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Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 7:13 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Toews expects to play in Game 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
 
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.

"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."

Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."

Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.

"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 7:05 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Toews expects to play in Game 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
 
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.

"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."

Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."

Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.

"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings understand they must deal with frustrations

VANCOUVER -- Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar is preparing to be frustrated by the Canucks.

So is defenseman Drew Doughty, but the similarities end there.

Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, is expecting to see a lot of Samuel Pahlsson in the first round of the playoffs. He knows Vancouver's new checking center well from his time with rival Anaheim, where Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup in 2007 and established a reputation as one of the game's top shutdown pivots.

"He's a hard-working guy, all over the ice and one of the top guys shutting down," Kopitar said. "It's going to be tough to play against him, obviously."

It could very well be the key matchup between a Kings team that has relied heavily on its top line of late, and a Canucks team that altered its identity slightly by refocusing on the defensive end after acquiring Pahlsson at the deadline.

In addition to matching up against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson combined with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen to provide steady offense, with eight goals and seven assists since they were reunited for the last 10 games of the regular season.

Coach Alain Vigneault called it his best line since then. It's the only one he hasn't tinkered with since top goal scorer Daniel Sedin was concussed on March 21.

"Our best line at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "They've generated and created and been on the score sheet, and defensively they have been reliable."

For all that Pahlsson does in that mix, talking is not among them. Unlike a lot of antagonizing checkers in the NHL, the quiet Swede lets his play do the talking.

"No, I haven't heard too much of him chirping on the ice," Kopitar said. "But he's certainly a guy that is in your face all the time, and he's one of the best shutdown guys in the League, and I am going to have to prepare myself for that."

Besides, the Canucks have plenty of other guys to do the chirping, something Doughty found out in their playoff meeting two years ago.

"There was a few times I got into it with [Alexandre] Burrows and took a few dumb penalties that took me off the ice," Doughty said. "I definitely learned from that."

His teammates and coaches at the time made sure of it. Doughty doesn't need another reminder as he tries to avenge that six-game loss in the first round.

"It's tough at times, but I can always get back at them during the play, make a big hit or a big stop or whatever it may be," he said. "That's what really matters."

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 5:13 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Dumba to captain Canada's World U-18 team

Red Deer's Mathew Dumba has been named captain of Canada's team for the World Under-18 Championship, which starts Thursday.

Dumba is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft. Dumba captained Canada's summer U-18 team to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

Windsor forward Kerby Rychel (2013 draft eligible) and Erie defenseman Adam Pelech (No. 120) were named alternate captains.

"All three players have tremendous leadership qualities," Canada coach Jesse Wallin -- also Dumba's coach in Red Deer -- said. "They have all shown a presence around the team and are respected by their teammates. We are pleased with our leadership group."

Canada opens round-robin play Thursday against Denmark. They're in Group A, along with Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland and the U.S. Group B consists of Germany, Latvia, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden.

The tournament runs April 12-22 in Brno and Znojmo, Czech Republic. Canada finished fourth at last year's tournament.

Some of the top players for the 2012 draft will take part in the tournament. Check out some of the talent filling out the rosters for Finland, Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Russia.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:46 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Button breaks down top 5 picks for 2012 draft



NHL Network analyst Craig Button, like most hockey fans, watched with great interest the results of the 2012 NHL Draft Lottery.

With the win, the Edmonton Oilers earned the right to pick No. 1. And in Button's opinion, the choice is clear -- Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov, the top-rated North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking.

"Nail Yakupov is too good a player for the Edmonton Oilers to bypass," said Button. "The Edmonton fan base, they know about stars. Nail Yakupov has star written all over him."

At No. 2, Button sees the Columbus Blue Jackets dipping into the deep pool of available defenseman by opting for Everett Silvertips blueliner Ryan Murray.

"[Murray is] a real steady, strong defenseman," said Button. "Maybe not flashy, but incredibly effective. He's a leader, he's a player that will play 15 years in the League and he will help a team win."

At No. 3, Button sees the Montreal Canadiens going for center Mikhail Grigorenko, who plays for Canadiens legend Patrick Roy with the Quebec Remparts.

"You hear so much talk about their center ice and not being big in the forward ranks," said Button, "Grigorenko is a perfect complement to Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais.

With the fourth pick, Button believes the New York Islanders will take Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.

"We know they've taken forwards a lot," said Button, "but with Filip Forsberg, arguably he's in the same class as Nail Yakupov. Too big, too skilled, too determined. I believe he adds a tremendous amount to the Islanders' group."

With the fifth pick, Button envisions the Toronto Maple Leafs selecting Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk. The center missed most of the season with a knee injury, but that will be a thing of the past when next season starts.

"He's a player that reminds me of Ron Francis," said Button. "And for a team in dire need of centermen, Alex Galchenyuk fits the bill."
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:37 PM

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

Boston perfect spot for Aucoin to make playoff debut

ARLINGTON Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Keith Aucoin was a high school sophomore when he realized a dream that was shared by most hockey players growing up in the Boston area.

With Boston Garden only months from closing, Aucoin and his teammates from Chelmsford High School took celebratory laps around the legendary rink as the 1995 Division I Massachusetts state champions.

"That place was pretty cool," said Aucoin, a native of Waltham, Mass. "I was watching a lot of games there when I was younger and it was a lot different experience going there than it is to the [TD] Garden now, but both are fun places to play."

Seventeen years after that memorable night at Boston Garden, Aucoin is set to experience another lifelong dream when he makes his NHL Stanley Cup Playoff debut Thursday when the Capitals face the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). It just happens to be at TD Garden against the team he grew up watching.

"It's exciting," Aucoin said of facing the Bruins. "Obviously a lot of family and friends. … I've been getting a lot of calls and text messages. I told everyone to get their own tickets -- they're too expensive. But it's awesome. Obviously growing up a Bruins fan and growing up the goal is to win the Stanley Cup and now [to have] the chance to beat them to get to that goal -- it's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to getting it going."

It's hard to blame Aucoin if he's chomping at the bit to get Game 1 started. The 33-year-old entered the 2011-12 season having played 75 NHL games spread over six seasons and two organizations. However, he's played 88 games alone in the American Hockey League playoffs.

"It's my first time," Aucoin said of the NHL playoffs. "My last chance was with the [Carolina] Hurricanes [in 2008]. We lost the last game of the year [against Florida] and then Washington beat Florida the next night to make the playoffs and knock us out. So it's my first experience and I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously it makes it a little more special playing Boston."

At 5-foot-8 and 171 pounds, Aucoin went undrafted after four years at Norwich University and began his professional career in 2001 with the now-defunct Broome County Icemen of the United Hockey League.

Since then, Aucoin has spent the better part of the last decade developing into one of the AHL’s all-time greats. He's No. 15th all-time in scoring in AHL history with 777 points in 673 games, a two-time Calder Cup winner with the Hershey Bears and a six-time postseason all-star.

But success in the NHL has been hard to come by for Aucoin, who now has 11 goals and 37 points in 102 NHL games with the Hurricanes and Capitals.

Finding the appropriate role for the offensive-minded Aucoin in the NHL has been a challenge. While he has seen time late this season playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and on the Caps' No.1 power-play unit, Aucoin is expected to begin the playoffs on the fourth line, with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. It's a role Aucoin is ready to embrace.

"I think whenever you play in the playoffs, the game gets a little quicker and it's a lot more physical, but other than that, it's the same type of game," Aucoin said. "You just have to go out there and play your systems and play the way you're capable of playing. Obviously it gets a little more physical, but at the same time I like the physical play, so I'm going to go out there and be a little more physical myself."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:16 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings' Carter ready for Game 1

VANCOUVER -- Their playoff series hasn’t started yet, but already the Los Angeles Kings are leading the Canucks 1-0 when it comes to welcoming back key forwards from injury.

While the Canucks were talking about missing top goal scorer Daniel Sedin for Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday night because of a concussion, the Kings were preparing to welcome back Jeff Carter from a bone bruise that kept him out the last five games of the regular season.

“Good to go,” Carter said after joining teammates for a third straight day Wednesday.

That’s welcome news for a Kings team that has improved offensively since his arrival in a blockbuster trade with Columbus that reunited Carter with fellow former Flyers forward Mike Richards.

The Kings were dead last in scoring before Carter arrived, but averaged more than three goals in the 21 games after his arrival, which would be top-four in the NHL for the entire season. Carter only has six of them, and just nine points overall, but he balanced out the top six and created more room and less checking pressure for Anze Kopitar’s top line.

“I think I filled a hole, kind of balance things out maybe, shifted guys into roles that probably suit them well,” Carter said. “Just a little bit of balance.”

That balance will be important after the Canucks created a shutdown line with the trade deadline addition of center Samuel Pahlsson, who is expected to go head-to-head with Kopitar.

"[Carter] definitely adds a threat all over the ice at all times and we all know he can score some big goals and we need him to do that for us," Kopitar said. "It spreads everything out and maybe those guys can't; just key on the top line because it spreads the scoring around and that's what you need in the playoffs if you want to go deep."

Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Kings, who are missing Brad Richardson after undergoing an appendectomy Monday, try to avenge a six-game, first-round loss to Vancouver two years ago:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
 
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Likely Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick is in goal, with Jonathan Bernier backing up.   
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:08 PM

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

Tortorella preaching discipline as key to series

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rangers coach John Tortorella rarely addresses the opposing team. On Wednesday, however, he talked openly about how his team needs to prepare to face the Ottawa Senators in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series that starts Thursday.

The eighth-seeded Senators took three of four from the Rangers in the regular season and boast a power play that finished 11th in the regular season with offensive stars Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson.

Staying out of the penalty box, Tortorella said, is paramount against the Senators.

"They have a very good power play," Tortorella said. "We need to stay within ourselves as far as just going about our business, not getting involved in any antics and keeping our discipline. Discipline is a huge part of the game in the regular season -- it's two-fold come playoffs. We've had many conversations about how we have to handle ourselves."

"They have a great power play," captain Ryan Callahan said. "The key for us is going to be staying out of the box. Our penalty kill is going to have to come up big when needed.

The Senators can also be dangerous at even strength, possessing the ability to capitalize on neutral-zone turnovers. Those mistakes plagued the Rangers in their losses to the Senators this season, and it's something they know they need to remedy starting Thursday.

"We know they beat us, we know they have great players," forward Brian Boyle said. "They have a great offensive lineup. They can transition the puck well and burn you if you turn it over. We know that. I think everybody knows that."

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is familiar with the abilities of fellow Swedes Alfredsson and Karlsson and isn't exactly enthusiastic about having to face them.

"I don't know if I'm looking forward to it," Lundqvist said. "They're great players and I skate with them a lot. I know what type of players they are. They have a lot of skill. I think we're feeling good in here. We're excited to start."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 3:22 PM

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

Richards' concern winning, not proving himself

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Brad Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million contract this summer to play for the New York Rangers because he wanted a chance to have success in the spring.

The 31-year-old spoke Wednesday about how he doesn't want to prove himself in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- he just wants another chance to win, an opportunity that's been a rarity since winning a Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004.

"I don't know if it's prove my worth, I just want to win," Richards said. "I'm in my 30s now. The window is slowly closing. I got to win when I was very young, and I thought I'd get some more shots at it by now. I kind of thought, this will happen more often. It makes you appreciate it. It's nothing to do with the worth -- I want a chance to win.

"You don't know how many shots you've got. We've got a great team and have done a lot of great work this year. You don't know and can't say next year we'll be right back where we are. You don't know. Tons of things can happen over the summer. It's an opportunity for me. But I look at it like that."

When the Rangers face the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Thursday, they will do so with a team that doesn't boast much in the way of postseason experience. Richards said that this team reminds him of the young Lightning team that beat the Calgary Flames in seven games in 2004, and that youth and inexperience don't matter much today.

"This team basically got a look at it last year, some of the young guys," said Richards, who was referring to the Rangers' five-game loss to the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round. "Some of the other guys have been in it more than that. So they've probably got a little more than we had in Tampa. There's a lot of young teams in the League that win now. Experience is great, but you have to gain it by winning and getting to the playoffs."

Coach John Tortorella, who was behind the bench in Tampa when Richards also won the Conn Smythe Trophy, likes his team's "innocence" coming into the playoffs.

"I think that's a positive for us," Tortorella said. "I'm really trying to allow the team to not overthink a bunch of stuff and continue to go on with our business. The thing I like about this group here is we've had a lot of different things go on with our club right from the get-go and they have handled themselves very well. We're ready to play. I think they've handled themselves very well the past few days."

Tortorella also warned that this could be the best chance for some of his players to win a Stanley Cup.

"You just never know if you'll have an opportunity again to do it," Tortorella said. "That's why we tell our guys when you get into these type of situations, you need to try to enjoy it, too. Who knows what goes with your career. You may never get another whack at it. We're going to be ready to play. There's no question about that. But I want these guys to enjoy this time of year."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

 
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 3:04 PM

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

Having a healthy Callahan huge for Rangers

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The only person who is happier about Ryan Callahan being healthy for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs than the man himself is probably coach John Tortorella.

"It's nice to have him with a uniform on and not watching," Tortorella said Wednesday, as the Rangers had their final full practice before Thursday's game against the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

It was in Game 80 last season when Callahan blocked a slap shot by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Callahan suffered a broken foot and could only watch as the top-seeded Washington Capitals blitzed the Rangers in five games.

This time around, Callahan is healthy and looking forward to contributing after he was unable to last year.

"This is what you play 82 games for, is this time of year," Callahan said. "Last year was hard for me, missing the playoffs not being able to be part of it. I'm excited for it this year."

In his first year as Rangers' captain, Callahan had a career-best 29 goals and 54 points. He's a fixture on the penalty kill and is a leader when it comes to hitting and blocking shots.

"I look up and down the bench for him all the time, all situations, and now he had developed into quite a leader as far as his next progression that he's gone through this year," said Tortorella, who also praised Callahan's job performance as a captain.

"I think when you get into that type of situation, and he's still a young man, wearing the 'C,' I wasn't sure how he was going to be coming to me as far as our relationship and communicating through that," Tortorella said. "I've gotten to know him better. I think that's very important with your leaders. It's a bit of a conduit from coaching staff to player. That's gone along really smoothly. He doesn't say much. It's gone really well that way."

Defenseman Dan Girardi is happy to have a team that's entirely healthy, and admitted it was a big loss last season to play without Callahan.

"Losing a guy like that going into the playoffs is not good, but I thought we did a good job rallying around it," Girardi said. "I think this year having him, that's going to be awesome."

"He's a big piece," forward Marian Gaborik said. "We're glad he's there and with us and have a healthy team going in. It's very important to have that. We missed him last year. This is a different situation going into the playoffs as a healthy team."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Quote of the Day

I don’t know if it was more relief for me that [Stamkos] scored or the power play scored. It was a whole compilation of Alka Seltzer.

— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Steven Stamkos broke a long scoring drought and Tampa Bay's struggling power play scored four times in Game 2 at Montreal