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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:53 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils enjoy first series win since 2007

Five years without winning a playoff series is a long time for a franchise that's as accustomed to success as the New Jersey Devils. That's why they hope ending their postseason drought with a first-round win against Florida is a harbinger of good things to come.

The Devils got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 by outlasting Florida 3-2 in double overtime on Thursday night to win Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Now it's on to Philadelphia and a rematch with the team that wiped them out in five games in the opening round two years ago.

"Winning a playoff series goes a long way," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 43 saves and is now 6-4 in 10 career Game 7 starts. "I think for people it's just a confidence and sometimes you need adversity. …The first round, I think when you haven't been in the playoffs, especially the year before and it's been struggling getting out of the first round, when you get through that it feels good for a day and then after that we've got to face the Flyers."

By the time the game ended at 12:17 a.m. ET, Thursday night had turned into Friday morning -- marking the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first NHL playoff game, on April 27, 1992 against the Rangers.

The win means that the NHL's winningest regular-season goaltender will get to spend his 40th birthday doing what he does best -- the Devils will host Philadelphia in Game 4 a week from Sunday.

With 43 saves, including a handful of series-savers, Brodeur looked as sharp as ever.

"He was outstanding, especially in the first overtime and late in the third period," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "He was our best player tonight and he had to be or we don't win."

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:58 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

No place like home for Rangers

If the New York Rangers have to play a Game 7, there's nowhere else they'd rather play it than Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers rode the benefits of playing in front of their home fans to a 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Playing the deciding game at MSG was their reward for finishing first in the Eastern Conference -- and they'll have the same reward for as far as they go in the playoffs.

The Rangers are now 4-5 all-time in Game 7s -- 4-0 at the Garden and 0-5 on the road. The victory against the Senators was their first in a Game 7 since they held off Vancouver to win the 1994 Final. The other two Game 7 wins both came against New Jersey -- they won 8-4 in the opening round in 1992 and 2-1 in double overtime in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final.

Ottawa has yet to find a way to win Game 7. The Senators have gone to a seventh game five times but have yet to win one -- in fact, they've scored just six goals in the five games.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 4-2-0
GAA: 2.06 | SVP: 0.922
Marty comes through -- Playoff overtime has never been Martin Brodeur's strong suit, but he came through in back-to-back games when the New Jersey Devils needed him most.

Brodeur made 43 saves before Adam Henrique's goal 3:47 into the second overtime gave New Jersey a 3-2 win at Florida in Game 7 on Thursday night. Brodeur and the Devils also won Game 6 in OT, giving him overtime wins in back-to-back games for the first time beating Toronto in Games 2 and 3 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Despite the two wins against Florida, Brodeur is still just 14-21 in overtime during the playoffs.

The winningest regular-season goaltender in NHL history now has won six of his 10 decisions in Game 7 -- he's 3-2 on the road and at home. Brodeur has split the two Game 7s that went into overtime; he lost to the New York Rangers in double overtime in the Eastern Conference Finals 18 years ago.

The Game 7 win against Florida came about 20 minutes after Thursday night turned into Friday morning -- and April 27 is the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first Stanley Cup Playoff game, an 8-5 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their first-round series in 1992.

Fitting conclusion
-- It was appropriate that the first round of the playoffs ended with the longest game of the record 16 contests to go into overtime.

Adam Henrique
Center - NJD
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 1
Henrique's goal at 23:47 of overtime concluded an opening round that saw exactly one-third of the 48 games played go past regulation. It's the most OT games ever in the opening round -- and puts the NHL on track to break the record of 28 overtime games in a single playoff year, set in 1993.

Of the eight series in the conference quarterfinals, only one -- Detroit-Nashville -- didn't have at least one overtime game. Phoenix and Chicago tied a record when they went to extra time in each of the first five games, and the Washington-Boston series had four OT contests.

That the visiting Devils won Thursday night shouldn't have come as a surprise. Road teams won 12 of the 16 overtime games -- and all three that went into a second extra period.

20 and counting -- The departure of the Senators means that the Stanley Cup will be staying south of the 49th parallel again. Not since the Montreal Canadiens beat Los Angeles in 1993 has a Canadian-based team taken home the Cup. This is the first year since 1996 that the final eight in the playoffs don't include a Canadian team.

Ottawa's loss also kept another streak intact. Since the current playoff format was adopted for the 1993-94 season, we haven't had both No. 8 seeds win. Los Angeles became the 12th No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed by eliminating Vancouver, but the Senators came up a goal short in their effort to oust the Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

First-round review -- No sweeps. Three seven-game series. Domination by visiting teams. Such was the first round of this year's playoffs.

For the second time in three years, all eight conference quarterfinals went more than four games. Three -- all in the West -- were decided in five games. Two others went six games and three Eastern Conference series went to the limit, the second time that's happened in as many years.

The Vancouver Canucks became the 10th top seed in a conference to fail to get out of the first round when Los Angeles beat them in five games. Boston became the second straight defending champ to be knocked out in the first round when it lost to Washington.

The trend of road teams dominating the opening round continued -- the guys in the white sweaters won 30 of the 48 games, the third year in a row visiting teams have won more than they've lost in the first round. None of the eight winning teams was perfect at home.
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:40 AM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers and Caps to renew playoff rivalry

NEW YORK -- For the third time in four years, the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Things have not gone well for the Rangers in those matchups, both of which occurred in the first round. In 2009, the seventh-seeded Rangers let a 3-1 series lead slip away and lost in seven games. Last year, the eighth-seeded Rangers lost in five games to the top-seeded Caps.

The shoe is on the other foot this time around -- the Rangers enter the series as the No. 1 team in the East with the seventh-seeded Capitals as the underdogs.

None of that matters to Henrik Lundqvist, the losing goalie in those previous two encounters.

"The past is the past," Lundqvist said after the Rangers won Game 7 by beating Ottawa 2-1 on Thursday. "I don't think about what happened last year or whatever. It's different teams. We're in a different place and they're in a different place. I'm going to approach it the same way I approached this one, not overthink it or try to do too much. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing, so we have to be ready."

The Caps have won four of the previous six postseason meetings between the teams. But both of the Rangers' wins have come in this round -- New York upset Washington in 1986 and beat the Caps in five in 1994 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The teams split four games during the regular season, with team earning a victory in the other's building.

"I don't know honestly how much is going to change game-wise," Lundqvist said. "It's the playoffs. It's more physical. It might be similar, maybe not, who knows, but for me personally it doesn't really change. I'm going to approach it the same way and I have to play my game the same way. So, yeah, it doesn't change for me."

Both teams are coming off seven-game series and won't have much rest entering the conference semifinals.

"They went seven games as well and have very confident players," Rangers forward Marian Gaborik said. "We have to get ready for those guys and play our game. It's going to be another tough series."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter; @DaveLozo

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 10:26 PM

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

Coyotes will be rested for Game 1

Not only did the Phoenix Coyotes win their first playoff series since 1987 when they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they earned themselves some much-needed rest.

After beating the Hawks in a grueling six-game series that saw the first five go into overtime, Phoenix got a welcome three-day break before the Nashville Predators come to the desert to open their Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.

Instead of practicing on Wednesday, the Coyotes held a team meeting instead. A few players took the ice while others received treatment or worked out. Coach Dave Tippett put his team through a practice on Thursday in preparation for the series opener on Friday night. He anticipates having everyone available for Game 1 except suspended forward Raffi Torres.

The four remaining teams in the West have a combined total of four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final -- three by St. Louis from 1968-70 and one by Los Angeles in 1993. Neither the Coyotes nor the Predators have gotten past the second round.

But both Phoenix and Nashville are here after eliminating Original Six teams -- Chicago and Detroit. The Predators have been off since beating the Wings in five games last Friday.

"It helps the grassroots. You get excitement," Tippett said of the turnover on top of the conference. "New blood in there, the more teams we can get to that element, I think that's great for the League."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 8:31 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore to start, Garrison to play for Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's official -- goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison will return to the lineup on Thursday for the Florida Panthers against the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at BankAtlantic Center.
Jose Theodore
Goalie - FLA
RECORD: 2-1-0
GAA: 2.59 | SVP: 0.919
Theodore missed Game 6 in New Jersey on Tuesday with an apparent lower-body injury he suffered the day before during practice. The 35-year-old veteran of 16 NHL seasons is 2-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in four postseason appearances against the Devils.
Garrison, who set a franchise record for defensemen with 16 goals in the regular season and logged the second-most ice time behind Brian Campbell, has been vital to the success of the Panthers all season. He missed the last three games with a lower-body ailment but appeared confident and ready to go at the team's morning skate on Thursday at BankAtlantic. Garrison has one goal, two points, nine hits and 10 shots in three playoff games.
With the 27-year-old defenseman in the lineup, Florida's power-play was clicking at a 60-percent success rate (6-for-10) in the opening three games of the series. During his absence, the team has gone 1-for-13 with the extra man.
"He a big part of their power play and we have to be aware of him," Devils captain Zach Parise said of Garrison. "Campbell likes to walk it down the wall and give it to him for one-timers, so we have to try and take that pass away."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 7:05 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Konopka will play Game 7 for Senators

NEW YORK -- Ottawa forward Zenon Konopka will play in Game 7 Thursday against the Rangers despite not practicing Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Konopka is a key player for the Senators despite being on the fourth line. He leads the NHL with a 69.7-percent success rate in the faceoff circle in the playoffs (46 for 66).

Defenseman Matt Carkner will not play for Ottawa in Game 7 due to an injury. He will be replaced by ex-Ranger Matt Gilroy, who played in Games 1 and 3 but has not dressed in a game since.

Center Brian Boyle is again out for the Rangers with a concussion. He hasn't played since Game 5.

Here were the lines, defense pairings and goaltenders during pregame warmups:


Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan

Ruslan Fedotenko - Brandon Dubinsky - Brandon Prust

Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Anton Stralman

Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist

Martin Biron


Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Jacob Silfverberg

Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson

Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Zenon Konopka - Jim O'Brien - Erik Condra

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson

Jared Cowan - Sergei Gonchar

Matt Gilroy - Chris Phillips

Craig Anderson

Ben Bishop

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Staff -  / - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Grossmann returns to Flyers practice

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann appears to be on the mend after missing Games 5 and 6 against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Grossmann practiced Thursday in a regular jersey, meaning he was able to take contact, for the first time since suffering what is reportedly believed to be a concussion in Game 4 against the Penguins.

Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who is recovering from back surgery, skated toward the end of practice.

Also, Flyers forward Maxime Talbot was hit in the mouth early in practice and had to leave. His injury is not believed to be serious.

Philadelphia won't find out its next opponent until after the Game 7s are completed Thursday. The Flyers will face one of Florida, New Jersey, Washington or Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:32 PM

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

In-season hirings Sutter, Hitchcock set to face off

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In addition to having teams that mirror each other in playing style, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter and St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock were both early-season hirings brought in because of poor starts under their predecessors.

Sutter replaced Terry Murray [and interim coach John Stevens] on Dec. 20, when the team was 15-14-4, and guided the Kings to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season. After nearly two years away from coaching in the NHL, Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne in November after a 6-7 start and went a stunning 43-15-11 with the Blues, including a 27-5-5 record at home.

Overall, St. Louis went 30-6-5 at home, a number that has gotten Sutter's attention when he looks at the differences between his club and Hitchcock's, who are set to meet in the Western Conference Semifinals.

"They have 30 wins at home, and that's a significant number," Sutter said on Thursday before the Kings departed for St. Louis. "I don't care how you cut that. You win 30 games at home, that's something special. And if you look at seasons, both teams made coaching changes that have impacted how the teams play. I know Ken's style really well and he knows my style really well, and that's sort of where you leave it."

The two have a seven-year difference in age. Sutter playfully noted that Hitchcock was "a '51," meaning he was born in 1951 while Sutter is "a '58" for his birth year of 1958. But the two have similar backgrounds and paths to getting behind the bench.

Hitchcock grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton, Alberta, not far from Sutter's hometown of Viking. Hitchcock began his NHL coaching career as an assistant in the 1990s and guided the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. Sutter started out as assistant and head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks and later took the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Final.

The respect between the two is clear. Sutter, of course, isn't surprised by what Hitchcock has done with the Blues.

"It's a pretty good hockey club and he's a pretty strong leader, [with] a good veteran group and kids that probably just needed a clear focus," Sutter said. "Hitch can establish that in a hurry … that's what good coaches do. Guys who have coached for a long time, they can adapt, and they have a good pulse on the room. He does that."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac - Correspondent / - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Blues endured wait to learn when series would start

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Blues prepare for the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, the element of surprise was when it would all get started.

Both teams had to wait for the NHL to release at least a partial schedule, which came Wednesday, to have a better idea when to mentally and physically prepare for the start of the series.

It's tougher for the Kings, who traveled to St. Louis Thursday for Games 1 and 2. But as much as they want to practice, the Blues also were looking for a better idea of when to really get the game preparation underway.

"It's the first go for a lot of guys without knowing the starting date; I think that was the bigger distraction," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Having the down time, knowing when you're starting, players can plan their week. Not knowing in the first practices what day we were going was a little bit of a concern for everybody because you didn't know when to amp it up, how much to amp it up. You didn't have any idea.

"Once we got down [Wednesday] and we knew it was Saturday, then you saw even a bigger focus today. We had a very good focus today at practice."

For the players, staying even-keeled is key.

"You've just got to keep telling yourself that it's going to happen, just keep working every day," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I can't remember when we've practiced this many days in a row except training camp. This time of year, you just want to be playing hockey. I think we're all ready right now."

Now a plan can be put in place.

"I think we we knew it was going to come Friday or Saturday from the start," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've been getting some stuff done for L.A., but today and tomorrow are kind of the key days of practicing and getting ready for them.

"Now that there's a set day, we know it's going to be Saturday, it's a little nicer to plan your week out and get ready."

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 3:18 PM

By Louie Korac - Correspondent / - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Halak ruled out for first two games against Kings

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower body) skated before Thursday's practice and is progressing, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, but is still ruled out for Games 1 and 2 of the series.

"He skated before the team at practice," said Hitchcock, who announced Halak not being available early because he didn't want it to be a distraction. "He's getting better. Not ready for the first two games, so we'll just see from there. ... We've got our two goalies and away we go."
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Quote of the Day

I definitely think going back down helped me, I had a lot of confidence down there, I played a lot of minutes and I think that helped me a lot. With the 37 games up here, that gave me experience as well. I know what it takes to play in the NHL and now it's time for me to show that I'm capable of being a full-time NHL player.

— Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl on finishing the 2014-15 season in juniors after playing 37 games with Edmonton to begin the season