Islanders -- but he says his style of play has evolved.

"I think my game has changed a lot from when I first came up," the Los Angeles Kings' captain said during a media conference call Thursday. "I'm a little more even keel."

Unlike a lot of big hitters whose usefulness is largely limited to their physical play, Brown has been a productive offensive force -- he's scored at least 22 goals in each of the last five seasons. Brown also leads the Kings in playoff scoring with 11 points, including six goals, and is tops among all players with a plus-9 rating.

"I still get my hits," he said, "but the flip side is that I'm in better position to get scoring chances. It's a matter of balance."

Like the rest of his teammates, Brown has been waiting since Sunday to see when the Kings would start the Western Conference Finals -- they've been off since completing a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues this past Sunday. The Kings learned Thursday that they'll begin their series against the Phoenix Coyotes Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

Brown conceded that he understood that arena factors and other considerations are responsible for the long break -- but to say he's ready to go now would be putting it mildly.

"Does it bug me that we have to wait until Sunday to play?" he said. "Yes. I'd rather play today, but that's the way the schedule works."
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:46 PM

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

Kings practice while continuing to play waiting game

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings are finding out the downside to their efficient march through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s kind of like a Tom Petty song: The waiting is the hardest part.

It will have been one week from their elimination of the St. Louis Blues until the puck drops on Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). The necessity of a seventh game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals on Saturday extended the time. L.A. has been back at practice for three days.

"From a player's standpoint, if we could play tomorrow, we would," captain Dustin Brown said. "Practice is one thing, a game's another, especially at this time of year. We're getting all the rest we need. But it's been a while. Not only that, these are exciting games to be a part of and we just want to keep going."

Coach Darryl Sutter is obsessed with schedule and his practice routine leading up to a series. The 5 p.m. Pacific start time for Game 1 means the Kings will likely practice in Phoenix on Saturday because Sutter won't have a morning skate on Sunday.

Sutter also thinks like a player, so he understands the challenge this week brings for him and his players.

"They're anxious," Sutter said. "It's normal, right? They're used to playing every second or third day."

L.A. is coming off an emotional Game 4 victory against St. Louis that propelled it to the conference finals for the first time since 1993. Sutter said the Kings have done well to quickly put it past them and focus on the next round.

He held an optional skate Tuesday, put them through conditioning drills Wednesday and did one-on-one drills Thursday.

"A little bit of recovery for some guys that are banged-up," Sutter said of this week. "Some of the older guys have two-and-a-half days without skating. You always wonder what that means. But quite honestly, you have communication with them and see how they feel about it. That's the most important part. So then you get back to practice and you reinforce some stuff. You reinforce Phoenix and what they've been doing differently."

Brown isn't worried about having to ramp up the energy and emotion after sitting around for a week. The Kings don’t need any more motivation at this point.

"It's one thing if we're sitting here after All-Star break, it's a little harder to get going for game whatever it is," Brown said. "We're talking Game 1 of the Western finals, so the emotion, the hard work will be there. It's a matter of knocking the rust off right -- the only way to do that is to get involved in the game."

Sutter, meanwhile, went to Dodger Stadium for the first time Wednesday night and was awed by the venerable venue.

"I'd love to go back when we're not playing because of all the history," Sutter said. "It's pretty awesome."

Sutter said he was a "huge" Chicago Cubs fan when he played for the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I like baseball and I like the history part, too," he said. "It was good to see that."
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:42 PM

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

Richards conflicted to see Flyers get knocked out

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards was somewhat conflicted when he watched the Philadelphia Flyers get eliminated from the postseason.

A former Flyers captain, Richards remains friends with his former teammates and still thinks positively of the city even though the Flyers traded him amid rumors of his alleged partying. The good memories are of those teammates.

"You always wish them the best and you never want to go against a team, especially when you have a lot of friends down there," Richards said. "It's a city that's given me a lot, so you always hope the best for them. Obviously we have a long ways to go before we even get there, but I know for [L.A. teammate and former Flyer Jeff Carter] and me, it would be a little bit awkward if we had to back there and play in the first year back. It would have been a little bit weird."

On the other hand, Richards gets to see his former coach Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils move on.

"I had him for four years in Kitchener [of the OHL] and how good a coach he is and how he got the team ready for them, and how demanding he is as a coach and how smart he is," Richards said. "I'm not surprised by that. They're obviously well-coached and they've stuck to their game plan to a tee. It's kind of fun to watch, how fast they were, and whoever plays them in the next round is going to have their hands full."
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 5:14 PM

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

JR: No surprise Rangers and Caps are going seven

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for "World According to JR" usually includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals coming up in New York on Saturday and the Western Conference Finals now set between two of the teams he used to play for, Roenick offered some of his thoughts on both.

A Game 7 in New York between the Capitals and Rangers -- no surprise at all. A Western Conference Finals that is starting in Phoenix -- big surprise.


I don't think anybody is surprised they're going to a Game 7 for a couple of reasons.

For one, I've been so impressed with the way the Washington Capitals have been able to flip the switch and go out there and play flawless hockey.

It's amazing what a hot goaltender will do for a team's confidence, for its psyche, for its energy. Braden Holtby has an attitude that runs right through the whole team. The Caps feel confident they can win every game. They feel confident their goaltender is going to stop the puck if there is a breakdown.

I don't think that is something they had all year. I don't think Tomas Vokoun lived up to that potential and neither did Michal Neuvirth.

Good for Braden Holtby. He is so much fun to watch.

On the flip side: The Rangers during the regular season, their big problem was their goal-scoring ability, which is why there was so much talk about them acquiring Rick Nash at the trade deadline. Well, they barely slipped by Ottawa and now they're in another Game 7 with Washington mainly because their goal scoring seems very limited.

The Rangers are a very good, sound defensive team. Their goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, is off the charts. And it's going to be up to Lundqvist again to backstop a team in Game 7 that probably won't score more than two goals.

That's a very heavy burden and pressure-packed situation for Lundqvist to be in -- but if you're going to have that situation I can't think of a better guy to have in net than Lundqvist because he's been doing it all year.

We'll see how it all works out, but it's going to be an exciting game. It has been the most fun series to watch in the second round. L.A. made it look easy, Phoenix made it look easy, the Devils looked great -- but here we have some real, true drama with Washington and the Rangers unfolding in a Game 7.

This is what the National Hockey League needs. This is what NBC needs. North America will get treated to a very important rivalry in a very important game.

As for a prediction, since the game is in Madison Square Garden I think the Rangers might sneak this thing out in overtime.


It's the battle of the sun states. I played in both markets, but I didn't have a very good experience in L.A. and that was mostly my own fault.

But to think that Phoenix is going to host Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals -- I guess I'm not surprised that they're there, but hosting it? The fact that they finished No. 3 and finished off the season as strong as they did to secure that ever-so important home-ice advantage for this situation, that's huge for them.

It's a great story. In fact, there are a lot of great storylines in the NHL these days. You have Holtby emerging as a No. 1 goalie, the Capitals playing as well as they have. You have Jonathan Quick securing himself as a superstar. You have Mike Smith, who is probably the only star now in Phoenix.

But both of these teams in the Western Conference deserve it. They've been wallowing in mediocrity for a long time, one round and out, and sometimes not any rounds. Phoenix has gone through ownership issues, attendance issues, but the Coyotes just continue to put a good, quality hockey team on the ice that battles, and it is paying off.

It's really nice to see the way Don Maloney and Dave Tippett have created something exciting to get behind.

But if everyone was talking about how Los Angeles and St. Louis would be the lowest-scoring series of all time -- well, I think this one between the Kings and Coyotes definitely could be.

I could be wrong, though. There could be a surprise or two coming. You never know.
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 4:44 PM

By Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer / - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils split on if they'll follow Rangers-Caps Game 7

NEWARK, N.J. -- By the time Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals ends Saturday night, the Devils will finally know whom and where they'll be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. But with four days off before that series finale even starts, not all of the Devils will be enjoying that evening watching on television.

"If I start watching the game, I'll start thinking we're going to play this team next. Then the next period I'll think I'm going to play the other team," said Petr Sykora, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000 and has no plans on watching. "I'm going to worry about my own game and myself. The next day we'll have a meeting about who we're going to play. Mentally I'm going to try to recharge and just get ready for whomever we play."

For younger players experiencing their first prolonged playoff action, the opportunity to watch the game seems more appealing. But don't expect them to hover around the television anticipating their next opponent.

"I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be at home with the game on, watching parts of it at least," winger David Clarkson said. "I might not watch the whole game, but I'll definitely watch some of it."

For one member of the Devils' staff, having the opportunity to rest and watch two teams battle for a spot in the conference finals is a luxury. But not because Game 7s are typically so exciting.

"Absolutely," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said when asked about watching the big game. "More with a coaching hat on than a fan's perspective. Every Game 7 is great, but from my perspective it's for pre-scouting both teams. So when we wake up Sunday morning we can hit the ground running based on who we're playing."
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer / - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils have spirited practice minus two defensemen

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who left Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period after suffering an undisclosed injury following a hit from winger Wayne Simmonds, was held out of practice Thursday in Newark, along with fellow defenseman Anton Volchenkov.

When asked about both defensemen, Devils coach Peter DeBoer described their day off as a "rest day" and said he expected them both to be available for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Devils went through a high-impact practice in anticipation of the next round of the playoffs, which will see them face either the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We had a work day today," said DeBoer. "I think you have to stay in the rhythm of pushing your bodies every other night. That's the NHL playoffs."

Zidlicky has six points in 12 games this postseason and has quarterbacked New Jersey's power play since being acquired from the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 24. New Jersey dressed just six defensemen for practice on Thursday, including Matt Taormina, who has yet to make an appearance in this year's playoffs and hasn't dressed for the Devils since March 27. Peter Harrold, who has not dressed since Game 2 against the Flyers, could be called into duty if the Devils found themselves short a defenseman.

Volchenkov was on the receiving end of a hard hit from Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo early in the Game 5 win over the Flyers, but managed to finish the game.

The Devils will hold an optional off-ice workout tomorrow before getting back on the ice for practice on Saturday.
Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 1:04 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Carlson shakes 'sophomore slump' during playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were flashes of the dreaded "sophomore slump" for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season, but he's picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey.

Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2010-11, his first full season in the NHL, teaming up with fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner to form the team's most trusted pairing, while also racking up seven goals and 37 points.

He finished this regular season with nine goals and 32 points, but his work in the defensive end eroded. Plus-minus isn't a tell-all stat, but Carlson's drop from plus-21 to minus-15 was jarring. Carlson did score in the season finale against Florida, but that ended one of two droughts of six weeks or more without a tally.

"I think towards the end of the season I started getting my legs back under me, felt a lot better about myself and my game," Carlson said. "I think it is just a progression thing. I was confident that I could do it and get back to where I needed to be and I think that I'm playing good now."

Carlson's play has been much improved this postseason. He has two goals and five points in the 13 games, but four of the points have come in the past seven.

He's also played more than 20 minutes in every postseason game but one, and more than 30 minutes twice. Paired every night with Alzner, they are again back to being Washington's shutdown pairing.

"He's been playing really well," Hunter said. "He's been physical and jumping up in the play and creating offense. But also they got a tough job of dealing with the top line every night. Him and [Alzner] are doing a great job."

Added Carlson: "I don't know. I think it seems like I'm getting some bounces, getting some breaks. It feels like I am seeing the rush a little bit more and trying to join the play if I can if it is not detrimental to my team."

Carlson did get a nice bounce in Game 6. His shot from the right point went off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and skipped toward the left post -- just where Jason Chimera was waiting for an easy tap-in goal.

He isn't the only young defenseman with elite potential to struggle at times during his second full NHL season. Montreal's P.K. Subban also struggled at times this season. So too did Los Angeles' Drew Doughty during his sophomore campaign.

Carlson does appear to have figured it out, and has moved on.

"It's over now, so it doesn't matter," he said.

Added Hunter: "I think every player goes through it; it's a long season. When it counts in the playoffs, he's been a horse for us."

Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 12:32 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Status of Beagle for Game 7 is uncertain

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said checking-line center Jay Beagle is "day-to-day" after missing Game 6 with lower-body injury and didn't say if he would return to the lineup for Game 7 against the New York Rangers.

"We don't know for sure yet," Hunter said when asked if Beagle might join the team for practice Friday.

Beagle didn't skate Tuesday or Wednesday before Game 6, but Hunter said before the game that he would play. Mike Vogel, senior writer for and reporter for Caps 365, reported on Twitter that Beagle was in the dressing room putting his equipment on but the injury "did not repsond as he and team had hoped."

Jeff Halpern replaced Beagle in the lineup. Brooks Laich said he didn't know Beagle was out until the team was on the ice for warm-ups. Beagle blocked a shot in Game 5 with his right leg, which is likely what caused the injury.

Beagle has become one of Washington's most critical players and one of Hunter's most trusted guys, often logging big minutes against top competition in this postseason.
Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 11:21 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Capitals don't let OT losses get them down

Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.935
The Washington Capitals are nothing if not resilient.

The Caps have lost four times in overtime during this year's playoffs, including a pair of excruciating losses to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals -- a triple-OT loss in Game 3 and a 3-2 loss in Game 5 in which they were 6.6 seconds away from winning.

But the Caps have refused to feel sorry for themselves. They rebounded from each of the first three overtime losses with victories, then did it again on Wednesday by beating the Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 -- sending the series to the limit and becoming the first team in NHL history to won four straight times after an overtime loss in a single playoff year.
Posted On Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 11:03 PM - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Border rivals begin duel on Monday

The Rangers host their neighbors from New Jersey in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final Monday night at 8pm ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
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Quote of the Day

He is, in my opinion, one of the best defensemen in the NHL and continuing to grow. I think his game, from an offensive standpoint, he continues to drive our offense... I think there's still tremendous upside for Oliver.

— Coyotes GM Don Maloney on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson