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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 4:25 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Boyle skates with teammates

New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle skated Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators five days ago.

Boyle, who had three goals in five games against the Senators, rode a stationary bike Thursday morning and was cleared to participate in on-ice activities. As is the case when recovering from any concussion, how Boyle feels after exerting himself will determine his availability for Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"This is my first day on the ice. I felt pretty good, but we'll see," Boyle told reporters at the Rangers' practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "It's all how you react when you take another step, so I have no idea."

Boyle sustained his concussion when Senators forward Chris Neil delivered a huge body check just after Boyle released a shot early in the third period. Boyle returned to play several shifts after the hit, but eventually left the bench with about two minutes left and missed the final two games of the series.

The third-line center's absence became a rallying point for the Rangers in Game 6, as forward Brandon Prust fought Neil with the Senators leading 1-0 late in the first period. The Rangers would score the next three goals in a season-saving 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

"That means a lot to me," Boyle told reporters. "The teammate thing and the whole code and all that, that's great. But the whole friendship thing ... they were texting me and it felt really good. I felt blessed and loved and everything you can say. That was pretty awesome."

To fill Boyle's role on the third line, Rangers coach John Tortorella moved Brandon Dubinsky into that spot. But Dubinsky missed the final 11 minutes of Game 7 against the Senators on Thursday with a likely lower-body injury and did not participate in practice Friday.

When asked about the status of Boyle and Dubinsky, Tortorella told reporters, "No update."

If Boyle avoids a setback and Dubinsky isn't well enough, it's a simple lineup swap. But if both players are unavailable for the series opener against the Capitals, Tortorella could insert defenseman Steve Eminger, who hasn't played since March 15 due to an ankle injury, into the lineup. Eminger could act as a seventh defenseman or it could allow defenseman Stu Bickel to act as the 12th forward, a role he played briefly in the regular season.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 3:36 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter helped trio of Rangers reach NHL

ARLINGTON, Va. – Dan Girardi was an undrafted and over-aged junior defenseman playing for his third team in the Ontario Hockey League when he first got to know Dale Hunter.

At the time it may have been hard to imagine Girardi someday becoming an all-star defenseman in the NHL, but being traded to Hunter’s London Knights during the 2004-05 season proved to be a tremendous stepping stone in his development.

Five months after joining one of the best junior teams in Canadian Hockey League history, the 21-year-old found himself matched against a 17-year-old phenom and the projected No. 1 pick in the forthcoming NHL Draft, in a best-of-one national championship.
 
“We won the Memorial Cup with him and Marc Methot shutting down Sidney Crosby,” Hunter recalled Friday as his Washington Capitals prepared to face Girardi and the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“I think that really jumpstarted my career,” Girardi said earlier this season of his experience in London. “Teams want guys that know how to win and can win those big championships even in a junior league. I think [Hunter] trading for me from Guelph was a big point in my career… Obviously it helped open some doors with the Rangers and now I’m here.”

Nearly seven years later, Girardi played in his first career NHL All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the NHL in average ice-time (26:14 per game) and fifth in blocked shots (185).

Girardi has become one of the premier shutdown defensemen in the League and will likely be entrusted with containing Alex Ovechkin and Washington’s No.1 line when their series begins Saturday in New York (3:00, ET, NBC).

 “We knew when we got him [in a trade from the Guelph Storm] that he was a great defensive player,” Hunter said. “He was never drafted and he played as an over-aged [player] so it’s a credit to a young man that’s a battler, which every coach likes.”

In addition to Girardi, his New York teammates Brandon Prust (2002-05) and Michael Del Zotto (2009) also played for Hunter in London.
 
“A heart and soul kind of guy,” Hunter said of Prust. “He’s a battler too, another guy that was a walk-on to our team. He’s one of these kids that will battle and play hard. You see him blocking shots and he’s a special player.”

Prust played three seasons for Hunter, collecting 41 goals, 111 points and 537 penalty minutes in 177 OHL games.

“He said to me one time when I was going to sit him out when he first came to me -- we were in Windsor -- and he said: “Play me coach and you’ll never take me out.” I played him and I never took him out.

“It’s good to see from him that’s doing so well. Hopefully not against us, but through his career so far.”

Del Zotto spent less time in London than either Girardi or Prust, having been dealt to the Knights in a 2009 deadline deal along with John Tavares.

But in 42 regular and post-season games with the Knights, Del Zotto recorded nine goals and 49 points and teamed up with Capitals defenseman John Carlson to form London’s No. 1 defensive pairing.

“It was awesome,” Del Zotto said earlier this season of his experience playing for Hunter. “They treat their players like pros and Dale has been through the ranks, he’s played and so he understands how to treat the players. He was great for me.”

Added Hunter: “[Del Zotto] was the same type of D [in junior]. He jumps up in every play, he’s involved, he’s a power-play guy and he hits. He’s an aggressive guy. You know his offense, but you’ll see when he gets big hits out there that we’ll have to be ready for it. He’s had a good career so far.”

It’s clear that Girardi, Prust and Del Zotto have all enjoyed NHL success playing the same types of games that got them noticed in London. Similarly, according to former players like Del Zotto, it doesn’t like Hunter has changed much either.
 
“If you’re not playing well and you’re one of the big guys,” Del Zotto said, “He’s not afraid to come after you and I think that’s pretty important. You can’t just let guys roam around and do whatever they want. They have to buy into the structure and buy into the team and he’s not afraid to put his foot down.”
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Postseason travel schedule has been easier on Preds

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Last year, the Nashville Predators earned plenty of frequent flyer miles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After flying back and forth to Anaheim twice before taking out the Ducks in six games, Nashville had to go to the Western Conference's western-most outpost -- Vancouver -- twice. They fell in six games, but if the Predators had advanced, a couple of trips to San Jose would have been waiting.

This year is a little different. With home ice in the first round, Nashville needed only one quick flight to Detroit in dispatching the Red Wings in five games. And the Predators have had an entire week to rest and prepare for their Western Conference Semifinal series beginning in Phoenix tonight.

"Two hours in a plane instead of 20," Nashville center Mike Fisher said. "That's pretty nice."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said this season has been much less hectic on his team.

"Last year we battled right to the end to get in the playoffs," Trotz said. "Then we go back and forth to Anaheim, back and forth to Vancouver and if we ever got past the Canucks, we would have gotten San Jose and probably set a record for miles flown in one playoff year. It was pretty taxing."

"But we've had a lot of time off this year. We're fresh and we're healthy and we're ready to go."
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Gill set to return for Predators

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nashville defenseman Hal Gill, who missed the entire first round with a lower-body injury, has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Friday when the Predators open their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gill hasn’t played since blocking a shot from Sheldon Souray of the Dallas Stars on Apr. 5, but was back to blocking shots in practice this week and will be paired with Francis Bouillon, putting the Predators at full strength.
 
“I’m good to go,” Gill said. “I appreciated the boys giving me the rest and now it’s my turn to get in there.”

Gill said he tossed a turned a bit Thursday night and will have to get the playoff tension out early to catch up with everyone else.

“Sleep was tough last night. You get excited, you get geared up,” he said. “But it’s a good feeling. If you go to a horror movie, you want to be scared. If you’re in the playoffs you want to be excited and I’m definitely there.”

Gill is the latest of a handful of Predators who have added a new twist to the playoff beard tradition – sporting a playoff Mohawk on Friday. It was started by defenseman Kevin Klein during the playoff drive and several teammates have joined in.
 
Nashville center Mike Fisher said he won’t be joining the crowd on that one.

“Having a good look at these guys … I’ll stick with the beard,” he said.

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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:25 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bergeron admits he had oblique injury

BOSTON – Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron told reporters Friday that he played most of the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with a strained or torn oblique muscle.

There has been no MRI yet and Bergeron probably will not require surgery.

The veteran said the injury occurred in Game 3 and a twist he made in the second period of Game 5 made it worse. Although his ice time didn't decrease in Games 6 and 7, Bergeron was limited in what he could do to try to prevent the Bruins from losing to Washington.

"Obviously faceoffs. I've done two of them and it was because I had no other choice, they were big faceoffs and we had no other centers on the ice," Bergeron, who won both of those late-game draws, said. "But I really couldn't do it, honestly. It was really painful. I couldn't reach out. Everything you do with reaching out, try to battle with being strong on the stick, I couldn't really do that. I couldn't get full speed. It's your core, so it's pretty much everything, so everything was affected by it."

The Bruins were not done with all their medical examinations as of Friday afternoon. Bruins forward Tyler Seguin might require surgery on a knuckle on his left hand. Forward Nathan Horton and defenseman Adam McQuaid, both of whom are dealing with concussions, are expected to make full recoveries, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli.
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Hart not the trophy Giroux is concerned about

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Claude Giroux cracked a smile as a reporter asked how he felt about not being one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy.

"The Hart Trophy?" Giroux said. "Which one is that?"

MVP, of course.

"Kidding, kidding," Giroux said, smiling bigger now.

So, how does he feel about not being a finalist despite finishing third in the League with 93 points and second with 65 assists?

"I didn't see the news, but at the end of the day that's not the trophy I want," he said. "It's done. It's something I don't really control."

Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos were named the finalists Friday. The Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on the award.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was in no mood to deal with a question pertaining to the regular season. Like Giroux, he said he hadn't seen the list of finalists, either.

"If you're asking me what I think of Claude Giroux, I think he's a terrific player in this League," he said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Projected lineups for Game 1

The Coyotes have only one question mark in the lineup. Defenseman David Schlemko started over veteran Adrian Aucoin in the series-clinching win over Chicago after Aucoin had played in the first five games.

Here is what the lineups for both Phoenix and the Nashville Predators could look like for Game 1 of this Western Conference Semifinals series:

Predators

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Alexander Rudlov
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Brandon Yip - Jordan Tootoo - Craig Smith

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Hal Gill

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Coyotes

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
KyleChipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - David Schlemko
Rostisalv Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:51 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Ward receives standing ovation at Caps practice

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward took the ice at practice Friday morning and was met with a standing ovation from about 100 fans in attendance, as well stick-taps from his teammates.

Ward’s game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 Wednesday against the Boston Bruins sent the Caps to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they will face the New York Rangers beginning Saturday (3:00 p.m., ET, NBC).

The biggest goal of Ward’s career, however, was partially overshadowed by racial slurs that were posted Wednesday night on social networking websites including Twitter.

Ward told a Washington radio station Friday that “words don’t hurt me,” and said he was disappointed that the online comments have kept his teammates from receiving attention for the series. Ward singled out goalie Braden Holtby, who was brilliant throughout the series and became just the third rookie goalie in the history of the League to eliminate the defending champions.

"There's been a lot of support from everybody, especially my teammates and then the whole organization and even the opposition and the Bruins and some of their fans," Ward said after practice. "It's been overwhelming. A lot's been going on. I'm just trying to embrace it as best I can."

Ward also said Friday morning that he received a congratulatory and supportive text message from Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley.
 
NOTES: The Capitals practiced Friday with the lines and defensive pairings listed below.

Alex OvechkinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Matt HendricksJay BeagleJason Chimera
Mike KnubleKeith AucoinJoel Ward
Mattias SjogrenJeff HalpernMathieu Perreault
 
Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Jeff SchultzDennis Wideman
John Erskine - Dmitry Orlov
 
Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:49 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Grossmann's status for Game 1 still unknown

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Despite practicing the last two days in a regular, contact jersey, Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann has not been cleared by team doctors to play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Devils.

Grossman, who sustained an upper-body injury that at least one teammate called a concussion in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Penguins, still hopes he gets his clearance prior to the series opener on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

"We'll see (Saturday)," Grossmann told NHL.com following practice Friday. "I still have to talk to the doctors and all that. Everything is up in the air, so I don't even know."

Grossmann added that for now he's just happy to be back on the ice with the team. As for his odds of playing in Game 1, he wasn't saying.
 
"It's tough to say how I feel. I don't even know what is normal," Grossmann said. "It's just nice to be on the ice and skate. That's a good feeling. I just take it a day at a time, try to stay positive and go from there."

Fellow defenseman Andrej Meszaros continues to skate and work his way back from mid-March back surgery, but he doesn't appear close to playing yet.

Forward Maxime Talbot, who took a puck to the face in practice Thursday, said he is fine. He has a chipped tooth and a swollen and cut lip, but he participated in the full practice Friday.

"Matty Carle shot it; good thing it was him -- a muffin," Talbot joked. "Actually, Eric Wellwood tipped it, so that's his fault. He's a rookie. I'm going to get him back."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:53 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils enjoy first series win since 2007

Five years without winning a playoff series is a long time for a franchise that's as accustomed to success as the New Jersey Devils. That's why they hope ending their postseason drought with a first-round win against Florida is a harbinger of good things to come.

The Devils got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 by outlasting Florida 3-2 in double overtime on Thursday night to win Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Now it's on to Philadelphia and a rematch with the team that wiped them out in five games in the opening round two years ago.

"Winning a playoff series goes a long way," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 43 saves and is now 6-4 in 10 career Game 7 starts. "I think for people it's just a confidence and sometimes you need adversity. …The first round, I think when you haven't been in the playoffs, especially the year before and it's been struggling getting out of the first round, when you get through that it feels good for a day and then after that we've got to face the Flyers."

By the time the game ended at 12:17 a.m. ET, Thursday night had turned into Friday morning -- marking the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first NHL playoff game, on April 27, 1992 against the Rangers.

The win means that the NHL's winningest regular-season goaltender will get to spend his 40th birthday doing what he does best -- the Devils will host Philadelphia in Game 4 a week from Sunday.

With 43 saves, including a handful of series-savers, Brodeur looked as sharp as ever.

"He was outstanding, especially in the first overtime and late in the third period," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "He was our best player tonight and he had to be or we don't win."

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I was in there icing my face as she was trying to push a baby out.

— Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf on going to the hospital with a facial laceration while his wife was in labor following Game 1 on Wednesday