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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:13 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Flames getting healthier with Stempniak return

CALGARY – The return of forward Lee Stempniak has allowed Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter to shuffle the deck.
Missing 21 consecutive games with an ankle injury, Stempniak is set to return to the Flames in the midst of their playoff push Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, skating alongside David Moss and Blake Comeau.
“For me to come in, I’m excited,” Stempniak said. “I can’t wait to get back and I think it’s a great way to jump into it.
“It’s tough being out. The hardest part is mentally, knowing you can’t be out there and being patient and doing all the little things right to make sure you get back on time. I think emotionally, you’re really excited to be back. You want to be in there and make a difference when you can.”
The shake-up moves Moss back to center, a position he’s rarely played since returning from his own injury earlier in the month.
“Wherever (Sutter) wants me to play,” Moss said. “It might not last. Last game I was playing left wing, center, right wing so tonight it’s the middle and I’m looking forward to it.”
The line gives Sutter another trio that he can be comfortable with in all situations as the Flames look to make ground in a difficult Western Conference playoff chase.
“It gives you another line that you can put together that has some experience and give us a little size there with Mosser moving to center,” Sutter said.
With Stempniak returning to the lineup and Lance Bouma (upper-body) and Tim Jackman (shoulder) nearing return, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Calgary’s sick bay – currently inhabited by seven players.
“We get one guy back so it’s encouraging,” Sutter said. “It’s an encouraging day, just being able to slowly get through this and get this guys back that can provide us with some experience.”
Projected lineup

Alex TanguayMatt StajanJarome Iginla
Curtis GlencrossOlli JokinenTom Kostopoulos
Lee StempniakDavid MossBlake Comeau
Greg NemiszRoman HorakGuillaume Desbiens
Jay BouwmeesterDerek Smith
Mark GiordanoScott Hannan
Cory SarichAnton Babchuk
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 12:06 PM

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

Letang in lineup for Penguins

PHILADELPHIA -- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will play today against the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m., NBC).
Saturday was Letang's second game back after missing more than two weeks with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms, and in the third period he took a hard hit from New Jersey's Eric Boulton. However, it appears he's healthy enough to be in the lineup today.
Also expected to play is forward Arron Asham, who sat out Saturday with what Dan Bylsma called an illness.
Bylsma also said Marc-Andre Fleury will start in net against the Flyers.
Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:43 AM

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

Talbot, Lilja out for Flyers against Penguins

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers will be shorthanded when they play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins today (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
Forward Maxime Talbot and defenseman Andreas Lilja both will be out of the lineup because of injuries sustained during a game Saturday against the Boston Bruins.
Talbot is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, believed to have occurred during his second-period fight with the Bruins' Johnny Boychuk. Jody Shelley, the only extra forward on the roster, will play for the first time in four games.
Lilja sustained a throat injury when he was hit in the neck by a puck during the first period.
To replace Lilja in the lineup, the Flyers recalled defenseman Brandon Manning from Adirondack of the American Hockey League. In three games earlier this month, the 21-year-old had no points, a plus-two rating and four shots on goal.
Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:35 AM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Stalberg blossoming for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Viktor Stalberg is coming close to fully replacing the guy he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for in the first place.

The 26-year old Stalberg, a speedy Swedish forward, was dealt to the Windy City by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2010 in exchange for Kris Versteeg. The deal happened not long after Versteeg helped the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years and was done primarily as a way to cut payroll in order for Chicago to get below the League's hard salary cap.

Versteeg, 25, spent parts of three seasons with the Hawks -- who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 NHL Draft (134th overall). He scored 22 and 20 goals in two full campaigns wth Chicago, while Stalberg didn't play his first full season in the League until last year with the Hawks -- scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists in 77 games.

Heading into a Sunday night matchup against the visiting Washington Capitals at United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN HD), Staberg already has 17 goals and 19 assists with 10 games left in the regular season.

"I think I've had a pretty good year so far," Stalberg said of his career high numbers. "There was a stretch here after the All Star break that I wasn't happy with, but ... other than that, I think it's been a good year. I've been more consistent in putting up points and I'm just playing the game a lot better, too, night in and night out. That shows up in the stats, as well."

 Reaching the 20-goal plateau is something that is on his mind, but not at the forefront of his thoughts.

"To be honest, I don't know if it matters too much at this point of the season," Stalberg said. "Right now, it's about winning games. It'd be kind of nice to get to, but if I get to 19 I'd be pretty happy with that, too ... or whatever it might be. As long as we get into the playoffs and put ourselves in a good spot, I think you're happy with that. But if you're scoring goals, it's going to help us win games, so [20 goals] is certainly something I want to reach and I think I've got a good chance of doing it in the last 10 games."

It doesn't hurt that Chicago still has one game left against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena. Stalberg has torched the Blue Jackets this season by scoring eight goals and adding one assist with two game-winning markers in the first five meetings.

"You develop as a player, not just figuring out where to go or not to go and how to use your assets when you get to those areas, but I think it's a maturity thing too," Stalberg said. "You have more confidence, you get some more ice time and play with better players. It starts to take off from there."
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Several Hawks easing burden with Toews out

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane had to laugh when asked Saturday if it might seem odd when captain Jonathan Toews eventually returns to the Chicago Blackhawks lineup.

"I think it's going to be weird not answering the questions from you guys," he quipped to reporters, drawing laughs. "That's the only thing that's going to be weird about it. We'll welcome him back with open arms when he comes back."

Until such time, they'll keep trying to do what they've done over the last eight games -- in which the Hawks are 6-1-1 and starting to regain the form that helped them get to the very top of the League standings with Toews halfway through the season.

Kane is currently filling in for Toews as the top line's center and has five goals and four assists in the 12 games without the team's captain, while others like Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith -- to name a few -- are also helping shoulder the burden.

This time, it's about more than just goals and assists for Kane -- whom Hawks coach Joel Quenneville had lauded several times for increasing his leadership role with emotional spark plug Toews out.

"I like the fact that he's absorbing some of this responsibility without Johnny around, knowing the importance of the situation with our team and where we were at and where we're at today," Quenneville said of Kane, who has two goals and four assists in the past four games. "He wants to make an impact on games and it's been noticeable."

So does Bolland, who scored his 18th goal just 10 seconds into a 4-3 win Friday night at Dallas. Bolland has already started to round into his ultra-effective and irritating playoff form, while Sharp (four goals and six assists in last 12 games) is finding his scoring touch again after missing a month with a fractured wrist.

"I love it," Sharp said of his increased ice time with Toews out, including a recent game when he logged 26 minutes. "I'll never turn down a shift, that's for sure. I feel the more I play, the better I play. I was surprised after the one game it was 26 [minutes]. I don't know what was going on there, but I'm excited about it."

Keith and Seabrook are also adding quality minutes on the back end for Chicago, while trade deadline acquisition Johnny Oduya has fit in perfectly and Hossa (five goals and seven assists in the last 12 games) is his usual dominating self up front.

As for Bolland, he's back to helping his line be one of the Hawks' most effective. Along with linemates Bryan Bickell and rookie Andrew Shaw, Bolland is again pestering opposing top lines and relishing the shutdown role while adding some scoring punch.

"We find that when that line's effective, we're effective," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Saturday. "When they nail it, then you're shutting down the other team's top line and if you get some prouction off it and outscore them, you're going to have some success."

Quenneville, however, didn't want to ponder the notion that Toews might not return this season and the Hawks might have to win playoff games as currently constructed.

"We're playing to win every game and trying to give ourselves the best chance of winning, and that's where we're at," he said. "So, let's continue to see. We're in a desperate mode ourselves. I'm not thinking of anything further than trying to make the playoffs."
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:22 AM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hawks, Caps vying for position without top centers

CHICAGO -- They might be from opposite conferences and only play once a a year, but the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks both value the two points at stake from their upcoming game Sunday night (7 p.m, NBCSN) the same.

Both teams are locked in unique playoff races.

The Capitals (36-29-6) are on the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference's eighth and final spot with 78 points, just two ahead of the hard-charging Winnipeg Jets in ninth -- who also play Sunday night.

The Blackhawks (39-25-8), meanwhile, are sitting sixth in the Western Conference with 86 points but have a couple of teams just ahead in the low 90s and a slew of teams not far behind in the low 80s.

"You look at the standings and the points, it's hard not to get yourself up for games these days," Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said after practice Saturday. "It seems like every game is more important than the next one. You look to [Sunday night] and Washington's going to come in fighting for the playoffs and we're still trying to get as many points as we can. You can't get comfortable at all."

Especially not when the teams are missing key players.

The Hawks will be without their captain and top center, Jonathan Toews, for a 13th straight game because of an upper-body injury that's widely believed to be a concussion while the Caps are hoping Nicklas Backstrom can get back in the lineup at some point this season. He has 33 straight games with a concussion.

Corey Crawford will get his second straight start in net for the Hawks after relieving Ray Emery just one period in last week against the St. Louis Blues and picking up a huge win in a shootout. Braden Holtby was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League for Washington because Tomas Vokoun has a nagging injury.

Here is a look at how the lineups might look on Sunday night at the United Center:


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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Dmitri Orlov - Mike Green

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby


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

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:09 AM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bolland understands Toews' situation

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews has a few Chicago Blackhawks teammates who probably know what he's feeling right about now, but none more so than center Dave Bolland.

Toews, Chicago's captain and top center, is out with an upper-body injury, widely believed to be a concussion, and is slated to miss his 13th straight game Sunday night when the Hawks play host to the Washington Capitals at United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN).

Bolland, who missed the final 14 games of the 2011-12 regular season plus the first three Stanley Cup Playoff games of a first-round series against Vancouver with a concussion, said he understands why the Hawks superstar is taking a cautious approach to returning.

"It's one of those things you've got to take your time with," Bolland said. "You come back too early, you could (mess) yourself (up). I think taking your time just to be sure you're OK and ready to come back is the main thing for [Toews]. He needs to be sure he's healthy and be sure that he doesn't have a relapse with it. It's a tough go, but I think he's doing a great job with it. Hopefully, he does come back soon, but we'll see what happens."

Toews may have already had a relapse of sorts.

After skating for four straight days to start last week, Toews has only skated once on his own since, and even that session was brief. On Saturday, he again didn't skate and didn't do off-ice physical conditioning work either.

Earlier, Toews had said he hoped to return for a game this past Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues, but this apparent setback -- which has him listed as day-to-day -- has changed that timetable.

Either way, Bolland said placing Toews' long-term health first is of the utmost importance.

"The pull is to come back early, but you don't want to come back too early," said Bolland, who used the example of Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson returning from what's believed to have been a similar injury on Feb. 23 and missing the next six games. "I think you started to see with Hjalmarsson, you come back too early and think you're ready ... you can (mess) yourself up. Everybody wants to come back early and help out the team. I wish I could've come back one game earlier last year against Vancouver, but I think taking that one extra game helped me make sure I was ready for the extra games in this season. It's a tough go for guys, but it's something you've got to go through."

Bolland's concussion battle began around this same time of the season last year, after a hit from former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina knocked the Hawks' third-line center out of the lineup.

Bolland said that seeing Toews out right now has given him memories of his own ordeal.

"It's one of those things that you do reminisce [about]," Bolland said. "I can still remember those feelings of what he's going through and what I went through. It's a tough time."
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 9:58 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to / - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 18th

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

Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 78 11 89 7

9th 71 76 11 87 8
10th 72 76 10 85 8
11th 72 72 10 81 10
12th 71 71 11 81 10
13th 72 71 10 79 10
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 82 11 93 6

9th 72 82 10 92 6
10th 72 81 10 91 7
11th 72 80 10 89 7
The Skinny: The Eastern Conference playoff race has teams jockeying for position from No. 1 all the way through No. 10 with battles for the three division crowns, and the coveted top three seeds entering the playoffs, at stake as well.

The Southeast Division is the focus on Sunday. The Panthers continue to win and in the process are in the drivers' seat to finish first in the division. They are five points in front of the Capitals and if the Caps have designs on winning the division for a fifth consecutive season, they must win three more games than the Panthers in their remaining 11 games.

They face the Panthers at Verizon Center on April 5th, but that game will not matter much if they don't get some wins. That task does not get any easier with road games against the Blackhawks on Sunday, the Red Wings on Tuesday and the Flyers on Thursday. The road, no pun intended, for the Capitals is not easy and if the wins don't come this week, they can forget about first in the division because they will be in a fight for eighth in the East.

The Jets on the other hand are chasing down the Capitals for eighth and get a chance to move closer with a game at home against the Hurricanes. These are the games Winnipeg can't afford to lose. You have to beat teams below you in the standings and as the regular season winds down, these are the games you look back to as 'turning points' either with a positive or negative focus.

If the Jets sneak a peek at the Caps' schedule, they have to believe they have a great opportunity to apply pressure and make their March 23rd showdown in Washington a significant game for their playoff chances.

Looking to the Western Conference and following the same adage that, 'you must beat the teams below you in the standings' at this time of the year to ensure the best chance at qualifying for the playoffs, the Flames at home against the BlueJackets and the Coyotes visiting the Oilers qualify as 'must-win' games for both Calgary and Phoenix.

Calgary lost to Edmonton on Friday and can ill afford to lose the League's worst team at home. If 93 points is the projection to qualify in the West, a loss by the Flames would translate to needing seven wins in their remaining nine games to qualify. That would be highly improbable. As for the Coyotes, first place in the Pacific is still in their grasp but it will be slipping away with a loss to the Oilers.
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 9:21 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

TOR @ OTT - 3:25 of the Third Period

At 3:25 of the third period in the Maple Leafs/Senators game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Jason Spezza kicked the puck into the net with his left skate. According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net." No Goal Ottawa.
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:48 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Dorsett, Blue Jackets excited for HNIC appearance

Columbus forward Derek Dorsett won’t have any problems finding motivation as the Blue Jackets’ lost season continues Saturday night in Vancouver.

Dorsett is ecstatic just to be back in a locker room instead of the bathroom.

“It's good to be back and not hugging the toilet bowl,” Dorsett said after losing “14 pounds” to a bug that hit late Monday night, and staying home for the first game of a Western Canadian road trip in Edmonton on Wednesday. “I’ve never been sick like that before in my life. I phoned our trainer at 1:30 a.m. and he said try and let it run its course. By 4 a.m. I was getting ready to go to the emergency room.”

Dorsett, who was getting IV treatments by Tuesday, said after practice Friday that he’d gained half the lost weight back after getting back to solid meals, and after missing the Edmonton game – the closest he plays to his hometown of Kindersly, Saskatchewan – was looking forward to taking on the Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, then playing in Calgary on Sunday.

A team that’s last in the NHL by a long shot and winding down a miserable season, the Blue Jackets will take any extra motivation they can find.

“It’s always fun,” said captain Rick Nash, who missed two practices this week to rest a nagging lower-body injury but plans to play the remaining games. “This is what you grow up watching as a kid, every Saturday night basically stuck in front of the TV … so any chance to be a part of this is special.”

That said, Nash, who has spent much of the last two months mired in ongoing trade talk, made it clear a rare appearance on Hockey Night in Canada isn't the only motivating factor for the Blue Jackets. The team set an internal goal for points down the stretch, and Nash credited coach Todd Richards for keeping the group focused, saying it led to four-straight wins after the trade deadline before Columbus lost its last three games, including two to NHL-leading St. Louis.

“It was impressive the coach came out and said ‘you are playing for yourselves, and for contracts and jobs’ and I thought that really hit home to a lot of guys,” said Nash, who is expected to be traded this summer. “We’re trying to win for our fans, for ourselves, for our organization -- and it is kind of fun to play spoiler.”
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Quote of the Day

That group is not satisfied until we win a Stanley Cup. When we do win that Stanley Cup, I don't think we'll be satisfied then either. We're going to want another one. We have the group to do it. We have all the pieces. We just need to put them together.

— Ducks forward Ryan Kesler after signing a six-year extension with Anaheim this past July