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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

With nine games left, Tippett likes Coyotes' position

DALLAS -- Tonight's game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center is a contest with high stakes. Not only is the lead in the Pacific Division on the line, but the winner could also begin making a serious push to establish itself as a legitimate playoff team in the Western Conference.

These teams last met on Feb. 4 in Dallas and it was the Coyotes who prevailed 4-1 in a game where 10 different Phoenix players registered at least a point, including four different goal scorers. Getting similar contributions from his entire roster is something coach Dave Tippett knows has been crucial to his club's success all season long.

"Yeah, that's how we have to play. We rely on everybody throughout our lineup to contribute both defensively and offensively," Tippett said. "Usually when we have a situation where we get contributions throughout the lineup, it obviously gives us a much better chance to win."

Phoenix last played on Sunday, beating the Oilers 3-2 in a shootout in Edmonton. Wingers Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt both left that game early with undisclosed injuries. Tippett termed both as game-time decisions, but did say defenseman Adrian Aucoin will miss a third straight game with a lower-body injury.

The last time these division rivals squared off, the Coyotes were beginning a run in February that would see them go 11-0-1 for the month. March hasn't been quite so kind to Phoenix, as it currently sits at 3-5-2 for the month, but Tippett sees definite signs of a turnaround with several recent positive results.

"Well, we lost a couple of games to start the month there. We were banged up and lost a couple defensemen for two weeks and our top four guys really got run down. We got into some games where we got behind early and that's not the way to play when your team's run down," Tippett said. "Lately we've been playing better. We've gotten points in three of the last four games here, so it seems like we're getting back to finding ways to win again and finding ways to get points and that's the way you're going to have to be if you're going to get yourself a spot."

But his Coyotes will be facing a Stars team that has dropped two straight to Chicago and Winnipeg by a combined score of 9-3. These back-to-back losses came after Dallas put together an 11-game point streak that vaulted them to the Pacific Division lead and the third spot in the West standings.

Like the rest of his NHL counterparts whose teams are battling for a playoff spot, Tippett is well aware of how big tonight's game is both from a divisional as well as from a playoff standpoint.

"This [playoff race] is pretty good right here. The Pacific Division, that's as tight as it's going to get," Tippett said. "We always talk about there's two ways to make the playoffs -- win your division or top eight. I never envisioned them both being so close."
   

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:34 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Isles look to avoid series sweep at hands of Leafs

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders have fallen to the Toronto Maple Leafs on three occasions this season and will attempt to snap the slide Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre in the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano will start Evgeni Nabokov in goal and said he will ice the same lineup that came away with a 3-2 shootout win in Montreal on Saturday

"(It will be) the same forward lines as Montreal and we're going to dress seven defensemen and determine (who is in) after warm-up," Capuano said.

The seventh defenseman that is most likely to sit is Steve Staios, who skated this morning but was shaking his head and wincing while testing his stride. The 38-year-old is having issues with a groin injury.

Isles star John Tavares, who is from the Toronto area, had his four-game points streak snapped in Montreal. A few days off between games, with extra time to catch up with friends and family, is something the 21-year old welcomed.

"I got a nice couple of days to relax and not have all the craziness within the 24 hours," Tavares said, referring to the brief window of time he usually has when he comes back to Toronto for a game.

The last time Tavares played at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 23, he had his 12-game points streak snapped as the Islanders were shut out 3-0.

"All the games were pretty tight all year," Tavares said. "Obviously we haven't come out and got the result we wanted. It was a little bit of a while ago so (we have to) just try and come in tonight and jump on them early. They played last night and had a tough one, so I am sure they will try and respond tonight."

The "tough one" Tavares was referring to was Toronto's 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. As expected, no one skated this morning for the Maple Leafs and it remains up in the air if Randy Carlyle will shuffle his lines and who will be between the pipes for the blue and white when they hit the ice later tonight.

While not mathematically eliminated, neither club is expected to be playing any postseason hockey this year.  Regardless, New York forward Matt Moulson foresees that both clubs to play with a charge.

"They are going to come out with a spark and some spunk and we will be ready for that right off the start," he said.

Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Islanders:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Frans Nielsen - Josh BaileyPA Parenteau
David Ullstrom - Casey Cizikas - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew Macdonald
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for today's game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

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

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rotislav Klesla
Michael Roszival - David Schlemko

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Scratches: Paul Bissonnette, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Michael Stone, Chris Summers

Injuries: Adrian Aucoin (lower body), Kyle Chipchura (upper body)

Notes: Phoenix heads into this game two days removed from a 3-2 shootout win at Edmonton on Sunday. Pyatt and Vrbata both left the Oilers game with undisclosed injuries and Phoenix coach Dave Tippett called them both game-time decisions for tonight. This game with Dallas will mark the end of a stretch where the Coyotes have played four straight away from home. Tippett's club is 2-1-0 in the first three games of that road swing. For the season, Phoenix is 18-14-5 on the road. One of those wins away from home came on Feb. 7 in Dallas, when the Coyotes handed the Stars a 4-1 defeat, with Vrbata contributing a goal and an assist while Whitney chipped in a pair of helpers. After a stellar February, Phoenix is just 3-5-2 over its last 10 games.

STARS

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Mark Fistric

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Jordie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Adam Pardy, Toby Petersen. Tomas Vincour

Injuries: none

Notes: After amassing an 11-game point streak, the Stars have now lost two in a row by a combined score of 9-3. Most recently, Dallas lost 4-1 to the Blackhawks at American Airlines Center. That was a game where the visitors led 1-0 just 10 seconds in thanks to an early tally by Chicago's Dave Bolland. Tonight's contest is game two in a four-game homestand for the Stars, who after this stretch will have just two home games remaining. Veterans Dvorak and Souray both return to the lineup tonight after missing seven games combined with lower-body injuries.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:19 PM

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

Projected lineup for Panthers

Here is the projected lineup the Panthers will put on the ice Tuesday when they face the Philadelphia Flyers:
 
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Wojtek Wolski
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Marco Sturm
 
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski
 
Jose Theodore, who is 4-0-1 in his last five games, will get the start in net for the Panthers; Scott Clemmensen will serve as the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:17 PM

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

Flyers getting healthy bodies back

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers will look to continue their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings Tuesday when they host the Florida Panthers at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
It appears as though the Flyers will receive a boost to their lineup with the return of forward Maxime Talbot and defensemen Andreas Lilja and Pavel Kubina.
 
Talbot, who will replace Jody Shelley in the lineup, skated alongside rookies Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo at the team's morning practice here at the Flyers Virtua SkateZone. He was sidelined one game with an upper-body injury likely suffered injured during a fight with Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Saturday.
 
Kubina (upper body), who has sat out the last seven games, and Lilja (throat), who missed Sunday's overtime victory against the Penguins, were paired together during the team's practice. With two defenders returning, rookies Brandon Manning and Erik Gustafsson likely will not suit up against the Panthers.
 
"It's been really hard to sit and watch, but the team has been playing great," Kubina said. "But now I can go back in (Tuesday) and play. I think I'll be paired with (Lilja), but not sure yet.
 
"I've been skating hard the last three or four days, and there was never any real time frame when I would return, but I'm ready. Hopefully (Andrej Meszaros) can make it back for the playoffs."
 
Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren announced Monday that Meszaros would undergo surgery to remove a small disc fragment in his lower back Wednesday and miss 6-8 weeks.
 
"It's sad about Mez, but that happens sometimes," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "We all play this game a long time and losing (Chris Pronger) and Mez is tough, but there's nothing we can do. We just have to go on. Maybe if we go deep in the playoffs we'll get Mez back … we have to move forward."
 
The Flyers have fewer wins and points this season compared to last season with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Despite that fact, defenseman Matt Carle seems to have a better feel for the 2011-12 group down the stretch.
 
"I think we're playing a little bit better," Carle said. "We went through a tough stretch a month or two ago where it really kind of tested our mental toughness, and to get through that and to still be where we're at in the standings is a good sign. Hopefully we keep building and keep the playoff intensity and mentality going down the stretch."
 
The Flyers have won eight of their last 10 games and have come away with points in nine of those contests. The club currently sits fifth in the East with 42 wins and 92 points. At this stage last season, the Flyers were first in the East with 44 wins and 97 points.
 
Here are the projected lineups for the Flyers:
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Jakub Voracek - Danny Briere - Eric Wellwood
Matt Read - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo
 
Nicklas Grossmann - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Andreas Lilja - Pavel Kubina
 
 
Ilya Bryzgalov will make his fifth straight start in net, with Sergei Bobrovsky serving as the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Foligno emerges for hometown Sabres

It's a small world after all, as the Buffalo Sabres have received the jolt they've been longing for all season from a product of their own city.

Rookie winger Marcus Foligno, a Buffalo native, was recalled from the team's AHL affiliate in Rochester on March 9 and has quickly emerged as a catalyst for the Sabres in the offensive zone. In five games since the call-up, the 20-year-old has mustered a five-game point streak with 5 goals, 2 assists, a plus-6 rating and 8 SOG. Hits have also been abundant for Foligno, as he has totaled 15 in only six games this season.

Foligno burst onto the scene when he went head-to-head with his brother, Nick, in his first game since the call-up in Ottawa on March 10. It all started with a great individual effort and a lucky bounce for the game-tying goal in an eventual shootout win for Buffalo. Ever since, it's been a dream ride for the young forward -- not to mention for the few fantasy owners who have caught onto this growing commodity.

Marcus Foligno
Left Wing - BUF
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 7
SOG: 9 | +/-: 5
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward is only owned in 2 percent of Yahoo! leagues to date, but if his magical run continues, that number will certainly skyrocket. The former fourth-round selection by Buffalo in 2009 has sparked the Sabres' offense, which ranks 23rd in the NHL in goals-per-game (2.47).

His second multi-goal game in three contests came in Monday's 7-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, as he tallied two goals on as many shots. Foligno's ice time has been on an incline since being recalled, and he is finding a home on the Sabres' secondary line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, as evidenced by his power-play goal Tuesday.

To put Foligno's surge into perspective, the Sabres have seen a similar one from a rookie forward this season, as Luke Adam got off to a torrid start with 4 goals and 7 assists in his first 11 games. Adam cooled off from there, though, and was assigned to Rochester in February in the midst of a 20-game goalless drought.

Whether or not Foligno's game comes back down to earth in the near future, he has been a sensational story from a fantasy standpoint in his first week and a half of extensive NHL action. Any playoff contending team in a fantasy league should give Foligno a serious look, especially with more meaningful hockey to come for the Sabres -- who stand only two points behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Hawks can't overlook Jackets as they aim for sweep

COLUMBUS -- The Chicago Blackhawks have already beaten the Columbus Blue Jackets five times this season and haven't scored less than four goals in any of the victories.

It would seem the potential is strong for the Hawks, who are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, to get caught in a "trap" game on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m.) in the sixth and final meeting of the season between the Central Division foes.

Chicago also has a big game against the rival Vancouver Canucks at home on Wednesday, but coach Joel Quenneville hopes to see more of a "first things first" mentality from the Hawks on Tuesday night.

"It's an important game from our perspective," Quenneville said after Tuesday's morning skate. "They've been playing well and beating some teams here. They've been in every hockey game. They seem to have added a bit more to their game as far as their closeness, they've got purpose to their game and you watch how they compete ... it's going to be a hard game."

That's what Columbus coach Todd Richards is counting on, anyway. Richards said his team is not downplaying its dismal season record against the Blackhawks and would like to add at least one victory before the year is done.

"We're 0-5 against them, a division team," Richards said. "You're 0-5, so I don't think there's a lot more to say after that. Hockey players and athletes in general, there's a lot of pride in how you play. It will be a great challenge tonight, but we'd like to finish on a good note against them out of six games."

Defenseman James Wisniewski will not play for Columbus after getting hurt on Sunday in Calgary and experiencing concussion symptoms on the flight home, according to Richards.

David Savard will likely draw into the Blue Jackets lineup on the back end with the other defenseman shuffling into new pairings. Richards said that goalie Curtis Sanford, who was also injured against Calgary and had to leave the game in the first period, is likely out for the rest of the season after tearing a leg muscle.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews did not make the trip while still recovering from an upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related, but might skate on his own for the first time snce last week.

Here is how the lineups might look for the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets on Tuesday night:

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 - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

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

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

Steve Mason
Allen York
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Full-strength Stars look to right ship vs. Coyotes

DALLAS -- For the first time since early February, the Dallas Stars (39-28-5, 83 points) have everyone healthy with veteran winger Radek Dvorak and defenseman Sheldon Souray returning to the ice for tonight's game with the Phoenix Coyotes (36-26-11, 83 points), a contest at American Airlines Center for the lead in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference.

This is the same Phoenix team that Dallas faced on Feb. 4 at the same venue and it was the Coyotes who came away with a big 4-1 win. So it's safe to say Stars first-year coach Glen Gulutzan knows what to expect in the final regular-season meeting between these clubs.

"They know who they are. They know how to play to win. They know how to play to get points and they're comfortable in their own skin," Gulutzan said.

Dallas heads into tonight's contest on a two-game losing streak, having most recently lost to Chicago 4-1 on Friday. Last Wednesday, the Stars saw their 11-game point streak end at the hands of the Jets with a 5-2 loss in Winnipeg.

Despite those considerable setbacks, Gulutzan and his players aren't about to panic, especially since counting tonight, they have exactly 10 games remaining.

"Our guys are ready. We're refocused here," he said. "We're not worked up. We know there's a task at hand and we're focused on these last 10."

Dvorak will return to Dallas' third line after missing the last three games with a lower- body injury while Souray will be back in the Stars' top defensive pairing alongside fellow veteran Stephane Robidas after missing four games of his own with a similar injury.

"I feel good. Excited to come back in and be a part of what the guys are doing here and what we're trying to accomplish," Souray said. "It's always a lot more fun to step into the lineup when the games are so meaningful, just get back in it and get back to work."

Gulutzan will again start No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen on Tuesday. And while the Finnish-born goaltender figures to see the bulk of the action the rest of the way, rookie backup Richard Bachman figures to get at least one more start between the pipes for Dallas.

"No, we certainly have another back-to-back in a tough road swing, so we'll certainly play that by ear. There's probably one more game left on the docket for Bacher. We're not looking at this in any different way than we have the rest of the season," Gulutzan said. "We like the positioning we're in and we like what we've done after 72 games, so we're just going to continue these next 10 games the same way."
   

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:54 PM

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

Wings' Howard day-to-day with groin injury

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is day-to-day with his second groin injury in less than two months.

Howard was out nearly three weeks with a groin problem in February, but GM Ken Holland said it's not as serious this time around.

With backup Joey MacDonald dealing with a back injury, the Red Wings placed Ty Conklin on re-entry waivers. If no one claims Conklin, he will be with the team in New York when they face the Rangers on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).

Howard was 1-4-2 in his seven games since returning from the original groin issue and allowed 11 goals in his last three starts. MacDonald was called into duty when Conklin faltered in place of Howard in February, going 8-5-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

Conklin was 3-5-0 with a 3.40 GAA and .878 save percentage before he was sent to Grand Rapids of the AHL on Feb. 21. Conklin has shown improvement with the Griffins, going 8-4-0 with a 2.40 GAA and .915 save percentage.

The 25-year-old Jordan Pearce has been serving as the backup since he was recalled for the ailing MacDonald on March 16, but has yet to appear in a game.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Thiessen earns another start in net for Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has had only four games off since well before Christmas. If Brad Thiessen plays as well as he did in his first two NHL games, Fleury will get a fifth game off Tuesday night.
 
Thiessen, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) last month, will start against Winnipeg as the Penguins try to get the much-used Fleury some rest during a busy stretch of play. Their last-second loss in overtime Sunday in Philadelphia was their third game in four days, and they begin another crowded stretch of games – five in eight nights – on Tuesday.
 
Fleury (39-14-4) has played in 40 of 44 games since Dec. 3.
 
Brent Johnson is still on the shelf with an undisclosed injury, so Thiessen is getting a chance to play in some important games for a team that is pushing the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins began the night three points behind New York, a 4-2 winner over New Jersey on Monday.
 
Thiessen was in net as the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Feb. 26, turning aside 22 of 24 shots. He had exactly the same numbers during a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 7.
 
Thiessen, last season’s AHL goaltender of the year, couldn’t have had a much better start.
 
“In his first start, he was pretty confident in front of the net and looked pretty comfortable there,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s been playing well, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in there.”
 
Winnipeg will be the first contending team that Thiessen has faced.
 
“Leading up to it, you’re a little bit anxious,” he said. “It’s a good kind of excitement. But once the game gets going, you focus on playing your game and everything kinds of settles down a little bit.”
 
Johnson took part in the morning skate as he begins his rehabilitation, but a return date has not been established.
 
The Penguins will attempt to bounce back from one of their toughest losses of the season, although they earned a point in their 3-2 loss at Philadelphia decided by Scott Hartnell’s goal with less than a second remaining.  Pittsburgh couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead in the third period of a defeat ended their 11-game winning streak and cost them a chance to, at least for a day, catch up to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Sometimes, players will attempt to put such a loss behind them as quickly as possible. This one was more difficult to push aside.
 
“I haven’t forgotten about it,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I had a phone call from a friend in hockey who watched the game on TV and knew how I probably felt. … He said, `You have to look at it
this way: You’ve gotten 23 out of the last 24 points.’ That was better than saying we got five out of six (on a three-game road trip). We wanted to go in there and beat Philly and we let that slip away. We got off our game a little bit in the third period. That’s what sits with you about that game. We’ll put that one behind us, but it’s not far behind you.”
 
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh will attempt to match its longest home winning streak (eight games) since the 2004-05 work stoppage. The Penguins have won 13 of 14 at Consol Energy Center since Jan. 17. They also have won 10 in a row at home against the Winnipeg franchise, which relocated from Atlanta after last season, and 13 of the last 15 meetings overall.
 
The Penguins are 2-1 against the Jets this season.
 
Pittsburgh’s projected lineup:
 
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Matt CookeSidney CrosbyTyler Kennedy
Eric TangradiCraig AdamsArron Asham
 
Kris LetangPaul Martin
Brooks OrpikZbynek Michalek
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
 
Brad Thiessen
Marc-Andre Fleury
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Quote of the Day

I love you. I think we [climbed] as high as we possibly can.

— Sergei Fedorov to former Red Wings teammate Nicklas Lidstrom after each was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 on Monday
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