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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Howard set to return from broken finger

CHICAGO -- Jimmy Howard has to get back in net at some point, so why not make his return from a broken finger in one of the toughest buildings to play, against a team that's on a three-game winning streak?

That's the approach that Howard, the Detroit Red Wings starting goalie, is taking coming into Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United  Center (NBCSN,TSN2). Howard broke the index finger on his right [blocker side] hand on Feb. 2 in Vancouver and hasn't played since -- a span of eight games and 19 days.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Howard, who has 32 wins in 44 starts. "Why not? No matter where you play now in the NHL, with the parity, it's always tough. So, it might as well be here in Chicago. I always enjoy playing here and it's always a great atmosphere."

In the time he's been out, the Wings returned from the road trip where he got hurt and won six straight games at Joe Louis Arena to set the NHL record with 23 straight home victories. Howard won the first 17 and then watched 32-year old journeyman backup Joey MacDonald win the last six.

Aside from the anxiousness of watching games, the biggest issues in Howard's recovery have been finding the right comfort level for his injured digit while holding the goalie stick and tracking the puck with traffic in front of him.

The puck-tracking probably just requires him to get back into games and get his anticipation and feel for stopping pucks back, while the stick has been altered to adjust to the finger. Howard originally had a notch cut out of the stick to accommodate where his gloved and bandaged finger would rest, but he did away with it because the notch was too big and it felt awkward.

He went back to an unaltered stick for a few practices and then came back recently with another notched cue -- only this one with a less pronounced slot cut out of it.

"The one that I used [Monday], with the way that it's cut out, the notch isn't as big so my hand isn't as far down on the paddle," Howard said. "It makes it easier to use. We've continued to tinker and still tinkering with stuff. It seems like we've gotten a good mix here. We're just trying to find ways to make it more comfortable with holding onto the stick and trying to be as realistic as possible out there with it."

As for the pain level with the finger?

"The pain level isn't really a factor anymore," Howard said. "It's more so, just being comfortable out there and using the stick. We're just trying to figure out some things to make it better."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:30 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Luongo back in net for Canucks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Roberto Luongo will start in goal for the Vancouver Canucks after Cory Schneider posted a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

Tonight's game is the second stop on the Canucks' six-game road trip, which also includes stops in Detroit, New Jersey, Dallas and Phoenix. With five games in the next eight days, Vigneault said he expects Schneider to get his share of starts.

Here is what the Canucks' lineup likely will look like tonight:

Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Christopher Tanev

Roberto Luongo will start in goal, with Cory Schneider the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:29 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gunnarsson, Lupul in as Leafs face hot Devils

The New Jersey Devils are on a roll and they would like to keep it that way as they head into Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils have an impressive 8-1-1 record in their past 10 games.

Their post All-Star surge has them sitting in fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings and they are tied with the second-place Bruins at 72 points.

“Before the break (we went on) a little bit of a slide.” said Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique after the morning skate.  “The guys came out of the All-Star break and played really well, started finding ways to win, different ways to win, and we’ve kept that rolling.”

Henrique spent a good portion of the morning skate working on face-offs with assistant coach Adam Oates. Henrique leads all rookies with 39 points.

“That’s something we do every day, he’s one of the best faceoff guys to ever play," Henrique said. "He knows so many little things about the game that he tries to teach us and I’m just like a sponge out there and try to take it all in...He’s been a huge part of my improvement over the year.” 

Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal for New Jersey. He has won his past three starts, allowing only four goals in that span. Kurtis Foster, who is dealing with a back injury, participated in drills this morning and while coach Peter DeBeor indicated he would be a game-time decision, there is reason to believe Peter Harrold will lace up in his place for the second straight game.

Anton Volchenkov was also on the ice for the morning skate, sporting a nasty cut from a puck in the face he received in a victory Sunday in Montreal.

Meanwhile, Toronto still holds onto eighth place in the East after Washington failed to pass the Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot with a shutout loss to Carolina on Monday.

Ron Wilson confirmed that both Joffrey Lupul and Carl Gunnarsson will be in the lineup tonight for the Maple Leafs. Lupul missed practice Monday with a foot injury but didn’t show any problems on the ice Tuesday morning. Gunnarsson’s ankle injury kept him from the Leafs' three-game Western Canadian tour, and they took home only two of a possible six points.

“We didn’t play so well on that Western swing against some tough teams. Back home we have to make things count, obviously in a dog fight,” said Toronto forward Colby Armstrong, who is happy in knowing that Lupul and Gunnarsson will be good to go tonight versus the Devils. “Both those guys are warriors. I think Gunner is one of the more underrated players on our team for sure. Obviously Loops (Lupul) is a big time player for our team ... those guys in our lineup is huge for our success.”

Meanwhile, the game of musical chairs continues in the Toronto crease continues as Jonas Gustavsson gets the start.  He made a relief appearance for James Reimer in the Maple Leafs' last game, a 6-2 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:28 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Toews, Datsyuk missing from Hawks-Wings rivalry

CHICAGO -- Just like that, two of the biggest stars and top-line centers for Tuesday night's matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks are not playing.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is out with an undisclosed upper-body injury that’s being termed "day-to-day" and is different from the one that caused him to miss a game prior to the All Star-break plus the All-Star Game itself.

Over in the opponent's locker room, the Red Wings will play without star center Pavel Datsyuk -- who could be gone for 2-3 weeks after having his knee scoped on Tuesday morning in Detroit.

"Taser's out tonight, day-to-day," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "Johnny's important in a lot of ways. He brings leadership and quality ice time for us and affects us in a lot of ways."

As for Datsyuk, the Wings were a little more specific about his injury and the timetable for when he's expected to return to action.

"Pav is going to be out a couple of weeks with minor arthroscopic surgery this morning," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said prior to Detroit's morning skate on Tuesday. "Everything is real good. He got a fragment in his knee, an old thing we wanted to clean up here prior to playoff time, so he'll be out a couple weeks. So, it's a good opportunity for someone else."

Brendan Morrison will start out centering Chicago's top line in place of Toews -- between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane -- while Henrik Zetterberg will bump up from the Red Wings' second line to the first and have Valtteri Filppula move from left wing of Detroit's second line to the middle.

Forward Danny Cleary, who's missed the last five games with knee soreness, will return to the lineup for Detroit -- but instead of right wing on the third line, he will man one of the wings on the second line, with Justin Abdelkader staying on the right side of Darren Helm on the third forward unit.

"It's always a big thing having depth and guys who can play different roles," said Abdelkader, who also has center experience along with top-line left wing Johan Franzen, who can take draws and used to be a center in the Swedish Elite League. "I think[Datsyuk] is the best overall player in the game, so it's tough losing him. It's going to be a big loss. Hopefully we can all come together and fill the void together. It's just part of hockey. You know there's going to be injuries."

Quenneville said it's imperative that Morrison not try to do too much to replace Toews.

"When you get in there, don't try to be Johnny," Quenneville said. "Just be yourself."

Here is how the Red Wings and Blackhawks will likely line up on Tuesday night:

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Henrik Zetterberg - Todd Bertuzzi
Jiri Hudler - Valtteri Filppula - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Jan Mursak - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard
Joey MacDonald

BLACKHAWKS
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Andrew Brunette - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Victor Stalberg
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - John Scott

Duncan Keith - Dylan Olsen
Sean O'Donnell - Brent Seabrook
Sami Lepisto - Nick Leddy

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:27 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hip injury again plaguing Bitz

NASHVILLE -- It was two weeks ago to the day in this very same venue that Byron Bitz played on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin for Vancouver at Bridgestone Arena and earned a goal and an assist -- his first points in the NHL in almost two years -- in a 4-3 shootout win.

Bitz, a big forward, played in seven straight games for the Canucks, picking up a goal and three assists and coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw. However, Bitz began experiencing soreness in his hip and was scratched for Vancouver's last game, Sunday in Edmonton, raising potential alarm bells about the player's health.

Groin, hip and abdominal injuries have been a frequent problem for Bitz during his hockey career. Vigneault said Tuesday that Bitz had "some improvement on his hip flexor today" and was hoping he might be able to practice Wednesday.

Vigneault said Bitz's injury history is making the situation "a little more challenging for him and for us right now," but he did not want to overreact on the chance that it might be "real minor."

"I think on his part, on a personal level, there has to be some concern," Vigneault said. "He's played a couple of games in Chicago (AHL) and he comes here and then he plays five games then all of a sudden, the body feels some pain and then he can't play anymore.

"For us, it's a big question. The young man was playing really well, really liked his contribution, and after five games he's got to sit out a couple of days. We believe we still have a lot of hockey to be played here, so we'll see how this goes here in the next couple of days."
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:14 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Help on the way for Flames

CALGARY -- With the Calgary Flames holding the slightest of edges in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, help is on the way.

While forward Curtis Glencross and defenseman Derek Smith will not be at coach Brent Sutter's disposal tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, their returns are nearing. Both took part in Calgary's morning skate.

"Whenever you can start getting your group of guys that have been on your team for a while and a big part of your success, getting these guys back on the ice and skating with the group is huge," Sutter said.

Glencross, who hopes to be back in the lineup sometime next week, said it was a relief to be back amongst his teammates on the ice.

"It not only feels better to just go skate with the guys, but better on your mind, too," he said.

The two remain on the injured reserve list alongside Mikael Backlund, Blair Jones, Lee Stempniak and David Moss. Most are expected back in early March -- just after the trade deadline.

"Any team out there that has injuries that haven't been participating with the team for a while and you're getting them back around the trade deadline or shortly thereafter, those are some of the best trades you can make," Sutter said. "It's cliché but it's true."

Here's the projected lineup for the Flames:

Alex Tanguay - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Tom Kostopoulos - Michael Cammalleri - Blake Comeau
Lance Bouma - Roman Horak - Krys Kolanos
Paul Byron - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Opponents getting physical with Malkin

PITTSBURGH -- Opponents aren't exactly using gimmick defenses or radically adjusting the way they play when they go against NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
But since the Penguins' star enjoyed a midseason stretch in which he piled up 17 goals in 17 games, he has been held without a goal in his last three games, although he had a pair of assists.
 
Teams appear to be taking a more physical approach with Malkin, a tactic that has worked at times in the past. The Buffalo Sabres, for example, shadowed Malkin with the 6-foot-5, 212-pound Paul Gaustad during their 6-2 victory on Sunday.
 
"That's something he has to deal with," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's something to be aware of when certain teams play those types of players against him."
 
To be successful against such defenses, Bylsma wants Malkin to continue to use his own size -- he's 6-3 -- and his speed to create room to operate.
 
"I think he's done a really good job with the way guys have targeted him physically," Bylsma said. "In past years he may not have responded, or responded after the whistle in a way that was detrimental to his game. (This season) he's really been focused and not really gotten into that type of scenario. He wins the physical battle a lot of times."
 
Former Penguins forward Mike Rupp, now of the Rangers, said controlling Malkin is a priority. Malkin has three goals in three games this season against the Rangers, even though New York has allowed a League-low 116 goals. Despite Malkin's success against them, the Rangers are 2-1 against Pittsburgh going into Tuesday night's Atlantic Division matchup at Consol Energy Center.
 
With 32 goals and 39 assists for 71 points, Malkin owns a three-point lead over Claude Giroux of Philadelphia in the NHL scoring race.  The Flyers play at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
 
Malkin has 15 goals and 12 assists in 33 career games against the Rangers, including two goals during Pittsburgh's 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. That effort came during a stretch in which the 2009 Art Ross Trophy winner scored eight goals in five games.
 
"He's playing at a level that you don't see too often," Rupp said. "He's a talented guy that we've seen for a long time. This year is another feather in his cap as far as elevating his game. He's a guy that, I think, a lot goes off him and the team seems to do very well with him leading the way."
 
Even with star Sidney Crosby out of the lineup for all but eight games, Malkin has helped keep the Penguins among the Eastern Conference leaders with 71 points, only one fewer than reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston.
 
Malkin recently scored at least one goal in eight consecutive home games. However, Pittsburgh has dropped two of its last three and is 4-4-1 since ending an eight-game winning streak.
 
Crosby (concussion-like symptoms), as usual, worked out in advance of the Penguins' morning skate on Tuesday. He is not yet cleared for contact or for full practice, and his return remains indefinite.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bryzgalov injures hand in morning practice

WINNIPEG -- Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov departed the club's morning skate at the MTS Centre with an apparent injury to his left hand.

A shot hit Bryzgalov in the glove (left) hand during practice and he headed to the Philadelphia dressing room. Bryzgalov was at his locker stall when local media entered the dressing room later, but he did not speak to reporters.

Philadelphia's Comcast Sportsnet reported that Bryzgalov went for X-rays. His immediate status is not known, and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette declined to announce his starting goaltender for tonight's game with the Winnipeg Jets. However, CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reported Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said of Bryzgalov: "He is fine."

Bryzgalov has gone 20-11-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average in 40 games this season with the Flyers. He joined the club this past summer from the Phoenix Coyotes after agreeing to a nine-year contract.

If Bryzgalov can't play, Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start tonight.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:58 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Preds expect Fisher back, Hornqvist getting closer

NASHVILLE -- After missing Sunday's game with an illness, Predators center Mike Fisher was expected back in the lineup for Tuesday's game against Vancouver.

On Sunday, the Predators dressed seven defensemen, as they had only 11 healthy forwards, forcing them to play without their two leading goal-scorers. Fisher and right wing Patric Hornqvist, each with 17 goals, were both out. Hornqvist, who has an upper-body injury, was expected to miss his fourth straight game, but skated on Tuesday morning and Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he is getting closer to returning.

Nashville recalled forward Chris Mueller from Milwaukee (AHL) on Tuesday as insurance in case another player gets sick. Trotz said David Legwand had a touch of the flu, but did not miss any action, so the Predators want to be prepared. Mueller has played in four games in Nashville with no points and a minus-1 rating this season. 

With a healthy complement of forwards, that means Nashville likely will return to playing six defenseman. Rookie Ryan Ellis played only 3:56 in Sunday's 3-2 win over Dallas, a result, Trotz said, of being skated hard in the morning, as the team was not going to play him until Fisher took ill.

"It's hard going with seven 'D' sometimes," Trotz said. "We tried to do it with seven through the first period, but it just took away all the rhythm so I said to (associate coach Peter Horachek), who changes the 'D', let's just get into a little bit of a rhythm. That seventh guy is affecting everyone."

That meant less ice time for Ellis, who could be the odd man out on Tuesday.

After trading for defenseman Hal Gill last Friday, the Predators will have to figure out how to configure their defense on a nightly basis, as they are carrying eight healthy defensemen. Unless they elect to make a roster move, that means scratching two healthy players on a regular basis.
 
Projected lines:
 
Colin Wilson - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Matt Halischuk - David Legwand - Gabriel Bourque
Jerred Smithson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
Out: Chris Mueller, Jack Hillen, Ryan Ellis
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:33 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flyers hope road cures February ills

WINNIPEG -- The Philadelphia Flyers look to turn around their month when they begin a four-game road trip tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

Just 3-5-1 in February, the Flyers arrived in Winnipeg on Monday after a 6-4 home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon in which starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov allowed three goals on just 13 shots before exiting the game in the second period. Philadelphia has lost 10 of the past 11 meetings with the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise, and the Jets have taken all three games this season. The Flyers continue their trip this week with visits to Edmonton and Calgary.

Philadelphia management has worked to retool the club's blue line over the past week, adding Nicklas Grossman from Dallas and Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina in trades. Grossman had team-highs of eight hits and three blocked shots in his Philadelphia debut on Saturday.

The trades also allowed the club to return youngsters Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson to the American Hockey League for further development.

"I think it adds depth, experience and size," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of bringing aboard Grossman and Kubina.

Bryzgalov left the ice early and was taken for X-rays after being hit in the glove hand with a shot during the team's morning skate at MTS Centre. Laviolette would not indicate who would start in net for the Flyers, but CSNPilly.com quotes GM Paul Holmgren as saying of Bryzgalov, "He is fine."

We had the Jets linup earlier; here is the projected lineup for the Flyers:

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

Braydon Coburn - Kimmo Timonen
Matt Carle - Pavel Kubina
Andrej Meszaros - Nicklas Grossman

If Bryzgalov can't start in goal, backup Sergei Bobrovsky would get the start.
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Quote of the Day

You know what? We've played in some pretty special buildings along this playoff run so far. You start in Detroit, you go to Montreal, you come here … I think it's the first team to beat three Original Six teams to get to the Final if I'm not mistaken. That says how tough the road has been. Those are tough places to win.

— Lightning forward Steven Stamkos after Game 7 win vs. Rangers on Friday in New York