WILMINGTON, Mass. – The announcement Wednesday that forward Nathan Horton would not be returning to the Boston Bruins during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to post-concussion symptoms means the Bruins will start the playoffs with Rich Peverley as the team's first-line right wing.
Since returning from a 19-game absence March 25 due to a knee sprain, Peverley had been rotating with Tyler Seguin at Horton's old spot alongside left wing Milan Lucic and center David Krejci. Through three days of practice, including Wednesday's workout here at Ristuccia Arena, Peverley consistently was on Krejci's right. He's expected to start in that position for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington Thursday at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
Peverley had two goals and four points in the final eight games of the regular season as he tried to get back to feeling like himself before the playoffs. He said it took five or six games, but now he's at full strength.
"I feel like the last two games of the season I really felt like I was skating a lot better. My timing feels good. I feel 100 percent," said Peverley, who finished the season with 11 goals and 42 points in 57 games.
Krejci's confident his chemistry, which has been so strong with Lucic for two seasons now, can continue to improve with Peverley.
"When [Horton's] on my line, it's more like two power forwards and one set-up man," said Krejci. "Now with [Peverley] there it's kind of like two set-up men and one power forward. So, you know, me and him [Peverley], we've got to realize that if one guy has the puck on his stick, the other guy's got to become a power forward. That's what we've got to do and I think that's going to be the key to score goals for our line."
PITTSBURGH -- Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossman both played coy Wednesday morning and said their status would not be decided until game time. The Flyers didn't want to wait that long to make it official, so shortly after the media session with the players was over, the team revealed on its Twitter page that Briere and Grossmann will play in Game 1 against the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).
The news is not surprising since both players have been practicing this week and they came off the ice with the rest of the regulars after Wednesday's pregame skate.
They each missed the last three regular-season games after being injured in the teams' game April 1, both on plays involving Penguins center Joe Vitale. Grossmann was left with a lower-body injury after colliding with Vitale in the first period. In the game's final moments, Vitale's hard shoulder check on Briere left the Philadelphia center with a back contusion that caused back spasms.
Now with Briere and Grossmann set to go, the Flyers will have their full lineup. Defenseman Pavel Kubina, who played the last 10 games of the regular season, and forward Jody Shelley will be healthy scratches.
Briere is one point shy of being a point-per-game player in his playoff career (96 points in 97 games). He'll center the second line, between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
"In the playoffs he's been pretty good and we hope he plays the way he can," Claude Giroux said of Briere. "I have no doubt for him. The last few practices he's been flying out there. He just finds a way to get it done."
Grossmann has been a key addition to the Flyers' lineup since arriving in trade just before the trade deadline. He has been using his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body to clear space in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who was the NHL's Player of the Month in March.
Grossmann recognizes how important his job will be against the high-powered Penguins.
"They've got a lot of skill up front, obviously. They have two, I think, real high-skilled lines that can score a lot of goals," Grossmann said. "If everyone is on the same page and doing the right things it's going to make us successful in helping Bryz out."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There was plenty of drama leading into the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. Like all postseason series, there's a storyline and angle from each side.
For the Blues, it was which goalie Ken Hitchcock would go with to open the playoffs.
But after it was disclosed Tuesday that Brian Elliott has been nursing an upper-body injury, Hitchcock's choice as a Game 1 starter against the Sharks on Thursday became a no-brainer.
Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday that Jaroslav Halak would start the opener and the hope was Elliott would be available as the backup.
Halak was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season.
Elliott, who led the NHL in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season, suffered his injury on April 5 against Detroit, an injury Hitchcock said is very minor. There was a play early in the first period in which Elliott made a save on Pavel Datsyuk and in the process, teammate T.J. Oshie back-checking skid into the scrum and helped knock Elliott back into the goalpost.
Elliott was kept off the ice for practice Wednesday and is expected to back up Thursday night.
"It made the decision yesterday pretty easy. We'll start with Jaro and like everything else, hope for the best."
The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen from Peoria on Tuesday in hopes of just using him during practice sessions in the coming days until Elliott is fully recovered. The choice between Halak and Elliott was in a dead heat until Tuesday.
"Yeah, it was a big decision before Elliott got hurt. But we're pretty hopeful that he's going to be able to back up tomorrow and get himself ready, but we're not 100 percent," Hitchcock said.
Halak, who went on that magical run with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 in which he helped knock out Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and Alex Ovechkin, then backed it up by eliminating Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, will get his first crack at the postseason since that run. He was 9-9 with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save percentage in that playoff season.
"I think it's going to be a good battle. I'm excited," Halak said. "We'll see how it goes. One game at a time. Tomorrow is Game 1 and we need to focus on that one.
"That [playoff run in 2010 is] in the past. Right now is the present. I just need to play simple, play my game and we'll see how it goes. I know in the playoffs, it's a little different game that the regular season, but you still have to do the same job, stop the puck and help the guys. ... Just play and have fun. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself."
Halak, who was 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .956 save percentage against the Sharks this season, was mentally prepared no matter who Hitchcock was going with.
"No matter whoever [started], we need to play as a team and we need to play for 60 minutes or 60-plus or whatever it takes to win the game," Halak said. "I don't think it matters whoever is the guy. I think both of the goalies needed to prepare the same way, no matter if you play or not. It's still the same approach."
But going against the big-bodied Sharks, Halak is ready to go to battle.
"Playoffs is a different thing than the regular season," Halak said. "I never played them in the playoffs, but we know their team, we know their personality. I know they will probably shoot he puck and [try to] create some rebounds and always put somebody in front of me or Ells. We'll see what happens. One game at a time. We'll see what it brings tomorrow."
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins' defense corps might be close to whole when they host Washington Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) at TD Garden for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
Johnny Boychuk practiced Wednesday for the third straight day in his attempt to return from a knee injury that occurred April 3 in a collision with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham. Boychuk missed Boston's last two regular-season games.
"Obviously, we have an opportunity maybe to make a decision [Thursday]," Bruins coach Claude Julien said following the workout here at Ristuccia Arena. "Again, specifying opportunity, not a 100-percenter. But he's feeling fairly good, so we want to remain optimistic with him."
Boychuk started the week a bit ahead of schedule, as he wasn't supposed to take part in battle drills on his first day on the ice Monday. However, he competed in those drills and emerged unscathed.
The news wasn't as positive for fellow defenseman Adam McQuaid, who left Boston's April 5 game with an upper-body injury and then missed the regular-season finale. He has yet to skate since then and Julien said McQuaid would be out for Game 1.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has been out since March 3 with an abdominal/groin injury, practiced for a third straight day Wednesday. He started taking shots Monday. Julien said that as of Wednesday afternoon he didn't expect to have Rask dress against the Capitals, but that could change Thursday.
PITTSBURGH —Matt Cooke wants to make something clear now that the long-awaited Flyers-Penguins playoff series is finally here.
The Penguins are not – with the emphasis on "not" – playing the Broad Street Bullies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Flyers-Penguins regular season game April 1 was intense and physical and wound down with two coaches screaming at each other as all 10 skaters on the ice skirmished briefly. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was incensed by a clean but hard hit by center Joe Vitale on Flyers forward Danny Briere and was highly critical of the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma.
After the teams met again this past Sunday in a far-less-emotional game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said he expected this series to be a "bloodbath."
However, the Penguins believe the Flyers teams they defeated in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs better fit the Broad Street Bullies stereotype. To them, these Flyers are built around elements other than tough guys and a push-it-to-the-limits mentality.
"I mean they're not a bruiser team. They don't physically punish you, I wouldn't say, any more than the way we want to play,” Cooke said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "They have that persona from the 1970s and that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers are about. They have a lot of skill over there. They play a skill game and they look for turnovers. Those are the things that are going to win them games, not physical play."
Not that the Flyers don’t have agitator-type players that try to disrupt and distract a team. After that April 1 game, Penguins star Sidney Crosby acknowledged he gave more retaliatory hits than in any recent game he can remember.
The Flyers also are expected to try to provoke Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin into taking a retaliatory penalty – he can be prone to doing that – that not only puts Philadelphia on the power play but takes one of the NHL’s most creative offensive players off the ice. Malkin had 70 penalty minutes this season – 26 more than long-reputed agitator Cooke, for example.
“They’ve got certain players that are willing to irritate guys," Cooke said. "I think that's a situation where playing three games against them late in the season are fresh in our memories and make us understand and realize how we have to defend against that."
While the Flyers may not try to beat up an opponent at the same time it is trying to defeat it, Bylsma said the Penguins must be prepared for the offensive pace Philadelphia will attempt to mount with all four lines.
“This is a team that keeps coming at you," Bylsma said.
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is expected to play only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery; he was expected to be out for three-to-four weeks. Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t take part in the morning skate and is all but certain to miss a third consecutive game.
One change: Deryk Engelland, usually on the right side when he is paired with Niskanen, will be on the left side with Lovejoy playing the right side.
The only other defenseman in uniform is rookie Brian Strait, who was a minus-two in the final two regular season games.
Boston forward Nathan Horton will not make a dramatic comeback in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins announced Wednesday that Horton will miss the entire postseason as he deals with a concussion suffered Jan. 22.
Horton has not played since that game against the Flyers and has missed 36 games.
He played in a career-low 46 games this season and registered 32 points and 54 penalty minutes.
During last year's Stanley Cup Playoff run, he tallied three game-winning goals, including the winners in the Game 7 victories against Montreal on April 27, 2011 and Tampa Bay on May 27, 2011. He finished the postseason appearing in 21 of the team's 25 playoff games with eight goals, nine assists and 35 penalty minutes. He missed the final four games of the Stanley Cup Final due to a severe concussion sustained in Game 3.
PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins are on the ice for their morning skate in advance of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Flyers (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN). Here are their expected lines and defense pairs:
As it turns out, this is not the matchup we thought we would be getting during the final weeks of the season. For a long time it looked like New York would be facing Washington or Buffalo, but surprisingly it will be Ottawa. The Senators can score and they've got a pretty good power play and some solid young players, but I just think the Rangers are too gritty, too strong and too good defensively. It could be a tougher series than people expect, but I have to think New York will be able to shut down Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson with the smothering defense it has.
In many cases the equalizing factor in these series is goaltending, but Henrik Lundqvist is so good that Craig Anderson will have a challenge matching up. Anderson would have to play like Jaroslav Halak did with Montreal in 2010, and in the end, I think that's the only way Ottawa pulls it out.
Washington, if you look at their history in the playoffs, they haven't had much success, so it's not like they're a confident team in the postseason, but they are dangerous this time around. They have nothing to lose and they'll be loose, which is different from coming in as favorites, which they haven't handled well.
All that said, I expect Boston to just have too much experience and grit. I think Zdeno Chara and company will be able to shut down Ovechkin and Backstrom, particularly because Chara proved last year when he went against the opposition's top guys every night that he can negate lines like Washington's. As well, Backstrom may not be 100% healthy, and the Bruins will make his life miserable. Plus, the Capitals will probably have to go with Braden Holtby in net. He's played very well at times, but he's also looked very young at times, and it's pretty tough to expect a kid to walk in there and beat the mighty Boston Bruins.
I know how the teams are seeded, but this, to me, isn't a real 3-versus-6 matchup. I think the Panthers are good -- they found a way to win their last game and get that third spot -- but I like the Devils. Jersey is a deep team, and don't forget that the Devils are much better offensively. They have three 30-goal scorers this season, which is a pretty impressive arsenal. They're very good defensively like always, and Martin Brodeur has played well. He isn't the Marty Brodeur of 10 years ago, but he's played well in a rebound year, and I just think the Devils are very solid all around, and I like the way they're playing.
Also, don't forget, the Devils had eight more points than Florida in a tougher division. That's a pretty good indicator. Florida, too, I think will be one of those teams that is just happy to finally be back in the playoffs after so many years. Making the playoffs was their goal and they did it. They may be one of those teams that's just happy to be there, and I don't think the stay will be long.
This is the one we've been waiting for. I think this is just going to be a great series, and it may be the best one of the entire 2012 postseason. These two teams both hate each other, they're both from Pennsylvania, they both have a bunch of star power and they've both been to the Stanley Cup Final recently.
I think this is a very evenly-matched series. The Flyers don't look quite as good as the Penguins on paper, but the Flyers know how to play Pittsburgh. They know how to get under their skin, they know how to goad them into penalties and they'll goad them into getting too emotional and losing their game plan. A lot of the reasons the Flyers win are intangibles that you don't see on paper. That said, the Penguins have so much scoring and a very deep defense. I see a very hard-fought, emotional, dirty, mean series, but I see Pittsburgh as the team that survives.
We have a major upset every year in the playoffs so you can't pick chalk all day long. I have a feeling this might be it. Vancouver is a great team again after winning another Presidents' Trophy, but I can see them walking into this series thinking it's going to win and underestimating the Kings. Remember, we don't know what's happening with Daniel Sedin, and that's a huge problem for the Canucks. I actually think L.A.'s goaltending is better than Vancouver's and don't forget, Chicago almost beat Vancouver in the first round last year.
I think L.A. is a much better team now than they were a month ago, I think they're playing better offensively than they have all season and I think Jonathan Quick is good enough to stand on his head and steal a series if he has to. I also think the Kings will remember how the Bruins beat the Canucks a year ago and they'll get in Vancouver's face and play physically, which we've seen them do before. Every year we see a big upset, and something tells me the ingredients are there to make this the one.
Before this season started we might have seen this matchup going the other way, but not now. I really think St. Louis is playing so well that at the moment they just don't have a weakness. The defense is big, young and mobile. Their goaltending tandem is great, and they're just playing great hockey. The Blues never stumbled down the stretch and I just think they've been a great team ever since Ken Hitchcock took over. He brought in accountability and a defensive mindset that really fits the players on the roster, and he also got to take over a team with talent. This is a team that has gotten to draft high picks for several years.
Ken was the right man in the right place at the right time for this team. I do think San Jose will play them well. With the experience and talent the Sharks have they can't be counted out lightly, but I just think St. Louis is too deep and they're playing too well right now.
I think Phoenix has had a great season. Mike Smith is probably the comeback play of the year, the team is playing great hockey right now going into the playoffs, they finished the season strong and they're just a good team all around. But all that said, I just like Chicago. I like the way the Blackhawks play, I like their speed, and everyone seems to think they'll finally have Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland back so they'll have the full team healthy for the first time in a long time.
The Blackhawks are just a team that knows how to win. They won a Cup a few years ago with this core group, they've added some guys to give them that grit factor and I also like the addition of Johnny Oduya on the blue line. Phoenix has really impressed, no matter what happens, coach Dave Tippett always has the Coyotes competing. But I just like the Blackhawks.
I think this is going to be awesome. This is going to be a very tough series for both of these teams, but a few things stand out. I'm not a big believer in home ice in the playoffs, but Detroit is definitely a different team this season on the road than at home. Nashville is good everywhere. I think the Predators' defense matches up well with the Red Wings' forwards, they're big and tough, I think Alexander Radulov has changed their offense and I think Pekka Rinne is as good a goaltender as there is in hockey.
Nashville's size will definitely be a factor. If you look at that defense with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Hal Gill, that's a big defense and then add in that they've got Paul Gaustad now and some other big forwards that will grind you. Also, the Predators have played Detroit a lot so they know how to play the Wings. I think Jimmy Howard will be good, but I don't think he'll be as good as Rinne. This will be a great series, but it could also be Nashville's years. They're a team to be reckoned with and if a few things go their way, they could be the team to come out of the West.
NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and normally includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with the playoffs set to get under way Wednesday night, JR switched his format for this week. Read on to find out more:
It's hard to talk about what is clicking for a team right now because the puck hasn't yet dropped in the playoffs. Similarly, how can I possibly get on a team for what they're missing before they even play a game? So, as my own little playoff preview, I've instead decided to blog about the first-round series that I think is easiest to pick and the one I think that can be the upset special.
My predictions are at the bottom of the blog…
If you're looking for an easy pick, it's the Boston-Washington series.
I think Boston is starting to play at that high level again and the Capitals have a young goaltender in Braden Holtby, who they're going to have to hope finds a hot streak in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs.
There are just far too many questions with Washington.
These are all issues that they'll have to deal with. They're all issues the Bruins don't currently have.
I love the way Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand are playing. They're young guys that are flying high and playing some really great hockey. Tim Thomas is heating up at the right time, and he always gets extra jacked up for the playoffs. Chris Kelly and Danny Paille are playing well.
I like the Bruins' overall grit. I like the whole team. And, they're getting down to the grind now and playing with the substance that Boston is known for.
The Capitals won't be able to avoid the physical game; the question is can they play it? I'm not so sure.
You can push Semin right out of the game or even the series by intimidating him. Backstrom might be tentative after missing so much time with a concussion. He might have a little bit of the nerves going.
It's going to be up to Washington's tough guys. Brooks Laich has to be solid and strong. Troy Brouwer has to be the same way. I think Jason Chimera is a guy that people overlook, but he can be a very physical presence that can score goals. He has to.
Bruins in five.
Now, if you're looking for an upset…
It's kind of weird because I think the biggest upset that could happen is Ottawa beating the New York Rangers, and if you read below I have the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup.
Yes, I know that sounds crazy and maybe it is, but a lot of the reason why I think the Rangers might win the Cup is because if they beat a very tough opponent in Ottawa in the first round, it could really give them a lot of momentum and confidence.
The Rangers have not played well against Ottawa. They lost three out of four games to the Senators this season.
The Rangers don't match up very well with Ottawa in terms of styles. The Senators' high-powered offense can be a problem depending on how the Rangers perform offensively. They have to score goals, but they can't get into a run and gun, trading chances, horse race style of game and series. They have to play stringy defense, get timely goals and they have to make sure they get their power play going.
They have worked hard at trying to fix their power play and they need to get it going now.
The Senators, meanwhile, don't really have much pressure on them, and yet they're here in the playoffs because their top guys got them here.
The key to success for the Senators is in goaltending. Can Craig Anderson hold down the fort?
When Ottawa doesn't win, it's because its goaltender gives up some very shady goals. Anderson has got to find a way to shut the door.
If he is good, this might be one of the toughest opponents the Rangers will face. So, even though it's kind of weird for me to pick the Rangers to win the Cup and then look at them as a possible first-round bust, this could happen.
I still think the Rangers win this series, but it'll take seven games and it won't be easy.
Rangers over Senators
Bruins over Capitals
Devils over Panthers
Flyers over Penguins
Rangers over Devils
Flyers over Bruins
Rangers over Flyers
Canucks over Kings
Blues over Sharks
Coyotes over Blackhawks
Predators over Red Wings
SAN JOSE – It should come as no surprise that the San Jose Sharks are spending plenty of time working on their penalty kill and power play as they prepare to face the St. Louis Blues in a first-round playoff series that begins Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
San Jose's special teams were a disaster zone during the regular series against the Blues, who won all four games by a combined score of 11-3.
The Sharks went 1-for-15 on the power play. The lowlight came during a 1-0 loss on Dec. 10 in St. Louis, when the Sharks went 0-for-6.
San Jose's penalty kill, which ranked 29th this season, was equally bad. The Sharks killed just 14 of 19 power plays against St. Louis. Five of the Blues' 11 goals in the series came on the power play. In the Blues two most recent wins over San Jose, they scored two of their three goals via the man advantage.
"You definitely can build momentum or lose it at times through special teams," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said Tuesday after a long practice. "We haven't really had a great special teams season against these guys. We're going over a few things, seeing where we can attack them, where they've been really good against us. It's still going to come down to that moment, winning the one-on-one battles, making a play, hitting a shot, all those things that come down to it. But many series, special teams are pretty important. It's definitely going to go a long ways in this series."
Three of the Blues' power-play goals came when they had two-man advantages.
"We gave them too many 5-on-3s," Pavelski said. "That's never easy. So stay sharp there. Get one early. We don't want to be a couple games behind then find our power play. We need to find it early and put them on their heels."
The Sharks' power play ranked second overall in the regular season, and the Blues' penalty kill ranked No. 7. San Jose knows it will be a challenge to convert when the opportunity arises.
"Their penalty kill is exceptional," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's been the best for the last two months, the best in the League. It starts with their two goaltenders and the way they play. They're aggressive. They have a confidence level that's very high in there. It will be a very big challenge for our power play and we've spent a lot of time in those situations the past two days."
St. Louis scored the first goal in all four of the regular-season meetings, and the Sharks enjoyed a lead for just one brief stint during a 4-2 loss on Oct. 15 at HP Pavilion. Defenseman Brent Burns put San Jose ahead 2-1 at 11:18 of the second period. Kent Huskins tied it with a goal at 4:33 of the third, and the Blues scored two more unanswered goals en route to victory.
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said the defensive-minded Blues "clamp down" even harder when they get the lead.
"We have to try to get to a lead, play with the lead and force them to maybe try some different things or do some different things that way, but I'm suspecting they're going to play the same way whether they're up or down," Marleau said.
I don't think it's really truly going to sink in until we drop the puck, to be honest. I know there's going to be a lot of smoke and mirrors with the media attention and all that. We came [Monday] and it was sort of a light day to get things organized. We just want to focus in on the business aspect, the game itself. That's what we're preparing to do. Get these next couple of days out of the way and it's game on.
— Lightning captain Steven Stamkos on playing in his first Stanley Cup Final