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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:56 PM

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

Critical stretch for Jets begins Tuesday night

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel stops just short of terming this week as the make-or-break point of his club's schedule.

"I don't like to put it in those terms, 'make-or-break,' because it is black-and-white," Noel said after the Jets' morning skate, "but I think we know where we stand."

The Jets (26-25-6) begin a busy week at home tonight at against the New York Islanders simultaneously trying to catch the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the Eastern Conference while fending off the likes of the Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning attempting to overtake the Jets.

Tonight's meeting with the Islanders begins a stretch of nine of 10 games at the MTS Centre for the Jets, who will visit Minnesota on Thursday night before settling in Winnipeg until well into March.

"It's going to be an important time," Noel said. "If we can duplicate the month of December, we might help ourselves a bit."

Winnipeg has won two of its last three games to remain within striking distance in the Eastern Conference hunt, but an 8-5 loss at Pittsburgh this past Saturday afternoon left Noel exasperated. One of the casualties of Saturday's performance was center Nik Antropov, whom Noel has demoted to the fourth line. Antropov has gone nine games without a goal and struggled defensively against the Penguins. Alexander Burmistrov will take Antropov's spot on the Jets' second line with Evander Kane and Kyle Wellwood.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Johnny Oduya - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:49 PM

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

Islanders trying to hang on at edge of playoff race

WINNIPEG -- If the New York Islanders are not within striking distance of a playoff spot, they are at least hovering closely enough to the playoff line and making sure that meaningful games are a part of the second half of their season.

Having held a record above .500 after Feb. 1 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Islanders (now 23-24-8) have gone 10-7-2 since New Year's Day to creep to within eight points of the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference chase. Holding a game in hand on the Leafs, the Islanders begin a critical week tonight in Winnipeg before journeying to St. Louis for a Thursday date with the Blues. The Islanders have earned points in six of their last eight games and return to a building where they took a 3-2 shootout win against the Jets on Dec. 20.

"We have a chance to gain ground," leading scorer John Tavares said after the Islanders' morning skate at the MTS Centre.

Michael Grabner and his Islanders teammates expect a tough test against the Jets, who are engaged in their own playoff race.

"They're going to come out hard," Grabner said of the Jets. "Everybody needs the points right now."

Evgeni Nabokov, who is 7-3-0 in his past 10 games, is expected to start for the Islanders.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Islanders:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Nino Niederreiter
Jay Pandolfo - Tim Wallace - Brian Rolston

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina
Aaron Ness - Andrew MacDonald

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Report: Boychuk, Bruins agree on extension

TSN is reporting the Boston Bruins and defenseman Johnny Boychuk have agreed to a three-year contract extension with an average annual value of $3.36 million.

Boychuk, 28, has three goals and seven assists in 52 games. The three goals tie his career high from last season, and he's in range for matching the 16 points he had in 69 games last season.

He's is fourth on the team with a plus-23 rating while averaging the third-most ice time per game at 20:30. He's also second on the team with 92 blocked shots and fourth in hits with 93.

Now in his fifth NHL season -- fourth with the Bruins -- Boychuk has 11 goals and 30 assists in 177 games.

Boychuk, who is in the second year of a deal that saw him make $2 million this season, would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Current, past players see Wings' streak as special

DETROIT -- It's become a topic of discussion on sports radio and television shows the past couple days and has gotten the attention of fans and media alike.

The Detroit Red Wings have won 20 straight games at Joe Louis Arena this season and are now tied with the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL record. They also have a chance to set a new mark on Tuesday night when the Dallas Stars play in the Motor City, but all people seem to care about is whether the streak is legitimate enough to recognize without an asterisk.

Why?

Because there was no overtime or shootout in the 1970s when the Flyers of old accomplished the feat -- and there wasn't a shootout to end games back in the '20s and '30s when the Bruins did it. There was, however, overtime when Boston did it -- and the Bruins prevailed twice in the 10-minute OT period that wasn't decided by sudden death.

Regardless, players past and present are coming out in support of what the Red Wings have already accomplished by tying the other two teams.

"I think it's truly amazing," Dallas forward Steve Ott said on Tuesday. "Anytime a record's broken, or tied or even in the same characteristic of any other record, it's special. I think if you talk to Wayne Gretzky about Sam Gagner (8-point game), he'd tell you it's pretty amazing in this age. The players are a lot [more] similar. The teams are a lot [more] similar. That parity … it's so much closer than it was back in the '80s or the '70s, or even the '90s for that fact."

Those factors alone, Ott said, make Detroit's feat this season every bit as impressive as the Bruins and Flyers of years past.

"It's a new era, a new game and the guys are so well-versed on physical strength and mental strength,” Ott said. "There's so many different methods of preparation -- video preparation. So much has changed over the years. That's a phenomenal feat to win 20 straight home games."

The Red Wings agree. They're also starting to take issue a little bit with people who insinuate their streak is somehow cheapened by three of their wins coming in the shootout and a fourth in overtime.

"You still have to win the games," said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who also mentioned the increasing parity in the League brought on by the hard salary cap coming out of the work stoppage. "You still have to win, whether it's in overtime or a shootout. You still have to win it. You can easily lose it, too."

And the Red Wings haven't since Nov. 3 against Calgary, a span of 103 days. It's impressive to players all around the League, even if people in the media or fans try to belittle it.

"To do it now, in a League where there's so much parity and so many games are so even, to me makes it show even more how hard it is," Stars forward Adam Burish said. "Yeah, those games did go to overtime, because teams are so much harder to beat now. They're in overtime and that makes it even harder, because a lot of times you get a back-to-back and have to play the next night. It's as impressive a record as it was back in the 1970s, and maybe even harder to do."

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque agrees.

"It's not an easy thing to do in the game at this point in time, to win that many games in a row at home with the parity in the League," he said, when asked about the Red Wings' streak. "They've made teams think when they come into their building, there's very little chance they're leaving with a win."

That's why the Red Wings are pleased with what they've already accomplished and will be gunning for the top spot on Tuesday night. They haven't spent a lot of time doting on the streak until lately, when asked about it every day, but now that they have it the naysayers don't upset them at all.

"Nothing we can do about the rules," Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "We still [won] 20 games at home in a row, so we're happy. We're proud of it. We're not thinking that much about shootout wins. If [critics] want to think that way, they can do that. We are pretty happy about the streak. If we win the next one, no one has done that."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:36 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cammalleri becomes center of attention for Flames

CALGARY -- Michael Cammalleri has become the center of attention for the Calgary Flames.

With the loss of Mikael Backlund for upwards of eight weeks in Calgary's 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and with five other forwards on injured reserve, a depleted Flames squad will see Cammalleri down the middle between Tom Kostopoulos and Blake Comeau.

The adjustment to center will be one of ease for Cammalleri, said coach Brent Sutter.

"I'm not too worried about it, to be honest," Sutter said. "I think Cammie is going to handle it just fine. I'm fine with his wingers because they can play down low, too, if they need to. The three of the guys together are smart players and are responsible players."

Kostopoulos, who has been centered by Cammalleri before, agreed.

"He's too smart of a player for it to be difficult for him," he said. "I don't see it being a problem for him. He's a fun guy to play with. He's very talented and creative out there, and he is definitely the type of guy who makes his wingers better. It should be fun."

The Flames have recalled Paul Byron in Backlund's absence. Byron will know what to expect, having played 18 games this year with Calgary.

"I'm happy about the call-up," Byron said. "It's unfortunate that guys have to get hurt, but it's an opportunity for someone else. Other guys have to step up."

Calgary, which has lost 242 games due to injury this season, could be without Scott Hannan, who is battling the flu. That could open the door for the return of Anton Babchuk, who hasn't played since Jan. 17, a span of nine games.

Here is the Flames' projected lineup:

Alex Tanguay - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Tom Kostopoulos - Michael Cammalleri - Blake Comeau
Paul Byron - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma - Roman Horak - Krys Kolanos

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff
Leland Irving
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Garrison to miss at least a week

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without Jason Garrison, who leads all NHL defensemen with 13 goals, for the next 7-10 days due to a lower-body injury.

Garrison was injured in the second period of Saturday's 3-1 victory at New Jersey

In addition to his 13 goals, Garrison is second on the team in average ice time at 23:33, and his plus-6 is the second-best mark on the team, and tops among Panthers blueliners.

"Big hole in our lineup," coach Kevin Dineen said after practice Tuesday. "He's played a great level of hockey and he'll be missed in the next week."

Garrison becomes the third Panthers defenseman to be sidelined by injury, joining Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov.

Kulikov, who underwent knee surgery Jan. 24, is expected to be out for at least another couple of weeks, but Jovanovski could be close to returning. He had surgery on his hand Jan. 18, two days after being involved in a fight with Boston's Daniel Paille. Jovanovski took part in Tuesday's practice.

"Jovo has taken some good strides," Dineen said. "Now he's progressing to handling the puck and using his stick, which he hasn't done, but he's kept his conditioning up. Believe me, he will want to be back sooner than he's ready. He is very enthusiastic about getting back in the lineup, but that final decision will be made by our medical staff."

With the injuries on the blue line, Florida recently recalled Tyson Strachan and Colby Robak from San Antonio of the AHL.

Strachan, who had appeared in 67 games for St. Louis over the past three seasons, scored his first NHL goal in Sunday’s 4-1 victory against the Islanders; it was the same day Robak, a 2008 second-round pick, made his NHL debut.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:31 PM

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

Frustrated Knuble wants to play ... somewhere

ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble says if he’s not part of the team’s immediate plans, then it might be best to send his talents elsewhere.

Knuble, 39, has been a healthy scratch in three straight games – all Washington losses – after going the previous 11 games without a point.

The eight-time 20-goal-scorer has three goals and 11 points in 53 games this season, having played primarily on Washington’s fourth line. He is also a team-worst minus-14.

“If a player is not going to be used,” Knuble said, “or in the near future you don’t have plans, then that player probably wouldn’t want to be there. That’s how we are in our League – you want to go somewhere where you’re going to play and contribute to your team and if you can’t do it in one place, then you’ve got to go.”

Capitals coach Dale Hunter would not say whether he plans on using Knuble this weekend when the Caps begin a four-game road trip with back-to-back games in Florida and Tampa Bay.

“He’s a leader, he’s a professional,” Hunter said of the Caps alternate captain. “We’re trying for more speed in the lineup and Mike can be professional about it and train hard out here so when [he] gets back in [he’s] ready to go and can show me that I made a mistake. That’s what I want.”

Knuble watched the Capitals fall Monday 5-3 to the San Jose Sharks while American Hockey League call-ups Joel Rechlicz earned a sweater. Rechlicz played just 90 seconds spread over two shifts.

“Everybody in here is a little bit frustrated with the way it’s been going lately,” Knuble said. “Then you throw this on top of things – you watch your team losing and all of that, it’s very frustrating.”

With the NHL trade deadline now 13 days away, Knuble was asked Tuesday if plans on formally requesting a trade.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I just kind of got through this weekend with three games in [five] nights – just wanted to get through it and see what [would] happen. Obviously we all saw what happened so it gets you thinking.

“We’re all competitive and we want to play and we all want to contribute. So if it’s not irritating you and you’re not thinking of your options then you may as well stop playing then.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:02 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Quenneville wants to see Hawks get 'swagger' back

NASHVILLE -- With his team mired in as long of a losing streak as he can remember during his tenure, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was emphasizing defense on Tuesday entering their game with the Central Division rival Predators.

The Blackhawks have yielded 34 goals over their eight-game losing streak, an average of 4.4 per game. Chicago is on its seventh game of a nine-game road trip.

"We haven't really responded to being scored on lately, and I think that's one where we want to make sure, let's be tight in that area," Quenneville said. "We'd love to score first, but if we do get scored on, let's not get distracted."

In the third period of Saturday's 3-0 loss to Phoenix, Quenneville put together Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the same line. That was going to carry over into Tuesday's game.

Together, that trio has combined for 61 goals.

"That line together, the last period the other night, they like playing together," Quenneville said. "Maybe as a group, we look for a little more balance, but when those three guys get together, they can generate a lot of things and I think they read off one another and they get excited about playing together, so hopefully they can recapture that feeling."

Quenneville said it was important for Chicago to get back to playing with a "swagger."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he expected his duo of All-Star defensemen, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, would match up against that line with the Predators' being the home team and having the last change.

Quenneville said John Scott would return to the lineup, with the defenseman likely playing up front on one of the forward lines.
 
Here are the projected lines for the Blackhawks:
 
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Brunette - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
John Scott - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
Jamal Mayers - Brendan Morrison - Andrew Shaw
 
Duncan Keith - Dylan Olsen
Sean O'Donnell - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Sami Lepisto
 
Ray Emery
Corey Crawford
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:52 PM

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

Red Wings eye weekend return for Howard

DETROIT -- The tentative plan to get injured goalie Jimmy Howard [fractured finger] back in net for the Detroit Red Wings is to start him against the rival San Jose Sharks on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena.

However, there is an outside chance he might be ready for Friday night's game at The Joe against Central Division rival Nashville. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock let his coaching staff know to slot Howard in as the starter against the Sharks -- but do it in pencil.

"We'll see what happens there and if it means he's starting against Nashville or not, but he's starting sooner or later," Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate on Tuesday. "You can only get so much holiday time during the regular season."

Fine by Howard, who continues to face live shots in practices and is getting tired of the nervous anxiety he gets from watching games in the locker room.

"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and going through a whole practice where I don't come out of the net," said Howard, who's been out since fracturing his right index finger on Feb. 2 in Vancouver stopping a shot. "I think [returning Friday] is still a realistic possibility. That was the goal that was in place from the start, but if Babs and [Detroit general manager Ken Holland] want to give me another few days in practice, then that's what their game plan is."

Howard has eschewed the specialized goalie stick that he'd been using after returning for practices -- it had a notch cut out of it for his index finger to lessen the vibration of pucks hitting the stick.

"I got rid of it," Howard said. "It wasn't working, so I got rid of it. I didn't like the feel of it, so I just went back to the way the regular sticks are."

Howard also said he's feeling more comfortable tracking pucks and not flinching when hard shots send pucks screaming at his blocker side -- where the fractured finger is located.

"At first it didn't feel all that great to be back out there, but each day that's passed it's feeling a little better," Howard said. "I'm not second-guessing when shots are on my blocker. I'm not hesitating."

He will, however, have to hesitate before taking swings with his fists at opposing players who try to crowd or invade his crease looking to screen or intimidate him. Howard has already gotten into a few altercations against the St. Louis Blues this season, but can’t get into any more for a while.

"I already had to promise our finger doctor … no fighting," Howard said, laughing.

The Red Wings don't face the Blues again for a sixth and final time until April 4 in St. Louis.

"Not til the end of the season, right?" Howard said, smiling. "Plenty of time to heal."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Opportunity knocks for Lightning to gain ground

TAMPA -- From their precarious perch, the Tampa Bay Lightning can see everything. Ahead of them are five teams that they have to maneuver past in order to make the postseason; behind them is one team and one point separating them from the Eastern Conference basement.

That delicate balance makes every game crucial.

Tuesday night the Lightning open a four-game homestand against the Ottawa Senators, one of the clubs they must leapfrog in order to make the playoffs.

And although there is an eight-point hill to climb to reach the final playoff spot, the fates are aligning to give the Lightning every opportunity to get there.

They have six of their next nine games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where they are 15-8-2, and Ryan Malone, an important part of their power play, returns to the lineup Tuesday after an absence of eight games with an upper-body injury.

The return of Malone can only be welcome news for a Lightning power play that is 29th in the League with a 13.5 success percentage and has scored just twice in their last 29 attempts, which includes an empty-netter.

"He (Malone) is our best guy down low, so we're going to have to make room for him on the power play," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

After Sunday's 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, the second half in a back-to-back series, Boucher was critical of the play of his team, which had jumped out to a first period two-goal lead. On reflection, Boucher now takes a different view of the loss.

"After the first period, we should have been expecting them coming out real strong, and they did, and we stayed at the same level," Boucher said. "We don't cut any slack, but we certainly can explain it. Our guys had nothing left in the second and the third. We could have played it differently; we stayed very aggressive and we didn't have the juice to do that.

"We knew we had to change the game plan around, but we didn't change it and it cost us. Next time around, we'll be able to manage it better."

Another point seemingly in the Lightning's favor is that the Senators arrive after going 1-6-2 in their last nine games, but Jason Spezza suggested that the worst was over.

"We picked up three of our last four points," Spezza said. "We struggled for five or six games before that, but in a snapshot of our last three games, we're playing better.

"The games become very important now because every team is desperate to pick up points. We'll face a desperate team every night, and no one can really feel safe."

Certainly the Lightning understand the critical situation they face.

"This is a huge homestand for us," Pavel Kubina said. "We're eight points out of the playoffs with a game in hand. We don't give up; we'll go to the end and see what will happen, but we're capable of making it, for sure."

Dominic Moore put it this way: "When there are points on the table, they need to be ours."
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Quote of the Day

I've been so fortunate, blessed, to play a long time with some great players and be on power plays, play in some great cities and stuff. It's been fun.

— Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla on tying Dino Ciccarelli for 46th place on the NHL's all-time list with his 1,200th career point after their win vs. the Predators on Friday