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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 3:04 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Having a healthy Callahan huge for Rangers

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The only person who is happier about Ryan Callahan being healthy for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs than the man himself is probably coach John Tortorella.

"It's nice to have him with a uniform on and not watching," Tortorella said Wednesday, as the Rangers had their final full practice before Thursday's game against the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

It was in Game 80 last season when Callahan blocked a slap shot by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Callahan suffered a broken foot and could only watch as the top-seeded Washington Capitals blitzed the Rangers in five games.

This time around, Callahan is healthy and looking forward to contributing after he was unable to last year.

"This is what you play 82 games for, is this time of year," Callahan said. "Last year was hard for me, missing the playoffs not being able to be part of it. I'm excited for it this year."

In his first year as Rangers' captain, Callahan had a career-best 29 goals and 54 points. He's a fixture on the penalty kill and is a leader when it comes to hitting and blocking shots.

"I look up and down the bench for him all the time, all situations, and now he had developed into quite a leader as far as his next progression that he's gone through this year," said Tortorella, who also praised Callahan's job performance as a captain.

"I think when you get into that type of situation, and he's still a young man, wearing the 'C,' I wasn't sure how he was going to be coming to me as far as our relationship and communicating through that," Tortorella said. "I've gotten to know him better. I think that's very important with your leaders. It's a bit of a conduit from coaching staff to player. That's gone along really smoothly. He doesn't say much. It's gone really well that way."

Defenseman Dan Girardi is happy to have a team that's entirely healthy, and admitted it was a big loss last season to play without Callahan.

"Losing a guy like that going into the playoffs is not good, but I thought we did a good job rallying around it," Girardi said. "I think this year having him, that's going to be awesome."

"He's a big piece," forward Marian Gaborik said. "We're glad he's there and with us and have a healthy team going in. It's very important to have that. We missed him last year. This is a different situation going into the playoffs as a healthy team."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Raymond to start in Sedin's spot for Game 1

VANCOUVER -- With Daniel Sedin sitting out Game 1 of the Canucks' Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Kings on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC), the Canucks will do a bit of line-juggling.

Mason Raymond, who missed the last regular-season game to witness the birth of his first child, will take Sedin's spot on the top line, alongside Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows, while Maxim Lapierre, who played well in Daniel's place on the top line, shifts to the second line.

Here is how the Canucks likely will look when they hit the ice Wednesday for Game 1, including Zack Kassian's return after missing two games with a shoulder injury:
 
Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Byron Bitz - Zack Kassian
 
Dan Hamhuis - Chris Tanev
Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Aaron Rome - Sami Salo
 
Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:42 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Red Wings welcome Helm back to lineup

NASHVILLE -- Red Wings center Darren Helm, who missed the regular season's final 10 games with a sprained knee, will return to the lineup on Wednesday for Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
 
Detroit coach Mike Babcock gave an emphatic, "Helm's playing" after his team's morning skate. Helm -- who had nine goals and 17 assists in 68 games -- provides Detroit with some speed and a helpful penalty-killer up front.
 
Earlier in the week, Helm said he would not be at 100 percent effectiveness if he played, but Babcock put those ideas to rest on Wednesday.
 
"Well, if he was 50 percent effectiveness, he wouldn't be playing; let’s get that straight," Babcock said. "We sat down and we talked about that specifically and I said I have lots of guys on deck ready to go and he assured me he's ready to go, so there's no issue there."
 
Before Babcock spoke, Helm said he would have to consult with the doctors and trainers before getting the OK to play.
 
"I want to make sure I'm helping my team, not hurting them," he said. "This has always been everyone's favorite time of year, but it's a chance for me to play the way I want to play all the time. It's hard to play this style of game 82 games a year, but it's focus on one game at a time now. I can play with lots of energy, speed and finishing checks, and I hope I can be out there and make a difference."
 
Babcock said he has ruled out forwards Jan Mursak, Riley Sheahan and Chris Conner. The final decision on Detroit's lineup will come down to forwards Justin Abdelkader or Cory Emmerton. Babcock said Helm's presence in the lineup helps to align the Red Wings' bottom two lines and will help to provide them more scoring depth. Then he seemed to engage in some gamesmanship.
 
"Well, Helmer puts everybody in the right spot," he said. "We had a great bottom six all year long and then we lost our people [to numerous injuries] and we had no bottom six, we had no support scoring. You know, it's amazing when you put people in the right spot. When I look at their team, I see [Nick] Spaling and [Paul] Gaustad in the three-four holes [at center], those are good matchups for us. They weren't without [Helm]."
 
Babcock seemed to continue the theme of trying to turn up the competitive pressure on Nashville, saying he and general manager Ken Holland have often talked about how they would prefer to start the playoffs on the road instead of their status as a perennial high seed. He said starting on the road makes his team looser.
 
"Just play the game," he said. "Just get out and get after them. You don't have to worry about anything. You just play, nice and simple and just put as much pressure on the opposition as you can and just watch them tighten up."

Here is the Red Wings' projected lineup for Game 1:
 
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Gustav Nyqvist - Justin Abdelkader/Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom
 
Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White
 
Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:32 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers expect rookies to do their jobs

PITTSBURGH -- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette offered a hint Wednesday morning, albeit in a round-about way, that he already has spoken to the six rookies expected to be in his Game 1 lineup about playing in the playoff pressure-cooker for the first time.

"We didn't go, 'Oh my god it's your first playoff series,'" Laviolette said with a laugh. "I don't think that would have helped them."

No, probably not. But, the message seems pretty clear.

Laviolette said he expects forwards Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood, Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman , Marc-Andre Bourdon, to be themselves and to play their roles, just as they have all season long.

"Our younger players have been utilized in every situation imaginable to this point," he said. "They got the opportunity to be part of HBO, part of the Winter Classic, and never once has there been any lack of confidence from the organization, our staff and their teammates for that matter. They are contributing factors.

"For me this is not a roll the dice and hope they make it through. This is, 'We need you to do your job, the job you've done all year.' And, they've done it well. This is their first opportunity in the playoffs, but they give us no reason to believe life will be any different than it was yesterday. We count on them for our success."

While the Penguins likely will try to find a way to exploit the rookies, Philadelphia veteran center Danny Briere said he thinks they will give the Flyers an energy boost.

"I know people are probably thinking there are a lot of rookies on this team and you don't know how they're going to answer, but I think these guys will be excited to prove themselves just like they did at the beginning of the year [when they had] to prove they had a place on this team," Briere said. "I think our youth is going to give us energy and take us a long way."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:29 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill to be a game-time decision

NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz re-iterated that defenseman Hal Gill, who leads his team in averaging penalty-killing time on ice, will be a game-time decision Wednesday for Game 1 of the team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC).
 
The Predators held an optional skate Wednesday and the 6-foot-7, 241-pound Gill (lower-body injury) did not participate. Trotz said the Predators would skate seven defensemen in warm-ups.
 
If Gill cannot play, then Jack Hillen or rookie Ryan Ellis likely would take his place in the lineup. Trotz described the 21-year-old Ellis, last year's Ontario Hockey League player of the year, as someone who is poised and does not get rattled on the big stage, as he has played in high-profile tournaments such as the World Junior Championship.
 
Hillen, 26, has played more than 200 NHL games, but, like Ellis, would be making his playoff debut. Hillen is a sturdy 5-10 and 190 pounds and Trotz seemed to trust his penalty-killing ability, which could be the team's need if Gill can't play.
 
"Jack's one of those guys who is really sort of one of those under-the-radar guys," Trotz said. "He's really efficient. He skates real well. He's really strong on his feet and therefore he's got leverage skills. He's a good penalty-killer and you know what you're going to get with Jack. He's a little older; he's 26, so he's a little more mature than other players."
 
Hillen had two goals, four assists, 20 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating in 55 games. He was a mainstay in the lineup for much of the first half of the season, but once Ellis was called up after the League's two-day December holiday break and Gill was acquired in February, he played sparingly.
 
Hillen sounded like someone who had been told to be ready to go.
 
"I slept well, but I was really excited," he said. "I definitely went to bed thinking about it, woke up thinking about it. Just went over it in my head -- if I'm in there, what I need to do -- so, definitely excited about it."
 
While Gill's presence in the lineup is the major issue for Nashville going into Game 1, Trotz also has some decisions to make in terms of his fourth-line forwards. Matt Halischuk and rookie Craig Smith seem to be the likely choices to play with center Paul Gaustad, although Brandon Yip also is a possibility on the right side instead of Smith. Colin Wilson, Jordin Tootoo and Brian McGrattan were among the final players coming off the ice and seem less likely to crack the lineup.
 
Smith ranked among the League's top rookie scorers during the first part of the season, but hit something of a wall in the second half. Trotz said he thinks it's not unusual for that to happen for first-year players who have come out of college. (Smith played at the University of Wisconsin.)
 
But on Wednesday, Trotz said Smith is "flying around," and that looks like the explosive player he was earlier in the season. Smith had a goal and two assists in the Predators' regular-season finale Saturday against Colorado.
 
In the season finale, Smith skated on a line with Wilson at center and Halischuk on the other wing. Smith was asked if he thought his performance on Saturday gave Trotz reason to play him in the playoffs.
 
"I think our whole line did," he said. "I thought our line played exceptionally well. I think we were playing simple and doing the right things and had success. At this point, anyone who's in the lineup is going to be ready to go."
 
Here is the lineup the lineup the Predators likely will put on the ice for Game 1:
 
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Craig Smith
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Brandon Yip could replace Smith on the right side of the fourth line.

If Gill can't play, Bouillon likely would slide into his spot with Josi, and Jack Hillen would play on the third pair with Klein.
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:20 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Predictions favoring Devils don't bother Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers may have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but that doesn't change the fact they're considered underdogs in their series against the New Jersey Devils.

It wouldn't even be a stretch to call them heavy underdogs.

When NHL.com unveiled its first-round predictions of 16 writers, international staff members and NHL Network analysts, all but one went with New Jersey over Florida.

Only one of the other seven first-round series matched that kind of consensus, with the New York Rangers getting all 16 votes in their matchup against the Ottawa Senators.

"We can't worry about all the predictions," coach Kevin Dineen said. "You can sit there and watch the NHL Network or MSG, whatever it is, there’s lots of people out there that are looking to fill air time. There's areas we really can't control."

The NHL changed its alignment to three divisions in each conference in 1998-99 and started giving the division winners the top three seeds.

Before this year, only four No. 3 seeds finished with fewer points than the sixth seed. It's happening in both conferences this year, with third-seeded Phoenix facing No. 6 seed Chicago in the Western Conference.

It's impossible to draw conclusions from past results because the previous four series matching a No. 6 seed with more regular season points than the No. 3 seed were split.

• No. 6 Boston (91 points) beat No. 3 seed Carolina (86) in six games in 1999.

• No. 3 seed Carolina (91) beat No. 6 seed New Jersey (95) in six games in 2002.

• No. 3 seed Vancouver (105) beat No. 6 seed Dallas (107) in seven games in 2007.

• No. 6 seed Philadelphia (95) beat No. 3 seed Washington (94) in seven games in 2008.

"I really don't believe that there's any underdog or favorite," Panthers goalie Jose Theodore said. "Yes, there might be upsets sometimes, but you look at the standings, how tight it was, anybody could win games. That's what's fun. Even if you're the eighth seed, you still have a chance to win and I was in a lot of playoffs where we  were seventh or eighth and we were able to win. That's what's fun. That's what fans want to see, a lot of good teams, and it's really hard to predict."

In finishing with 102 points and becoming the first team to finish fourth in its division with at least 100, New Jersey ended up with eight more points than the Panthers.

That's the biggest differential yet in favor of a sixth seed against a No. 3 seed.

And it's a large reason for the overwhelming sentiment favoring the Devils.

Not that Panthers players are really concerning themselves with prognosticators.

"Well, they predicted us to not even make the playoffs this year," center Shawn Matthias. "It's nice being underdogs. I'm not going to give any bulletin-board stuff. Well, we didn't listen to that all year, why would we start now?"
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers' Sturm questionable for Game 1

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers could be without veteran forward Marco Sturm when they begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).

For the second time in two practices this week, Sturm was missing when the Panthers took the ice at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Wednesday.

Sturm also sat out the third period of Saturday's 4-1 division-clinching victory against Carolina in the regular season finale, and coach Kevin Dineen said Sturm is dealing with lower-body soreness.

"He'll be questionable," Dineen said. "He's a little bit sore from [last] weekend, so we're not sure if he'll be all right this weekend."

While Sturm missed his second consecutive practice, rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was back on the ice after being kept out Monday for what Dineen described as a "maintenance day."

Sturm, who had three goals and two assists in 42 games for Florida this season after being acquired from Vancouver in the David Booth trade in October, played the last few games on a line with John Madden and Tomas Kopecky.

His place on that line at Wednesday's practice was taken by Krys Barch.

Dineen also was asked Wednesday about his goalie situation and he said "probably right around game time" is when he would decide whether to go with Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen against the Devils.

"I have complete trust and confidence in our guys," Dineen said. "I've watched their body of work throughout the year and I have a very comfortable feeling that whatever decision we go, if I start Scott Clemmensen, I've made the right call; if I decide to go with Jose Theodore, I think I've made the right call. That's a good place for a coach to be."
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Daniel Sedin won't play Game 1 for Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Daniel Sedin did not take part in Wednesday's morning skate at Rogers Arena and has been ruled out for Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

"There is nothing new to report. Obviously he's not going to play tonight," coach Alain Vigneault said.

Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer last season, practiced with teammates Monday for the first time since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on March 21, but was not out with the main group on Tuesday, skating instead with a smaller group of spare part players after the main session ended.

Twin brother Henrik said Daniel was "100 percent" on Monday, and despite the absence Tuesday, coach Alain Vigneault said Sedin hadn't suffered a setback in his recovery.

Daniel, who missed the final nine games of the season but still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points, has not talked with reporters since the injury, which earned Keith a five-game suspension.

Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Bylsma respects Laviolette despite recent remarks

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s ears perked up the other night while he was watching a scouting tape in advance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
An announcer was discussing the most successful U.S.-born coaches in the NHL, and he mentioned Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers. Both coached teams that won the Stanley Cup -- Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2004 and Laviolette two years later with the Carolina Hurricanes.
 
Left out of the discussion? Bylsma, who didn’t take over until midseason in 2008-09 yet coached the Penguins to a seven-game Stanley Cup Final series win against the Detroit Red Wings.
 
An unintended slight? Perhaps. A bit of a motivator for Bylsma? Perhaps that, too.
 
"I was disappointed not being mentioned in the commentator's comments about American coaches," Bylsma said. "But that's part of the game."
 
And a Bylsma vs. Laviolette coaching matchup in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is bound to contain some coaching gamesmanship, too.
 
Bylsma said Laviolette deserves all the praise he has gotten during a season in which the Flyers withstood the offseason departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and the influx of a half-dozen rookies to finish with 103 points, the sixth-most in the League.
 
"They play a consistent game," said Bylsma, whose team won 51 games -- the second-most in Penguins history. "I think their team has a real identity, which isn't the old Flyers identity, but a real good identity. This team in particular, they talk about (Claude) Giroux and (Jaromir) Jagr. Their power play has been a factor, but this is a team that does it throughout their lineup. They keep coming at you and they play well throughout their lineup. They’ve dealt with injuries."
 
Bylsma added, "He (Laviolette) is going to have matchups that he goes after and these things are important for his team. You'll see their team go after those. He's also a coach that does a good job of adjusting his team and their mindset. I have a lot of respect for Peter as a coach for what he’s done -- regardless of the name calling."
 
Bylsma was referring to Laviolette's comment after an April 1 game against the Pens that Bylsma was "gutless" for putting out his toughest players against the Flyers' Danny Briere line late in Philadelphia's 6-4 victory in Pittsburgh. During that shift, Penguins center Joe Vitale put a clean but hard hit on Briere, who went on to miss the final three regular season games with a back contusion that caused back spasms.
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:27 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Peverley to start series on Krejci's line

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."
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