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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs playing for pride on home ice vs. Carolina

TORONTO – A season that once held so much promise for the Toronto Maple Leafs is drawing to a disappointing close with just six games remaining. A regulation loss on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight would officially end Toronto’s faint playoff hopes.

The Maple Leafs have lost a franchise record nine straight home games (0-6-3), part of a late season collapse that knocked them out of a playoff position and led to the firing of coach Ron Wilson.

Wilson’s replacement, Randy Carlyle, has challenged his team to end the skid.

"We have to demonstrate more will, pride, passion, because it’s gone on long enough," said Carlyle. "That was our message after practice yesterday, that it’s unacceptable to have the home record that we have right now. And that’s what we’re going to ask of our players, and we as a coaching staff have to find a way to motivate this group to play to a higher level. It has to start tonight."

Carlyle, 4-6-2 since taking over on March 2, has put his squad through a number of grueling practices in recent weeks and hopes to see that extra work pay off in game situations.

"When people go into slumps it’s usually hard work that takes them out of it," said Carlyle. "When you’re in pro sports, either a team or an individual, you go back to the basics and you go to work.

"We’re the ones that are responsible for our record. Now it’s time for us to make a statement."

Goaltender James Reimer, who will make his seventh start in eight games, refused to give up on the Leafs playoff hopes, no matter how remote: "We’re trying to focus on winning the game and keeping our chances alive," he said.

Forwards Mike Brown (knee), Matt Frattin (ankle) and Clarke MacArthur (shoulder) are expected to return to action tonight, while Carlyle will likely dress seven defensemen.

Here are tonight’s projected lineups:

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain

Cam Ward
Brian Boucher

Matthew Lombardi – Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail GrabovskiMatt Frattin
Tim Connolly - David SteckelJoey Crabb
Jay RosehillMike Brown

Dion PhaneufCarl Gunnarsson
John-Michael LilesLuke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Mike Komisarek

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:25 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Panthers hit home stretch trying to wrap up division

MONTREAL -- The Florida Panthers understand they are in the driver's seat, but they can't help themselves from looking in the rearview mirror from time to time.

While the Panthers prepare to face the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre tonight riding a 5-1-3 stretch in their last nine games, they are acutely aware of just how hot the Washington Capitals have become and how precarious their own hold on the Southeast Division lead is entering the final stretch of the season.

"It's hard not to (notice)," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said of the Capitals' 6-2-2 surge. "We know (Alex) Ovechkin's going crazy right now. But we can control what we can control. We have a three-point lead on them, we're not the ones chasing. So we control what happens to us."

The Panthers have not played significant games this late in the season in years, but securing the franchise's first playoff berth since 2000 is not yet in the bag. The Panthers have a three-point lead on the Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres -- who face each other in Washington tonight -- with a game in hand on both teams.

Still, there's a definite sense of anticipation brewing among the players, coaches and the fans of South Florida.

"Well, seven games (left in the regular season) equals a playoff series, so we still have work to do," coach Kevin Dineen said. "But now that we're in the final stretch, it's exciting. … It's an exciting time to be a Florida Panthers player and fan right now."

A big reason for the Panthers' solid play of late has been goaltender Jose Theodore, who arrives in his hometown riding a 4-1-3 stretch with a .947 save percentage over that span.

"I'd say he's been our team MVP at this juncture," said veteran center John Madden. "We have this belt we give out (for the player of the game), and we can't go three games without him winning it."

However, as great as Theodore's been, he has a poor history against his former team with a 2-2-1 record, 4.62 goals-against average and .861 save percentage in six career games against the Canadiens.

"His record against his previous team, for a guy with his experience, is probably one of the smaller factors," said Dineen, who would not confirm the starting goaltender for the game.

Backup Scott Clemmensen, who left the ice first at the morning skate, is 5-0-0 with a 1.65 GAA and .942 save percentage against the Canadiens in six career starts. It would be surprising if he didn't get the call for this one.

On the Canadiens' side, there is very little to play for other than being spoilers for playoff clubs and auditioning for jobs next season, as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention after Saturday night's 4-1 loss in Philadelphia.

Head coach Randy Cunneyworth confirmed Carey Price will get the start in goal for the Habs.

Here are tonight’s expected lineups:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Jerred Smithson - Marco Sturm

Brian Campbell - Jason Garrison
Mike Weaver - Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Scott Clemmensen
Jose Theodore

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

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Frederic St-Denis - Chris Campoli

Carey Price
Peter Budaj
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Sabres keeping hype to a minimum

WASHINGTON -- It's not that the Sabres are naïve to the situation. Quite the opposite, in fact. They fully understand how big Tuesday's game against the Washington Capitals is for playoff positioning.

The winning team will finish the night in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with complete control of its own playoff fate heading into the final five games of the season. The losing team will need to win and get some help over the proceeding nine days.

But the Sabres also don't want to overdo it on the hype machine. It's not their style, not what they're about.

"It's a big game for us, we know that and we don't have to hype it up more than it is right now," Derek Roy told "I think guys just want to embrace the challenge, have fun with it."

Asked if this was the equivalent of a playoff game, perhaps similar to one played early in a seven-game series considering neither team will be eliminated after Tuesday's contest, Sabres right wing Drew Stafford said yes, but …

"Every game has been a playoff game for us the past month," he told "It happens to be against the team that is right there with us, but we have been in this mindset, this mode for a long time because we needed to. We were that desperate, and we still are."

The desperation has propelled Buffalo to an 18-5-5 record in its last 28 games. More recently, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in their last eight games.

"We've put ourselves in a position where we're knocking on the door," Stafford said. "Each game is an opportunity to get points and we're trying to empty the tank in each game."

Buffalo will welcome Patrick Kaleta back to the lineup in a fourth-line role. Kaleta missed the last three games with a thumb injury.

"Pat has done a good job of killing penalties with good energy," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.

Nathan Gerbe will sit for his seventh straight game with an upper-body injury. He returned to practice Monday, but Ruff said Gerbe isn't quite ready to draw back in.

"(Monday) was his first full practice and it didn't go as well as we had hoped," Ruff said. "It didn't go bad, but we just felt like we'd push it further along."

The Sabres hope to keep the good times rolling on their power play Tuesday. They are 6-for-18 over the last five games, including 2-for-4 this past Saturday against Minnesota. It was the first time the Sabres scored two power-play goals in a game since Dec. 26, when they beat the Capitals, 4-2, at First Niagara Center.

Buffalo's power play went just 10-for-94 in the 36 games that followed that win over Washington the day after Christmas.

"Pucks to the net," Ruff said when asked what the difference has been on the power play of late. "There's not a lot of pretty goals. When you go around watching teams, it's more that teams are doing a good job of getting some traffic and getting that second opportunity. Even the goal last game (against Minnesota), the first one, it's just (Marcus) Foligno off to the side and we're getting a decent bounce."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Sabres know full team effort needed vs. Ovechkin

WASHINGTON -- If Washington was icing a normal lineup with 12 forwards and six defensemen, odds are Buffalo's new shut-down line of Cody Hodgson with Derek Roy and Ville Leino would be responsible for Alex Ovechkin all night.

Washington, though, will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game, so Sabres coach Lindy Ruff figures his team is going to see a lot of Ovechkin on Tuesday, meaning the responsibility for stopping the red-hot Capitals captain will fall on more than just a handful of shoulders.

"We're going to need two lines," Ruff said. "They've got Ovechkin playing on two lines, they're double-shifting him, and he's playing 25-plus minutes. We know what he's capable of doing, and if you give him space and time, anything on the rush, he's a dangerous player."

Ovechkin, who played over 26 minutes in Sunday's 3-0 win against Minnesota, has been piling up the goals, with seven during his five-game scoring streak. He has 10 goals in 13 games this month.

Ruff thinks he knows why.

"He's shooting more," Ruff said of Ovechkin, who is averaging 4.38 shots per game this month (57 in 13 games). "He's shooting from a lot of different places. He's caught some breaks. When you shoot more, good things happen."

Ruff compared Ovechkin's run to that of his own player, right wing Drew Stafford, who has 4 goals and 12 points in the last seven games.

"Stafford is shooting more and he's shooting in some situations that he (previously) passed off, and more pucks are going into the net," Ruff said.

An obvious key to limiting Ovechkin's chances, especially off the rush, is keeping the puck away from him. The Sabres can do that by continuing their dominance in the faceoff circle.

Buffalo has won the faceoff battle in seven of its last eight games. Not coincidentally, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in those games, with a 29-16 edge in non-shootout goals.

Roy and Cody Hodgson have been the catalysts, going a combined 154-129 in the circle (54.4 percent).

"We've gone up against some tough faceoff teams and we've garnered the edge," Ruff said. "It's a big part of the game. When you're not chasing the puck around all night, when you can start with the faceoff, it gives you an opportunity to get it down ice and in the offensive zone. It's a part of the game that sometimes people overlook, but if you can get the edge in the faceoff circle you've got the edge in puck possession."

They'll need it against Ovechkin and the Capitals on Tuesday.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens down two defensemen, as Letang, Lovejoy hurt

PITTSBURGH -- So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins finally being back at full strength.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy, both of whom were hurt Sunday against the Devils, will be out for Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center. Lovejoy had knee surgery and will be out for 3-4 weeks -- a span that runs through the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Letang, who absorbed several hard hits during the 5-2 win over New Jersey, is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He left the ice a bit shaky after colliding with Dainius Zubrus in the second and also was upended by Ryan Carter in the third period, with Carter drawing a tripping penalty.
"Immediately, to look at his reaction on the ice, we weren't going to put him back on the ice until he's been checked out and cleared and wasn't having any effects from the hit," coach Dan Bylsma said of the head-to-head hit with Zubrus.
However, it apparently was the hit by Carter that put Letang out for the Islanders game.
Letang sat out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with a concussion that occurred when he was struck in the head by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, then missed another five games after being hit hard by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang was held out then for precautionary reasons after experiencing headaches and other concussion-like symptoms, but he was never diagnosed with a second concussion.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen will miss a third consecutive game with an unspecified injury.
With Letang and Niskanen out, defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait were called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to oppose the Islanders. Despres will be paired with Deryk Engelland and Strait will be with Paul Martin.
"We feel confident putting these guys in the lineup," Bylsma said. "It's a playoff time of the year, and if it were a playoff game we'd be confident playing with these guys."
Despres has 1 goal, 3 assists and is a plus-5 in 16 games with Pittsburgh this season, while Strait has played in four games.
"You try to help them out, for sure," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who will continue to be paired with Brooks Orpik. "They've been here before and they know how the game is played. They're good players and they're going to do a good job. We can rely on them in a big situation to play some big minutes and, if they need some help, they know we are there for them."
Forward Matt Cooke likes that Wilkes-Barre plays the same system as the parent Penguins, a situation he believes creates continuity when a player is called up.
"They play the exact same way down in Wilkes, which is a huge strength for their ability to come up and play and have success," Cooke said. "It's our job as forwards to make sure we're making their job as easy as possible."
When Sidney Crosby returned March 15 after being out with concussion-like symptoms for three months, the same night Letang came back from the Nystrom hit, the Penguins finally had their lineup virtually intact for the first time this season. Until then, centers Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal had played together only 10 times over a 15-month span.
By winning Tuesday, the Penguins -- one point behind the Rangers in the Atlantic Division -- would be guaranteed of finishing no lower than fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The likely lineups for the first of home-and-home games between the Atlantic Division rivals, who also play Thursday night on Long Island:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Marty Reasoner - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Jay Pandolfo
Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew MacDonald
Milan Jurcina - Steve Staios
Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer with 31 goals and 75 points, doesn't have a point and is a minus-4 in four games against Pittsburgh this season. The Islanders have only five goals in the season series; they were shut out 5-0 on Nov. 21, the last time the teams met in Pittsburgh, and 3-0 on Oct. 25. Pittsburgh has won all four games to date, also winning 6-3 on Dec. 10 and 3-2 on Oct. 27.
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Steve Sullivan
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
With 225 wins, Fleury is one away from matching Tom Barrasso's franchise record. His 41 victories this season are a career high and tie him with Pekka Rinne of Nashville for the NHL lead. Barrasso holds the club single-season record with 43 in 1992-93, when the Penguins won the Presidents' Trophy. Fleury is 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts, stopping 339 of 358 shots in those games.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:39 PM

By Ben Raby - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Caps turn to Holtby for showdown with Sabres

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Eighteen days ago, then-Hershey Bears goalie Braden Holtby allowed five goals and was pulled in the third period of a 6-1 loss to the St. John’s IceCaps.

Tuesday night, the recently recalled 22-year-old will start in the biggest game of the Washington Capitals season. The Caps play host to the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center with the teams tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and six games to play.
"I'm pretty excited for it," Holtby said. "It's a big game, but at the same time it's just another one. It counts as two points, just the same as all the others do. I'm ready to go into it with that mindset, but there will be a little extra motivation to have the team going and get a win."

While former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller will appear in his 57th game of the year for the Sabres, this will be Holtby’s fifth NHL start this season for the Caps. No pressure, kid.

"I've always been confident in my ability to be an NHL goaltender," said Holtby, who is 2-0-1 since his recall with a 1.29 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

"Whether it's been some conditioning in Hershey or whatnot, it's been a learning process the last three years and I think I've worked hard with the goalie coaches here to make sure that I would be ready for an opportunity like this."

The Capitals' 2008 fourth-round draft pick had impressive NHL stints last season, going 10-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in 14 games, but Holtby had reason to believe that this latest call-up wouldn't last more than a few days.

Holtby was so sure that this NHL stay would be brief that he left his car at the daily parking lot at the Harrisburg International Airport. At $20 a day, "it’s collecting a pretty big paycheck there right now."
"It's funny, actually," he said. "I got told Saturday night [March 17] -- we were playing in Hershey -- to go up Sunday morning. And I was basically told, 'See you at the start of the week.' Basically, just go [to Washington] for a couple of days."

A couple of days have now turned into a couple of weeks and with Tomas Vokoun still sidelined because of a nagging groin injury, Michal Neuvirth, 24, and Holtby, 22, could play a major role in the Caps springtime fate.

"As for carrying the team into the playoffs, I really don't know how to answer that because I'm focusing on [this] game," Holtby said. "After this game I'm not sure what will be in store. I'd love to, that's the goal, obviously, for anyone."

Here is Washington's projected lineup for the game against the Sabres.

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

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

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

Notes: Capitals coach Dale Hunter is expected to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game. With only 11 forwards in a 3-0 win Sunday against Minnesota, Alex Ovechkin played 26:19 -- his second highest ice-time of the season.

Nicklas Backstrom joined his teammates for the morning skate, marking the 14th time in the last 15 days that the Caps' No. 1 center has skated. Backstrom has not played since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3. The Caps have won 17 of 38 games without Backstrom in the lineup.

Forward Joel Ward will miss his third straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the second straight game and for the seventh time in the last 10 games overall.

Vokoun took part in the skate but is not expected to dress tonight as he continues to recover from his groin injury. The 35-year-old has started just three of the Caps last 16 games dating to Feb. 22.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:24 PM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Peverley quickly returns to form for Bruins

BOSTON -- Playing his first game for the Boston Bruins after missing 19 with a severely sprained knee, Rich Peverley barely missed a beat Sunday night in their win at Anaheim.

His 16:44 of ice time was just about his season's average, and he skated both on the penalty kill and power play in addition to his even strength time. Tonight he should be once again in the lineup when the Bruins host Tampa Bay at the TD Garden.

"I want to be able to play as much as I can, so that's good," he said after Boston's morning skate. "But [coach Claude Julien] still held me back a few shifts. So it's probably better in the end for that. But I felt good today, I felt good on that Sunday there, it was good to get in the game there."

Peverley said he felt better as the game went on and that he's pretty close to feeling like himself. The Bruins will need him and the rest of their players at their best, as they'll try to earn a three-game winning streak for the first time since December.

The Bruins are also looking to avenge a 6-1 loss they suffered in Tampa on March 13.

"We've made steps in the right direction [since then]," center Chris Kelly said. "That Tampa game was obviously an embarrassing game for us. I think if you ask anyone in this locker room, that wasn't our style of hockey. Give them credit, they came out hard and played well and played right to the final buzzer like they should have. We didn't show up at all that game."

Tampa Bay did not hold a morning skate because they played last night in Philadelphia. Vincent Lecavalier (hand) and Nate Thompson (upper body) have been skating with the Lightning and could rejoin the lineup as early as tonight.

Here are the projected lineups:


Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Jordan Caron - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Brandon Segal

Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brian Lee - Brett Clark
Mike Commodore - Brendan Mikkelson
Keith Aulie

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Devils make rookie blueliner Larsson healthy scratch

NEWARK, N.J. -- For the first time in his NHL career, New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be listed as a healthy scratch.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer has opted to give Larsson, the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, a breather and will replace him in the lineup with recent call-up Peter Harrold.
"He's a young guy and it doesn't hurt to sit up and watch and take a step back sometimes," DeBoer said. "I think, since he's come back from his injury, he's had a few bumps in the road and struggled with some consistency. We've talked to him about that. It's getting to the point in the year here where it will benefit him to sit and watch for a night."
The Devils enter Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center having lost five of their last seven games (2-4-1). The club would not only like to clinch a playoff berth as quickly as possible, but start playing the brand of hockey that enabled it to reach this point in the first place. New Jersey has allowed an un-Devil-like 18 goals in its last five games.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get his third straight start between the pipes, is 0-3-1 in his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, in a victory over the Boston Bruins at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, feels Larsson can only benefit from watching.
"He's here for a long time and this is just a bump in the road in his progress," Brodeur said. "It happens with young guys a lot, especially when expectations are high. The depth of our defense has been challenged a little bit with Henrik Tallinder out and (Anton Volchenkov). That makes it tough on younger players with regard to how to deal with it. The games pick up this time of year … the intensity, the drive of teams you play against is higher and you have to step up, and that's one of the hardest things to do as a young player."
Larsson missed 10 games in February with a bruised lower back after taking a check from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In 64 games with the Devils -- he also missed two games for personal reasons -- Larsson has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating.
"You can't hide a defenseman, just like you can't hide a goalie," Brodeur said. "That's because defense is where you get exposed the most. For him, it's a matter of working hard. He'll be here a long time and he'll be back in the lineup sooner than people think. But right now, he has to realize he needs to step up a little bit, and that's fine.
"To be honest, I didn't really see anything that the coaches might have saw (with regard to his play). I thought he was playing alright, but they felt he needed that break."
DeBoer wants to see Larsson fresh and confident entering the postseason.
"You don't get to this stage by just jumping in … you go through a progression, and the progression when he came back from injury was to try and let him fight through some of the inconsistencies," DeBoer said. "But at some point, you have to take a different approach and that's where we're at. He handled it well in our conversation, and I'm confident he'll bounce back."
Harrold, who was recalled from the Devils American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday, will skate with Matt Taormina to start the game. In five games with the Devils this season, Harrold has no points and a minus-1 rating. He last played with the club on Feb. 24 in a loss to Vancouver.
Following their contest with the Blackhawks, the Devils will have three more home games, including Thursday's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two on the road. The club currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, has six games remaining and requires a total of six points to officially clinch a playoff spot.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not practice for a second straight day and will likely miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
While the Devils lose their leading hitter and shot blocker in Volchenkov, center Travis Zajac returned to the lineup on Sunday. Zajac, playing his first game since Jan. 2, notched one assist in his team's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He centered Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky against the Penguins, but was working with Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique during the team's full practice session on Monday.
It will mark the first time this season that Henrique will skate on wing.
"It'll be a little change for him playing wing, but he's a smart player and he'll figure it out quick," Zajac said.
The only trio that remained intact from Sunday was Patrik Elias centering Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus. Nine players decided to rest the legs during Tuesday's optional skate, including Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora, Elias, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Petr Sykora - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:45 AM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

Letang day-to-day with lower-body injury

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced today that defenseman Kris Letang will not play Tuesday against the New York Islanders and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Letang, who has missed time twice this season due to concussion-like symptoms, collided with New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus during Sunday's game. He returned, however, and played more than 22 minutes.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Letang is not suffering from any concussion-related issues.

The Penguins, who clinched a playoff spot last week, have seven games left in the regular season.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:37 AM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Kaleta likely to return for Sabres-Caps showdown

WASHINGTON -- The Sabres are on the ice at Verizon Center in advance of Tuesday night's huge game against Washington for sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Both the Caps and Sabres are tied with 84 points, but Washington holds the tiebreaker and is currently in eighth place due to its 36 non-shootout victories. The Sabres have only 30, but they can make the tiebreaker meaningless with a win here.

Judging from the line rushes early in the morning skate, Patrick Kaleta (thumb) will return to the lineup and skate on the fourth line with Brad Boyes and Cody McCormick. Kaleta has missed the last three games.

Nathan Gerbe (upper-body) has also been cleared to play, but he was skating as an extra forward.

The Sabres announced on their Twitter feed Tuesday morning that Travis Turnbull was returned to Rochester of the American Hockey League.

Ryan Miller is expected to make his ninth straight start. He has started 28 of the last 30 games, going 18-5-5 over the span since Jan. 19.

The Sabres have one of the hottest lines in the NHL going right now with Tyler Ennis playing in between Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno. The Sabres' new top line has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in the last eight games.

Buffalo is 18-5-5 in its last 28 games. The Sabres made the playoffs last season after going 16-4-4 in their final 24 games.

Here are the Sabres' expected lines and defense pairings:

Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Ville Leino - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Corey Tropp - Cody Hodgson - Thomas Vanek
Cody McCormick - Brad Boyes - Patrick Kaleta

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Quote of the Day

I would definitely love to play with him. He's a skilled player and over the years he definitely has shown that he can score a lot of goals. I think it would work out well.

— Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk on Alexander Semin