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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Madden happy to get shot with Panthers

CHICAGO -- He's 38 years old now and the phone just wasn’t ringing when the season started.

So John Madden kept training three days a week and also watched a lot of hockey while he patiently waited for some team to call about him playing center for them. That team was ultimately the Florida Panthers, who signed him on Jan. 4 to man the middle of their third line -- but not before the silence of his phone got him thinking about his career.

Madden won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks and then signed last season as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild before heading out into the open mark again last summer.

Did he think his playing days might be over at any point?

"Oh, for sure," Madden said. "It's a new game and a lot of teams are going with young, talented kids and seeing what they've got. Reluctantly I thought it might be the end of the line, but I told myself it wasn't and tried to stay in shape the best I could -- even though I thought the writing was on the wall, so to speak. I was glad to get a phone call from (Panthers GM Dale Tallon)."

While he waited for that call, Madden worked out three days a week on the ice and several days a week off ice -- also watching a lot of hockey and wondering why certain teams hadn't called his agent.

"I think that's the part that hurt the most," Madden said. "I'm not being conceded or anything like that, but having watched a lot of the hockey games this season -- and for some reason I've watched more hockey this year than I have my entire life, at least two or three games a night and possibly seven a week -- yeah, those thoughts went through my mind. I was thinking, 'I know I could still play,' and I still wanted to play. That's the biggest part. You know you've had enough when you don't want to play anymore."

Madden hadn't reached that point yet, but he was getting close after busting his tail in workouts and not having a guarantee that it would pay off at all.

"It's hard to just go at it by yourself," said Madden, who only spent one season in Chicago and won two other Cup titles with the New Jersey Devils. "I never really thought it would be that hard, but the motivation has to be there within yourself in order to get up and do it every single day. There was no guarantees. It's not like you're going to training camp. That was a hard thing I had to fight though on most days, but I stayed with it somewhat."

Madden has yet to register a point for the Panthers in the five games he's played, but he's won 52.1 percent of his faceoffs and logged 14:33 of ice time per game.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 4:58 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ducks sign Beauchemin to three-year extension

The Anaheim Ducks have signed defenseman Francois Beauchemin to a three-year contract extension. Terms of the deal were not released, but the Orange County (Calif.) Register is reporting the deal to be worth a total of $10.5 million.

Beauchemin, 31, would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer.

With the Ducks sitting 13th in the Western Conference, 13 points behind eighth-place Colorado, it was thought Beauchemin would be an appealing candidate for a team looking for help on the blue line.

"Francois is a dedicated, versatile and hard-working defenseman who is committed to our organization," said Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. "We are extremely pleased to have him under contract for the next three years."

Beauchemin has 18 points in 41 games, and leads the team in ice time per game at 25:44. He also leads the team with 95 blocked shots and is third with 88 hits.

In eight seasons with the Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Ducks and Maple Leafs, Beauchemin has 151 points in 454 games. He was part of the Ducks' Stanley Cup winners in 2007, and after signing as a free agent with the Maple Leafs in July 2009 he was traded back to the Ducks on Feb. 9, 2011 for forward Joffrey Lupul and defenseman Jake Gardiner.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 3:05 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Happy homecoming for some Panthers

CHICAGO -- The reunion of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks began in earnest Thursday in the Windy City with a dinner between some current Hawks and now Florida Panthers.

It will continue today at the United Center, when Florida's Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Brian Campbell will return to the Madhouse on Madison for the first time as visitors since they celebrated that Cup title in 2010.

Versteeg, in fact, is one of the few from that team who never had seen the Cup banner in the rafters until this morning at the Panthers' practice; the last time he'd been inside the arena was Game 5 of the 2010 Cup Final.

Now he's back, along with a host of other former Hawks -- and their presence gives this matchup a unique feel.

"It's going to be like an inter-squad scrimmage," said Versteeg, who took a few moments before taking the this morning to remember what it was like when he was part of the most talented young teams in the League. "I didn't get to see the banner raised last year and it's the first time I got to see the banner, so it was a pretty neat experience just seeing what you accomplished with a team. I'm excited about the game tonight, though. I'm excited to really get this thing going."

Here is how the lineups might look like tonight for the Blackhawks and Panthers:

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall - John Madden - Matt Bradley
Krystofer Barch - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.

BLACKHAWKS
Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Andrew Brunette - Dave Bolland - Jimmy Hayes
Ben Smith - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Ray Emery will start in goal, with Corey Crawford the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Injured forward White skates for Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Montreal Canadiens forward Ryan White, out all season with a sports hernia that occurred during training camp, took part in an optional morning skate Friday.
 
It was the first time in four months that White has skated with his teammates. Earlier this week, White did conditioning work -- wind sprints and endurance drills -- with team strength coach Pierre Allard.

"It's a step in the right direction," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We've been leaning on him physically and working hard to get his conditioning up, and it's all about that at this point."

After getting hurt during camp, White underwent surgery in October. The Canadiens haven't set a return date for White, who had 2 goals and 3 assists in 27 games last season. He also had a pair of assists in 16 games in 2009-10.
 
"He's going to continue to get sharper, getting conditioned, and we want to see that great conditioning when he comes back," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Gill knows how quick things can turn

PITTSBURGH -- Hal Gill knows it’s too early to give up on a season.
 
Amid rumblings in Montreal that the Canadiens should start weighing which players to shed at the trading deadline as they rebuild for the future,  Gill offered a history lesson -- one from not so long ago -- upon returning to Pittsburgh on Friday.
 
The Canadiens are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games heading into an important weekend in which they play at Pittsburgh tonight and at Toronto on Saturday. But, as Gill reminded, a season that looks to be lost can be salvaged -- even if it can’t happen in the span of a few games.
 
The Penguins, as Gill reminded, were 27-25-5 in mid-February 2009 before Dan Bylsma took over as coach. At the time, there was trepidation in Pittsburgh that a team led by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might miss the playoffs.
 
Instead, the Penguins finished with an 18-3-4 surge that not only got them into the playoffs, but earned them home-ice advantage in the first round, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
 
”I’ve been in that situation before where time isn’t on your side, and somehow you win a game, win a game and the next thing you know you’re back in the playoffs,” Gill said.
 
The Canadiens have been without the injured Scott Gomez (groin), Brian Gionta (biceps), Andrei Markov (knee) and Ryan White (hernia) for all or part of the season, but Gill insisted there’s still time to get Montreal’s fans excited.
 
Start looking ahead to next season? No, Gill said, the Canadiens simply must look ahead only to their next game.
 
“You go out and play one game tonight and try to do everything you can to get that win and go on to the next game,” he said. “I don’t think you can look long term. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to take one step at a time.”
 
Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Gill said it takes chemistry and a team that believes in what its coach is telling it to do.
 
“We found a way to click (in ’09), did some different things,” Gill said. “It wasn’t like, 'Hey, we’ve got to get this many points (to make the playoffs),’ it was, 'We’ve got to win tonight.’"
 
Like those 2008-09 Penguins, the Canadiens made a coaching change by firing Jacques Martin on Dec. 17 and elevating former assistant Randy Cunneyworth to interim coach for the rest of the season. Since the move, the Canadiens are 4-9-1.
 
With the idea of getting an energized team off to a fast start, Cunneyworth held an optional morning skate Friday at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins are coming off a 4-1 road victory against the New York Rangers on Thursday, during a week in which they play four games in six days.
 
“We know Pittsburgh is a good team," said Cunneyworth. "They played last night, so we want to come at full force and get off to that good start."
 
Finding a way to slow down NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin – he has seven goals in four games –greatly would boost Montreal’s chances of winning. Gill knows from experience how difficult that can be.
 
“They’ve got a pretty good system that they play and they all buy into it and when they’re going, they roll four lines and things happen for them,” Gill said. “They play responsible and let their skill go when they get in the offensive end. … You have to be aggressive when you can (with Malkin), but if you’re lunging or cheating, he’ll take advantage of it. He’s a guy we obviously have to watch for and play hard on him.”
 
Peter Budaj, who stopped 29 of 30 shots while beating the Rangers 4-1 on Sunday, will be in goal for the second time in 12 games as Carey Price sits out. Price is 0-3-1 in his last four starts, 15-17-8 overall and 7-6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh.
 
Cunneyworth doesn’t expect any carryover from the Max Pacioretty hit Nov. 26 that left Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with a broken nose and a concussion. Letang didn’t return until Thursday night in New York.
 
Pacioretty was suspended three games for his hit to Letang’s head. This will be the first time the teams have met since then.
 
“I think they’ve discussed it; it’s a hockey play that occurred, the League dealt with it,” Cunneyworth said. “I don’t think anybody is interested in that kind of thing, but obviously if someone wants to press the issue, we’ll take care of it.”
 
Here's what the Canadiens’ lineup likely will be when they face the Pens for the third time this season:
 
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin
 
Peter Budaj will start in goal, with Carey Price the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:25 PM

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

Pittsburgh always feels like home to Cunneyworth

PITTSBURGH -- No matter how well or poorly his team is playing, Randy Cunneyworth enjoys coming to Pittsburgh.
 
Even if the Penguins' almost-new-home wasn't his home.
 
Cunneyworth, now the Montreal Canadiens' coach, enjoyed the four best offensive seasons of his NHL career while playing with Pittsburgh from 1985-89 -- the period in which the Penguins transformed themselves from the League's worst team into a contender.
 
It wasn't a coincidence that he had point totals of 45, 53, 74 and 44 while playing on a team led by Mario Lemieux, then a rising star in his early 20s. Cunneyworth never had more than 36 points in a season while playing elsewhere.
 
"Just being amongst a great group of guys," Cunneyworth said Friday, referring to his best memory of playing in Pittsburgh. "Mario Lemieux was one of the best players in hockey. It was great to play alongside him. He allowed me to get some pretty good numbers."
 
Cunneyworth, whose team played the Penguins on Friday night, wasn't the only player whose standout seasons came with No. 66 as a teammate.
 
"I always tell the story that when two guys jumped on his back, I always followed him and put in a couple of the rebounds he couldn't score," Cunneyworth said.
 
Of the 189 goals that Cunneyworth scored in an NHL career that stretched from 1981-99, 101 came during those four seasons playing in the Penguins' former home, the Civic Arena.
 
That arena, which sits across the street from Consol Energy Center, is currently being demolished to make way for an urban redevelopment project.
 
"That silver building across the street, there's a lot of fond memories there," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:25 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars look to rebound from tough week vs. Lightning

DALLAS -- It has been a fairly tough week for the Dallas Stars. On Monday night, Dallas fell 1-0 to St. Louis and the next night, saw itsrecord fall to 0-6-1 in the second game of a back-to-back with a shootout loss at home to Detroit.

Add in a tough 2-1 loss to Colorado last Saturday and Dallas (24-19-2, 50 points) is currently riding a three-game winless streak. As the Stars near the All-Star break, they know they need to start getting full points and tonight's game with Tampa Bay (18-23-4, 40 points) represents an excellent chance to do so.

The Lightning head into this one fresh off a huge 5-3 win over reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston on Tuesday, but they haven't won on the road since Dec. 17, 2011 at Columbus.

Still, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan knows that any time you face a club with such talented offensive players like Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, it will be a sizeable challenge.

"We have guys that have to step up. We have to do it collectively. We have to be smart defensively collectively, and we have to win some areas of the ice to make sure that we try to minimize those guys' impact," Gulutzan said. "They're great players. Outside of having them not playing tonight, they're going to be in it, so we have to do our part collectively."

Dallas will again be without its top-two centermen in Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro. Benn has missed two straight games after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Sunday, while Ribeiro has missed five straight with a knee issue.

No matter who they put on the ice, winger Eric Nystrom knows the goal is always the same -- come away from tonight's game with the full two points and head to Minnesota on a winning note in advance of tomorrow night's meeting with the Wild.

"It's huge, obviously," Nystrom said. "Everybody sees the standings and how tight it is. You've got to stick with the herd and have got to find ways to win games. We've been close. We've been playing well, but still, giving up those points is tough to swallow."

Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game:

LIGHTNING
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Dominic Moore - Nate Thompson
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Trevor Smith - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson

Scratches: none

Injuries: Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body), Adam Hall (upper body), Victor Hedman (concussion), Mattias Ohlund (knee), Ryan Shannon (knee), Dana Tyrell (lower body), JT Wyman (upper body)

Notes: Tampa Bay comes off a huge 5-3 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Boston on Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum. That victory ended a seven-game winless streak. Now the Bolts look for their first back-to-back wins of the season and also seek to put a hasty end to a six-game winless streak away from home. The last time they won on the road was on Dec. 17, 2011 at Columbus, when they bested the Blue Jackets 3-2.

STARS

Brenden Morrow - Tom Wandell - Loui Eriksson
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Adam Burish - Radek Dvorak
Toby Petersen - Jake Dowell - Tomas Vincour

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Mark Fistric - Alex Goligoski
 
Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Philip Larsen, Adam Pardy

Injuries: Jamie Benn (appendectomy), Mike Ribeiro (knee)

Notes: Dallas will look to end a three-game winless streak, a run of tough results that has seen the Stars drop a pair of one-goal games and, most recently, fall in a shootout to Detroit. The Stars have not beaten the Lightning in regulation in Dallas since Nov. 20, 2000, when they handed the Bolts a 6-2 defeat at Reunion Arena. Gulutzan's club has a 3-3-1 mark on the first day of back-to-backs this season and will play at Minnesota on Saturday. Larsen has been activated from injured reserve but won't make his return until Saturday against the Wild.

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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets not far off division lead despite recent struggles

WINNIPEG -- Against all mathematical logic, the Winnipeg Jets are somehow within three points of third place in the Eastern Conference.

A 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night earned the Jets their third victory of the month, but a 3-6-0 skid in January has taken much of the luster off a franchise-best month in December in which the Jets spun off a 10-3-1 mark. The Jets' effort in December had them sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at one point before they tumbled down to their current 10th-place slot.

Thursday's win pulled the Jets to 49 points, putting them just three points behind the third-place Washington Capitals and eighth-place Florida Panthers. After meeting Chicago, the Panthers will visit Winnipeg on Saturday night in a game that suddenly has major implications for the races unfolding in the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference.

"It's a big game for us," Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said of beating Buffalo, "but now every game is going to be like that. It's going to be kind [of like] playoff games."

With Buffalo behind them, the Jets now must turn their attention toward the Panthers. Saturday's game will be the Jets' last home date before a six-game road trip that will include visits with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. With just seven wins in 23 road outings this year, home games have taken on an even greater importance for the Jets.

"They're not too far in front us," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said of the Panthers. "So they'll definitely be in our sights. Every game is huge right now."
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:15 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres still seeking answers as road skid hits 12

WINNIPEG -- If the answer to their problems are found in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room, coach Lindy Ruff's club has yet to find it.

A 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night hammered one more nail into the Sabres' rapidly closing playoff hopes. Buffalo now sits nine points behind the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference playoff race and faces a meeting with the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night that threatens to extend its road losing streak to 12 games. If the Sabres are not out of the playoff race, they are at least precariously close to seeing their season come completely undone.

If one shift summed up the Sabres' night, it was a second-period failed penalty kill on which the Jets scored the game-winning goal. On a power play set up by a puck that clipped Drew Stafford on his way to the Buffalo bench and cost the Sabres a bench minor, Patrick Kaleta took a shot off his foot moments before Tobias Enstrom fired a puck past Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller to break a 1-1 tie.

Kaleta's night ended with the goal as he hobbled to the Buffalo bench.

"Well, he couldn't play," Ruff said. "The X-rays were negative from blocking the shot, but he can't walk right now, so it doesn't look good for him."

Everything from a firesale at the trade deadline to replacing Ruff has been proposed by Buffalo media and fans, but no answers have been found so far. Just a few days after Miller shot down the idea of a trade helping the Sabres, defenseman Tyler Myers concurred.

"No," Myers said of whether a trade or a coaching change would jolt the Sabres back into contention. "That's not the problem. Everyone in this room believes in each other."

Whatever the answer may be, the Sabres need to find it fast if they are to have any chance of salvaging their season.

"It's just a matter of working through this," Myers said, "but the clock is ticking. We need to work quick."
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:11 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Players to watch at USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

There's no question power-forward Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints will be one player on the radar of NHL scouts and general managers during the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled Tuesday at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

For more on the big Latvian, who is ranked No. 12 among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, click here.

The USHL Top Prospects game will include 40 of the league's top young players. In addition Girgensons, there's Matthew DeBlouw of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Robert Baillargeon of the Indian Ice, goalie Jon Gillies of Indiana and defensemen Jordan Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, Mike Matheson of Dubuque and Brian Cooper of the Fargo Force.

Here's a capsule look at a few other players considered to be first or second-round material when the NHL Draft is staged at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.
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Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday