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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 10:51 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 14th

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 70 78 12 90 7

9th 70 74 12 85 9
10th 69 72 13 84 10
11th 69 71 13 83 11
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 69 78 13 91 8

9th 70 78 12 89 8
10th 70 78 12 89 8
11th 71 78 11 89 8
The skinny: As the playoff drive continues, watching teams put pressure on their competitors is exciting. The Florida Panthers did exactly that on Tuesday in their victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Who did they put pressure on? The answer is the Winnipeg Jets, who may have seen their opportunity to claim first place in the Southeast Division fade further into the sunset. The win moves the Panthers seven points ahead of the Jets, which means Winnipeg needs to win four more games than Florida in the final 13 contests for both teams -- possible but very unlikely.

Further harm for the Jets on 'Terrible Tuesday' was the three-goal deficit the Washington Capitals overcame to beat the New York Islanders. The Capitals moved six points ahead of Winnipeg for the eighth spot. Talk about a left-right combination!

You want to see a 'must-win' game on the schedule? It's in Winnipeg on Wednesday night. The red-hot Dallas Stars are in town, and a loss for the Jets will make an already difficult task that much more so.

Interconference games usually aren't marquis ones at this point of the season but the Colorado Avalanche traveling to Buffalo to face the Sabres is. The Avalanche are in a fierce fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and the Sabres, who will be without the services of Tyler Myers for the next three games because of a suspension, are trying to stay in the hunt for the eighth spot in the East.

The left-right combination on the chin of the Jets with the results Tuesday night was felt in Buffalo as well. Colorado has played more games than their competitors in the West, so with games dwindling losses can't be absorbed. The Avs can move into a playoff spot with a win in Buffalo. A loss will put them into the 'we need help' category and that is not where teams want to be.

Phoenix, who was leading the Pacific Division on March 5th, has fallen into the battle for the final two playoff spots and it doesn't get easier for the Coyotes against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday before playing the surging Flames in Calgary on Thursday.

The games are dwindling and as teams win, like the Panthers and Capitals did Tuesday, they buoy their own hopes and at the same time put more strain on other teams' hopes. It will be no different Wednesday night.

Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 11:59 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

DET @ LAK - 10:57 of the Second Period

At 10:57 of the second period in the Red Wings/Kings, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Drew Doughty's point shot deflected off Ian White's arm and into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Los Angeles.

Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 7:51 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ TBL - 1:56 of the First Period

At 1:56 of the first period in the Bruins/Lightning game, video review determined that Ryan Malone's centering pass deflected off Tom Pyatt's right skate and into the net.  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."  Good Goal Tampa.

Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 5:12 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Callahan, Del Zotto remain out for Rangers

NEW YORK -- The Rangers' Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto will miss Tuesday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Callahan is sitting for the second straight game after missing three straight games with a bruised foot to start March. The Rangers' captain returned for three games after that stretch, but he once again finds himself out of the lineup.

Del Zotto will miss his third straight game with an injury the Rangers aren't disclosing. He sat out a game against the Lightning on March 2 with a hip injury, returned for the next three games, and will now miss his third consecutive contest.

Coach John Tortorella said he doesn't think the injuries are long-term issues and both players are day-to-day.

Forward Mats Zuccarello, called up before the Rangers defeated the Islanders 4-3 in overtime Sunday, will once again be in the lineup for his fifth game of the season.

Earlier in the day, the Rangers announced that Henrik Lundqvist (flu) would not dress. Backup Martin Biron will start with AHL call-up Chad Johnson serving as the backup against the Hurricanes.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Louie Korac - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Blues hope rest did them some good

CHICAGO -- The Blues (45-18-7) will look to improve upon a season-best five-game winning streak Tuesday when they play the Chicago Blackhawks. But they'd rather not do it the same way they won Sunday, where goalie Jaroslav Halak basically stole two points for the team in a 33-save effort against the Blue Jackets.

The Blues went through a similar situation a couple of weeks ago in Winnipeg, where they were flat and Halak stole a 3-2 shootout win. They then went into Calgary two nights later and played one of their best road games of the season.

They're looking for similar magic Tuesday after the coaches gave the players a full day off Monday. Tonight's game will be the Blues' sixth in 11 days.

"We've had a pretty hectic schedule here with travel and games compacted together," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I think yesterday was a well (deserved) off-day away from the rink to give a lot of guys a chance to refresh, clear their minds a bit. It's a grind at this time of year. Sometimes, you need those days off to refresh your whole state of mind and your whole body to get ready for a heated game like tonight.

"... The coaching staff gave us a well-deserved day off yesterday to catch our breath and get our rest and make sure we're full of energy tonight against a team that's going to want to take it to us after the last game we played against them (a 5-1 Blues win March 6). It's always a heated game when we play these guys."

Coach Ken Hitchcock said it was best for everyone to go their separate way for a day and to recharge.

"We were a little better today," Hitchcock said of the morning skate. "This has been a tough schedule for us, so we're a little bit better today. We've got more energy, more jump, a little more enthusiasm. I think getting away from the coach is really important, and I think the coach getting away from them is really important. They stayed away from me. I stayed away from them. That full day off was probably good energy-wise for both groups."
Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Curtis Zupke - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Wings get Howard back, but Lidstrom still ailing

LOS ANGELES -- The Detroit Red Wings will get one of their walking wounded back in the lineup on Tuesday night.

Goalie Jimmy Howard is expected to return in net when Detroit plays at Los Angeles.

Howard has missed three games with a groin injury suffered on March 4. Joey MacDonald went 1-2 in his absence, including a 4-3 win against Los Angeles last Friday.

"Joe has been great when he's been in the net, but of course we want Howie back," Johan Franzen said.

Todd Bertuzzi has a sore groin and is expected to return Wednesday at Anaheim. Pavel Datsyuk also skated Tuesday but remains day-to-day in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb.21.

"We're going to see Pavel on this trip," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "When he's ready, he'll let us know."

Lidstrom update: Nicklas Lidstrom reported little progress in his recovery from a bone bruise in his ankle, and Babcock said he probably won't play on this road trip.

Lidstrom skated on his own again, but is able to only do laps with no abrupt starts and stops.

"I still have pain in the ankle, so it's not good stopping or turning or doing any quick starts and stops," Lidstrom said. "I just want to be out there and kind of get a feel of getting the groins going and kind of doing some laps and being on the ice again."

Lidstrom couldn't put a timetable on a possible return.

"I didn't think it was going to take this long," he said. "It's been somewhat frustrating I haven't been able to come back earlier, but the trainers want me to make sure I don't re-aggravate it again and be out for another couple of weeks."

Remarkably, Lidstrom has never missed this many consecutive games (seven) in his 20-year career, according to the Detroit Free Press.

"(The accomplishment) feels good but it's still frustrating when you're not able to play," he said. "After a while you get sick and tired of sitting around and watching the guys play. You want to be part of it. You want to be on the ice and be part of the team again."

Line shakeup?: Babcock appeared to mix up his second and third lines in the morning skate.

Franzen centered Gustav Nyquist and Danny Cleary on the second line, while Darren Helm centered Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader on the third line.

"I did it in the pre-game skate today, so we'll see what happens," Babcock said. "Basically I'm trying to get Helmer in a spot where he can do what he normally does. I want energy. I think him, Abby and Millsy might be able to give me that. I haven't decided 100 percent for sure. Game-time decision."

The Franzen line offers size, but Babcock said they have to change their approach against L.A.

"To me, we've been a bit of a rush team and not much a grind team," Babcock said. "L.A., the last time we played them, got the game on the walls and ground us. That's why we weren't on the inside and we weren't at their net enough to play in their zone. It's got to be different here today. We can't expect to be successful doing that."

Franzen has played pivot in his career but hasn’t done it much this season.

"That's where I feel most comfortable -- at the center position," Franzen said. "But I might be a little rusty. It's been a while since I've played center, but hopefully after a few shifts I'm back into it."

Power-play issues:
Detroit is 0-for-20 on the power play over the past five games and 3-for-41 in its last 11 games.

Babcock said the Wings have to take a "real simplified approach, much like we would do at training camp. Normally you do it four or five times a year. But this is an ongoing thing for us. I think it's in our head more than anything. The way to get out of it is to simplify and shoot the puck, and we'll get one and get on a roll."
Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:50 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Biron to start for flu-stricken Lundqvist

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist was scheduled to make his 52nd start of the season for the Rangers on Tuesday night, but the flu will keep him out of the lineup against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Lundqvist did not take part in the team's optional practice Tuesday morning, usually a sure sign that he would be that night's starting goaltender. Instead, it will be backup Martin Biron making his 18th start of the season.

To replace Lundqvist, the Rangers recalled Chad Johnson from the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.

Lundqvist is the likely favorite for the Vezina Trophy, posting a 32-14-5 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Only the Blues' Brian Elliott has a better GAA and save percentage, but he has made 21 fewer starts.

Biron has been solid in his few appearances, going 11-4-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .909 save percentage. He has struggled of late, however, going 2-2-1 with a 2.94 GAA a .880 save percentage. This season against the Hurricanes, Biron is 2-0-0 with a 2.50 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:38 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Scoring early focus for Hawks against physical Blues

CHICAGO -- The last time they saw the St. Louis Blues, the Chicago Blackhawks were routed 5-1 and outhit by a 27-11 count at Scottrade Center.

Those are the biggest reasons the Hawks have been asked the past week whether they're too "soft" to be successful against hard-hitting, defensive-oriented teams like the Blues -- who face Chicago again on Tuesday night at United Center.

The season series, however, shows that both teams have won two of the first four games and the hits tally isn't that heavily skewed in the Blues' favor. In fact, the Hawks outhit St. Louis the last time the Blues were in town on Feb. 19 and triumphed 3-1 in that game. The Hawks can hit, too, but they don't want it to come at the expense of their skill game.

Would scoring an early goal or two be just as strong of a message on Tuesday night as "lighting up" a few Blues players with big, punishing hits?

"Absolutely," Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said following Tuesday's morning skate. "I think that when we're playing our best, we're skating, we're getting to pucks first and I know on the stat sheet it doesn't really show that we're leading in hits ... but that's our gritty style of play. It's being willing to get to the dirty areas, go to the net and go to the corners."

Sharp then pointed to one of the Hawks' multitude of rookies, who've made an impact this season, as a prime example.

"You don't have to look any further than Andrew Shaw," Sharp said. "He's a guy that does it every shift. He sacrifices his body and then goes and gets that puck. To me, that's playing physical. It's not so much the fighting and the big hits."

Of course, with St. Louis-area product Brandon Bollig in the lineup -- another Hawks rookie forward -- there's also the potential for fighting and big hits coming from Chicago's side of the ledger. Bollig has fought somebody in four straight games and the Hawks' fourth line is stocked with big-bodied forwards who can hit, scrap and add enough skill to be dangerous.

Still, there might not be a better way to "stand up" to the Blues than to pot an early goal -- especially against the seemingly impenetrable Jaroslav Halak.

"You win the game by scoring goals, so I think that would be most important," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Obviously they're a physical team and I think that helps their cause, but for sure I think getting the first goal tonight would be ideal."

Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane couldn't agree more, but cautioned against trying to force things too much offensively.

"You've got to be careful," said Kane, who's filling in at center on the top line for injured captain Jonathan Toews. "You can't get running up the ice too much and get caught cheating trying to score, especially against a team like this that's so defensive. That can kind of haunt you. The first goal's going to be huge. The last game, they got the first couple goals and after that it was pretty much shut-down mode and we were trying to force things. It doesn't work out that way."

It also doesn't behoove the Hawks to not finish their own checks. It's a tough balance to strike, but they've already found a way to do it twice this season against the League-leading Blues, who've won five straight games and nine of the past 10.

"You want to be physical, especially on their top guys," Kane said. "That's what they like to do to us. I'm sure that's something they preach over there before the game and in intermissions. You don't want to run around too much and get yourself caught, to where they're getting more chances than we give them [normally]. You want to be careful, but at the same time if the hit's there you've got to take it."
Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 3:22 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers' roster has distinct Ontario flavor

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' roster features eight players born in Ontario, so they've looked forward to games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The whole team has had another reason to look forward to Tuesday night's fourth and final meeting of the season at the BankAtlantic Center: Florida's dominance over the Leafs in 2011-12.

The Panthers took the first three games, winning by scores of 5-1, 5-3 and 5-3.

To put Florida's offensive output in perspective, consider that the Panthers have scored five goals or more only eight times in 68 games.

Taking it a step further, the Panthers have played 41 games since beating Washington 5-4 at home on Dec. 5. They've reached five goals in two of those 41 games -- you guessed it, both times against Toronto.

"I don't know, sometimes there's just those teams you just have your way with some nights," said Panthers center Shawn Matthias, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. "Don't want to jinx it right now. With the games that we played against the Leafs, we had a lot of goals where we were driving wide and just shooting and keeping things simple and just playing hard. That's what we've got to do every night to be successful. Some nights the puck is just not going in. You just stick to the basics, and hopefully we can start scoring every night."

Goals have been hard to come by for the Panthers in March. They have been shut out twice this month, scored one goal twice and were held to one goal by Carolina on Sunday before they scored an empty-netter to make it 2-0.

That's what coach Kevin Dineen was focused on as he prepared for Tuesday's game, not the earlier offensive success against the Leafs.

"That's one stat I don't buy too much into," Dineen said. "You feel where your team is, the ebbs and flows of a season and where we're at right now, there's a large sense of desperation in our game, as well as the Leafs. It has the mixture of a pretty good hockey game.

"You look at your previous games against a team, but you also look at your most recent production and our production recently probably is where the focus is, because we haven't been that strong. Obviously, we've had a couple of strong games in Toronto. Might be the amount of representation our team has from Ontario that guys are certainly up for it, but it's been a good matchup thus far."

Florida's offense against Toronto has been well spread out, with 13 different players scoring the 15 goals.

In the first two meetings, the Panthers chased the Maple Leafs' starting goalie -- Jonas Gustavsson at Toronto on Nov. 8 and James Reimer at Florida on Dec. 27.

"They've got a good team over there that moves the puck very well, a good power play," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We've got to be a little bit tighter from the three previous games. They've gotten a little bit too much on us. We haven't played tight enough against them, but to their credit they've got a highly offensive team that's got a lot of speed and they've got a good back end. We know that it's going to be a challenge for us to shut them down, but we've got to play a little bit tighter."

Toronto's first visit to the BankAtlantic Center this season during the Christmas holidays drew 20,406, the Panthers' largest home crowd this season. There should be another big crowd Tuesday night.

That only added to the anticipation for Matthias and the Panthers' other Ontario natives -- Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Erik Gudbranson, Krystofer Barch and John Madden.

"Being a Canadian kid, you get jacked up against all the Canadian cities," Matthias said. "Especially the Leafs, being from Mississauga, a Toronto-area native. You know everyone back home is watching you play, it's just exciting, and there's quite a few people I know in the stands tonight. So it should be fun."
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Quote of the Day

He is, in my opinion, one of the best defensemen in the NHL and continuing to grow. I think his game, from an offensive standpoint, he continues to drive our offense... I think there's still tremendous upside for Oliver.

— Coyotes GM Don Maloney on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson