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Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 5:44 PM

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

Chicago's Smith hopes low-key approach helps him stick

CHICAGO – Add another rookie face to the locker room of the Chicago Blackhawks, only the latest one is already familiar with the Windy City.

Forward Ben Smith was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Monday afternoon to take the roster spot of star forward Patrick Sharp – who was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury that happened Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Smith was impressive in a call-up at the end of last season and even wound up scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 of a memorable first-round playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks. He was thought to have an inside track on a roster spot to start this season in Chicago, but was injured in a pre-season game and sent back to Rockford to start out.

He was then recalled earlier this season and scored one goal in seven games before being sent back to Rockford once again to work more on his offensive game. Thanks to the Sharp injury, he’s back and hoping to make a good impression yet again.

“You always learn a little bit every time you’re up here, and for me maybe (I was) feeling a bit too much of the pressure (during the first call-up) and not taking it day by day, as I’ve done in the past,” Smith said. “You learn every time you’re here. I can learn from that experience, as I can learn from the experience last year. I’m just hoping for a good day.”

His approach to the game and practices, however, wasn’t the biggest issue that prompted Smith to be sent back to the minors this year. It was his patience with the puck, which Hawks coach Joel Quenneville and Chicago’s management wanted him to hone more.

“He’s always got a good attitude,” Quenneville said. “That’s what you’ve got to love about Benny. He’s a driven kid who wants to play up here and we saw what he’s capable of last year. He had a real good start to camp and a tough ending. Last time up here it looked like he was catching up to himself. We envisioned him to be here this year and I love watching him practice. He was flying out there (during Tuesday’s skate), so he’s excited about getting back here.”

He’s also breathing a little easier this time and keeping his focus more narrowly focused on playing his own style.

“Just try not to feel so much of the pressure and enjoy being here,” Smith said of his approach this time around. “I’m having fun every day and working hard – just doing what I do. That’s something I will try and do this time around.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 5:00 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avs lose Johnson, O'Brien, but get Wilson back

DENVER -- Just when it looked like the Colorado Avalanche were starting to get healthy, their defense corps has taken a double hit with the losses of Erik Johnson to a hand injury and Shane O'Brien to a knee injury.

Neither will play tonight when the Avalanche faces the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center in the opener of a home-and-home series that resumes Thursday in Music City.

The good news for the Avalanche is that defenseman Ryan Wilson will play for the first time since he suffered a concussion in a Dec. 6 game in Vancouver. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Wilson was arguably the team's best defenseman when he was injured on a hit from behind by Maxim Lapierre that didn't result in a penalty or supplemental discipline.

"It's a great feeling," Wilson said this morning. "Coming to the rink all those days knowing that you're not playing, it gets to you. You're just waiting for this one moment to get back in the lineup. I felt good on the ice this morning and hopefully I can carry it into the game."

Wilson is a big hitter, but he's only been assessed 24 penalty minutes in 28 games. He's been a solid two-way defenseman with 1 goal, 13 assists and a plus-5 rating.

"He was playing physical and he was chipping in offensively, which is a bonus," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "Things were just going well for him. I think it all stems from him being involved in the game physically. I think he's certainly established a reputation that when he's on the ice to have your head up. That's what we look for from Ryan, to make sure that he keeps the opposition on their toes and doing it with discipline and not crossing the line. He's been real good at judging that."

Wilson said he isn’t nervous about getting hit again. He suffered a facial cut and blurred vision that lasted a couple of days after his face slammed into the glass on Lapierre's hit.

"No, it happens," he said. "You play so many games and you're going to take a couple hits here and there. It's something that happened and I'm not thinking about it. I'm just going to go out there and play. I expect to get hit."

The Avalanche went 10-5 without Wilson and have won nine of the past 11 games, with both losses coming in the second game of a back-to-back situation.

"It was awesome," Wilson said. "It was great to watch the guys go out there and play so well. You want to get back in the lineup and help the team out, but when they're playing that good you feel like they might not need you at the time. It was good to get my rest and now hopefully I can help us continue."

Johnson and O'Brien were injured in Saturday's 4-0 loss in St. Louis. Johnson skated this morning and will accompany the team for Thursday's game in Nashville, but O'Brien will be sidelined for an indefinite period. Matt Hunwick, a healthy scratch the previous five games, will suit up tonight.

"It's unfortunate that we lost two guys that have been contributing, but that's why we have eight defensemen," Sacco said.

The Predators have had the Avalanche's number lately. They swept the four-game series last season by a combined score of 17-8 and have won five consecutive meetings between the teams.

Nashville is on a 10-4 roll and is seventh in the tightly-packed Western Conference with a 22-15-4 record and 48 points. Colorado is 10th with a 23-19-1 record and 47 points.

"They're a hard-working team and they skate well," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk said. "Every year it seems like they make the playoffs. It's a tough team to play against. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to do well against them."

The Avalanche will only play three home games in January after playing 19 at the Pepsi Center in November and December.

"Maybe it's a little better than having a stretch of six or seven games in a row at home," Hejduk said. "When they're spread out, maybe you can get ready for it more because it's so unusual this month to play at home. We'll see."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:56 PM

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

Richards empathizes with fired coach Arniel

CHICAGO -- A year ago, Todd Richards went through what recently-fired Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel is going through now.

He was fired as head coach of the Minnesota Wild and said it took quite a while to get past it personally. In fact, Richards compared it to going through a divorce.

"It's really hard," he said. "When you put so much into it and really, when you get to this stage at this level, you're putting everything into it -- from getting there and changing the locker room to setting up your office to setting up your routines and how you want things to work. So, you are putting everything into it. When you get let go, what's really being said is 'We're going to move forward and we believe in moving forward and you aren't the guy.' That's a tough pill to swallow."

Richards, one of Arniel's assistant coaches before being named the new Blue Jackets head coach on Monday, said he did have a chance to talk with Arniel and share his own experience being let go from Minnesota. That didn't make it any easier on either of them.

"That's why the last 24 hours have been really tough," Richards said. "Hopefully I was able to help him out a little bit just from what I went through. It takes time, too. It's not just one of those things that happens and within two weeks or a month you're over it. It doesn't happen that way. It's a divorce and it takes time to build other things up. Really what helps is when you get into another relationship, that you're able to start letting go of the previous relationship."

As for being a head coach again, Richards said it's apples and oranges compared to being an assistant.

"No comparison," he said after running the Columbus morning skate on Tuesday at the United Center. "Assistant coach to head coach … you're always going as a head coach. You've got responsibilities with (media), got responsibilities with players, with staff, assistant coaches, practice, lineups, power plays … you're always going and working. The previous year, when I got let go from Minnesota, it's pretty amazing how quickly I shut the mind off. Now it's trying to get that motor started up again."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:44 PM

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

Brassard gets look centering Blue Jackets' top line

CHICAGO -- The initial changes that new Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards made for Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center are being called "tweaks" for now.

The bigger changes will filter out over time, especially once the current road-trip ends after Tuesday's game and the Blue Jackets head home for a four-game stint at Nationwide Arena.

However, one of those early "tweaks" could be a good opportunity for 24-year old center Derick Brassard, whom the Blue Jackets took with the sixth pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He's being moved back to the top line with Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash, where he will keep filling in for injured star center Jeff Carter, who's day-to-day with a shoulder injury that happened in Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Brassard filled in for Carter toward the end of the Blue Jackets' 7-4 loss to Anaheim.

"The last game we finished together and I'm looking forward to being with those two guys again," said Brassard, who has 5 goals and 7 assists with a minus-16 rating in 33 games. "They're elite players and we're probably going to face the (Jonathan Toews) line or (Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook), so I'm just going to be ready to play my game and we'll be fine."

It's a good opportunity for the underperforming Brassard, who scored 17 goals and tallied 30 assists in 74 games last year. This season, former Columbus coach Scott Arniel butted heads with Brassard a little bit and bounced him around between different lines. Brassard also sat out as a healthy scratch several times and his agent publicly questioned Arniel's logic in doing so.

After Tuesday's morning skate, Brassard was offered the chance to share what his relationship with Arniel was, but wisely declined. Until Carter's injury, Brassard was most recently working on the fourth line in a checking role. Was it merely coincidental that his promotion to the top line came just a day after Arniel was fired?

"No idea," Brassard said. "(Arniel) tried me with (Nash) a couple of games this year, too. We'll see how it goes tonight and go from there."

Richards didn't exactly sound married to the change if things aren't going well for that line combination.

"He's been fine (on the fourth line)," Richards said. "We're starting the game with him (with Prospal and Nash). It doesn’t mean we'll finish the game with him there. That's all dependent on them."

In other words, if Brassard capitalizes on a good opportunity, he'll probably stay up in the top six -- possibly even when Carter returns. Richards pointed out how prime of an opportunity this is that's staring Brassard in the face.

"We've got to replace Jeff and as far as options go Brass is one of our … should be one of our most-skilled centermen up there," Richards said. "So it’s putting him in a position where he's playing with Vinny -- who's proven over his career that he's a finisher and a playmaker -- and also with a gamebreaker-type player like Rick. It's putting (Brassard) in a position where he should have success -- and we need him to have success."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Predators, Avalanche

DENVER -- These are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

PREDATORS
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Jerred Smithson

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

AVALANCHE

TJ Galiardi - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Chuck Kobasew - Jay McClement - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - Kevin Porter

Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Ryan Wilson - Matt Hunwick
Kyle Quincey - Stefan Elliott

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Injuries: LW Matt Duchene (knee), D Erik Johnson (hand), LW Peter Mueller (head) and D Shane O'Brien (knee) are out.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Selanne's latest milestone: 1,300th career game

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It will be the 1,300th game for Teemu Selanne and likely the third goalie in two games for the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night.

Selanne will become the fourth active player to reach 1,300 games when the Ducks host the Dallas Stars, putting him in company with Nicklas Lidstrom, Roman Hamrlik and Jaromir Jagr.

Selanne will also become the ninth European-born and second Finnish-born player after Teppo Numminen to do so.

"A couple of guys reminded me today," Selanne said. "There's maybe some money on the board. They don't forget stuff like that."

On a serious note, Selanne has been Anaheim's most productive forward at 41. He leads the Ducks with 39 points and is second with 6 power-play goals.

His balky knee, which has been the major obstacle to continuing his career, has held up. And despite Anaheim's awful season, Selanne said he's still having fun.

"Obviously it has been more frustrating than before, but still that has been my goal to come here every day and enjoy it," he said. "It's easier when you win, but still in the morning when I leave from home I still have a place to come, so that's how it should be and they're happy.

"If you can't stay healthy, you can't have fun and you can't have success either. That's the main thing, just try to stay healthy."

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau inherited Selanne when he became coach Nov. 30, but he's followed him throughout his career.

"He sure has done the test of time and deserves everything he gets," Boudreau said. "You guys know as I do, he's a better person than he is a player, and he's a great player. The goals he's gotten, the highlights that I've seen from his younger days, I mean they're still in the top 10s of best goals ever.

"I told him today that Gordie Howe played until he was in his 50s, so I don't see what your problem is."

Hiller out:
Jonas Hiller was not ready to skate two days after he suffered a lower-body injury against Columbus.

Boudreau did not name a starter, but he sounded like it would be Jeff Deslauriers, who came off the ice first after he arrived from the East Coast late Monday night.

Anaheim initially recalled Iiro Tarkki, who was forced into his first NHL game Sunday when Hiller got hurt. Tarkki has had better numbers than Deslauriers in AHL-affiliate Syracuse, but Deslauriers has 58 games of NHL experience.

"I've seen him play great and I've seen him play not so great," Boudreau said. "Let's hope it's the former and more than the latter."

Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray said a new goalie puts an emphasis on shots.

"It just stresses the important a little more of getting pucks on net and not being to selective," Souray said. "Sometimes young goalies have a tendency to either be a little over-excited or a little nervous or both. Sometimes they try to overplay things, but we've seen it before, too, that they're so amped up that they play great."

Souray in: Souray will return to the lineup after he missed three games with an ankle injury.

"He's going to be a go tonight," Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. "The decision for us now is seven D. We don't think he's up for the 22-minute mark where he normally is, but if we can get 16 good minutes out of him, a little bit of a play."

Wandell in for Ribeiro:
With Mike Ribeiro out with a knee injury, Jamie Benn will center the first line with Steve Ott and Michael Ryder while Tom Wandell will center the second line with Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson.
Wandell has points in four straight games.

"It's a great opportunity for him," Gulutzan said. "He's going to have to not change his game and keep doing the things that made him successful."

Ribeiro took a knee-on-knee hit from Edmonton's Theo Peckham on Saturday. Gulutzan said an MRI on Ribeiro's knee revealed an MCL tear, but Gulutzan added that Ribeiro has an old MCL tear so that "pollutes the waters a little bit of what's actually there."

"He's limping around, but Ribs thinks he can play. But we have to make sure that he's stable enough that he's not going to get an injury there."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Stars, Ducks

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Dallas Stars visit the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center:

STARS

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

Stephane Robidas - Alex Goligoski
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Sheldon Souray - Adam Pardy

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

DUCKS

Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Niklas Hagman - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Jason Blake - Andrew Cogliano - Nick Bonino
Matt Beleskey - Rod Pelley - Kyle Palmieri

Cam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jeff Deslauriers
Iiro Tarkki
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Blue Jackets set to start anew under Richards

CHICAGO -- The Columbus Blue Jackets went through their first morning skate without Scott Arniel as their head coach on Tuesday at the United Center, as they prepared to play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

Not much was different with assistant Todd Richards at the helm -- other than maligned center Derick Brassard moved back to the top line with Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash -- but there was an overall sense of responsibility being taken by players for what happened.

"This one's really hitting home," forward Derek Dorsett said. "(Arniel) taught me a lot, and he's a guy that put everything he had into it and just for some reason he couldn't get this group to click. It's a business and we all have to be professional about it and move on, but at the same time we've got to realize that we are part of the problem and we have to get our game back on straight -- and that's everyone individually, myself included."

The Blue Jackets have lost two out of the first three games on their current four-game road trip and have a 4-9-2 record in their last 15 games. They've also got just two players in the positive of the plus-minus rating category and have allowed 38 more goals than they've scored.

Columbus has also dealt with a suspension to top defenseman James Wisniewski and a slew of injuries to start the season that have all hampered the effort through the first half. Wisniewski (ankle) and top-line center Jeff Carter (shoulder) are among the injured currently, and it’s Carter's second ailment of the season.

It just seems to keep getting worse for the guys in blue, and now their coach has now been fired on top of it all.

"Anytime someone gets fired or traded, you never want to see that kind of stuff," Dorsett said. "We had Wiz suspended at the start of the year, we had (Carter) hurt and we ran into some injury problems and things weren't going our way. Then the snowball just started rolling down the hill and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. We kind of dug our way out of it, and then we hit some adversity and the snowball started getting bigger and bigger again. It's definitely a disappointing year and not one guy in this room's happy about it."

Richards, who was fired as the Minnesota Wild's head coach last season, backed up that sentiment and said the past day or two was tough on the entire team -- including himself. Richards actually had a chance to speak with Arniel and relate his own experience of being let go with him.

"The last 48 hours or 24 hours have been really tough on everyone," Richards said. "It's no different with me or everyone that's involved. When you're around somebody and you have respect for somebody, for how he was professionally and personally, when something like this happens it affects everyone. We've all felt the same way. That's why the last 24 hours have been difficult. It's been difficult on everyone."

What's left to do, however, is moving forward and still trying to correct the issues that have plagued this team over the first 41 games. There is still an entire second half of the season left to figure out a winning formula -- starting on Tuesday night against the Blackhawks, who ought to be hungry to stop a four-game skid of their own.

"The best way to do it is just start off on a winning note against a really good team here in Chicago," Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll said. "That's kind of the best way to turn the page is to get a win on the road versus a good team. As a player, it's tough to see a coach get let go, because you feel like it's your fault. You never want to see that happen. It can kind of spark a team to kind of look in the mirror and say, 'Hey, start picking it up,' and that's what we've got to do."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Showdown in Montreal about more than the goalies

MONTREAL – The obvious storyline in Montreal tonight will be Canadiens goalie Carey Price facing the man who stole his job and led the franchise on its longest playoff run since its last Stanley Cup win in 1993, St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak.

But even after all this time has passed, Price still sticks to the story he kept telling over and over again as Halak was leading the Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.

“That was a good thing about our relationship,” Price said Monday. “Any relationship between two goalies has got to be healthy. It was his job to push me and mine to push him. He was playing well. At the end of the day the guy who’s playing the best is going to play, and he was playing extremely well so he deserved the ice time.”

Both star attractions have insisted this is not a game pitting goalie vs. goalie, but rather one pitting a team desperate to save its season against another team who has already accomplished just that.

The Blues have gone 18-5-5 since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench in place of Davis Payne to rocket up to fourth in the Western Conference standings. But the Blues record on the road over that span is just 4-3-3, having benefitted greatly from a schedule heavily weighted with home games.

After leaving Montreal, St. Louis will play eight of its next nine games at home before embarking on a brutal stretch of 18 out of 26 games on the road. So Hitchcock is hoping his club will figure out its problems away from home in Montreal.

“It’s not about where you’re playing, it’s about playing on the road,” he said. “We’ve played awful well on the road then had a bit of a glitch and broke a few times and let in goals quickly. I think for us it’s just to keep going. We can put a lot of pressure on people if we’re forechecking and putting our game out there, we just have to stay with it a bit longer. We can’t let other team’s goalies frustrate us the way we have the last few road games.”

The Canadiens have the opposite problem.

They have played reasonably well on the road but have struggled at home for most of the season. Yet the Habs have won their last two at the Bell Centre and will be looking to win a third straight game on home ice for the first time this season.

Lineup changes should be minimal on both sides.

The Blues welcome back defenseman Ian Cole after he completed his three-game suspension for a hit on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.

The Canadiens were unsure of Max Pacioretty’s availability after he missed practice Monday with the flu, but he was on the ice this morning and looks ready to go. Coach Randy Cunneyworth will once again dress seven defensemen and it looks likely that center Petteri Nokelainen will be scratched for a second straight game as a result.

Of course, there’s no need to remind anyone of the goaltending matchup.

Here are the expected lineups for the game.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ryan Reaves - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

CANADIENS

Michael CammalleriTomas PlekanecBrian Gionta
Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisErik Cole
Andrei KostitsynLars EllerTravis Moen
Mathieu DarcheMichael Blunden
 
Josh GorgesP.K. Subban
Alexei EmelinRaphael Diaz
Tomas KaberleChris Campoli
Hal Gill

Carey Price
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:44 PM

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

Projected lineups for Blue Jackets, Blackhawks

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center:

BLUE JACKETS

Vinny Prospal - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash
RJ Umberger - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Ryan Johansen - Antoine Vermette - Tomas Kubalik
Ryan Russell - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - John Moore
David Savard - Aaron Johnson

Curtis Sanford
Steve Mason

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

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

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Quote of the Day

Obviously he's been my favorite goalie since I grew up. He's kind of close to my hometown so I've been watching him my whole life. It's a pretty special moment for me to score two goals on Lundqvist in such an important game as this.

— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky after scoring his first two Stanley Cup Playoff goals against his childhood idol Henrik Lundqvist