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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Versteeg, Kulikov return for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — After coach Kevin Dineen said all week that Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov were close to returning to action, the next step finally has come and both players will be in the lineup when   the Florida Panthers face the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

Versteeg missed the last nine games because of a lower-body injury. He was the team’s leading scorer with 49 points when he went out, but has since dropped to third behind Tomas Fleischmann (51) and Stephen Weiss (50).

The three have played on the same line for most of the season, but Versteeg is expected to skate Saturday night alongside Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Matthias.

“I want to be a help to the team in any way I can,” said Versteeg, who last played during the Panthers’ 4-2 victory over Montreal on Feb. 26. “I guess a couple of weeks ago we had a little bit of a rough run, but the last three games the guys have been clicking. You don’t want to come in and do too much to the chemistry, but you do want to come in and help.”

As for Kulikov, he’ll return after missing 23 games after undergoing knee surgery on Jan. 24.

Kulikov figures to be paired again with veteran Mike Weaver.

“It’s been a long time,” Kulikov said. “I’ve been looking forward to this night. I’ve been looking forward to coming back and helping out the team. Obviously, guys are doing good right now. I just want to get into the rhythm and don’t mess up the thing.”

After undergoing surgery, Kulikov said the knee had been bothering to some degree for about five years. But he says he’s 100 percent now.

“When you’re injured, you’re working even harder than the guys that are playing,” Kulikov said. “That’s what they prepare you for. It’s hard, but that needs to be done, those workouts and preparation for the games. I feel fresh right now. I feel like I have lots of energy.

“You don’t go into the game and get used to the game. You don’t have time for that. You just have to go out there and pick up where you left off or even better. It’s going to be tough, but we’ll see how it 

The return of Versteeg and Kulikov made for some tough lineup decisions for Dineen, whose team is riding a three-game winning streak.

“A guy like Marco Sturm that I felt played the best game I’ve seen him play in a Panthers uniform (Thursday against Boston) is making those decisions extremely tough,” Dineen said. “When you get a coveted spot in this lineup, your job is to make sure that the coaches have a tough decision every day in how they’re putting their lineup together every day.

“That’s exactly what you want. You want enthusiasm and some kind of production ... it may not be on the score sheet, but there has to be a positive effect for every player in the lineup for us to be successful. That’s how our sales job right now.”

It is Sturm’s spot on the Matthias line that Versteeg will take against Buffalo, but Sturm is expected to be in the lineup anyway skating with John Madden and Jerred Smithson.

Here is the Panthers’ projected lineup for Saturday night against Buffalo.


Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Wojtek Wolski
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Jerred Smithson

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Erin Nicks - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Maple Leafs, Senators

KANATA, Ont. – Here are the projected lineups for Saturday night when the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs meet at Scotiabank Place:


Colin GreeningJason SpezzaMilan Michalek
Rob KlinkhammerKyle TurrisDaniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno – Jim O’Brien – Chris Neil
Bobby ButlerZack SmithErik Condra

Filip KubaErik Karlsson
Jared CowenSergei Gonchar
Chris PhillipsMatt Gilroy

Ben Bishop
Alex Auld

Zenon Konopka, Matt Carkner and Kaspars Daugavins are the healthy scratches.

General manager Bryan Murray told TV reporters that Craig Anderson (hand) requires a full four weeks of recovery, according to the surgeon who repaired the severed tendon in Anderson’s pinkie finger. This means that the earliest the goaltender could return to duty would be Mar. 23 against Montreal.

When asked why he chose not to bring physical players like Carkner and Konopka back into the lineup against the Leafs, coach Paul MacLean deadpanned, “The games (against Toronto) haven’t been that truculent.”


After an optional skate Saturday morning, Randy Carlyle would not confirm if the team would once again go with seven defensemen. Here are the projected lines if the Leafs choose to go that route:

Clarke MacArthurTyler BozakPhil Kessel
Carter AshtonMikhail GrabovskiMatt Frattin
Tim ConnollyDavid SteckelJoey Crabb
Matthew Lombardi –Colby Armstrong

Carl GunnarssonDion Phaneuf
John-Michael LilesMike Komisarek
Jake GardinerLuke Schenn
Cody Franson

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson

Mike Brown (thigh) remains day-to-day. Nikolai Kulemin (finger) and Joffrey Lupul (shoulder) are still three weeks away from returning. Jay Rosehill is the likely healthy scratch.
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 1:02 PM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Lineups for Flyers, Bruins

BOSTON – The Boston Bruins wore green warm-up jerseys Saturday at TD Garden prior to their game with the Philadelphia Flyers.
They might need a little luck of the Irish to snap their four-game losing streak. However, they have won two of their previous three meetings with the Flyers.
Tim Thomas will make the start in net for Boston – his 12th straight appearance in goal, including two relief appearances. The Flyers counter with Ilya Bryzgalov trying to extend his personal seven-game winning streak.
Here are the projected starting lineups for both clubs:


Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jordan Caron
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco


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

Nicklas Grossmann - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Andreas Lilja - Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor / - At the Rink blog

Canadiens, Islanders battle to avoid East's basement

MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens welcome the New York Islanders to Bell Centre tonight in what amounts to a battle for last place in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders (28-32-11) enter the game in 15th place in the conference, one point behind the Canadiens (28-32-12), who have played one more game.

Montreal is on a bit of a hot streak of late with a 3-0-2 record in its last five games after a 2-1 overtime loss Friday night in Ottawa. The Islanders, on the other hand, have been in free fall with a 0-3-2 record in their last five games and just two wins in their past 10.

The Canadiens did not skate Saturday morning, so it is unknown if defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Andrei Markov will be able to play after both missed Friday night with upper-body injuries. Kaberle had missed Montreal’s previous game to attend the birth of his son, while coach Randy Cunneyworth had expressed reservations about playing Markov on back-to-back nights so soon after his long-awaited return from knee surgery before he was declared out in Ottawa.

Scott Gomez remains out with a suspected concussion.

The Islanders will be missing defenseman Steve Staios, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Here are the expected lineups for tonight:


Matt MoulsonJohn TavaresKyle Okposo
Josh BaileyFrans NielsenPA Parenteau
Michael GrabnerCasey CizikasDavid Ullstrom
Nido Niederreiter – Marty ReasonerMatt Martin

Mark StreitDylan Reese
Travis HamonicAndrew MacDonald
Milan JurcinaMark Eaton

Al Montoya


Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisErik Cole
Rene BourqueTomas PlekanecRyan White
Mike BlundenLars EllerLouis Leblanc
Brad StaubitzPetteri Nokelainen
Josh GorgesP.K. Subban
Andrei MarkovAlexei Emelin
Tomas KaberleChris Campoli
Yannick Weber
Peter Budaj
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 11:42 AM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Bylsma wants to see more of Crosby-Staal combo

NEWARK, N.J. -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma liked what Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal looked like together on the same line Thursday night. Now he wants to see more of it starting Saturday against the Devils at Prudential Center.

"I'd like to see it a handful of times," said Bylsma, whose team is going for its 11th straight win. "Depending on how the game goes, depending on what matchups they're striving to get, that will maybe depend on how many times we're able to do that. But, I'd like to continue to see them get chances to play together and what that is going to look like."

Crosby played on Staal's wing for three shifts in the second half of a 5-2 win Thursday over the Rangers. They did not produce any points, but Bylsma said he liked how the dynamic looked with Staal using his big body to make plays in the defensive zone and Crosby able to read off that to get up the ice quickly.

Bylsma couldn't recall a time before that Crosby and Staal played together at even strength.

"The one thing that you see with Jordan is his ability to end plays in the defensive zone, and it's not that hard to tell when that is coming so as a winger out there with Jordan you can take advantage of that situation," Bylsma said. "You know he's going to win a puck and then you can read off that. That's something we talked about in the summer time and watching it this year it's even more evident from upstairs (in the press box) that being the case. Being the winger allows you the ability to get some speed and get to an area if that is going to be a case."

Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start opposite Martin Brodeur. Bylsma would not say if Fleury is also going to start Sunday in Philadelphia. Fleury has won nine straight starts and has 38 wins this season.

The Penguins will have to play without Arron Asham, who missed practice Friday because he was sick. Eric Tangradi will likely draw into the lineup for his size and toughness on the fourth line.

The Devils are 7-1 against the Penguins at Prudential Center in the last three seasons. This is the final time they will play host to Pittsburgh this season.

Bylsma touched on Pittsburgh's struggles here in New Jersey.

"I really think maybe more than any other team at any other place it's been our inability to maintain poise in playing the way we need to play, the way we want to play," he said. "I think we've been frustrated and gotten off our games at times in the last three years here. Really that's something we pride ourselves in as our trademark, playing the same way no matter where we are. This is one team we've been really unable to do that against."

Here are the expected lines and defensive pairings for the Saturday matinee:


Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Steve Bernier - Ryan Carter - Cam Janssen

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Adam Larsson


Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Eric Tangradi

Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Zbynek Michalek - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Matt Niskanen

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 11:36 AM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bruins hope standings slide is wakeup call

BOSTON – For the first time since Nov. 30, the Boston Bruins woke up this morning out of first place in the Northeast Division.
In fact, the nature of the Eastern Conference standings is such that after Ottawa’s win against Montreal last night, the Bruins not only fell into second place behind the Senators in the division, but they also dropped all the way to seventh in the East.
So if the motivation to snap the team’s first four-game losing streak in more than two years wasn’t enough for the Bruins today when they play host to Philadelphia at TD Garden, the unfavorable spot in the standings should provide added incentive.
“I think it’s definitely a wake-up call for us,” said forward Brad Marchand a few hours before the matinee’s puck drop. “We put ourselves in a position where it’s obviously not where we want to be. It just shows we really have to turn things around if we want to be in the playoffs this year.”
A better start would go a long way toward turning things around for the Bruins. They have allowed the first goal in seven straight games. But even if they don’t get on the scoreboard first, the Bruins need to respond accordingly.
“I think that right now it’s really important that we don’t put our head down as soon as we get scored on, even if it’s in the first or we trail by one going into the third,” forward Jordan Caron said. “I think we’ve got to keep pushing and keep our heads up. We’ve got a good team; everybody knows it. We just need to stay positive and keep pushing in the same direction.”
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 11:13 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose Matchup: Sabres at Panthers

Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 11:12 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Sidney Crosby

Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 10:50 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 17th

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 71 78 11 89 7

9th 71 76 11 87 8
10th 71 75 11 85 8
11th 70 71 12 82 10
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 81 9 90 6

9th 70 80 12 92 7
10th 71 80 11 91 7
11th 72 80 10 89 7

The Skinny:
The Buffalo Sabres found a new ally Friday night in the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets defeated the Capitals, keeping the Sabres within three points of the eighth playoff spot. 

As it stands entering action on Saturday, the Sabres are projected to need 15 points from their 11 remaining games to make the playoffs. Seven wins and an overtime or shootout loss doesn't seem that daunting, but a loss Saturday night to the Florida Panthers and that task becomes more difficult when thinking about 15 points in 10 games. When a team has the opportunity to take advantage of their own situation, it becomes like a "must-win" game because failing to do so leaves teams looking for the "luck of the Irish" for help.

Pittsburgh continues to look at the top of the Eastern Conference and the New York Rangers, who are only four points ahead and the Penguins have a game in hand. A win in New Jersey will put the Devils six points behind the Penguins and almost certainly assure the Devils of opening the playoffs on the road. Barring a complete collapse by the Penguins -- and that isn't going to happen -- the Devils would have to gain seven more points than Pittsburgh in the remaining games to pass them.

To the west we look and Colorado continues to hold a playoff spot, but keep in mind they have played more games than the teams they are battling with for the last two spots. Colorado is going to need at least six wins in their remaining nine games to be in position to qualify and a loss to the Rangers will make the uphill battle a lot steeper. Winning six of eight games at any time of the season is never easy. Good luck charms are never the way to go to qualify for the playoffs so taking care of your own business has to take precedence.
Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 6:41 PM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

Datsyuk close to return; Franzen leaves practice early

The Detroit Red Wings are preparing to welcome back top-line center Pavel Datsyuk for Saturday night's game at San Jose -- but they may be without Johan Franzen against the Sharks.

Franzen left the ice early at Friday morning's practice, complaining of low back pain as the team skated at the Sharks' training facility. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Franzen said that he's experienced back problems in the past, but nothing quite this bad.

"I never had this before. Not like this," the team's leading goal-scorer told the Wings' website. "Can't play like this."

Franzen, center Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall are the only Wings to appear in all 71 games this season.

"When I started skating it started to spasm up and got worse and worse, tried to skate through it," Franzen said. "I had to get off, I couldn't really move.

"We're going to do some treatment tonight and get back on it tomorrow."

Datsyuk, who's recuperating from arthroscopic knee surgery and hasn't played since Feb. 19, sounded a lot more positive about being in the lineup as the Wings try to avoid being swept on their four-game road trip.

"Looking forward to playing tomorrow," he said.

Assuming he's back in the lineup, Datsyuk will have 11 games to work out any rust prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

"Every time is different," he told the Wings' website. "I hope so tomorrow it be back, kind of everything. But after every injury, it takes more time or less time -- it's hard to say."

Coach Mike Babcock hopes Datsyuk will be ready to go.

"He's talented and he's a hard worker," Babcock said. "I think he's the best two-way player in the game, so he's a huge part of what goes on and we haven't been very good."
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— Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom on Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Penguins forward Sidney Crosby each scored hat tricks
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