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Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Zajac feels healthy, contributing for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Despite missing the majority of the regular season with an Achilles injury, New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac admits he's feeling as good as ever.
The 26-year-old top-line center was limited to just 15 games by a sore left Achilles tendon during the regular season. He had surgery in August, missed training camp and didn't play until Dec. 16, only to be sidelined again after playing against Ottawa on Jan. 2.
Zajac is certainly glad to be part of the team at an important time in the season.
"I feel like nothing is holding me back on the ice, whether I'm bumping or turning … anything like that," Zajac told "I don't feel anything, and that's a positive. There's no pain or soreness or anything like afterwards, either, so I'm good. It's playoff hockey, so I think there's going to be a few guys playing through injuries during this time of the year."
In two playoff games, Zajac has one goal and a team-leading 65.6 percent efficiency on faceoffs, winning 21 of 32 draws.
Zajac was asked what the Devils need to correct in Game 3 in order to regain the series lead.
"We need to stay off the penalty-kill … we took some unnecessary penalties [in Game 2], but other than that we need to take the play to them," Zajac said. "I think we're good when we're aggressive and controlling the play. We're not a fancy team by any means, and our skill will take over when we get the puck down low and make plays down there. So that's where we have to make the plays against them."
Zajac also believes it's only a matter of time before linemate Zach Parise is rewarded with a goal for all his hard work.
"I think he's had plenty of shots, but Zach does it all," Zajac said. "He's not scoring, but he does a lot of good things away from the puck in the defensive zone. He has so much skill, the goals will come. The thing is, everyone has to contribute this time of year to help him out."

Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 1:07 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill improving but out for Game 4 vs. Detroit

DETROIT -- Defenseman Hal Gill will not play for the Nashville Predators on Tuesday in Game 4 of the team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

Gill went through Nashville's morning skate wearing skate guards, which was the first time he'd done gone through a game-day skate since incurring a lower-body injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Gill hasn't played in the series and also missed the season finale in Colorado. The good news for the Preds -- who lead the series 2-1 -- is that Gill appears to be making good progress, according to Nashville coach Barry Trotz.

"He's improving every day, made some real good improvement," Trotz said of Gill. "He’s not in [Tuesday], but really good improvement. I thought he looked very good, actually."

Gill declined comment through a team spokesman. Whenever he does return, the Preds' penalty killing should get a big boost -- literally. The 6-foot-7, 241-pound Gill -- who was acquired from Montreal in a deal a week before the trade deadline -- takes up a lot of space in front of the net where opposing forwards like to camp.

"That's a specialty for him," Trotz said of Gill's penalty-killing ability. "He's a big man. It's like parking a small car in front of the net sometimes when he's out there."

It also will provide a chance for the Predators' top defense duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to catch a breather. With Gill sidelined, they've been spending a lot of time killing penalties.

"They do a real good job and I think [Kevin Klein] gets underrated on that," Trotz said. "[Suter and Weber] are always the big names, but [Klein and Roman Josi] do a good job, too. They've done a really good job to this point, but I'd be excited to get Hal back, because that's really where he excels -- especially this time of year."

Trotz did say there will be a lineup switch for the Preds in Game 4, but declined to reveal it. Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis stayed out on the ice for the skate a lot longer than the defenseman he replaced in Game 3, Jack Hillen, which could be a clue.

Hillen played for Gill in the first two games of the series.

Forward Brandon Yip also is expected to draw into Nashville's lineup, at right wing of the fourth line in place of Jordin Tootoo, while David Legwand might start the game at fourth-line center instead of being in the middle of the second line.
Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 12:54 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers' Smithson to make series debut

NEWARK, N.J. -- In an effort to remain strong in the faceoff circle, Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has decided to do a little line tinkering for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
Dineen has opted to insert Jerred Smithson into his lineup for the first time this series. The 33-year-old Smithson, who was acquired from the Nashville Predators on Feb. 25, led the Panthers with a 56.1-percent faceoff winning percentage (345 for 615) during the regular season. He'll replace Wojtek Wolski in the lineup.
"We're always tinkering with our options and deciding what's best for the team," Dineen told reporters after his team's practice Tuesday. "The little adjustments here and there over the course of a series are going to happen, and that's how we feel now."
Smithson had one goal and six points in 69 regular-season games this season, but had just one assist in 16 games with the Panthers. 
"Jerred has given us good minutes since he's been here," Dineen said. "When you get healthy, you have all these quality options so you spend a day evaluating and sometimes you make game-time decisions like this.
"The faceoff circle is an area we concentrated on, especially when you see a guy like [Devils forward] Travis Zajac out there taking draws for them … he's big and strong and does a good job."
Here is the probable Game 3 lineup for the Panthers:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 12:38 PM

By Staff -  / - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Kelly: Lucic was an angry baby

The battle between Bruins forward Milan Lucic and Washington defenseman Karl Alzner has been captivating to watch throughout the first three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between Boston and Washington.

Monday night, it came to head during a goal-mouth scrum in which Lucic tussled with Matt Hendricks and Alzner. When the participants were separated, Alzner rubbed his eye with his fist, suggesting that Lucic was a crybaby.

Lucic, who took three roughing penalties in Game 3 and was serving a double minor for roughing when the winning goal was scored in the 4-3 victory on Monday that gave Boston a two-games-to-one lead in the series, laughed off the suggestion.

But, Chris Kelly was all too happy to come to the defense of the team's most physical forward with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, according to a tweet from CSNNE's Joe Haggery (@HackswithHaggs).

"I dont think he ever cried," Kelly told CSNNE's Joe Haggery. "I don't think he cried as a baby. He came out an angry baby. He came out w/an attitude."
Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 11:59 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Devils happy to be home

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are hoping some home cooking will produce favorable results Tuesday when they host the Florida Panthers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
The fact the Devils closed the regular season with an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 home games certainly plays into their advantage. But the team is just 4-9-0 in their last 13 postseason home games.
The club actually is 3-7 in playoff games at Prudential Center since moving to Newark in 2007-08.
"We have to create energy … it just doesn't come naturally," Devils forward Patrik Elias said following practice Tuesday. "For the fans, they need to experience something special and we need to give them a reason to feel special."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer isn't overly concerned by the fact home teams are a combined 8-14 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
"I don't know why [home teams have struggled], but we're looking forward to playing at home and getting that last change, being able to play in front of our home crowd," DeBoer said. "It's something we're certainly not looking to avoid. I don't think we play any differently whether we're home or on the road.
"I know our preparation isn't any different on the road than it is at home. Our identity is an in-your-face, take-away-time-and-space, be-on-top-of-you type of team. I can't speak for other teams, but that won't change for us."
DeBoer will keep the same lineup he used for the opening two games of the series, meaning rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be a healthy scratch for the eighth time in the last nine games, dating back to the regular season.
Here is the projected lineup for the Devils for Game 3:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
Posted On Tuesday, 04.17.2012 / 10:00 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Bracket Challenge Blog

Road warriors having their way in playoffs

After a one-night interruption, the road-ice advantage in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs was back in evidence on Monday night.

Home teams won three of four games on Sunday. But the guys in the white sweaters were in charge again on Monday, winning all three games to give visitors 14 wins in the 22 games played so far. Home teams have won exactly one game in each of the eight series.

Contrast that to the regular season, when home teams were 687-399-144, a winning percentage of .551.

Road teams appear to be on their way to winning more than half of the first-round games for the third year in a row. Home teams haven't been over .500 in the first round since going 24-20 in 2008-09.
Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 8:57 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYR @ OTT - 8:52 of the second period

At 8:52 of the second period of the Rangers/Senators game, video review was initiated to determine if the puck shot by Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko crossed the goal line. Video review upheld the call on the ice that the puck never crosses the goal. No goal New York.
Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 6:16 PM

By Eric Gilmore - Correspondent / - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks feel Blues just as dangerous with Elliott in net

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak missed practice Monday morning with a lower-body injury and, as expected, won't suit up for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks.

Brian Elliott will be in goal for the St. Louis with Jake Allen, a call-up from Peoria of the American Hockey League, on the bench as his backup, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said he doesn't know how long Halak will be sidelined.

"He's out today. He's day-to-day, and we'll just see how he feels tomorrow and see if we're going to get him back in any short period of time. We're not really sure," Hitchcock said. "It gets better quickly, but obviously not enough to skate today."

Halak was injured early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidently skated into him, knocking him hard to the ice. Elliott took over and completed the Blues' 3-0 shutout.

Both Blues goaltenders put up stellar numbers this season, and both went 2-0 with a shutout against the Sharks in the regular season. Despite having similar stats, Halak and Elliott aren't clones, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

"Elliott's bigger," he said. "I think there's an obvious size difference there. Less experienced. You look at what Halak had done in Montreal. Some of the wins he provided that franchise were incredible, really, but other than that they're both tremendous goaltenders. They know that. I don't think they miss a beat one bit by starting Brian Elliott tonight."

Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said Elliott made some key saves "using his long legs" in Game 2.

"I thought he came in last game and we probably gave him a chance to feel comfortable," Clowe said. "We didn't get much action on him early. Tonight if we can sustain pressure and get some chances -- some second chances more than anything -- early, you're going to score. We got to try to get to him."

Elliott had nine shutouts during the regular season, while Halak had six. Elliott posted a 1.56 goals-against average to 1.97 for Halak.

"We have confidence in both our goalies," Blues defenseman Kris Russell said. "They both play the puck well, they both talk to us very well. I feel as a D corps with those goalies we have a connection there. We've done well talking together and working plays out. We have confidence in both those goalies. That's why we have been successful."
Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 6:13 PM

By Tim Cronin - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Toews working through effects of long absence

CHICAGO - Jonathan Toews showed he had lost none of his touch when the Chicago Blackhawks center scored the first goal of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Phoenix on Thursday night. A flick of the wrist from a deep angle and goalie Mike Smith was fishing the puck out of the back of his net just 4:04 into Game 1.

But Toews, while mentally recovered from a concussion that caused him to miss the last 22 games of the regular season, is still feeling a bit creaky from the two-month layoff. Skating prior to returning brought his legs back, but not everything.

"For the most part, it's timing and speed; it's energy," Toews said Monday. "It's all those things, and it'll keep coming. I felt a did a few things better in the second game, whether it was faceoffs or chipping pucks out, options on the power play. Little things I improved on."

Toews played nearly 20 minutes (of nearly 70) in Game 1, and more than 17 minutes in Game 2, which also went halfway into the first overtime.

He's taking his usual role on the power play, was a combined plus-4 in the first two games, and appears to have not missed a beat. But he's a tough judge.

"I feel my game is slowly going to come together," Toews said. "It definitely wasn't all there the first two games, but I feel it'll keep improving."

Toews must be feeling well. He even half-cracked a smile when asked what the answer to keeping the momentum after scoring the game's first goal would entail.

"Probably trying to score the next one would be a solution to that," quipped Toews.

A funny line from Captain Serious in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Go figure.

Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 6:10 PM

By Tim Cronin - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Bollig: First time for everything

CHICAGO -- A first NHL goal is a lifelong memory for any hockey player. It's that much sweeter when that first goal comes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Check Brandon Bollig's blood-sugar level, then, for he scored goal No. 1 of his career in Game 2 of the Blackhawks' Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Phoenix.

"That it came in the playoffs and it tied the game up is an amazing feeling," Bollig said of scoring the Hawks' second goal in Saturday's 4-3 overtime win in Glendale, Ariz. "It was great to see the activity on my phone from people happy for me."

Bollig, an undrafted free agent signed by the Hawks two years ago, played 18 regular-season games and collected neither a goal nor an assist. Considered an enforcer, he plays that role well, but knows
he'll have to show more, or the next young kid who comes along will take his spot.

"Obviously what got me here was that physical side, that enforcer-type role, but yeah, I think what's going to make me stick is bringing more to the game than just that," he said. "That's what I'm trying to

Timely goals in playoff games will do that. For Bollig, just breathing before Game 1 was a triumph.

"Being a part of (the playoffs), I almost had to have the doc check my heart rate, it was so high," Bollig said. "It's definitely fun to be a part of games like that. You get a lot more amped up."

Whatever happens next, he'll have both the memory and evidence of it. The puck he got past Mike Smith will be mounted on a plaque for him.
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