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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:38 PM

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

Boudreau still angry at Halak

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is all too familiar with Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who beat Boudreau's Washington team in the first round of the 2010 playoffs when Halak was in Montreal.

Asked if he has seen a better performance than that, Boudreau playfully replied, "Nope, and I’m still pissed at him for that.

"He got in that zone and he was incredible. Even the last game in St. Louis, I thought he was incredible. His leg save on (Saku) Koivu in the first period -- he kept it 0-0 -- had our guys shaking their heads."
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:35 PM

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

Ducks' Lydman questionable, Smith-Pelley on top line

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman will be a game-time decision because of an upper-body injury that has kept him out of the past two games, said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau.

Lydman fought through the end of last season with a shoulder injury that needed surgery. He said, "I wasn't feeling that great" from the surgery at the beginning of the season, and now it appears he will have to work through an injury again to finish this season.

"Everything kind of piles up during the year," Lydman said. "I want it to be a little better. It's nothing new."

If Lydman can't play, Nate Guenin likely will take his spot.

Boudreau said there was a "good chance" that veterans Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman will return to the lineup. He scratched both Monday, citing their fatigue in back-to-back games this season.

At the morning skate Blake, 38, played on a line with Saku Koivu, 37, and 41-year-old Teemu Selanne, in perhaps the oldest line in the NHL.

Another Ducks line will feature rookie Devante Smith-Pelly playing on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

It's a vote of confidence from Boudreau to give Smith-Pelly, 19, a look there after he has played mostly on the third line since being returning from an injury suffered at the 2012 World Junior Championship in December. It's also an adjustment playing the left side given that Smith-Pelly played right wing his whole junior career.

"I felt Bruce has been pretty confident in me since I came over," Smith-Pelly said. "My role is slowly increasing and I'm happy about it. I think I've been playing pretty well since I came back from injury. I'm just happy the coaching staff has confidence in me."

Here's the rest of the lineup the Ducks likely will use Wednesday:

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

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Nate Guenin
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller will be in goal, with Jeff Deslauriers the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:28 PM

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

Blues getting healthy for Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A healthy and rested St. Louis Blues team probably is not what the Anaheim Ducks want to face, but that's exactly what they’ll get Wednesday.

Jason Arnott will return from an undisclosed injury. David Backes did not skate Wednesday but appears to be fine after he took a shot in the foot last Saturday. Defenseman Kris Russell (concussion) did not skate Wednesday but coach Ken Hitchcock said he is getting closer.

This is a precarious time for Hitchcock, who must balance keeping his foot on the gas pedal while allowing his players to get some rest. He's opting for the former.

"I've said this before: Whatever you are in March … if you think you can dial it up in April when it counts, you're wrong, because you got holes in March and you got holes in April," Hitchcock said. 

"I think we're a little bit afraid that if we stop this cycle, can we get it started again? … We've played good defensive hockey all year by managing the game, managing the puck properly. I think we've gotten away from managing the puck properly and played too much east-west, and that's hurt us. I think the last couple of games we got back playing the right way and it's really helped our game again. That's our focus: Just playing the game the right way."

Here's the lineup the Blues likely will put on the ice Wednesday:

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Chris Porter

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal, with Brian Elliott the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Pearce NHL opportunity is "gravy"

NEW YORK -- Jordan Pearce took shots Wednesday morning at Madison Square Garden from the Red Wings' injured defensemen, including Nicklas Lidstrom. He still didn't know if he was going to be making his NHL debut against the Rangers, or backing up Ty Conklin.

"I prepare the same either way," Pearce said. "If you've been around this game long enough you know crazy things happen and you have to be ready to go in at a moment's notice. It's better to just prepare like you're playing and go from there."

Pearce learned about an hour after addressing the media that he will in fact be the backup Wednesday night. Conklin cleared re-entry waivers at noon ET and will start at the Garden against the Rangers, but Pearce didn't make it sound like he would let that bother him one bit.

"It's very exciting just to be up here," Pearce said. "Being around these professional athletes it's amazing to watch them play. Some of the best players in the world are in this locker room. It's a great experience to be here."

It's an experience Pearce said he never dreamed about.

He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska watching the University of Alaska's men's team and dreaming of one day playing college hockey. That dream came true in 2005 when he went to Notre Dame. He was the starter for the Irish his last two seasons before signing a two-year entry level contract with the Red Wings.

Pearce has played mostly in the ECHL and the past two seasons with Grand Rapids in the AHL. He is 3-7-1 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .874 save percentage for the Griffins this season.

"This is all just gravy," Pearce said. "Being up here and pursuing professional hockey was beyond my dreams."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 12:39 PM

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

Semin missed practice, expected to play Thursday

Alexander Semin did not practice Wednesday for the Washington Capitals, but coach Dale Hunter told reporters that he is expected to play Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

A team spokesman deemed Semin's absence a "maintenance day." Washington did not practice Tuesday, so Semin has not skated for two days.

Hunter did not name a goaltender for the team's contest Thursday at Wells Fargo Center. Tomas Vokoun has not dressed for the past two games because of a nagging lower-body injury and did not skate Wednesday. Michal Neuvirth started in a 5-2 loss to Chicago on Sunday, while Braden Holtby earned the nod in a 5-3 victory Monday against Detroit.

Top center Nicklas Backstrom also skated before practice, according to reports, as he continues his recovery from a concussion that has kept him out of the team's past 35 games.

The Capitals hold a two-point lead on Buffalo and a four-point advantage on Winnipeg for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. A win Thursday against the Flyers would move Washington within two points of seventh-place Ottawa with eight games to play.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 11:54 AM

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

Nabokov signs one-year extension with Islanders

The New York Islanders announced Wednesday that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has signed a one-year contract extension to remain with the team for the 2012-13 season.

Terms of the deal were not revealed, but TSN is reporting Nabokov will make $2.75 million next season, and the deal does not include a no trade or no movement clause.

"Evgeni has proven that he can still play at an elite level in the NHL," said Islanders General Manager Garth Snow. "He's given us a chance to win every night and we're excited to have him back for another season."

Nabokov is 17-18-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 40 games.

Nabokov started last season playing in the KHL, but singed a deal in January 2011 with the Detroit Red Wings. He had to clear waivers, where the Islanders claimed him. Nabokov refused to play for the Isles and was suspended for the remainder of the season. He arrived at training camp in September, however, and now will remain with the club for at least one more season.

In 603 NHL games spanning 11 seasons, including 10 with the San Jose Sharks, Nabokov has 312 wins, a 2.40 GAA, .912 save percentage and 52 shutouts.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 11:46 AM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pitkanen returns for Hurricanes

RALEIGH, N.C. -- After travelling from Philadelphia following their 2-1 win against the Flyers, the Panthers opted not to practice today.

For the Hurricanes, they'll get defenseman Joni Pitkanen back in the lineup after a 44-game absence. He suffered a concussion in early December and then had knee surgery in January. He has 3 goals and 9 assists in 21 games for Carolina this season.

Here are the lineups the teams could use when they take the ice here at PNC Arena:

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Marco Sturm
 
Brian Campbell - Jason Garrison
Mike Weaver - Dmitri Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.
 
HURRICANES
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Tim Gleason - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
 
Cam Ward will start in goal, with Brian Boucher the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 10:44 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

NHL players offer advice for top 2012 draft prospects

There are sure to be several top prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft seeking advice from players who went through the wars and are now reaping the benefits.

Forwards Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers, Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers and Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche are three such players.

All three recently spoke to NHL.com and provided a few words of wisdom for those players hoping to hear their names at this year's draft to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Couturier, who was selected eighth overall by the Flyers last June, recommends that players just continue doing what they do best.   

"I think they just need to remain who they are, not try and do anything extra special and just play the game the right way," Couturier told NHL.com. "Scouts have been following you for a while, so there's no need to change. Just be yourself."

Couturier is a solid example in perseverance. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound forward dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings in April, 2011, and then was chosen No. 8 by the Flyers. Hard work and solid two-way play, a quality that was certainly evident in his game for Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, have enabled him to become a key cog for this year's team in Philadelphia.

With regard to the NHL Combine, Couturier smiled before issuing the following:

"Be in shape … be ready."

Stepan was drafted in the second round (No. 51) by the Rangers in 2008.

"The best advice that I got from people around me was going into the draft in a positive frame of mind," Stepan told NHL.com. "Don't expect anything. It's a big deal to get drafted, but once you get drafted that's when the work begins. You never really know what's going to happen at the draft so don't really expect anything.

"Other than the first round, it's kind of a scramble. I was projected to go third, fourth or fifth round and then went in the second, so just go with the flow and enjoy it."

While Stepan did conduct 26 interviews in the opening few days of the Combine, he never underwent the physical portion of the week-long event since he wanted to attend graduation ceremonies at Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep in Minnesota.

"I lucked out big time," Stepan said.

O'Reilly, drafted in the second round (No. 33) by the Avalanche in 2009, recalls his draft year as if it were yesterday.

"I think when you look at it, kids maybe focus too much on the off-ice perspective and while it is an important thing, if you care about the on-ice enough, those things off the ice will come naturally," O'Reilly told NHL.com.

He laughed when reminded of the impressive showing he had at the 2009 Combine -- his 18 reps at 150 pounds on the bench press tied for the most among the 94 players who tested.

"You want to do that extra stuff but need to remember you've never really arrived … you're always trying to get somewhere better and always have to keep a beginner's mind. No matter what the situation, go out and do it and learn and get better and never be satisfied," O'Reilly said.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 9:33 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 21st

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 73 80 9 89 5

9th 73 78 9 86 6
10th 73 76 9 84 7
11th 73 73 9 80 9
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 84 9 93 5

9th 74 84 8 92 5
10th 73 82 9 91 6
11th 74 82 8 89 6
The skinny: The Buffalo Sabres play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. For Buffalo, it is what I call a "mandatory" win.

Why?

Because, if you can't beat the Eastern Conference's weakest team, then you are playing with playoff fire and it will most likely come back to burn you. Yes, a 7-3 win Monday against Tampa Bay was a good first step, but Buffalo needs to keep piling up the victories.

Not only are the Sabres two points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot in the East, but they are in a bad way when it comes to the first tie-breaker, non-shootout victories. Washington has 32 regulation and overtime wins (ROW) and Buffalo has just 27. So, it is a foregone conclusion that Buffalo must make up three points on Washington, not two for the tie.

A loss Wednesday night to the Habs not only leaves Buffalo looking at the likelihood of winning six of its final eight games to reach the 90-point plateau -- which is the current projection for the No. 8 spot -- but actually needing seven wins to make sure they get past a tie for that threshold.

Plus, Buffalo's remaining schedule is a mixed bag. Yes, they face playoff also-rans Minnesota and Toronto (twice), but they also have to play road games against the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Boston, all teams in the top half of the Eastern Conference bracket. Plus, games against red-hot Pittsburgh (at home) and the Caps (on the road) are also on the docket.

Now, do you see why the game Wednesday against last-place Montreal is so important?

I will say it one more time, but not for the last time: "If you don't beat the teams below you in the standings and those you are competing with for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, you are destined to be watching when the playoffs begin."

It's a different story in Florida.

Coming off a huge Tuesday night victory on the road against Philadelphia, the Panthers move on to Raleigh, N.C., and face the Hurricanes -- another team out of the playoff picture in the East. It is an opportunity for Florida to tighten its grip on a both a playoff spot and the division title in the Southeast Division.

The Panthers have 10 games remaining and need just six of 20 points to get past the projected cut-off of 90 points and end the League's longest playoff absence at a dozen years. More importantly, a win Tuesday can up the Panthers' division lead to a whopping seven points on the idle Capitals, who have just nine games remaining.

The Hurricanes are a tough opponent, though, as witnessed by the victory Sunday in Winnipeg, which dealt the Jets a serious blow in their playoff quest.

In the Western Conference, the Red Wings attempt to end a five-game winless streak and focus on getting the coveted fourth spot in the conference and ultra-important home ice in the first round.

Detroit and Nashville are tied at 92 points, but the Predators -- who were dealt an unsightly loss by Edmonton on Tuesday -- hold the tiebreaker and sit in the No. 4 seed. That could change Wednesday if the banged-up Red Wings can find a way to beat the Rangers, who are in a fight for the top spot in the East and have a ton for which to play.

Chicago, who took care of business in Columbus on Tuesday night with a 5-1 win, is also in the mix for the No. 4 spot. They have 90 points, but have played one more game. Detroit has one game remaining against Nashville and plays Chicago on the season's final day. Chicago and Nashville meet twice in the next week.

This three-team derby is another race that has significant playoff implications. Actually, I would argue the race for fourth in the West has Stanley Cup implications because I don't believe a team can best compete for the Cup from a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 8:48 AM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks focused on themselves, not Canucks

The Chicago Blackhawks don't really care about the recent struggles of the Vancouver Canucks, who were in Chicago on Tuesday awaiting a game on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TSN) at the United Center.

The Canucks likely still will win the Northwest Division, but they've dropped five of their last seven games and appear to be staggering to the finish line of the regular season. However, after going through their own trying period following the All-Star break, when they went winless for nine straight games and plummeted to sixth in the Western Conference, the Hawks know first-hand how dangerous a struggling-but-talented team can be.

"We've gone through a lot this year," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who had 4 assists in a 5-1 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday. "There's been a lot of ups and downs and we've learned how we need to play. At the same time, we're not going to take anything for granted, knowing that we can't deviate from our system and play our team game. That's how we win games."

It's pretty similar to how Vancouver eventually shook off its early-season "hangover" and how the Canucks probably will get themselves back on track after this malaise ends. First they'll have to deal with the Hawks, who are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and are 9-4-1 in the last 14 games played without injured star captain Jonathan Toews (upper body).

Neither team held a full morning skate at United Center on Wednesday, but both know there's a little more than just two points at stake. Bragging rights always are a bonus in this feud, but this time it's about both teams measuring up late in the season.

Chicago has discovered a formula that seems to work even without Toews, and lately it's all keyed by having quick starts that turn into comfortable wins. Now it's time to see if the Hawks can zoom out to a quick lead against the Canucks, who are expected to start Roberto Luongo in goal. Luongo hasn't played in two games and is 0-3-0 with a 5.30 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Luongo's struggles, however, are irrelevant to the Hawks. They're too focused on the numbers that determine the conference standings -- which find them just two points behind fourth-place Nashville in the West.

"They obviously have a great team and they're right at the top of the conference," Keith said of the second-place Canucks. "We know it's going to be a tough game. It always is against them. We've seen a lot of them. It's another big game ... another big two points that are on the line."

There's also that little rivalry between the two, which just never seems to burn out. But even that's being downplayed -- at least by the Hawks.

"There's a little bit more chippiness and that sort of stuff," said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who is expected to start after winning four straight games. "I don't know what it's going to be like. We just want to get the two points and I think that's our main focus."

The Blackhawks may be without defenseman Nick Leddy, who was injured early in the third period of Tuesday's game.

Here's a look at how the Canucks and Blackhawks might line up Wednesday:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Zack Kassian - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Wiese

Alexander Edler - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Aaron Rome - Chris Tanev

Roberto Luongo likely will be in net, with Cory Schneider the backup.

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

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford likely will be in net, with Ray Emery the backup.

Jimmy Hayes could replace Frolik on the right side of the fourth line.
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Quote of the Day

Sick. I said a couple of bad words in Russian, but I said, 'Sick.'

— Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov on Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal in Game 2 against Rangers on Saturday