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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 4:22 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Toews, Sharp return, Morrison debuts for Hawks

VANCOUVER -- The Chicago Blackhawks kick off a season-high nine-game road trip in Vancouver on Tuesday night with three lineup additions, none bigger than captain Jonathan Toews and sniper Patrick Sharp, who both return from left wrist injuries in time to face their biggest rivals.

"It's a good way to get started," said Sharp, who has been out just over three weeks. "You never want to sit out these games, whether it's a playoff game or regular season, it's always a great atmosphere. Two teams that are great teams that obviously don't like each other, but it's a lot of fun to play these games. I think both sides will say that, so I wouldn't miss this one for the world."

Toews only missed a game and a half and doesn't expect to miss a beat on the top line, but Sharp returns sooner than expected and to a new-look second line anchored by ex-Canucks center Brendan Morrison. Acquired by the Blackhawks from Calgary over the All-Star weekend, Morrison will start with his new team playing between Sharp and fellow sharp-shooter Marian Hossa.

"This guy is third in the League in scoring right now, and talking to some guys in here they feel he could be the best player in the League right now," Morrison said of Hossa. "He's a game-breaker. There's a lot of guys in here -- (Patrick) Kane, Toews, Sharp, (Duncan) Keith, (Brent Seabrook) -- I look around the room and there's a great supporting cast. … I have been lucky over the years to play with some pretty high-end talent, guys like Markus (Naslund) and Todd (Bertuzzi) and Jarome (Iginla). Just to be in that mix and be a part of it should be fun."

With three new bodies on the top lines, there are changes on the bottom two as well. Dave Bolland is back in his usual spot as a third-line checking center, flanked now by Marcus Kruger, who slides down and over from the second-line center spot taken by Morrison, and rookie Andrew Shaw.

"We're comfortable with (Kruger) against anybody and Shaw has played extremely well -- there's upside offensively and defensively," coach Joel Quenneville said, warning the new looks may not last too long. "It's something we're going to try and we'll see how long it goes."

Michael Frolik, who was made a healthy scratch for the first time in Chicago’s last game before the All-Star break, returns on a fourth line with veterans Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette, with Bryan Bickell coming out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Rookies Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith and Brandon Pirri have all been sent back to the American Hockey League since playing in Chicago's last game before the All-Star break, and the Blackhawks know they have little margin for error as they prepare to spend the next 19 days on the road, a trip Quenneville has broken into three segments.

"From Game 48, where we were first in the League, to Game 50, where we are sixth in the conference, it's pretty amazing the ground we lost," he said. "Our division is going to be tough to the end."

Tonight's projected lineups:
 
BLACKHAWKS

Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Brendan Morrison - Marian Hossa
Marcus Kruger - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Michael Frolik - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
John Scott - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

On the back end, it appeared Sean O'Donnell, who was out skating late, could come out in favor of the 6-foot-8 Scott on the third pairing:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Mason Raymond - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

Nothing changes except the goalie for the Canucks, who will start Schneider for the first time in three weeks, in part, coach Alain Vigneault said, because he was able to work out during the All Star break, while Luongo traveled with family.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 3:26 PM

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

Red Wings hope to maintain pre-break momentum

CALGARY -- The Detroit Red Wings entered the All-Star break with the most points of any franchise.

It's coach Mike Babcock's job to ensure his club returns to the ice with that same focus.

"We have to get started again," Babcock said, whose Red Wings have a league-best 67 points heading into tonight's action with the Calgary Flames.

"Any way you look at it, any momentum you had is now gone. There's a bunch of teams battling. The teams that are in the clump right outside the playoffs are the toughest down the stretch."

That doesn't mean Babcock has a slough of adjustments he wants his team to make.
 
"Not a whole bunch of (changes)," Babcock said. "Obviously you're always trying to make your team better. In saying that, there's no question about it we have to be a better team. There's lots of improvement for this group, we understand that, now let's play the games."

If there's any question his team feels the same way, veteran Todd Bertuzzi said the message came through loud and clear.

"It's tight in the West, every point is important," Bertuzzi said. "I don't think we have time to feel out. I think we're pretty much ready."

Detroit's projected lineup for tonight's game:

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wild set to face red-hot Rinne, Predators

ST. PAUL -- Following a week-long break for both teams, Nashville and Minnesota resume play Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

In many ways, these teams have gone through similar peaks and valleys over the season's first half. The Wild began the season red-hot, winning 17 of 21 games through a stretch that lasted until mid-December. Since then, Minnesota has tumbled, dropping from the top spot in the NHL to eighth in the West.

Nashville, meanwhile, started rather slow but has picked it up lately, winning 12 of 15 since the Christmas break. Included in that run is a 2-1 win against the Wild in their last meeting. That contest was a low-scoring affair, with a goal by each team in the third period sending the game into overtime and shootout, where Colin Wilson netted the winner for the Predators.

Of course, low-scoring games are nothing new to either one of these teams. Minnesota has one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league. And against Nashville, the Wild seem especially snake-bitten. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has three shutouts against Minnesota in 10 career starts, owning a 7-3-1 record all-time against Minnesota, with a 2.02 goals against and a save percentage north of 92 percent.

"They've got great goaltending and solid defense and so do we," Predators defenseman Shea Weber said. "We expect a tight game."

Rinne's stingy nature against the Wild has extended to a League-wide hex of late, as the 6-foot-5 Finn has won each of his last nine starts and has allowed two goals or less in each game. Since winning that game against Minnesota in late December, Rinne is 12-1-0 with a 1.60 goals against and a .947 save percentage -- all three marks among the top-three in the NHL.

"Him playing well against this team, and us playing well against this team, I don't have the answer. Sometimes it's just the team," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Jack Skille, before he got traded [by Chicago], scored like eight goals and I think about six of them were against us. It just happens."

Minnesota has struggled while Rinne has dominated the League, but the Wild entered the All-Star break on a high note, winning two games in a row -- both on the road against Dallas and Colorado and both against teams in a dogfight with the Wild for the final playoff spot in the west. Minnesota heads back onto the road after the game Tuesday and will lead off with the Avs and Stars again.

That makes this contest all the more important – as with Nashville's spot in the tight Central Division standings, every game is critical from here on out.

"It's playoff hockey for us right now, it has been for a long time," Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck said. "We need to respond."

Weber and defensive partner Ryan Suter were the only two players from either team to play in Sunday's All-Star Game in Ottawa. Minnesota representative Mikko Koivu missed the game with injury, although he has skated and practiced each of the last two days. Nick Johnson participated in the skills competition Saturday night.

"Just a good time to get our brains off hockey for a few days," Clutterbuck said. "It's really the division of the ultimate push and the rest of the year, in terms of what is considered crunch time."

Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse are both inching closer to a return for Minnesota, with Koivu likely closer than Latendresse -- who has missed much of the season with a concussion. He has skated and practiced each of the last two days as well, although Wild coach Mike Yeo would not provide a timetable for their returns.

Minnesota will counter Rinne in goal with Josh Harding, who owns a 4-4-1 career mark against Nashville with a 2.64 goals against and a .914 save percentage.

Yeo is hoping either he or Niklas Backstrom, who has struggled mightily of late, can take control of the job between the pipes for the Wild.

"Down the stretch, it's a lot easier for a guy to prepare and get into a groove knowing they are playing," Yeo said. "We're not going to just give it to anybody. Somebody is going to have to step up and take it."

Here is the projected lineups for both teams:

WILD

Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Johnson - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Carson McMillan - Warren Peters - Darroll Powe
Matt Kassian - Chad Rau - Jed Ortmeyer

Jared Spurgeon - Nick Schultz
Greg Zanon - Clayton Stoner
Nate Prosser - Justin Falk

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom
 
PREDATORS

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Jordin Tootoo - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jerred Smithson - Craig Smith - Matt Halischuk
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Jack Hillen - Ryan Ellis
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 2:26 PM

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

Iginla, recharged Flames ready to chase playoff berth

CALGARY -- It didn't take long for Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla to refocus after spending the All-Star break as a member of Team Chara.

Iginla and teammate Michael Cammalleri were the first two on the ice in preparation for the Detroit Red Wings tonight, firing one-timers, a tradition the two shared as teammates during Cammalleri's first stint with the Flames.

Needless to say, the captain is recharged and ready to lead the Flames to their first playoff berth since 2008-09 despite spending his break participating in the All-Star Game.

"Even though it's a few days, we have lots to do there, but at the same time mentally it's not that intense," Iginla said. "I'm excited to get back and get going. It's a nice break to get going for the stretch drive."

That's good news for Calgary coach Brent Sutter, whose team sits at 52 points on the season, putting the club in 11th in the Western Conference and three behind the eighth-place Minnesota Wild. The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes also have 52 points.

"I don't think it's any different for our team as any other team," Sutter said. "I think for all teams it's time for them mentally to take a break from the game and get re-energized and refreshed."

In other words, Sutter's Flames have to ignite the rest of the way in order to leapfrog into a playoff position.

"The reset button is pushed for everybody, and now everyone is on the same page as far as coming off the break," Sutter said.

Calgary's projected lineup tonight:

Alex Tanguay - Mikael Backlund - Jarome Iginla
Michael Cammalleri - Olli Jokinen - Blake Comeau
Lance Bouma - Blair Jones - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Scott Hannan - Mark Giordano
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff
Leland Irving
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 2:14 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Birthday boy Seguin back from whirlwind All-Star trip

BOSTON -- There wasn't much time for Tyler Seguin, the Boston Bruins' leading scorer with 19 goals and 43 points, to catch his breath over the weekend.

Seguin competed in the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game in Ottawa, and also made time to visit with some family and friends while back in his native province. The Bruins granted him -- and his All-Star teammates Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara -- a day off from practice Monday, but today he was right back on the ice for the team's morning skate at the TD Garden in preparation for tonight’s game with Ottawa.

Seguin could be forgiven if his energy level was a little down after the whirlwind last three or four days coming on the heels of playing in 46 of Boston's 47 games leading up to the All-Star break.

"I'd like to say it is," said Seguin about energy being an issue. "But obviously I have to be ready, I have to have energy because I'm young. I'm 20 now, so I'm not that young anymore. I'm not 18 anymore. Maybe I do get fatigued now."

With the arrival of his 20th birthday today, Seguin has his mom and sister in town to celebrate and watch him play. And although there wasn't much rest for the weary in Ottawa, Seguin wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

"I don't know if it felt like a break. It was a pretty long weekend," he said. "But it was one of the best weekends of my life. It was great, just hanging out with those guys and seeing some family and friends from back home. It was definitely a great break for me."


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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:53 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets hope for reversal of fortunes after ASG break

PHILADELPHIA -- The Winnipeg Jets returned to the ice Monday afternoon with a spirited practice in Philadelphia that stretched nearly two hours.

The Jets (22-22-6), who have lost three consecutive games, will face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center. The Jets have taken both meetings against Philadelphia this season and have scored a combined 15 goals in the two contests.

However, a dreadful 3-8-1 January record threatens to doom the club's playoff chances, and the Jets desperately need to start amassing wins if they are to close the five-point gap that separates them from the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. The Panthers and Capitals both hold two games in-hand on the Jets, as well.

"It's down to business now," center Bryan Little said of the Jets' remaining 32 games.

The Jets play seven of their next nine games away from home before they begin an eight-game homestand in the second half of February. Coach Claude Noel cut short the club's morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center after his club pleased him with a crisp session.

"I thought the energy was pretty good this morning," Noel said. "Certainly the execution was better than it was yesterday."

Noel expects to see a refreshed Jets team and believes that the All-Star break allowed some of this charges to re-evaluate their recent play and re-focus going forward.

"It will be interesting to see where we're at mentally, physically and how we go," Noel said.

Winnipeg will be without forwards Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov and Tim Stapleton. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, out since Dec. 23 with a knee injury, accompanied the club on its trip that will continue Thursday night at Tampa Bay.

Winnipeg also added some reinforcements from their AHL affiliate St. John’s in forwards Aaron Gagnon and Spencer Machacek.

Ondrej Pavelec will get the start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

JETS

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Eric Fehr - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Aaron Gagnon - Spencer Machacek

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:51 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jagr returns to the lineup for Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers begin their march toward the playoffs in earnest Tuesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, and they'll have one of their top players back from injury.

The Flyers (29-14-5) are just three points behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers and begin a three-game homestand this week that continues Thursday night when the Nashville Predators visit.

Jaromir Jagr, who missed the Flyers' past two games because of a groin injury, will return to the Philadelphia lineup.

"It's always good to get guys back on the ice," coach Peter Laviolette said.

Jagr shooed away any notions that overtraining this past offseason would have caused his groin issues

"Compared to what we did in Russia, this is nothing for me," Jagr said, drawing laughs from the assembled media.

Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to start for the Flyers. Winnipeg has taken both games against the Flyers this season. The Jets rolled up nine goals when the clubs last met in Philadelphia -- a 9-8 loss for the Flyers.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Philadelphia:

FLYERS

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Wayne Simmonds - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
Tom Sestito - Maxime Talbot - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Brayden Schenn - Ben Holmstrom

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - NHL.com Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Top UFAs staying put as deadline nears?

The NHL trade deadline is less than a month away, but with the All-Star Break now in the past, the media attention will shifts toward a day that has become something of a holiday for fans of the sport and the League.

It may still be 28 days away, but some big names are already garnering headlines – although it is because of they may not be available at the Feb. 27 deadline, which falls at 3 p.m. ET. Two of the biggest names in the unrestricted free agent class of 2012 – the list everyone looks to for potential trade targets – are New Jersey forward Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter.

Both guys are star players – the type of addition that could drastically improve a team’s chances of claiming the Stanley Cup. Both might also not be available in the next four weeks.

Marc Everson of the New York Post reported Tuesday that sources from around the League do not expect Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to trade Parise before the deadline.

“Sources say inquiring general managers are getting the word Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is not dealing unrestricted free agent-to-be Zach Parise before the NHL’s Feb. 27 trade deadline,” Everson wrote. “Instead, it is thought if the Devils do not want to re-sign Parise in June, they’ll trade his rights to a team that wants an advance shot at negotiations before he becomes free July 1.”

Parise would likely be the top forward available – either in the coming weeks or in July. He would be a cornerstone player for any franchise, and those players don’t become available often. He is making $6 million this season and would likely receive a substantial raise on the open market.

New Jersey is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and the Devils’ chances of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let along advancing deep into the postseason, would take a huge hit if Parise went elsewhere. Keeping him beyond this season could be tricky because of the more than $38 million in salary cap space already committed to only 12 players for next season (and that doesn’t include a goaltender Martin Brodeur, who is also a UFA).

If Parise would likely be the top forward available then Suter would almost certainly be the No. 1 defenseman on the market. He forms the best defense duo in the League with Shea Weber and would be the no-doubt No. 1 defenseman on at least 20 other clubs.

Like Parise, Suter may also not be available. He told NHL.com on Sunday he wants to help Nashville try to make a run in Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I want to focus on playing for Nashville,” Suter said. “We've got a good team and if we can add a couple of pieces here and there I think we have a legitimate chance of going to win the Stanley Cup.

"If we keep winning, we keep playing well, with the guys we have on the team and if we can add a couple of pieces, I think we can go far," Suter said. "It's (Poile's) call. It's his team and he can do what he wants with it, but I'd like to win this year."

Frank Seravelli of the Philadelphia Daily News reported Monday that League executives are thinking Suter will remain with the Predators in the coming weeks.

“The consensus among us is that Nashville will be hanging onto him, even if they know the odds are not in their favor of re-signing him,” one Eastern Conference general manager told Seravelli on condition of anonymity. “If he does decide to trade him, [Nashville general manager David] Poile has the market cornered. There are very few defensemen of Suter’s caliber in the League and Nashville has two of them.”


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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:42 PM

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

Leafs' Armstrong, Liles close, but not ready yet

PITTSBURGH -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson must make some lineup decisions very soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
 
But neither defenseman John-Michael Liles nor forward Colby Armstrong, both of whom are close to returning from injuries that have kept them out for more than a month, will play Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
 
Armstrong has been out since Dec. 19 with a concussion that he initially tried to hide from the team. He had played in only four games since returning from a 23-game layoff with a high ankle sprain. Liles, an excellent puck-moving defenseman, has been out since Dec. 22 with a neck injury and concussion-like symptoms.
 
The Maple Leafs emerge from the All-Star break ninth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, but with plenty of opportunities to pick up ground in a hurry -- starting with the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only 13 of their remaining 33 games are against teams currently below them in the standings.
 
The Penguins, winners of seven in a row, have 60 points.
 
"All the games are going to be important. It's really tight in the standings, every point is going to be huge for us, but I see every game as another game," goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. "I don't put more focus on a game like this (Tuesday's). I always try to prepare myself 100 percent to win; you know every game is important."
 
Toronto won its final two games and three of its final four before the break, but Gustavsson said the week-long break from games arrived at a good time. Gustavsson has won seven of 10 starts while playing in all but one game since Jan. 3.
 
"I think it was good for me, as for everybody else, to get time to rest and get ready again," Gustavsson said. "I tried to think not so much about hockey -- I had some light workouts to stay in shape -- but other than that, I tried to keep my mind on other things."
 
Toronto won its only previous game against Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Oct. 29. The teams also play again in Pittsburgh on March 7.
 
The Maple Leafs' probable lineup:
 
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Joey Crabb
 
Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
 
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rangers to ice usual lines, defense pairings

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Rangers are continuing to carry 14 healthy forwards, with Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski once again the healthy scratches for Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Coach John Tortorella hasn't had much need to shuffle his forwards in and out of the lineup thanks to good health of late and success most of this season, but the Rangers play two straight games coming out of the All-Star break, so having Christensen and Wolski around will be key if a regular suffers an injury.

"There will be discussions. We just got back," Tortorella said. "We go back-to-back here. After these two games, we have three days. I'm sure there will be some discussions about what we want to do. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I'm sure it's going to be discussed."

The Rangers will ice their usual lineup against the Devils, who have their lines posted here:

Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - John Mitchell
Brandon Prust - Artem Anisimov - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel

Martin Biron
Henrik Lundqvist

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Quote of the Day

For six months, it's a really good accomplishment. But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time.

— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on clinching a playoff berth after a win against the Islanders on Saturday
AMP No Bull Moment of the Week