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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Challenge for Preds is figuring where Radulov fits in

PITTSBURGH -- OK, so where does he fit in?
NHL coaches, especially those whose teams are gearing up for a long playoff run, usually don't need to shake up their lines to make room for a new player so late in the season. But that is what Predators coach Barry Trotz is doing he welcomes back Russian star Alexander Radulov, who last played for Nashville in 2008 before switching to the Kontinental Hockey League.
Radulov, a skilled scorer with size and speed, will play on a line with center David Legwand and right wing Patric Hornqvist against Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Previously, left wing Gabriel Bourque was on that line.
But Radulov is not just any other player -- he was a two-time KHL MVP -- so Trotz must sort this out, and in a hurry. Trotz not only wants to make a late push for a higher playoff seeding, he must best configure his lines as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw close. And that means determining where Radulov best fits.
It also means making sure the rest of the Predators keep playing the way they have while going 24-9-4 since Dec. 28.
"We just have to make sure we do the right things as a group and not stand and watch," Trotz said following an optional morning skate. "One of the biggest fears is you get a player like Radulov, I don't want us just standing and watching: 'Let's see what Rad does here.' We have to work as a group of five. That's the only way you play good teams in this League."
Here's how the Predators are expected to line up for their one and only meeting of the season with Pittsburgh, which has won its last eight games at Consol Energy Center and 12 of its last 13 games overall:
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jordin Tootoo - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Jack Hillen
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
If Rinne (39-15-8) starts as expected, he will have played in 66 of Nashville’s first 73 games. He is tied for the League lead in wins with Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out an 8-4 win over Winnipeg on Tuesday. Rinne is 1-0-1 against  Pittsburgh. Rinne le
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:14 PM

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

Caps believe current struggles will benefit in playoffs

PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Capitals are in foreign territory these days. In the last few years, by now they've either had a playoff spot locked up or were close to doing so.

This season, though, they're one of the teams fighting and clawing to hold onto a spot in the top eight in the conference. Checking the standings and the previous night's results are the first thing some of the players do every morning -- or even sooner.

"I do it before I got to bed," Capitals center Mathieu Perreault told "I see all the games, what happened, see where we're at and see where other teams are at. This is the time of the year you have to keep a close eye on your opponents. And for sure, I look at the standings every day."

The Capitals enter Thursday's game eighth in the conference with 80 points, the same as ninth-place Buffalo, and five points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida.

Rather than worry, though, the players are embracing the challenge, and believe it will make them even better when the postseason begins.

"The last two years we've been kind of cruising, waiting and seeing what everyone else is doing," forward Mike Knuble told "I have to believe (their spot now) makes your team sharper from being on every night. I don't think you tire out, I don't think you're worn out. … If you're lucky enough to make the playoffs I don't think you're worn out. By the time you get there, you're hopefully already in that frame of mind, and maybe you can take it up another notch in the playoffs."

Perreault agreed, saying that after recent playoff disappointment, shifting into that must-win mode now could help in the long run.

"If you look at the last few years, we're just sitting there wondering who we're going to play in the first round," he said. "When the playoffs would start, maybe we wouldn't be as sharp as we could. This year it's going to be a battle to the end, so when the playoffs start we'll be in the playoff mode and that'll be a good thing for us."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Flyers happy to have another 'rivalry' game

PHILADELPHIA -- The Flyers had a run of three straight games against bitter rivals -- New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh -- and earned points in each of them. Then came Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers. The players admit there was a bit of a let-down, and the result was a 2-1 loss.

They'll have no problem re-discovering that emotion Thursday when the Washington Capitals visit.

"You get (Alex) Ovechkin coming into the building, you get fired up, you get that extra motivation," Scott Hartnell said. "Nothing against Florida, but we've had some big games (against Washington)."

Hartnell is one of four Flyers remaining from the Flyers team that beat Ovechkin and the Capitals in seven games in the first round of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and in coach Peter Laviolette's first game with the Flyers, Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and 4 assists and Mike Green had a pair of goals as the Caps routed the Flyers 8-2.

"You mention that Florida team, they're a great hockey team, they've had a great year, and for some reason they don't get the respect they deserve," Laviolette said. "But (Washington) certainly brings more punch with the name of the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin. But it's still the same thing for us, it's another desperate hockey team that needs to win a game and we have to win some games ourselves here. Should be a great hockey game."

Here's the lineup the Flyers likely will put on the ice Thursday:

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

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Pavel Kubina - Andreas Lilja

Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in net, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

Jody Shelley will be the lone healthy scratch.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Dan Myers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Flames get bodies back, look to end skid

ST. PAUL -- Just three points currently separate five teams in the Western Conference playoff race entering tonight's action, with Calgary at the back of the bunch.

That makes getting a victory over the sliding Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center all the more important.

After losing the opening game of the season against Minnesota, Calgary has won the last four meetings, including one here just two Sundays ago.

The Flames trail seventh place Colorado by three points and eighth place Los Angeles by two. Phoenix is tied with L.A. at 84 points while San Jose and Calgary each have 82 points.

Calgary will get back three players who have missed significant time due to injury. Defenseman Chris Butler, who has missed a month with a skate cut, will replace Cory Sarich, who flew back to Alberta after the Flames' loss at Colorado on Tuesday. Sarich sustained an upper-body injury and was flown home for further evaluation.

Also back will be forwards Lance Bouma and Blair Jones. Bouma has been out since sustaining an upper-body injury March 4, while Jones has been out since Feb. 9 with an ankle injury.

"At the end of the day, I was hoping these guys would all be ready to go by the end of this trip," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "Tonight's the night, so we'll be putting all three of them in."

If Calgary is to get two points this evening, the Flames will need to break out of their offensive mini-slump. They've scored just one goal in each of their last three games, and not surprisingly have lost all three. With only two road games remaining on the schedule after tonight, both against division leaders, tonight's game could be as close to a must-win as there is this time of year.

"We've been trying to get pucks [to the net] and bodies there," Flames forward David Moss said. "When you do that consistently, pucks will find a way to go in. They haven't the past few games, but we need to stick with it."
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:36 PM

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

Credit Holmgren for Flyers' prolific top line

PHILADELPHIA -- It's been a long time since Paul Holmgren was behind an NHL coach, but the Philadelphia Flyers' GM apparently still has a good eye for line combinations.

Five months ago today -- Oct. 22, 2011, in a game against the St. Louis Blues -- was the first time Scott Hartnell started on a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.

Coach Peter Laviolette credited that particular line change to Holmgren.

"We were talking and Paul had suggested it," Laviolette said. "We looked at it and gave Scott an opportunity."

Hartnell had been floundering and even spent time on the fourth line when he received the promotion.

"He was going through a time where he had had a tough start due to injury and couldn't train at the end of the summer and even in training camp like he wanted to," Laviolette said. "To his credit, he put in a lot of extra time to get himself in great shape, and I think playing with Claude really helped him. From there the confidence just continued to grow. Their line has become a really good line for us. It's been together the entire year because they've been productive."

Giroux was an All-Star and is in the race for the Hart Trophy and scoring title, and Jagr has been tremendous in his return to the NHL, but it's Hartnell who has been the biggest beneficiary of the line change.

Hartnell is having by far his best NHL season, as he's posted career highs in goals (35), points (64) and power-play goals (a League-best 15), and played in his first NHL All-Star Game.

"You always think about who you're playing with before or last year," Hartnell told "I've had some great linemates since I've been in Philadelphia, and Nashville, too, (but) these two guys can do things with the puck that most people can't. I'm pretty fortunate to be in the spot I am."

While most have forgotten about the early struggles Hartnell had, he certainly hasn't, and that allows him to appreciate his situation even more.

"That's one thing I try to put in my head," Hartnell said. "The first few games you might not score a goal or might not score a point, the coaches could change it up the next game and you're with someone else. I've tried to come every practice, every game, to work hard and keep up with them."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:34 PM

By Steve Hunt - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Canucks, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

Mason Raymond - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Dale Weise - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Christopher Tanev

Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo

Injuries: Keith Ballard (neck/concussion), Andrew Ebbett (collarbone), Daniel Sedin (head)

Scratches: Marc-Andre Gragnani, Aaron Rome

Notes: The Canucks head into Thursday’s game with the Stars after a 2-1 overtime loss in Chicago on Wednesday. That defeat could prove costly as Vancouver lost top-line winger Daniel Sedin after he took an elbow to the head in the first period against the Blackhawks. Sedin has been ruled out for tonight's game. Vancouver is just 3-5-2 over their last 10 games but is 22-11-5 on the road this season. The Canucks have also done fairly well in the second game of a back-to-back this season with a 4-4-0 mark in such contests. 

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 - Adam Pardy

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Injuries: Mark Fistric (abdominal strain)

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

Notes: Dallas heads into Thursday's game with the Canucks two days removed from a 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. The Stars got all three goals and every assist from their top line of Eriksson, Ribeiro and Ryder. Ryder had 2 goals in the win over Phoenix, giving him 32 for the season, a new career-high for the Newfoundland native. Dallas has already beaten the reigning Western Conference champions twice this season -- a 3-2 OT win on Feb. 26 in Dallas and a 5-2 victory on March 6 to end a perfect three-game swing through Western Canada in truly impressive fashion. Tonight's game is the third of a four-game homestand for Dallas.
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dan Myers - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Wild get their captain back as Koivu returns

ST. PAUL -- Seeking their first back-to-back victories in a month, the Minnesota Wild welcome back captain Mikko Koivu to the lineup for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames.

Minnesota, coming off an impressive 2-0 victory over Vancouver Monday night, hasn't won back-to-back games at home since the week of Thanksgiving. If the Wild put forth a similar effort tonight as they did against the Canucks, they should have that opportunity.

"Attention to detail and a real purpose in the way that we play the game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said about the keys to victory. "We spent a great deal of time about preparation. It's not an easy thing when things haven't gone well. Preparation is not a matter of telling yourself you want to play really good or really well. It's concentrating on things you have to do in that game and putting those thoughts in your head so you're ready to go execute them once game-time starts."

That lack of focus recently has resulted in losses, including three in a row at home prior to Monday's win. If the Wild win tonight, they will salvage two victories on their current five-game homestand, before heading east for games in Buffalo and Washington this weekend.

That's where Koivu's return will come in handy. His injured shoulder has kept him from the last 15 games, and 23 out of 27. Koivu will be inserted right back onto the team's top-line, looking to spark winger Dany Heatley, who has scored just 1 goal in his last 15 games.

"We're just extremely excited to have him back," Yeo said. "As far as what he means to the team, it's hard to measure because there are so many intangibles within the game and the way he plays it."

Koivu's presence also helps bring some stability to Minnesota's lines, which have fluctuated a great deal without the top-line center. Some nights, Matt Cullen has been on the first line, while others have seen Kyle Brodziak. With Koivu back, Cullen will be slotted on the second line while Brodziak moves to the third -- where those two began the season, and where they played when the Wild were atop the NHL standings as late as mid-December.

Having Brodziak on the third line gives the Wild three lines with a scoring threat instead of just one or two.

"Brodzy's had a good year because he hasn't changed his role," Yeo said of Brodziak, who already has established a new career high in points. "There's been more focus on him and probably more pressure on him to contribute offensively, but what I like is his game didn't change. He just has to go out and continue to do the same thing he's been doing all year long."
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:15 PM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

Anderson back in net Friday for Senators

Craig Anderson will return to the Ottawa Senators lineup Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens, coach Paul MacLean confirmed Thursday.

Anderson has not played since Feb. 22 after he cut his hand with a knife preparing food at his home after the game. He is 29-19-6 this season with a .913 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average.

"I felt pretty good out there. I had a good practice today and everything is kind of back on track," Anderson said to Ian Mendes of Rogers Sportsnet.

The Senators have gone 5-5-2 in Anderson's absence, holding steady in seventh place in the Eastern Conference (though Ottawa did pass Boston for one day at the top of the Northeast Division). General manager Bryan Murray traded for St. Louis Blues prospect Ben Bishop before the deadline, and Bishop has posted strong numbers (3-2-2, .925 save percentage, 1.96 GAA) since his arrival.
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:14 PM

By Lonnie Herman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Banged-up Lightning contend with improving Oilers

TAMPA -- The two teams meeting Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum are going nowhere fast; but one team seems as if it will get there quicker.

Both virtually eliminated from postseason contention (though the Lightning are still mathematically alive), the Edmonton Oilers and the Tampa Bay Lightning hook up for a rare face-to-face meeting, their first since Dec.10, 2010.

The Oilers are intent on ending their season on a good note and have compiled a 5-1-1 record over their past seven games, including a 6-3 schooling of the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay, by contrast, is limping to the finish line, beset by enough injuries to make a good bit of their current roster resemble the Norfolk Admirals, their AHL affiliate. They are 1-5-1 over their last seven games, during which they have been outscored by a margin of 28-18.

"Goals are like bananas, they come in bunches," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

Yes, he has no bananas, and Boucher can explain why.

"Half our team is from the AHL right now, so other teams key on our scorers and can shut them down, plus (Steven) Stamkos and (Martin) St. Louis and (Ryan) Malone are spending so much time on the ice, there is a wear and tear in there," he said.

Stamkos hasn't had a goal since reaching 50 three games ago, and St. Louis has 1 goal in his last 10 games.

But Boucher points out that the team is not just going to mail the last few games in.

"You can see the quality of our individuals; they are working extremely hard," Boucher said. "It's easy to close the books and just go through the motions, but that's not what these guys are doing. We had some meetings the past two days, but meetings are just words; they are showing me actions, and I'm impressed."

Dwayne Roloson, starting in net for the Lightning Thursday night, agreed.

"It's a difficult time," Roloson said, "but we have a lot of guys here now that have been up and down all year and it's an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to go out and play and some of the guys who don't have contracts for next year, and this is a chance to continue playing and maybe get an offer someplace else."

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

Ryan Jones - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Teemu Hartikainen - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Lennart Petrell
Darcy Hordichuk - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager

Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Ryan Whitney - Nick Schultz
Theo Peckham - Corey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Brandon Segal - Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Eric BrewerVictor Hedman
Brett Clark - Keith Aulie
Brian Lee - Brendan Mikkelson
Bruno Gervais

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron

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Quote of the Day

Yeah, it was a pretty special moment for me. Today was my Dad's [55th] birthday. I have a lot of family in town, so it was a special moment for me to score my first one today. A win definitely would have capped it off, but you can't have everything.

— Sabres rookie Jack Eichel after scoring a goal in his National Hockey League debut
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