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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 10:50 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 17th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 78 11 89 7

9th 71 76 11 87 8
10th 71 75 11 85 8
11th 70 71 12 82 10
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 81 9 90 6

9th 70 80 12 92 7
10th 71 80 11 91 7
11th 72 80 10 89 7

The Skinny:
The Buffalo Sabres found a new ally Friday night in the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets defeated the Capitals, keeping the Sabres within three points of the eighth playoff spot. 

As it stands entering action on Saturday, the Sabres are projected to need 15 points from their 11 remaining games to make the playoffs. Seven wins and an overtime or shootout loss doesn't seem that daunting, but a loss Saturday night to the Florida Panthers and that task becomes more difficult when thinking about 15 points in 10 games. When a team has the opportunity to take advantage of their own situation, it becomes like a "must-win" game because failing to do so leaves teams looking for the "luck of the Irish" for help.

Pittsburgh continues to look at the top of the Eastern Conference and the New York Rangers, who are only four points ahead and the Penguins have a game in hand. A win in New Jersey will put the Devils six points behind the Penguins and almost certainly assure the Devils of opening the playoffs on the road. Barring a complete collapse by the Penguins -- and that isn't going to happen -- the Devils would have to gain seven more points than Pittsburgh in the remaining games to pass them.

To the west we look and Colorado continues to hold a playoff spot, but keep in mind they have played more games than the teams they are battling with for the last two spots. Colorado is going to need at least six wins in their remaining nine games to be in position to qualify and a loss to the Rangers will make the uphill battle a lot steeper. Winning six of eight games at any time of the season is never easy. Good luck charms are never the way to go to qualify for the playoffs so taking care of your own business has to take precedence.
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 6:41 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Datsyuk close to return; Franzen leaves practice early

The Detroit Red Wings are preparing to welcome back top-line center Pavel Datsyuk for Saturday night's game at San Jose -- but they may be without Johan Franzen against the Sharks.

Franzen left the ice early at Friday morning's practice, complaining of low back pain as the team skated at the Sharks' training facility. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Franzen said that he's experienced back problems in the past, but nothing quite this bad.

"I never had this before. Not like this," the team's leading goal-scorer told the Wings' website. "Can't play like this."

Franzen, center Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall are the only Wings to appear in all 71 games this season.

"When I started skating it started to spasm up and got worse and worse, tried to skate through it," Franzen said. "I had to get off, I couldn't really move.

"We're going to do some treatment tonight and get back on it tomorrow."

Datsyuk, who's recuperating from arthroscopic knee surgery and hasn't played since Feb. 19, sounded a lot more positive about being in the lineup as the Wings try to avoid being swept on their four-game road trip.

"Looking forward to playing tomorrow," he said.

Assuming he's back in the lineup, Datsyuk will have 11 games to work out any rust prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

"Every time is different," he told the Wings' website. "I hope so tomorrow it be back, kind of everything. But after every injury, it takes more time or less time -- it's hard to say."

Coach Mike Babcock hopes Datsyuk will be ready to go.

"He's talented and he's a hard worker," Babcock said. "I think he's the best two-way player in the game, so he's a huge part of what goes on and we haven't been very good."
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 3:26 PM

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

Palmieri could slot in for Perry on first line again

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Corey Perry is moving closer to a return, but signs indicate that the reigning Hart Trophy winner might miss another game.

Perry took part in all of Anaheim's morning skate, but was last in line during the drills and appeared to be slightly holding back. Perry is recovering from a sore shoulder from a hit by Stephane Robidas of Dallas. He said he is a game-time decision against rival Los Angeles.

Friday is the first of three games in four nights for Anaheim, and it would be reasonable for the club to be cautious in bringing Perry back.

"It's a tough decision," Perry said. "You don't like sitting out, but you also don't know how it's going to feel taking a check, and the possibility of playing three in four -- it's a lot of hockey and a lot of banging. It's playoff hockey and it's going to be tough out there, but we'll see how it is."

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau sounded cautious with Perry and Luca Sbisa, who is recovering from back spasms.

"They're starting to skate and practice," Boudreau said. "But it looks sooner than later. It's not another week, as far I know. It looks like before the San Jose game (on Monday) they'll play."

That the Ducks are facing slim odds at a postseason berth provides justification for more rest. Also, Kyle Palmieri scored two goals in place of Perry on Wednesday.

"It's really a double-edged sword," Boudreau said of Palmieri, who led the AHL with 32 goals at the time of his recall.

"We'd love to see him here to take a good look at him. At the same time, he's fighting with a team all year that's two points out of a playoff race there and he's arguably their best player. He's the best scorer in that league. You've got to weigh one versus the other.

"You've got to think about Anaheim first, but at the same time, do we know him well enough to know where we slot him in next year? If he keeps doing what he did the last game, he's not going nowhere."

This is unusual territory for Perry, whose streak of 272 consecutive games played ended Monday.

"It's tough," he said. "It's been a long time since I've missed a game -- especially in the dogfight we're in trying to catch up and try to make a push for the playoffs in the last 11 games. It's definitely not fun watching, riding the bike and watching it on TV. It isn't what you really enjoy doing."

Sbisa said he's progressing but also said he's a game-time decision.

"I don't want to say I'll be in 100 percent," Sbisa said. "If you want to play, you got to be 100 percent. You can’t make a selfish decision and just go out there for two or three shifts and realize it's not good enough for a game, right? But it still felt pretty good."

Perry on Stamkos: Perry, the NHL's only 50-goal scorer last season, wasn't the least surprised that Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay already reached the mark.

"Not the way he scores goals," Perry said. "He puts the puck in the net with the best of him. He's got a (great) shot. He's got skill and he's got speed, so he uses all of those to his advantage. Fifty is tough and 60 would be a tremendous feat. There's not too many guys that can do that."

Boudreau on Sutter:
Boudreau played with Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter on the 1978-79 New Brunswick Hawks of the AHL and briefly with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s.

"He had a great wrist shot for his time," Boudreau said. "He was a skinny young guy and he actually played in Japan and nobody knew him other than the fact his last name was Sutter, but at that time only Brian was playing.

"He took no crap from anybody. He wasn't a fighter, but at the same time, stood up for himself all the time. To me, he was a great teammate. He'd do anything he had to do for the team to win, and that's how he continued doing what's he doing as a coach."
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 3:20 PM

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

Workhorse Hiller set for 31st consecutive start

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jonas Hiller is expected make his 31st consecutive start tonight when the Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings, which would match Buffalo’s Ryan Miller for the second-longest streak in the past two seasons.  Antti Niemi of San Jose started 34 straight from Jan.15, 2011 to April 4, 2011.

Hiller has played and started in 65 of Anaheim's 71 games. He is on track to break Guy Hebert's franchise record for most games played (69) and most starts (68).

Jonathan Quick is expected to start for Los Angeles. Quick is 2-3-1 with a 3.47 goals-against average in his past six road games and is 4-4 in nine career appearances in Anaheim.

Here's how the lineups project:

KINGS
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
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

DUCKS
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake - Nick Bonino - Matt Beleskey
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - Devante Smith-Pelly

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Nate Guenin
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:42 PM

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

Win over Jets would give Capitals breathing room

WINNIPEG -- A win tonight over the Winnipeg Jets would allow the Washington Capitals to keep their gaze looking forward and lessen the urge to look over their shoulders.

The Capitals (36-28-6) have used a 7-2-1 run that includes their current four-game win streak to put space between themselves and the Jets, whom they lead by four points. A win tonight would also move the Capitals to within one point of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and mark the first time they have won more than four games in a row since a seven-game win streak opened their season.

"We're getting good goaltending and timely scoring," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said of his club's recent push. "We're basically playing playoff-style hockey."

Settling down the Jets and their rambunctious crowd will be one key for the Capitals, who have split the teams' first two meetings this season in Winnipeg.

"They play with so much emotion and passion," center Brooks Laich said of the Jets.

Hunter is also keenly aware of Winnipeg's home power play, which ranks first in the League this season at a 25.0 percent clip.

"They move the puck well," Hunter said. "They have big shots from the point and get traffic in front. Stay out of the penalty box."

Washington will also regain the services of defenseman Mike Green, who will return after serving a three-game suspension. Tomas Vokoun will return to the Washington net after Michal Neuvirth turned in wins over the past two games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Capitals:

Marcus Johansson - Brooks Laich - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dennis Wideman - Dmitry Orlov
Jeff Schultz - Mike Green

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Jets face critical matchup against eighth-place Caps

WINNIPEG -- The latest in a series of "must-win" games continues tonight for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre.

Washington holds a four-point lead on the Jets (33-29-8) for the Jets for the Eastern Conference's eighth-place slot. With a three-game road trip next week looming for the Jets, ending the Capitals' four-game win streak is crucial. The Jets ended the Dallas Stars' six-game win streak two nights ago at the MTS Centre, where several opponents have seen long point streaks come to an end.

Zach Bogosian's return from a nagging injury appears to be close, but he will again be out of the Winnipeg lineup against the Capitals. Chris Thorburn remains out as well, so former Capital Eric Fehr, who scored only his second goal of the season in the win against Dallas, will again skate on Winnipeg's checking line with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up. Pavelec, an anchor in net all season for the Jets, has spun off a shutout, three wins and a .931 save percentage over his past five games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

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

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Varlamov, Dan Boyle and Iginla

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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:28 PM

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

Stars start big homestand looking to bounce back

DALLAS -- After seeing their 11-game point streak end with a thud in a 5-2 loss at Winnipeg on Wednesday, the Dallas Stars (39-27-5, 83 points) now look to rebound as the Chicago Blackhawks (38-25-8, 84 points) visit American Airlines Center for the second time this season.

Tonight's game begins a crucial four-game homestand for Dallas, a run of games that will see the Stars also face Phoenix, Vancouver and Calgary before they head out for a four-game road trip to end the month of March. 

"That word big comes before every game for the next 11, right?" first-year Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think the focal point is they [Chicago] are a point ahead of us here. I know they're not in our division. Two points is two points and it's going to be a real tough game."

Gulutzan wasn't hesitant in saying No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen would get the start not only against the Blackhawks, but also for the entire homestand.

"I think for any team right now, the goaltending becomes a real big factor," he said. "There's a big spotlight on your goalie now and the other team's goalie. Kari's rested. He's going to get tonight and he's going to get the next four games. It's important, and we feel we've got a better chance than most people because we've got Kari Lehtonen."

Lehtonen is 8-0-1 with a 1.29 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage in his last nine starts for the Stars.

After arriving back in the Lone Star State early Thursday morning, Gulutzan gave his players a day off on Thursday before a morning skate on Friday morning at the arena.

Dallas will be without veteran winger Radek Dvorak and defenseman Sheldon Souray, who are both out with lower-body injuries. However, they should be ready to return by Tuesday, when the Stars will host the Coyotes.

"They both should be ready for Tuesday. They won't be tonight though," Gulutzan said.

And rookie defenseman Philip Larsen will be a game-time decision after suffering a knee injury in Wednesday's road loss to the Jets. Larsen did return in the second period but remains day-to-day. If he can't go, then fellow rookie Jordie Benn, older brother of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn, will get the start.

"He'll be a game-time decision and if not, Jordie Benn will go in. We're very comfortable with Lars, but very more than capable of Jordie Benn to go in if we need him," Gulutzan said.

Some might wonder if there are any lingering effects from Wednesday's streak-ending loss to the Jets, but Stars winger Steve Ott said any such concerns are off base.

"Those games happen. I truthfully believe that. I can't even really imagine the loss as much as how good we've been playing of late in the 10 games before that," Ott said. "I think taking the confidence that we've built in the last little while will be key for tonight."
   
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Crawford back in net as Blackhawks visit Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center:

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Carter Hutton

Injuries: Daniel Carcillo (torn ACL), Ray Emery (illness), Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body), Sami Lepisto (leg), Steve Montador (concussion), Jonathan Toews (concussion)

Scratches: Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger, Brendan Morrison

Notes: Chicago heads into tonight's game after beating the Blues 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night at United Center. Crawford will start between the pipes after playing well in a 4-3 shootout win over the Blues after Ray Emery started, struggled early and was pulled by coach Joel Quenneville. Emery did not make the trip to Dallas, so the Hawks recalled Hutton from Rockford of the AHL. Chicago is 14-18-3 on the road this season and has lost its only visit to American Airlines Center this season, 2-1 in the regular season opener on Oct. 11, 2011.

STARS

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Adam Burish
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Mark Fistric - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Adam Pardy

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Jordie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Toby Petersen

Injuries: Radek Dvorak (lower body), Philip Larsen (lower body), Sheldon Souray (lower body)

Notes: The Stars saw their 11-game point streak, a stretch where they went 10-0-1, end on Wednesday night in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss to the Jets. Dallas begins a four-game homestand with tonight's visit by the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Two current Stars, Burish and Dowell, were members of Chicago's Cup-winning team two seasons ago. These clubs last met on Feb. 23 at United Center with the Stars coming away with a 3-1 win. That victory came in the second game of their recently-concluded point streak. Larsen is a game-time decision with a lower body injury and if he can't go, fellow rookie Jordie Benn, older brother of Jamie Benn, will get the nod.
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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Win over Habs would vault Senators atop Northeast

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the starting lineups for Friday’s game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place:

SENATORS
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Rob Klinkhammer - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil
Bobby Butler - Zack Smith - Erik Condra

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

Ben Bishop
Alex Auld

After being scratched for the past four games, Butler returns to the lineup, making Kaspars Daugavins, in addition to Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka, healthy scratches.

With a win on Friday night, the Senators could vault ahead of the Bruins to lead the Northeast Division. Spezza insists that the team is maintaining focus.

"It's obviously something that’s in the back of our minds," he said. "We're just trying to play good hockey and pick up as many points as we can. We're trying not to focus too much on what's happening around us, other than how we're playing. If we can take care of how we're playing, things will take care of themselves."

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Ryan White
Blake Geoffrion - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Brad Staubitz - Petteri Nokelainen - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber
Chris Campoli - Federic St-Denis

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

Andrei Markov is out with an upper-body injury, and Alexei Emelin will return to the lineup. Tomas Kaberle is day-to-day, also with an upper-body injury. Mike Blunden, who has missed the last 20 games (lower body) practiced on Friday morning with the team. Raphael Diaz remains out with a lower-body injury.

Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth was coy about playing the role of spoiler against the Senators.

"We still have a lot to play for," he said. "Other teams have other things to play for. But there's always something important to be playing for. We have to be playing for the right reasons. We have to play hard, we have to compete. If it spoils (things) for other teams, so be it."
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Quote of the Day

It was a big dream. [Messi] is probably the best athlete out there, so it's a big honor, for [Kuznetzov] as well. It's maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the best player in soccer right now. I'm a big Barcelona fan and Messi fan, so it's huge. You can take [Michael] Jordan, [Mark] Messier, [Wayne] Gretzky, those kinds of [people]. It's an honor to meet. It's nice to be in that position.

— Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin told told Monumental Network after meeting soccer star Lionel Messi prior to Argentina's practice at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. on Friday
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