Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Jerry Brown - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Coyotes, Smith look to extend winning streaks

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes will look to stay unbeaten in regulation for the 13th straight game Thursday when they host the Calgary Flames.

The franchise record is 14 (12-0-2), set in 1998 by a Coyotes team that featured Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Nikolai Khabibulin.

After starting the season with a 7-8-2 record at Arena, the Coyotes have turned things around. Since Dec. 26, Phoenix is 10-2-2 in the last 14 games on home ice, outscoring opponents by a margin of 43-27 during that stretch.

The Coyotes still have five regulars, including three defensemen (Rostislav Klesla, Derek Morris and David Schlemko) on the injured list and none of those players are expected back before next week. But coach Dave Tippett has been impressed by the play of rookies Chris Summers and Michael Stone during this run -- the Coyotes are unbeaten (5-0-0) with them in the lineup -- and could have some difficult decisions once the sidelined blueliners return.

Mike Smith will make his 51st start of the season and shoot for his 12th consecutive win. The League’s First Star of the Month was 11-0-0 in February with a 1.42 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. He already owns the franchise record for consecutive wins, and a victory Thursday would gave him the longest streak in the League this year. A win also would give him 30 in a season for the first time in his career.

Here's the lineup the Coyotes likely will use tonight:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Michael Stone - Chris Summers

Mike Smith will start in net, with Jason LaBarbera the backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:42 PM

By Eric Gilmore - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Sharks minus coach again, could get Couture back

SAN JOSE -- San Jose forward Dominic Moore will return to the lineup Thursday night against Buffalo after missing four games with a lower-body injury, but injured forward Logan Couture will be a game-time decision, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan will definitely miss his second straight game.

McLellan is still suffering concussion-like symptoms after being struck in the head Sunday by the stick of Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella in a freak accident after Scandella was checked into the boards in front of San Jose's bench.

Sharks assistant coaches Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft will again share the coaching duties Thursday night, as they did Tuesday night during a 1-0 win against Philadelphia. Woodcroft, though, said McLellan remains "very involved" in the game planning and preparation.

"He's getting better each and every day," Woodcroft said after the Sharks' morning skate. "He's feeling better, and both Matt and I consult him every day. We're in touch with him. He's coming into the building and being a big part of our game plan.

"He's getting better, so that's the primary concern of not only Matt and myself, but the whole organization, is to get Todd better. He's getting better, which is very positive. I think you saw our team's response in the last game. They knew we were missing our leader, but our leadership group in terms of players really stepped up. Bottom line is we're in a playoff hunt, and every two points is important. You saw that against Philadelphia, and we're definitely going to bring the same attitude tonight."

Sharks coach Joe Thornton said many players on the team understand first-hand what McLellan is going through as he recovers from a blow to the head.

"He's going to come back when he feels comfortable behind the bench," Thornton said. "I'm sure the lights still give him problems and the sounds. A lot of guys in here have gone through concussions, and you never know how long they're going to last. We just hope he gets back quick."

After coming to the Sharks on Feb. 16 from Tampa Bay in a trade, Moore played just three games before being sidelined.

Moore said he's "feeling good" and is ready to return to the lineup after a "very frustrating" stint off the ice.

"You never want to be missing time, and you want to be helping the team as much as you can," Moore said. "It was very tough, but I'm excited to be back, back in action."

Couture, San Jose's leading goal scorer, missed the Philadelphia game with a lower-body injury he suffered Sunday at Minnesota, where he took three hard hits. He skated briefly with his teammates Thursday morning before heading to the dressing room.

"Logan made some progress today, felt a lot better," Woodcroft said. "It will be a game-time decision today."

Two other injured Sharks -- forward Martin Havlat and defenseman Douglas Murray -- practiced with the full team for the first time since being injured. Havlat suffered a partially torn hamstring tendon on Dec. 17 against Edmonton and underwent surgery. Murray took a puck to his Adam's apple on Feb. 16 against Tampa Bay.

Havlat and Murray are both making strides, but neither one knows when he'll return to action. Havlat, though, said he definitely wants to log some games before the playoffs.

"The more the better. I have to get used to everything again," Havlat said. "It's like getting ready for a new season. Same situation I was in when I was coming back after the shoulder injury. I want to play as many games as I can to get ready, physically and timing-wise, too."

Havlat said he faces some challenges before he's game-ready.

"I've got to get stronger and get used to the movements on the ice, all those quick movements and the stop and starts, that's the most important during the game and that's (what) I have to work on," he said.

Murray has been skating hard, but has yet to be cleared to play by doctors. The No. 1 concern is that he might experience swelling that would affect his breathing.

"It felt good, but you know how it goes when it comes to your head or breathing," Murray said. "They're a lot more careful. … It's day to day, and hopefully I'll be out there soon."

Murray wore extra padding to protect his throat during the morning skate and expects to wear it when he returns to action.

"I've worn worse things that bother me a lot more than this to protect from injuries," Murray said. "It's not a problem."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:41 PM

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

Letang suffering concussion symptoms

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday defenseman Kris Letang is suffering from concussion symptoms and will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh.

Letang was injured midway through the first period of Wednesday's game in Dallas when he was hit hard by Dallas' Eric Nystrom. Nystrom was given a two-minute minor for roughing, but will not face supplemental discipline.

Letang missed 21 games earlier this season due to a concussion. In 40 games, he has 9 goals and 31 points.

"I'm certainly concerned for every player," Bylsma told reporters following the Penguins' practice Thursday in Denver. "(Especially with) the significance of the hit, Kris being on the ice. That was the first thing that I thought of in that situation for Kris. Whether you've had one or a couple before, you're concerned for the player and their health. He took a hard hit."

Without Letang the team still has six healthy defenseman, but Bylsma said he will consider recalling an extra blueliner from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, possibly in time for Saturday's game at the Avalanche. 

"We'd be down to six here if Kris was out for an extended period of time -- or longer than just this weekend -- so I think with the number of games that we have left on the schedule, we certainly would consider having one of the players down (in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) come up," said Bylsma. "Simon (Despres) has been on the power play. He's been 5-on-5 against other team's good guys. So he certainly would be a candidate and a consideration."

Another place Letang's absence would be felt is on the power play, where he quarterbacks the first unit, along with Steve Sullivan. Sullivan also was hurt Wednesday, leaving the game with a lower-body injury that kept him off the ice Thursday.

"Matt Niskanen filled in (Letang's) spot on the ice and in a similar role," said Bylsma. "We had success with Matt there, so Matt will slide into that spot. The bigger question is whether Steve Sullivan can play next game or not and what happens there. (He and Letang are) both point guys. If Steve and Kris aren't playing, we're going to have to put Matt there with Paul Martin, as you saw in (Wednesday's) game. They'll have to play there and possibly Dustin Jeffrey. He's played the point on the power play before and might be used in that similar spot as Sullivan."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Sharks, Sabres

SAN JOSE -- Here's how the lineups could look Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Buffalo Sabres at HP Pavilion:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Daniel Winnik - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Tommy Wingels
Brad Winchester - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Niemi, coming off a 1-0 shutout of Philadelphia on Tuesday night, was the first Sharks goalie off the ice Thursday morning and is expected to start against Buffalo. If Couture is scratched again tonight, the Sharks would have their choice of Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero or Jim Vandermeer to insert in the lineup.  His absence, of course, would force some line juggling. Against Philadelphia, Thornton, Clowe and Wingels were on the top line, while Marleau, Pavelski and Winnik were on the second line.


Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta
Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

The Sabres, who beat Anaheim 2-0 on Wednesday night, did not skate Thursday morning. There's no official word on who will be in goal for Buffalo, but the fact that Miller shut out the Ducks points to him getting the start against San Jose.

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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:36 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Defense the theme in battle for West lead

VANCOUVER -- The battle for first place in the NHL Thursday night comes down to a Vancouver Canucks team that has scored the most goals in the League against a St. Louis Blues squad that has given up the fewest in the Western Conference

If you ask Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, it's a perfect playoff preview.

Asked about the St. Louis showdown as preparation for playing a team like the Blues or Nashville in the postseason, Sedin said: "Keep lining up teams: Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, all good defensively. Everyone plays the same way, so once we get to the playoff it's going to be a grind from game one until wherever it takes us. It's going to be low-scoring games, tight games, so we have to get used to this."

The Canucks have certainly adjusted to tight games of late, going past regulation 13 times in the last 21 games, and winning eight before blowing third-period leads and losing in extra time the last two, snapping their perfect 26-0-0 run when leading after 40 minutes this season.

"This is the way the games are being played this year, it's very rarely you see us or anyone blow out teams," Sedin said. "It's a good sign. We've shown we can win in tight games and it doesn’t matter how they are played -- if it's Boston or Detroit, with more skill -- so I think it’s good for us."

Sedin said it starts in their own end, where they'd try to match the Blues.

Certainly defense has been key to St. Louis' turnaround under Ken Hitchcock, who took over a 6-7-0 team and has since guided them to a 34-10-7 record. Only the New York Rangers, with 124 goals against, have given up fewer than the Blues' 128 -- and in addition to having played three more games than New York, St. Louis surrendered 35 goals in those 13 games before Hitchcock replaced the fired Davis Payne.

The Canucks may not match the Blues defensively, but they have been almost as hot since a slow October start.

In fact, when St. Louis beat the Canucks on Nov. 4, Vancouver was just 6-6-1 and 10th in the west. The Blues were 5-6-0 and 14th.

Now they'll meet with top spot in the NHL on the line.

"Since the beginning of November they've been one, and we've been one of the best teams in the NHL," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, tipping his hat to Hitchcock for the job he's done. "And we both find ourselves right now fighting for that top spot."

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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:02 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Likely lineups for Blues, Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Marc-Andre Gragnani, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, will make his Canucks debut Thursday. He'll replace Chris Tanev, who struggled as the Canucks closed a six-game road trip Phoenix on Tuesday, while fellow trade-deadline acquisitions Zack Kassian and Samuel Pahlsson made their debuts for Vancouver.

"We'll see what he can do tonight -- he hasn't played in a while and he's got an opportunity," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously we want to see what Marc-Andre can do and Chris' game in Phoenix was a little bit more challenging."

St. Louis skipped the morning skate after running its season-high road win streak to four games with a 5-2 win in Edmonton on Wednesday. The Blues, who are just 14-13-3 on the road this season, aren't expected to change their lineup other than swapping starting goaltenders. Not that it should make a difference, as Jaroslav Halak, who played Wednesday, and Brian Elliott each has 20 wins, a first for St. Louis, and each is among the NHL leaders in goals-against average and save percentage for the League’s stingiest defensive team.

Here is what the teams could put on the ice when they meet at Rogers Arena, with first place in the Western Conference on the line:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Aaron Rome
Roberto Luongo is back in goal after Cory Schneider started in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Dale Weise is a healthy scratch for a second-straight game since the arrival of Kassian, while fellow big-bodied fourth-liner Byron Bitz was sent to the AHL.

Andy McDonald - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Vladimir Sobotka
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
Alex Pietrangelo - Carlo Colaiacovo
Barrett Jackman - Roman Polak
Kent Huskins - Kevin Shattenkirk

Brian Elliott is expected to start in goal after Jaroslav Halak beat the Oilers in Edmonton on Wednesday.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Gragnani excited to make Canucks debut

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks continue to roll out their trade deadline acquisitions Thursday, with new defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani playing his first game in a battle for first place in the NHL against the St. Louis Blues.

As debuts go, there might have been easier outings for the 24-year-old, but he's eager to get going against a big, physical Blues team that comes in on a four-game road win streak and just one point behind in the Western Conference standings.

"I can hardly sleep I'm so excited to be here and might be one of the happiest guys on Earth right now," Gragnani, who was part of a four-player trade with Buffalo on Monday that also saw Zack Kassian come to Vancouver, with popular rookie Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer going the other way.

"It’s the best team in the NHL, so who wouldn’t want to play here?" said Gragnani. "It's probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my career. I'm extremely excited and proud to be here. … Everything is positive for me right now."

The Canucks hope that includes Gragnani's plus/minus rating. Along with a reputation for being a good puck-mover and a power-play specialist, the defenseman comes to town with questions about his defensive play. He was plus-10 in 44 games with the Sabres, but only played once the last five weeks, watching as a healthy scratch despite a breakout 7 points in seven playoff games last spring.

In Vancouver he will start on the left side of a third pairing with Aaron Rome -- he practiced on the right side, where the Canucks have a shortage, but will move back over against the Blues -- and also man the point on a power play that has fallen out of first place after managing just one goal on 12 chances over the last five games.

"Obviously my first job as a defenseman is to play 'D,'" said Gragnani, who played one season for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault as a 16-year-old in junior. "I'm going to try to bring a lot of energy, puck-moving, and a little bit of offense."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 3:40 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Tough times have shaken Crawford seeking answers

CHICAGO -- Veteran Ray Emery will get the start for the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night against the Ottawa Senators and it looks like he has the inside track on the starting job over Corey Crawford for the remaining 17 games of the regular season.

Crawford was pulled from his second straight start on Wednesday after just one period, which was his seventh time being pulled this season. Needless to say, the second-year goalie who was so impressive and consistent a year ago is struggling to locate where his game and confidence went.

"It's a tough time right now, where I can't even finish a game," Crawford said on Thursday after a practice at the United Center. "I battled hard in practice today and I just got to keep working hard and stay focused. I don't want it to get worse than it is right now."

Crawford, who has a 2.94 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, is beating himself up over his turbulent season. The last two tough starts in particular are especially weighing on his mind, after being pulled after the first period in each one.

"I've never been through this since I started playing goalie," Crawford said. "I've gone on streaks where they're a little bit tougher, but to be up and down this drastically … I'm trying to find answers. Maybe I'm thinking too much. It's just not acceptable. I've got to be better for us. We're fighting for a playoff spot and I've got to find a way to make big saves. It doesn't matter the situation."

Crawford continues to work with Blackhawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite, but Quenneville had his own words of encouragement for the 27-year old who signed a three-year contract extension last summer.

"We'll work at it in practice, whether it's technical adjustments ... but mentally, physically, you know, fight through it," Quenneville said of Crawford's shaken confidence. "Don't give in to it. Look forward and find the confidence you had before. It can be restored quickly and I think that's what we're up to."

Quenneville said opposing teams studied Crawford's tendencies over the past year and likely know them better this year than a year ago -- when Crawford ascended to the starting position as a rookie and played strong.

"He's had good stretches this year," Quenneville said. "Maybe we're comparing him to that standard he had last year, when he was real good for us and instrumental in getting us in the playoffs. He had a real good playoffs, as well. He was relied upon at a critical time of the year and delivered and that was his rookie year. Maybe the expectations and standards were even elevated up off of those levels."

Maybe it's now time for Crawford to readjust to opposing teams by identifying and removing those tendencies they might've picked up. It's all just part of the continual advance-scouting battle that happens in all professional sports, hockey included.

"Every goalie ... the players might [become] a little bit familiar," Quenneville said. "They go through their routines and they're starting to know him, like it goes the other way around. It's part of the learning curve and I know Corey's like a student with how he approaches the game."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 3:39 PM

By Rick Sadowski  - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

New look for McGinn in first home game with Avs

DENVER -- Jamie McGinn will be wearing a new uniform and a new number tonight when he makes his Colorado Avalanche debut.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound left wing, who was acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Monday, has traded in the No. 64 he wore with the Sharks for parts of four seasons for No. 11, which he'll don against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday at the Pepsi Center.

"Sixty-four was a training camp number," McGinn said after Thursday morning's practice. "I never picked that number and I didn't want that number. It was just a number that they gave me and I wasn't able to switch it.  Every (previous) number I've worn has been a double-digit, so I figured I'd try this one."

McGinn will skate on the Avalanche's third line, with center Mark Olver and right wing David Jones, and he also will be used in penalty-killing situations.

"Jonesie is a proven goal scorer and Ollie is quick up the middle, so I'm excited to get going and to get to know them better," he said. "I've got to do what Colorado wanted me here for. I have to continue to do those things and I'm sure we'll jell just fine."

McGinn arrived in town Tuesday and took part in his first practice Wednesday, but still is adjusting to the mile-high altitude.

"All the guys in the locker room have warned me about it," he said. "I felt it a little bit at practice yesterday, but I felt good this morning. I'm just going to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated and get some sleep and I'll be ready to go tonight. If I can stay on top of that, I hope it will be an easy transition. But I can't use that as an excuse tonight. I have to give it my all and do what makes me successful."

McGinn, who has 12 goals and 12 assists in 61 games, is replacing Daniel Winnik on the third line and as a penalty killer. Winnik was dealt to the Sharks with T.J. Galiardi and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

"We're looking for energy and for him to be a strong, physical player who can really create havoc on the forecheck and use his size and use his energy to be hard to play against, to be abrasive up front," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "The biggest thing for him is to use his feet and not get paralyzed by thinking too much; just play your game. He's got 12 goals, so certainly he's got the capability to score."

McGinn said he has gotten over the shock of the trade, but added: "Tonight will be a big game for me; reality will hit. I'm really excited to be here. It's going to be a real good opportunity for me. It's going to be a fun month with this playoff push just to make the playoffs. It's an exciting time of the year and I'm ready to tackle it."

The Avalanche have won four games in a row and are 7-2-2 in their past 11 games to pull within one point of eighth-place Dallas in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Stars are idle tonight, so a Colorado win would give it sole possession of that spot, at least for a day.

The Avalanche won the first two meetings with the Blue Jackets this season, both in Columbus, and have won nine of the past 10 games between the teams.

This is the first of a two-game road trip for the Blue Jackets, who have lost three games in a row and are 30th in the NHL standings with 18 wins and 43 points.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 3:36 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Toews 'progressing,' status remains day-to-day

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews won't be on the plane with the Chicago Blackhawks when they fly to Ottawa on Thursday, but coach Joel Quenneville left open a glimmer of hope for those tracking the injured star's health status.

Asked if Toews might be able to join the Hawks at some point after Friday's game in Ottawa -- the first of a three-game road trip -- Quenneville answered: "Hope so, but we'll see."

Toews has been out for five straight games with an upper-body injury that's believed to be a concussion, including Wednesday night's 5-4 home win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Considering how long Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby has been sidelined by concussion-like symptoms, people in Chicago are beginning to worry that Toews' ailment might be more serious than it sounds.

However, the Hawks have listed Toews as "day-to-day" ever since the injury first came to light and Quenneville is sticking by that assessment. He said Toews is "progressing," and even mentioned the star captain might get back on the ice for individual skating work sometime in the near future.

"I think we mentioned [on Wednesday], you're not sure exactly [how] to give a timeline of where he's going to be," Quenneville said after a brief practice at the United Center on Thursday. "But we said day-to-day and we're still on that timeline. So, hopefully it's sooner. I think that he's progressing, so I think it's going to be pretty soon here we'll get him on the ice."

Does he think Toews will require any additional medical testing to diagnose the situation?

"No," Quenneville said. "I think he's getting the proper attention and he's working with our trainers and doing his routine and he's progressing."

Also showing progress with an upper-body injury believd to be a concussion is defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson -- who will miss a fourth straight game against Ottawa and has sat out 10 of the last 11 contests.

Hjalmarsson will make the trip to Ottawa with the team and might be able to return to action either Sunday in Detroit or Tuesday in St. Louis. Hjalmarsson thought he might be ready to return against the Dallas Stars last week, but almost immediately felt the symptoms that kept him sidelined for the previous seven games.

"Hammer felt really good today, so he's going to come on the trip," Quenneville said. "He's out for tomorrow, but we hope that he'll be playing [soon]."

Other than Toews, defenseman Steve Montador and forward Viktor Stalberg missed Thursday's practice. Montador also won't make the trip and continues to be sidelined with what's believed to be a concussion that's held him out for 11 straight games, but Stalberg is good enough to keep playing despite taking a hard shoulder-first check into the end boards in the second period on Wednesday night and gingerly skating to the bench.

The speedy Swedish forward played the third period and Quenneville said Thursday's day off was just a "maintenance day."
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Quote of the Day

You've got to focus on playing good hockey. When we do that we give ourselves a chance to win games. Win games and then maybe we''ll have a chance at the end. You can't worry about something like (the division title) when we're not playing our best hockey down the stretch. We'll figure things out together the way we always do and get back on the right page.

— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews after loss to Flyers on Wednesday left them five points out of first place in Central Division
AMP No Bull Moment of the Week