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Stanley Cup Final
Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 7:56 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Neal, Sullivan ready to go for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma skated onto the ice Monday for the Pittsburgh Penguins' first practice in advance of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Philadelphia and was greeted by an uncommon sight.
 
All of his forwards were in uniform , healthy and ready to go -- including James Neal and Steve Sullivan.
 
James Neal
During a season in which star Sidney Crosby missed 60 games with concussion-related issues, Tyler Kennedy was out for 22 games, Jordan Staal sat out 20 and Neal and Sullivan were sidelined for the final two games, Bylsma rarely had all four lines healthy at the same time.
 
Evgeni Malkin even missed seven games early in the season, although he still managed to easily win the scoring title by 12 points over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.
 
Neal, whose 40 goals ranked fourth in the League, and Sullivan, who had a 48-point season, each missed games Thursday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Flyers with lower-body injuries.
 
"We saw Sullivan and Neal return to practice and play on the lines they played on three games ago and will be playing on for the start of Game 1," Bylsma said.

That means Neal goes back onto the Malkin line with Chris Kunitz, where he has played nearly all season, while Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis will be the wings on Sidney Crosby's line.
 
"It was good to get back out there and get the legs going, get your timing back and get ready for playoffs," said Neal, who had one goal in seven playoff games against Tampa Bay last spring.

Asked whether his condition was a concern with the start of the playoffs so close, Neal said, "No, it's fine. I'll be all right. I had a good week of rest. That's what I needed and I'll be ready to go, 100 percent."
 
Sullivan felt he could have played Saturday but, since that game did not affect the Penguins' playoff seeding, he was held out.
 
"Awesome," Sullivan said when asked how he is feeling. "I'm ready to go."
 
Sullivan signed with the Penguins before the season started in part because he has never lifted the Stanley Cup since breaking into the NHL with New Jersey during the 1995-96 season.
 
"It's probably the best opportunity that I've had," Sullivan said. "I think I'm very excited, energized and ready to go. These opportunities don't come along very often, so I'm going to make the best of my opportunity here."

Defenseman Matt Niskanen's status for Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday is uncertain. He missed the final two regular season games with an upper-body injury, and he didn't practice Monday although he skated on his own.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 7:54 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Mitchell returns to practice, will play in Game 1 for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell returned to the ice Monday after missing the regular-season finale Saturday night against Los Angeles with an undisclosed injury, but forward Ryane Clowe and defenseman Brent Burns missed practice as the Sharks began preparing for their first-round series against St. Louis.

The series opens Thursday night at the Scottrade Center.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Clowe and Burns had "maintenance" days and added, "They'll both be ready to play."
 
Torrey Mitchell
Center - SJS
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 19
SOG: 100 | +/-: -6
Mitchell was injured Thursday night at Los Angeles when he took a hard hit from Colin Fraser in the first period. He left that game and didn't return. Mitchell declared himself "good to go" after Monday's practice.

"I felt fine," Mitchell said. "I biked two days ago and I felt fine. I'm pretty much ready to go."

Clowe didn't play in the third period or overtime of San Jose's 3-2 victory against Los Angeles on Saturday night at HP Pavilion. Neither did defenseman Colin White, who practiced on Monday. After that game, McLellan said Clowe and White needed a "maintenance period" and granted them one.

Clowe declined to say whether he suffered an injury against the Kings, but he said he "was fine" with McLellan's decision to keep him off the ice for the end of Saturday's game and Monday's practice.

"I stayed off. I feel good," Clowe said.

Before the series opens Thursday night at St. Louis, the Sharks will have had three full practices and a morning skate to prepare for the Blues. After losing all four regular-season games to St. Louis in regulation, the Sharks have plenty of tactical work to do. McLellan said he also wants to make sure his team keeps the sharp edge it developed during its playoff push. The Sharks won their final four regular-season games, beating Dallas and Los Angeles in back-to-back, home-and-home series sweeps.

"We do that physically and mentally," McLellan said of both goals. "Visually, we see some video of us and them, we talk about how we want to play, and that's been established since the beginning of the year. It's just maintaining it, and then physically just practice situations, as much game situation play as we possibly can that's both unique to our team and maybe to what we'll see in the series."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he won't name his starting goaltender – Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott – until Thursday, but the Sharks likely don't have a preference. They lost twice to Halak and twice to Elliott. Each one shut them out once.

"They're just both elite goaltenders," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "You're going to have to work to get your goals. It's going to be a low-scoring affair. It's going to be 2-1 games, 1-0 games, and that's what we have to expect."

The Sharks will wear their alternate black jerseys for their home playoff games. They were 12-2-0 this season when dressed in black.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 6:00 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Standout Karlsson presents challenge for Rangers

A win against Washington on the final day of the regular season, and the New York Rangers would have wound up facing the Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, after all the Eastern Conference playoff dust had settled, they found themselves with the Ottawa Senators as their draw -- which means, in part, having to defend against this season's breakout defenseman and possible Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson led all blueliners in scoring with 78 points and tied Shea Weber for the lead with 19 goals. The 21-year-old Swedish standout didn't score any of those goals against the Rangers, but he picked up five assists as the Senators won three of four in the regular-season series.

Thirty-plus goal scorers Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek will be primary focuses of the Rangers' defensive efforts in this series, but center Brad Richards said they can't lose track of where Karlsson is on the ice.

"He's a big part of their offense, obviously, and it'll be a big focus for us to try to limit his time and space," Richards said during a Monday conference call with the media. "Hopefully we can keep him away from puck as much as we can. He's kind of a rover, he'll jump up in the play, and he's such a great skater he gets back just as quick, so he can take more chances than other d-men can.

"You have to keep your head on a swivel when he has the puck, try to get it out of his hands as quick as we can so he can't be a big part of the offense … start in their end and keep an eye on him down there, don't let him beat you and create those odd-man rushes."
 
Ottawa won both of its games during the regular season at Madison Square Garden, where the series will get started with Game 1 on Thursday.

"They're a very talented team … we plan on making it difficult on them when we start Thursday," Richards said. "If you give time and space they can score goals. That's probably why they [had success against us]."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:40 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Lidstrom: Red Wings don't mind being underdogs

The last time the Detroit Red Wings finished as low as third in their division was in 1990-91 -- the season before Nicklas Lidstrom arrived from Sweden to patrol their blue line.

Over the ensuing two decades, Lidstrom and his teammates haven't had much experience being the underdog in a series -- especially not in the first round. But despite completing their 12th consecutive season with over 100 points, there are many who consider the Red Wings just that heading into a series with the Nashville Predators in which their Central Division rivals have home ice.

"We don't mind that at all, being the underdog," Lidstrom said during a media conference call Monday. "Nashville had a real strong regular season and finished ahead of us in points. I think they're the team to be the favorites, and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Starting the series at Bridgestone Arena could prove to be a distinct disadvantage for the Wings if they can't reverse a regular-season trend that saw them post an NHL-high 31 wins at home, but finish a mediocre 17-17-7 on the road.

"Our team defense needs to be better and we need to play better without the puck, especially with the quick forwards Nashville's got," Lidstrom said about how Detroit might reverse its fortunes. "We have to take advantage of our chances offensively, too."

Getting healthy is also a key. The Wings got some key players like Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk back late in the season, but the conditions of veteran Danny Cleary (sore knee) and energy-line player Darren Helm (sprained knee ligament) also bear watching.

"Both Cleary and Helm skated with us today, practiced and stayed out there the whole time," Lidstrom said. "We expect Clear to play in the first game. Helm is almost there. He's getting closer and closer. I think we need a player like Helm, with his speed up front, to play against a very good Nashville team."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:33 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Dan Rosen gives his first-round picks

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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bergeron praises strides made by sophomore Seguin

Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron isn't at all surprised with the sudden success of linemate Tyler Seguin.

Seguin this season became the youngest player ever to the lead the Bruins in scoring when he connected for 29 goals and 67 points in 2011-12. He won honors at 20 years, two months and seven days.

Ironically, he passed Bergeron, who led the club in points at 20 years, eight months and 22 days. In 2005-06, Bergeron had 31 goals and 73 points in 81 matches.

"He gained a lot of experience in his first year, winning a Stanley Cup," Bergeron said. "That's experience you really can't buy, and I think it helped him heading into this year. He gained a lot of confidence over the summer and from the run we had. The kid is getting better and better, and he accomplished a lot this year. He's a big part of our team and big part of our offense, and he wants to get better. He wants to learn, so that's important."

Seguin scored 11 goals and 22 points in 74 games as a rookie in 2010-11.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Canucks gained experience from last season's run

The sting of a seven-game series loss in the Stanley Cup Final last spring isn't really on the mind of Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler as his team prepares for its opening-round series against the Los Angeles Kings this week.

And the reason is simple -- experience.

"Obviously, we have most of the same guys back and we fell one game short last year and that was hard, but we know what it takes, so we're amped up and ready to go," Kesler told the media during a conference call on Monday. "What did we learn from last year? I think experience comes to mind … the experience of going through something like that and knowing what it takes."

Fact is, Vancouver has 19 players on the roster that played a part in last year's Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Additionally, Samuel Pahlsson played a big role in the Anaheim Ducks' championship run back in 2007. Pahlsson was traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Canucks in February.

After winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season, the Canucks will once again get home-ice advantage for however long they last in the playoffs. Can they reach the top of the mountain this year?

"I think we're going to figure that out in the next couple of months, but we know, as a team, we'll be judged on how we do in the playoffs, so now the real season begins," Kesler said. "It'll be a good test, for sure."

Vancouver finished the season with a seven-game home winning streak on the way to a 27-10-4 record at Rogers Arena. The club will play the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round for the second time in three years -- in 2010, the Canucks triumphed in six games. The teams split the four-game season series this season.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 3:52 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Neil skates, status for series opener 'looking good'

KANATA, Ont. -- The Ottawa Senators took to the ice Monday morning in preparation for their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, which begins on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Chris Neil, who did not play during the last game of the regular season against New Jersey due to an upper-body injury, skated alone prior to practice and participated in the first 15 minutes of drills before leaving the ice. MacLean anticipates that Neil will be ready for Thursday, as does Neil himself.

"I feel pretty good -- went out early, did about 45 minutes … things are looking good for Thursday," he said.

Here are the lines from Monday's practice:

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Colin Greening
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Zack Smith - Jesse Winchester - Chris Neil
Erik Condra - Jim O'Brien - Kaspars Daugavins

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Matt Gilroy
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar

Craig Anderson
Ben Bishop

Defenseman Matt Carkner did not participate in practice.

"We're obviously excited to get back in the playoffs as you can tell," Jason Spezza said. "We had a great practice today -- there's a little bit more jump out there and we're just looking forward to getting started. [As for losing the last three games of the regular season], playoffs wipe everything clean. Now it's just looking forward to the first game and getting the momentum."

After completing his season with Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Elite League, Mika Zibanejad arrived in Ottawa on Sunday and took part in the morning practice. Zibanejad will to report to Binghamton to play in the team's final two games of the season, however, MacLean said "there's a consideration -- [Zibanejad] would be allowed to play for us [in the postseason] … we just have to be sure that's the right thing to do."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 3:45 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers getting healthy at the right time

Danny Briere wasn't allowed to say as much, but after a full practice, it appears likely he'll be able to play when the Philadelphia Flyers open the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN).

"To be honest, I'm not allowed to speak on any injuries or the roster or if I'm going to play or not," Briere said following the team's workout at Virtua Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. "All I can tell you is -- and you saw it -- I'm practicing and working to get ready. That's all I’m allowed to say at this point."

Briere missed the final three games of the regular season with a back contusion that he said was causing spasms. The injury came on a hit by the Penguins' Joe Vitale in the third period of the teams' April 1 game.

Getting a healthy Briere in the lineup would be a huge advantage for the Flyers. Briere had seven goals in 11 playoff games last season, and has 19 goals and 39 points in his last 34 playoff games.

"It's the best time of the year," said Briere. "There's nothing like playoff hockey. It's kind of the time that we're all waiting for. It's one thing you work hard all season to get in the playoffs, but this is another level."

Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, also injured on a Vitale hit in that April 1 game with the Penguins, said he will be in the lineup for Game 1. He collided with Vitale in the first period of that game and suffered what the team called a lower-body injury. Grossmann was seen with a brace on his right knee last week, matching the one he wears on his left knee.

Like Briere, he sat out the final three regular-season games, but told reporters following Monday's practice that he'll be ready to go Wednesday.

"I've done this before, so hopefully, it won't be a problem," Grossman said of playing with two braces. "It's just getting used to it. This was a good day. It was nice to get out with the boys. I've been skating. I'm ready. I feel good."
 
Grossmann said he didn't feel the braces would change how he plays, or limit his mobility.
 
"No, it doesn't change," he said. "You can't go out and think about stuff like that or it won't make you successful. You just got to keep playing the game and do things you can contribute."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelamn@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 3:22 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Beauchemin to require surgery for torn labrum

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin said Monday he will need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Beauchemin said the issue got worse from the beginning of the season and he wasn't able to be as physical toward the end. The recovery will take about three to four months.

"It's been bothering me for a few weeks," Beauchemin said on Anaheim's day of exit meetings.

"A few months, actually … I'll take care of it now and then. I've got all summer to get it better, rehab it and everything."

Beauchemin was perhaps the team's best defenseman for much of the season and excelled after he signed a three-year contract extension Jan. 20.

Selanne's decision:
Teemu Selanne had no update on his impending decision to retire or return for a 20th season.

Selanne has said he will inform general manager Bob Murray his decision by July 1, his 42nd birthday. Selanne has typically delayed that decision until at least August although that happened last year because of knee surgery.
That’s not an issue this time around.

"I'm really thankful that the knee is holding up so well and I had no real issue," Selanne said.

Selanne said coach Bruce Boudreau didn't try to persuade him into returning.

"We had a good meeting," he said. "Obviously he's going to respect my decision either way. He said he's really open arms welcoming back if I want to come back. That’s really good news."

Selanne and Saku Koivu both said they are undecided about playing for Finland in the World Championship.

Visnovsky OK: Lubomir Visnovsky said he's OK from a hit he took last Thursday in Edmonton in which he was upended and banged his head.

"I had the test (for) concussion symptoms and I was OK," he said. "I'll be OK."

Visnovsky said he was quite disappointed with his season, so much so that he contemplated retirement.

"I was very mad in the season because I don't feel comfortable," he said. "I think it was (my) worst season ever for me. My confidence was very low."

Visnovsky said he is "retired" from the Slovakian national team and won't play in the worlds. The tournament was held in Slovakia last year and Visnovsky wanted to end it there.

"That was my world championships," he said.

Ducks headed to the Worlds:
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry confirmed they will play for Canada in next month's World Championship. Bobby Ryan said he will suit up for the U.S. and indicated that Cam Fowler and Nick Bonino will join him.
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Quote of the Day

I think everyone left it out there. Every game this season, regular season and playoffs, we played as hard as we could. We're not out of the playoffs right now because of lack of effort, and that's all that we can ask of each other.

— Predators defenseman Seth Jones after Nashville was eliminated by Chicago in Game 6 on Saturday