Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 5:34 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bolland quietly making impact, Sharp healing

CHICAGO -- A lot of the recognition for the Chicago Blackhawks' recent success has gone to captain Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg and impressive rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes.

Brushed aside a little is the play of Dave Bolland, who's done a lot more in the past six games than just disturbing the other team's top line by being a puck-hounding pest. He's also scoring goals and setting up teammates for good scoring opportunities -- skills he showed in abundance while playing in junior hockey.

Bolland has 6 goals and 3 assists in the last six games and now has 14 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season. He's currently centering the third line with Andrew Brunette on the left side and the 6-foot-6, 221-pound Hayes on the right.

"Bolly's game has been trending in the right direction," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "When he has [pace and speed] to his game, he's so effective in a lot of ways offensively and defensively. Things are going in for him right now and that I like that line, as far as what they’re doing offensively -- and defensively we haven't had too many shifts in our own end."

In other Blackhawks-related news, injured forward Patrick Sharp is still in the holding pattern of his recovery from an upper-body injury (hand/wrist) that has the Hawks projecting a potential return to the lineup at some point during a trip to Western Canada following the All-Star Game at the end of January.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 5:22 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Chirp-fest begins as Hawks get set to face ex-mates

CHICAGO -- It started with a friendly suggestion made by Jonathan Toews on Thursday night, when he and some other Chicago Blackhawks met up for dinner with former Hawks Kris Versteeg and Jack Skille, who are now Florida Panthers.

"I was willing to take 'Steeger' to the hair salon and get him a haircut, but he didn't want to do that," said Toews on Friday morning, referring to the long, blond hair Versteeg is sporting these days. "He just wanted to hang out at the restaurant. Good to see him a little bit, though."

Florida will face Chicago on Friday night at the United Center (8:30 p.m.), but the game could feel a little bit like an old Blackhawks inter-squad scrimmage between the whistles -- thanks to the Panthers being constructed by former Chicago general manager Dale Tallon, who's collected four Hawks from the 2010 Stanley Cup team plus Skille.

That 2010 Hawks team had great locker room chemistry and thrived off subtle jabs at each other off the ice. Thus, Toews' crack about Versteeg's hair was not unexpected by the recipient -- who's making his first trip back to the Madhouse on Madison since helping Chicago win Game 5 of the 2010 Cup Final by scoring a goal.

In fact, Versteeg was ready with a comeback for Toews after Florida's Friday morning skate when told of the haircut quip.

"It's always been a thing of [Toews'] … try and get inside someone else's mind, when really you can get inside his mind before he can get inside of yours," Versteeg said. "So last night at the restaurant he let me know about it, but [the hair's] not going to go anywhere anytime soon."

Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane also got in a few barbs on Versteeg, who was definitely one of the leaders of Chicago's Kangaroo Court two seasons ago. Asked whether he thinks Versteeg will show off his "rap skills" again for the special occasion of his return -- something he did in front of millions at the Hawks' Cup parade -- Kane just laughed.

"You call those skills?" he said. "I don't know if you could call those skills. That was pretty embarrassing, so hopefully we don't see any of that for a while."

Versteeg, however, said he hasn't even come close to giving up his interest in musical performance.

"I've actually been writing a few things here and there and I'll be coming out with a music video, but that's actually in the near future," he said, trying to stay straight-faced. "That's actually a work in progress."

Kane, Toews and Versteeg all agreed on one thing -- playing this game on Friday night ought to be a blast, especially when it comes to the banter between the former teammates. Florida also has former Hawks Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky, John Madden and Jack Skille likely playing.

"There's always old stories coming up and I think they'll be some pretty tough competition," Toews said. "It might get a little heated out there. We'll see."

Kane said it's probably going to be a little weird seeing them all wearing different uniforms inside the United Center -- not to mention trading some friendly trash talk during stoppages.

"They were all big parts of our team and it's fun to see them all, for sure," Kane said. "It's almost kind of like it's not a real hockey game. There's a lot of laughing and joking around and having fun, but at the same time you want to beat them, too. It's a little bit different, but it's definitely fun."
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Madden happy to get shot with Panthers

CHICAGO -- He's 38 years old now and the phone just wasn’t ringing when the season started.

So John Madden kept training three days a week and also watched a lot of hockey while he patiently waited for some team to call about him playing center for them. That team was ultimately the Florida Panthers, who signed him on Jan. 4 to man the middle of their third line -- but not before the silence of his phone got him thinking about his career.

Madden won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks and then signed last season as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild before heading out into the open mark again last summer.

Did he think his playing days might be over at any point?

"Oh, for sure," Madden said. "It's a new game and a lot of teams are going with young, talented kids and seeing what they've got. Reluctantly I thought it might be the end of the line, but I told myself it wasn't and tried to stay in shape the best I could -- even though I thought the writing was on the wall, so to speak. I was glad to get a phone call from (Panthers GM Dale Tallon)."

While he waited for that call, Madden worked out three days a week on the ice and several days a week off ice -- also watching a lot of hockey and wondering why certain teams hadn't called his agent.

"I think that's the part that hurt the most," Madden said. "I'm not being conceded or anything like that, but having watched a lot of the hockey games this season -- and for some reason I've watched more hockey this year than I have my entire life, at least two or three games a night and possibly seven a week -- yeah, those thoughts went through my mind. I was thinking, 'I know I could still play,' and I still wanted to play. That's the biggest part. You know you've had enough when you don't want to play anymore."

Madden hadn't reached that point yet, but he was getting close after busting his tail in workouts and not having a guarantee that it would pay off at all.

"It's hard to just go at it by yourself," said Madden, who only spent one season in Chicago and won two other Cup titles with the New Jersey Devils. "I never really thought it would be that hard, but the motivation has to be there within yourself in order to get up and do it every single day. There was no guarantees. It's not like you're going to training camp. That was a hard thing I had to fight though on most days, but I stayed with it somewhat."

Madden has yet to register a point for the Panthers in the five games he's played, but he's won 52.1 percent of his faceoffs and logged 14:33 of ice time per game.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 4:58 PM

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

Ducks sign Beauchemin to three-year extension

The Anaheim Ducks have signed defenseman Francois Beauchemin to a three-year contract extension. Terms of the deal were not released, but the Orange County (Calif.) Register is reporting the deal to be worth a total of $10.5 million.

Beauchemin, 31, would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer.

With the Ducks sitting 13th in the Western Conference, 13 points behind eighth-place Colorado, it was thought Beauchemin would be an appealing candidate for a team looking for help on the blue line.

"Francois is a dedicated, versatile and hard-working defenseman who is committed to our organization," said Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. "We are extremely pleased to have him under contract for the next three years."

Beauchemin has 18 points in 41 games, and leads the team in ice time per game at 25:44. He also leads the team with 95 blocked shots and is third with 88 hits.

In eight seasons with the Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Ducks and Maple Leafs, Beauchemin has 151 points in 454 games. He was part of the Ducks' Stanley Cup winners in 2007, and after signing as a free agent with the Maple Leafs in July 2009 he was traded back to the Ducks on Feb. 9, 2011 for forward Joffrey Lupul and defenseman Jake Gardiner.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 3:05 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Happy homecoming for some Panthers

CHICAGO -- The reunion of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks began in earnest Thursday in the Windy City with a dinner between some current Hawks and now Florida Panthers.

It will continue today at the United Center, when Florida's Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Brian Campbell will return to the Madhouse on Madison for the first time as visitors since they celebrated that Cup title in 2010.

Versteeg, in fact, is one of the few from that team who never had seen the Cup banner in the rafters until this morning at the Panthers' practice; the last time he'd been inside the arena was Game 5 of the 2010 Cup Final.

Now he's back, along with a host of other former Hawks -- and their presence gives this matchup a unique feel.

"It's going to be like an inter-squad scrimmage," said Versteeg, who took a few moments before taking the this morning to remember what it was like when he was part of the most talented young teams in the League. "I didn't get to see the banner raised last year and it's the first time I got to see the banner, so it was a pretty neat experience just seeing what you accomplished with a team. I'm excited about the game tonight, though. I'm excited to really get this thing going."

Here is how the lineups might look like tonight for the Blackhawks and Panthers:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall - John Madden - Matt Bradley
Krystofer Barch - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.

Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Shaw - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Andrew Brunette - Dave Bolland - Jimmy Hayes
Ben Smith - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Ray Emery will start in goal, with Corey Crawford the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Injured forward White skates for Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Montreal Canadiens forward Ryan White, out all season with a sports hernia that occurred during training camp, took part in an optional morning skate Friday.
It was the first time in four months that White has skated with his teammates. Earlier this week, White did conditioning work -- wind sprints and endurance drills -- with team strength coach Pierre Allard.

"It's a step in the right direction," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We've been leaning on him physically and working hard to get his conditioning up, and it's all about that at this point."

After getting hurt during camp, White underwent surgery in October. The Canadiens haven't set a return date for White, who had 2 goals and 3 assists in 27 games last season. He also had a pair of assists in 16 games in 2009-10.
"He's going to continue to get sharper, getting conditioned, and we want to see that great conditioning when he comes back," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Gill knows how quick things can turn

PITTSBURGH -- Hal Gill knows it’s too early to give up on a season.
Amid rumblings in Montreal that the Canadiens should start weighing which players to shed at the trading deadline as they rebuild for the future,  Gill offered a history lesson -- one from not so long ago -- upon returning to Pittsburgh on Friday.
The Canadiens are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games heading into an important weekend in which they play at Pittsburgh tonight and at Toronto on Saturday. But, as Gill reminded, a season that looks to be lost can be salvaged -- even if it can’t happen in the span of a few games.
The Penguins, as Gill reminded, were 27-25-5 in mid-February 2009 before Dan Bylsma took over as coach. At the time, there was trepidation in Pittsburgh that a team led by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might miss the playoffs.
Instead, the Penguins finished with an 18-3-4 surge that not only got them into the playoffs, but earned them home-ice advantage in the first round, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
”I’ve been in that situation before where time isn’t on your side, and somehow you win a game, win a game and the next thing you know you’re back in the playoffs,” Gill said.
The Canadiens have been without the injured Scott Gomez (groin), Brian Gionta (biceps), Andrei Markov (knee) and Ryan White (hernia) for all or part of the season, but Gill insisted there’s still time to get Montreal’s fans excited.
Start looking ahead to next season? No, Gill said, the Canadiens simply must look ahead only to their next game.
“You go out and play one game tonight and try to do everything you can to get that win and go on to the next game,” he said. “I don’t think you can look long term. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to take one step at a time.”
Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Gill said it takes chemistry and a team that believes in what its coach is telling it to do.
“We found a way to click (in ’09), did some different things,” Gill said. “It wasn’t like, 'Hey, we’ve got to get this many points (to make the playoffs),’ it was, 'We’ve got to win tonight.’"
Like those 2008-09 Penguins, the Canadiens made a coaching change by firing Jacques Martin on Dec. 17 and elevating former assistant Randy Cunneyworth to interim coach for the rest of the season. Since the move, the Canadiens are 4-9-1.
With the idea of getting an energized team off to a fast start, Cunneyworth held an optional morning skate Friday at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins are coming off a 4-1 road victory against the New York Rangers on Thursday, during a week in which they play four games in six days.
“We know Pittsburgh is a good team," said Cunneyworth. "They played last night, so we want to come at full force and get off to that good start."
Finding a way to slow down NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin – he has seven goals in four games –greatly would boost Montreal’s chances of winning. Gill knows from experience how difficult that can be.
“They’ve got a pretty good system that they play and they all buy into it and when they’re going, they roll four lines and things happen for them,” Gill said. “They play responsible and let their skill go when they get in the offensive end. … You have to be aggressive when you can (with Malkin), but if you’re lunging or cheating, he’ll take advantage of it. He’s a guy we obviously have to watch for and play hard on him.”
Peter Budaj, who stopped 29 of 30 shots while beating the Rangers 4-1 on Sunday, will be in goal for the second time in 12 games as Carey Price sits out. Price is 0-3-1 in his last four starts, 15-17-8 overall and 7-6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh.
Cunneyworth doesn’t expect any carryover from the Max Pacioretty hit Nov. 26 that left Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with a broken nose and a concussion. Letang didn’t return until Thursday night in New York.
Pacioretty was suspended three games for his hit to Letang’s head. This will be the first time the teams have met since then.
“I think they’ve discussed it; it’s a hockey play that occurred, the League dealt with it,” Cunneyworth said. “I don’t think anybody is interested in that kind of thing, but obviously if someone wants to press the issue, we’ll take care of it.”
Here's what the Canadiens’ lineup likely will be when they face the Pens for the third time this season:
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin
Peter Budaj will start in goal, with Carey Price the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pittsburgh always feels like home to Cunneyworth

PITTSBURGH -- No matter how well or poorly his team is playing, Randy Cunneyworth enjoys coming to Pittsburgh.
Even if the Penguins' almost-new-home wasn't his home.
Cunneyworth, now the Montreal Canadiens' coach, enjoyed the four best offensive seasons of his NHL career while playing with Pittsburgh from 1985-89 -- the period in which the Penguins transformed themselves from the League's worst team into a contender.
It wasn't a coincidence that he had point totals of 45, 53, 74 and 44 while playing on a team led by Mario Lemieux, then a rising star in his early 20s. Cunneyworth never had more than 36 points in a season while playing elsewhere.
"Just being amongst a great group of guys," Cunneyworth said Friday, referring to his best memory of playing in Pittsburgh. "Mario Lemieux was one of the best players in hockey. It was great to play alongside him. He allowed me to get some pretty good numbers."
Cunneyworth, whose team played the Penguins on Friday night, wasn't the only player whose standout seasons came with No. 66 as a teammate.
"I always tell the story that when two guys jumped on his back, I always followed him and put in a couple of the rebounds he couldn't score," Cunneyworth said.
Of the 189 goals that Cunneyworth scored in an NHL career that stretched from 1981-99, 101 came during those four seasons playing in the Penguins' former home, the Civic Arena.
That arena, which sits across the street from Consol Energy Center, is currently being demolished to make way for an urban redevelopment project.
"That silver building across the street, there's a lot of fond memories there," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:25 PM

By Steve Hunt - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Stars look to rebound from tough week vs. Lightning

DALLAS -- It has been a fairly tough week for the Dallas Stars. On Monday night, Dallas fell 1-0 to St. Louis and the next night, saw itsrecord fall to 0-6-1 in the second game of a back-to-back with a shootout loss at home to Detroit.

Add in a tough 2-1 loss to Colorado last Saturday and Dallas (24-19-2, 50 points) is currently riding a three-game winless streak. As the Stars near the All-Star break, they know they need to start getting full points and tonight's game with Tampa Bay (18-23-4, 40 points) represents an excellent chance to do so.

The Lightning head into this one fresh off a huge 5-3 win over reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston on Tuesday, but they haven't won on the road since Dec. 17, 2011 at Columbus.

Still, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan knows that any time you face a club with such talented offensive players like Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, it will be a sizeable challenge.

"We have guys that have to step up. We have to do it collectively. We have to be smart defensively collectively, and we have to win some areas of the ice to make sure that we try to minimize those guys' impact," Gulutzan said. "They're great players. Outside of having them not playing tonight, they're going to be in it, so we have to do our part collectively."

Dallas will again be without its top-two centermen in Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro. Benn has missed two straight games after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Sunday, while Ribeiro has missed five straight with a knee issue.

No matter who they put on the ice, winger Eric Nystrom knows the goal is always the same -- come away from tonight's game with the full two points and head to Minnesota on a winning note in advance of tomorrow night's meeting with the Wild.

"It's huge, obviously," Nystrom said. "Everybody sees the standings and how tight it is. You've got to stick with the herd and have got to find ways to win games. We've been close. We've been playing well, but still, giving up those points is tough to swallow."

Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game:

Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Dominic Moore - Nate Thompson
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Trevor Smith - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Matt Gilroy
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson

Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson

Scratches: none

Injuries: Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body), Adam Hall (upper body), Victor Hedman (concussion), Mattias Ohlund (knee), Ryan Shannon (knee), Dana Tyrell (lower body), JT Wyman (upper body)

Notes: Tampa Bay comes off a huge 5-3 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Boston on Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum. That victory ended a seven-game winless streak. Now the Bolts look for their first back-to-back wins of the season and also seek to put a hasty end to a six-game winless streak away from home. The last time they won on the road was on Dec. 17, 2011 at Columbus, when they bested the Blue Jackets 3-2.


Brenden Morrow - Tom Wandell - Loui Eriksson
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Adam Burish - Radek Dvorak
Toby Petersen - Jake Dowell - Tomas Vincour

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Mark Fistric - Alex Goligoski
Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Philip Larsen, Adam Pardy

Injuries: Jamie Benn (appendectomy), Mike Ribeiro (knee)

Notes: Dallas will look to end a three-game winless streak, a run of tough results that has seen the Stars drop a pair of one-goal games and, most recently, fall in a shootout to Detroit. The Stars have not beaten the Lightning in regulation in Dallas since Nov. 20, 2000, when they handed the Bolts a 6-2 defeat at Reunion Arena. Gulutzan's club has a 3-3-1 mark on the first day of back-to-backs this season and will play at Minnesota on Saturday. Larsen has been activated from injured reserve but won't make his return until Saturday against the Wild.

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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Patrick Williams - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Jets not far off division lead despite recent struggles

WINNIPEG -- Against all mathematical logic, the Winnipeg Jets are somehow within three points of third place in the Eastern Conference.

A 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night earned the Jets their third victory of the month, but a 3-6-0 skid in January has taken much of the luster off a franchise-best month in December in which the Jets spun off a 10-3-1 mark. The Jets' effort in December had them sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at one point before they tumbled down to their current 10th-place slot.

Thursday's win pulled the Jets to 49 points, putting them just three points behind the third-place Washington Capitals and eighth-place Florida Panthers. After meeting Chicago, the Panthers will visit Winnipeg on Saturday night in a game that suddenly has major implications for the races unfolding in the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference.

"It's a big game for us," Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said of beating Buffalo, "but now every game is going to be like that. It's going to be kind [of like] playoff games."

With Buffalo behind them, the Jets now must turn their attention toward the Panthers. Saturday's game will be the Jets' last home date before a six-game road trip that will include visits with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. With just seven wins in 23 road outings this year, home games have taken on an even greater importance for the Jets.

"They're not too far in front us," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said of the Panthers. "So they'll definitely be in our sights. Every game is huge right now."
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Quote of the Day

Now we have an 'X' next to our name, which is nice. Now we have to keep trying to climb and catch these guys.

— Lightning goalie Ben Bishop on clinching a Stanley Cup Playoff berth and trailing the Canadiens by one point for the division lead
AMP No Bull Moment of the Week