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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Key Wings getting closer, not ready to return yet

DETROIT -- They're getting closer, but several key contributors to the Detroit Red Wings aren't quite there yet in their recovery from various injuries.

The Red Wings will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m.) without starting goalie Jimmy Howard (groin), forward Johan Franzen (back) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) -- who all still hope to return to the lineup sometime this week.

Howard took shots again in Detroit's morning skate, while Ericsson and Franzen participated fully in the session.

"We'd like to get healthy, like to get playing going into the playoffs," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who sported a red McGill University cap to celebrate his alma mater's Canadian university hockey national championship won on Sunday night. "I thought our club played well the other night (against Carolina). You want to be confident going into the playoffs. In order to do that you need wins.''

You also need as many top players in the lineup as possible. On that front, Babcock can at least pencil in legendary defenseman and Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom to his top pairing for a second straight game. Lidstrom is back after missing a career-high 11 straight games with a deep bruise in his ankle.

He returned to the ice for the first time in Saturday night's stirring 5-4 comeback win against the Hurricanes and went through the morning skate on Monday. While he's still not 100 percent, the good news is the ankle didn't regress in the two days since playing last.

"It felt good (Sunday), no real setbacks or any more soreness than I anticipated," said Lidstrom, who'd been having some trouble turning on the ice a little more than a week ago. "(My mobility) is a lot better. Before I had more of a sharp pain, which I don't have anymore. It's going to be sore for some time, but it is a lot better."

Babcock was just happy to see No. 5 back in the active lineup, regardless of the 41-year old star's limitations.

“He was a long way from being what he's capable of being the other night," Babcock said. "I don't know if it's so much what he did in the game as what he just brings with his presence and who he is and his calmness. We really moved the puck well, spent a lot of time in the offensive zone the other night. Anytime you have quality D, that allows that to happen."

Detroit is also missing speedy center Darren Helm (knee sprain) for at least a couple more weeks and probably won't get forward Patrick Eaves (concussion symptoms) back this season. As for the three Wings who are getting closer to returning, Howard is targeting Friday, Franzen hopes to get a couple of full practices in and go Wednesday or Friday, and Ericsson hopes to be cleared by Wednesday's game in Columbus.

"It feels better and better every day," said Ericsson, a big defenseman who's missed 12 straight games since his wrist was fractured by a shot. "Everything's going forward.''

Babcock sounded like he wanted to play Ericsson on Monday night, but won't have him as an option despite the big Swedish blueliner's slap shot rounding back into form.

“I know. I hear him every day," Ericsson said of Babcock. "It's getting really close. I think we want to be more careful now, so it doesn't get worse before the playoffs. Try to be smart about it. Shooting is fine. It's more battling stuff. I haven't really tried pushing people around in the corners. It's going to be a test. I'm going to have someone like maybe [Franzen] to push around the corner."

Howard's issue is strengthening the groin muscle that's giving him an issue.

"Right now it's more about getting healthy, getting out there and not thinking about groins, and just playing," said Howard, who will miss his third straight game on Monday because of the issue -- which also cost him three games earlier in March. "We're taking a little bit different route this time around, trying to strengthen it a little more."

Howard said the injury isn't about his flexibility, though.

"It wasn't really stretching it or anything like that sort of motion that was bothering me," he said. "It was more getting tired and feeling weak, so strengthening it is the key now.''

As for Franzen, his back spasms have subsided and conditioning is the biggest hurdle left before he gets back in a live game.

"Now it's more about getting back in shape and getting skating," said Franzen, Detroit's leading goal scorer who's skated for five straight days. "You lose more than you think being out for a week. You're off one week and it goes straight downhill.''

Franzen said a magnetic reasonance imaging test was run on his back and got relatively good news.

“We did an MRI ... looking good," the 32-year old Swedish power forward said. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Just looked like an old hockey player's back. Nothing extreme.''

An old hockey player's back?

“Yeah," Franzen said. "A 32-year-old hockey player's back."

Steve Mason will start in goal for Columbus, which lost 6-3 to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday afternoon. Here's a look at how the Blue Jackets and Red Wings might line up on Monday night:

BLUE JACKETS
RJ Umberger - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Vinny Prospal - Mark Letestu - Rick Nash
Ryan Russell - Ryan Johansen - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Darryl Boyce - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard
John Moore - Brett Lebda
Nikita Nikitin - Aaron Johnson

Steve Mason
Allen York


RED WINGS
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Danny Cleary
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton - Jan Mursak

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Jakub Kindl

Ty Conklin
Jordan Pearce
Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sarich remains out for back end of home-and-home

CALGARY -- In a game that will rival playoff intensity, the Calgary Flames will be missing one of their most battle-tested blueliners.
 
The Flames will not have veteran defenseman Cory Sarich in the lineup for the game. He has missed the last two games after suffering an upper-body injury in a big collision with David Jones of the Colorado Avalanche.
 
"He's not available for us tonight," coach Brent Sutter confirmed after Calgary's morning skate.
 
Tim Jackman on the other hand, is.
 
Jackman, a healthy scratch for Calgary's Saturday afternoon tilt against the Stars, is ready to go in what is certain to be a playoff atmosphere with the Flames clinging to their playoff hopes.

"I'm not 100 percent sure yet," Jackman said. "We'll wait and see."
 
The rugged winger is hoping to be a part of the festivities after missing the first half of the home-and-home series.
 
"Obviously I wanted to be in there in that game," Jackman said. "You can tell it was going to be an intense game. Tonight will be the same way."
 
The Flames do expect Olli Jokinen to be in the lineup tonight. Jokinen was noticeably absent from the team's morning skate.
 
"It's a maintenance morning for him," Sutter said. "We just wanted him to be ready for tonight."
 
Jokinen is second on the Flames in scoring with 58 points, but has been held scoreless in his last seven games.
 
Here is the projected lineup for the Flames:

Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Blake Comeau - Matt Stajan - Lee Stempniak
Tim Jackman - Blair Jones - Tom Kostopoulos
 
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Clay Wilson - Anton Babchuk
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Steve Webb and Pat LaFontaine -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

Discussing Ward's perseverance and determination


In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the perseverance and determination of center Matthew Ward (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) of East Islip, N.Y. Despite the fact he has missed most of the season due to injury or illness, Ward continues to exhibit tremendous support and leadership. When he is on the ice, he remains one of the team's most talented players.


Pat LaFontaine

Matty plays center and right wing and he was our leading scorer last year. He's very talented and has tremendous speed -- he's got three or four gears. He's faced a lot of adversity this year.

While we try to accentuate the positive, sometimes you get thrown curveballs and through all of this, players have had to deal with the ups and the downs. It has been tough on Matt because it seems like he's had one thing after the other.

He started out by having some strange groin issues over a period of a time and then we found out he needed a double hernia operation. So he was working himself back and was finally getting some strength back and went through physical therapy. But during our tournament in Chicago, he was hit along the boards and suffered a bruised kidney in November; so after finally coming back from a double hernia operation, he gets hit and is now out six weeks. And you have to be very careful with a bruised kidney -- you can't take part in much contact. Then, after he finally started coming back from that, he developed some tendinitis in his knee and once that sets in, it's another process of getting that inflammation out. The tendon area takes a while to settle down and heal. He's probably played in about 20 percent of our games this year and, at times, it's no fun. It can be very frustrating.

I know what that is like; going through major knee construction, tendinitis and shoulder injuries. It comes with the territory. Not only does the body have to heal, but the mind and confidence and everything else, because it is a setback.

But through it all, Matt's father has been amazing. Matt's had to keep a good attitude but that's hard. Each game you want to be out there and he faced a lot of adversity. I'm so excited for him to get back into the lineup recently. He's currently dealing with slight whiplash, but we need his speed in the upcoming tournament.

When Matty is in the lineup, we'll go four lines, short shifts. He has a set line that he plays with. He's had to battle with not being out there and being frustrated, but around the players and guys, he's been great. Matty has been part of our success, and whether you're a pro, amateur or playing youth hockey, your team should always make you feel like you are a part of it. I remember going through my injuries … it sure is a good feeling when your team reaches out to you and makes you feel a part of it because they wish you were out there. A lot of it is dealing with that -- not having that sport you love to play so there's a mental aspect and a physical aspect.

Steve Webb

Matt is a very unique athlete. He's missed time due to injuries and it's been a really trying year for a 16-year-old, especially when all the hype is around the team. This is a big year for him and then all this stuff happens -- that's a tough time for any athlete to handle. How do you keep your focus? How do you keep your dreams in front of you when you feel as though you're stale and stagnant due to some unfortunate circumstances?

But here's the best part about Matty Ward -- he's playing games right now and is still one of the more dominant skaters on the ice. Even though he's missed all this time, he's an extraordinarily talented player. Even though he hasn't been at every practice, he has pure natural ability and remains a dominant factor. He's still on the radar and that's unbelievable for a guy who's missed as much time as he has. He's going to be a player who demonstrates his flair down the road. When people see him, they add him to the list right away.

His hands and skating ability are unreal. Even on a bad leg, he's still one of the fastest skaters on the ice, which is scary to think what he'll be like when healthy. He still has a lot of years to develop and heal and be prepared. He's willing to do anything he can to help team out. He's always a factor on the penalty-kill and will get you a shorthanded goal. He's fun to watch.
Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:36 PM

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

Briere hoping new line provides past results

PHILADELPHIA -- With a pair of goals Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, Danny Briere shook a giant monkey off his back. The goals were the first he had scored against a goalie in 29 games (he had an empty-net goal March 13 against New Jersey).

"I think anybody that goes through this kind of stretch at some point, any offensive player, at some point you can definitely feel that (pressure to score)," Briere told NHL.com. "It definitely feels like it's starting to come back. … The last three weeks I really felt like my game was better. I was there for a lot of chances, it just wasn't going in."

Part of his success can be attributed to a line change that has seen him center rookie Brayden Schenn on the left and Wayne Simmonds on the right. 

"I think I'm probably in a better place with my game to start with," said Briere. "Brayden, too, with a little bit more experience than earlier in the year. I've had the chance to play with many guys on the team, so that can change in a hurry, too. I'm ready for anything that happens."

This new line for Briere is similar to the one formed during the 2010 postseason, when Briere was placed between Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, and that trio carried the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We were like the three leftovers that were going nowhere at that time," Briere said. "All of a sudden things just started clicking. Hopefully that happens again."

Coach Peter Laviolette said he sees a few similarities, but isn't ready to predict the same kind of future.

"I think a little bit," he told NHL.com. "(Simmonds and Hartnell), they both do the same thing, they're big and strong and go to the hard areas. I think Brayden and Ville, maybe two entities that we're not sure of -- we never had Ville, we never had Brayden, he's been hurt a lot and he's trying to find a line, find where he fits in. We moved him over to left wing and with Danny, so we're hoping. … Certainly they've had a couple good games."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


 
Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Flyers riding hot hand as Bryzgalov starts again

PHILADELPHIA -- Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in the net for the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), making it his 19th start in the last 20 games.

And with the way he's played in March -- 10-1-1, 1.22 goals-against average, .956 save percentage, four shutouts -- there's no reason not to keep riding the sizzling-hot hand.

"He's played extremely well this month," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a big reason why we've been able to push up the standings. Our team needs that. … Teams at the top of the conference are usually led by their goaltender and he's been excellent this month."

Here's the rest of the lineup the Flyers likely will put on the ice Monday:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Zac Rinaldo - Eric Wellwood - Matt Read

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Pavel Kubina - Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Defenseman Andreas Lilja is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but was a full participant in the morning skate and could replace Gustafsson in the lineup.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK



Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 10:17 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 26th

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 76 84 6 90 4

9th 76 84 6 90 4
10th 75 78 7 85 7
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 75 86 7 93 5

9th 75 86 7 93 5
10th 77 86 5 91 5
11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: It could be a "bloody" Monday for a few teams chasing a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

In Winnipeg, the Jets will host the Ottawa Senators in a game that will decide if Winnipeg's playoff hopes remain vibrant or if the "fat lady" starts singing. The math is very simple for Winnipeg. They have seven games remaining, including Monday night, and are six points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot. Buffalo is also six points ahead of Winnipeg and plays Washington Tuesday night, meaning one of those teams is guaranteed two points. If the Jets lose Monday, they are guaranteed to wake up Wednesday eight points out with six games to play. That's not where they want to be.

The advanced math is no kinder. Presently, the projections suggest that it will take 91 points to qualify in the East. The Jets have 78, meaning they max out at 92 if they run the table. Lose Monday and 90 points becomes the max. Winning is the only option left for Winnipeg.

In the West, the projection for the eighth spot remains 94 points.

The Calgary Flames, who finish a home-and-home against the Dallas Stars after losing Saturday's opening half of the back-to-back showdown, are also in must-win mode. If Calgary wins each of its six remaining games, it will reach 95 points, one above the projected cut-off.

Fall short Monday against the Stars in this last stand and the Flames will be nearly assured of sitting out the playoffs for the third consecutive season. There is a big difference between mathematical possibility and probability. The possibility is remote with a loss by the Flames Monday -- the probability is nil. In a nutshell, the teams the Flames must overtake to qualify for the playoffs face each other at some point down the stretch, so there is no possibility that the teams the Flames are chasing will stay static in points.

San Jose plays Dallas & Los Angeles two times each. Phoenix and Colorado play San Jose once each. The math does not favor the Flames with a loss Monday. But with a 0-2-3 record in their past five games, the Flames didn't do themselves any favors either.

Colorado has five games remaining, so the Avalanche are fighting a two-front battle against the schedule, as well as their opponents.

Colorado can attain a maximum of 96 points. Lose to the Sharks on Monday and the Avs' margin for error falls to zero with four games remaining in the final 12 days of the season. That leaves a lot of off days to watch and hope for help from other teams. Like the Flames, the probability moves closer to nil because of the schedule and the fact that teams they will be chasing play one another.

The Avalanche don't have a lot of wiggle room, but beating San Jose moves them closer to the projected 94 points and also moves them two points clear of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

In Vancouver, the Kings begin a four-game road trip having won six of their past seven games. This has put Los Angeles in a good position, controlling its playoff destiny. A loss to the Canucks, coupled with a Calgary win against Dallas, sets up an interesting showdown in Calgary on Wednesday between the Kings and Flames. Lose there and the Kings could easily be back in the "chasing" category instead of the "control" category.

The other aspect to Monday is the "bury your opponent" aspect. The Senators, Stars and Sharks can effectively end their Monday opponent's playoff hopes with victories, which is only added incentive if there is any needed.

Monday's scenarios certainly give different meaning to "blood" sport.
Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

There are high stakes for No. 1 seeds

I can't remember a year where finishing first has been this important. I've always been a guy that thought how you finish was more important than where you finish as long as it's in the top eight, but this year in both conferences it's just paramount that you finish first.

In the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Penguins or the Rangers, if they don't finish first they get Philly, which arguably, if Ilya Bryzgalov continues to play like this, is as good as Pittsburgh or New York. It's the same thing in the West. Whoever finishes second in the Central is going to get Nashville, Chicago or Detroit in the first round. I've never seen a year where finishing first and avoiding a tough first-round matchup has been this important, and that's going to affect how coaches think and how they coach down the stretch.

If you finish first in the East, you're going to get Buffalo, Washington, Winnipeg, maybe Florida, but definitely one of those teams. That's no comparison to Philadelphia. Those teams can beat you, but if I'm going to take my chances, I'm going to take my chances with Buffalo or one of the teams in the Southeast. I'm not going to take my chances with Philadelphia. If you look in the West, you could get Phoenix, Dallas, Colorado, maybe L.A. Any of those teams are a much better matchup than Chicago, Detroit or Nashville.

This might be a year where the first-place team is going to have to play right to the end, and that changes things because when you clinch and find out where you're going to be, that's when you can rest guys or rest your goalie or do some experimenting with young guys in your lineup. For two weeks, you can really manage your team to determine what matchups and lines might help you in the playoffs that you didn't know about before. I think all of that goes out the window this year. Those teams are going to have to battle for first overall because in both conferences the matchups are too important.

The really interesting thing is you might see teams in the middle of the playoff field also trying to avoid tough first-round matchups by not being so upset if they end up dropping to the sixth seed so they can face the weakest division winner. In the East, facing the winner of the Southeast is different from facing Philadelphia, while in the West, facing the winner of the Pacific is different than facing Detroit or Nashville. Are we going to see teams start to not worry about dropping? Will they start resting players so they can finish sixth?

I think most times, certainly home ice is important, but I'm not really a big believer in home ice in hockey because I've seen the visiting team win a first-round series too many times. Our athletes don't have problems winning on the road, and I don't think home ice is the be all and end all. I truly believe it's more important that your team is playing well heading into the postseason, and considering how strong the middle of each conference is, I would rather finish sixth than fifth this year. If you get the coaches and they can be honest and you look at the scheduling and who you would play, I would think they would much rather finish sixth in that sleeper position and open on the road against a weaker team than have home ice in the 4-5 matchup.

Ultimately though, getting that first seed in both conferences is going to be huge this season. Staying away from Philadelphia will be crucial. That's why I don't see Pittsburgh or the Rangers resting anybody, worrying about ice time or any of those things as the season goes down to the wire. You just don't want to face Philly in the first round. The Flyers have been playing great lately, Bryzgalov is playing his best hockey of the season right now, Briere is starting to score and the young guys are starting to get healthy.

It's going to be very interesting to watch how teams play this out, and don't forget, the Rangers and Penguins play in the second to last game of the season in Pittsburgh on April 5. That game could very easily be for first in the East, and it could be a major factor in who goes deep once the playoffs start.
Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 10:27 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

Disallowed Anaheim goal -7:22 of the Third Period

At 7:22 of the third period in the Bruins/Ducks game, the referees huddled to discuss the validity of the goal scored by Matt Beleskey . Under the recent direction of the General Managers on plays/situations where there is significant presence in the goal crease that results in goaltender interference the four officials are mandated to huddle and discuss the validity of the play. It was determined that Andrew Cogliano impaired  Marty Turco's ability to defend the goal and move freely in the crease area.
Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 9:01 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NSH @ CHI - 5:42 of the Second Period



At 5:42 of the second period in the Predators/Blackhawks game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Alexander Radulov's skate, then off Patric Hornqvist's skate and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Nashville.

According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."
Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 6:59 PM

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

Injured Hawks take another step

CHICAGO -- The next hurdle is getting cleared for contact, but for now, injured Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will take the steady progress he seems to be making.

Toews, who will a 16th straight game on Sunday night with an upper-body injury believed to be concussion symptoms, did on-ice work for a sixth straight day on Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks didn't hold a morning skate, but Toews and several other injured Hawks were put through the paces skating in order to see how their bodies reacted.

"He did good," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday afternoon. "He progressed. I thought all of those guys today that skated had a good skate. Everybody was feeling all right."

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador (suspected concussion symptoms), rookie center Marcus Kruger (suspected concussion symptoms) and defenseman Sami Lepisto (lower body) joined Toews in the workout.

Montador has been cleared for contact and the plan is to get him acclimated to it in practice
this coming week before potentially returning to the lineup. After top defenseman Duncan Keith was suspended five games for an illegal elbow he hit Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the face with, the Hawks' blue-line depth will be challenged.

"He's cleared for contact, so we'll get him out here and get some contact in this week," Quenneville said of Montador, who's missed 21 straight games. "We've got a busy week as well, so we'll see how he progresses this week and we'll get him in here at some point."

Kruger is day-to-day with a suspected recurrence of an earlier upper-body injury believed to be a concussion, while Quenneville is hopeful that Lepisto might also return before the regular season ends. After Lepisto was hurt on March 6 in St. Louis, he was initially classified "out indefinitely" and has missed seven straight games.

"He tried it in the ice today," Quenneville said. "Not bad. He had a spin a little while ago, but first real spin."
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Quote of the Day

I first met him when I was 19 years old and he coached me for 13 consecutive years. I don't know how many athletes who have had that pleasure. Al Arbour was a man that left us not only feeling like champions, but left us with a lot of great memories that we can carry on through life.

— Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin on former coach Al Arbour, who passed away Friday at the age of 82