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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Stinger slowed, but couldn't stop, Zajac

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before scoring in overtime in Game 6, there were questions surrounding the status of New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac midway through the second period.
 
At one point, Zajac limped off the ice and into the locker room, but he returned one shift later.
 
"It was kind of a stinger and I just skated off but was fine after that," Zajac said Wednesday afternoon as his team made final preparations before boarding a plane to Florida for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN).

It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, as Zajac finished the game with 24:23, won 14 of 23 faceoffs and scored the Devils' biggest goal of the season -- so far.
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer admitted he began moving players around when Zajac initially left the bench area.
 
"We started to make some adjustments on the bench to move guys around and figuring that he might not be back and it was nice to see him hop back out there," DeBoer said.
 
Zajac, who certainly has endured his share of injuries this season, ended Game 6 5:39 into overtime. His teammates couldn't help but laud his effort since returning from a left Achilles injury that limited his to just 15 regular-season games this season.
 
"It's a great thing for him mentally to play at the level he's playing right now, but at the end of the day, regardless if you're a guy coming back from an injury or a guy just starting, to score an overtime goal in the playoffs is quite a feat," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "I think you build up a lot of confidence by doing different things on the ice at certain times in your career and for him, I'm sure that's a pretty big highlight."
 
Zajac underwent Achilles surgery in August, missed training camp and didn't play until Dec. 16, only to be sidelined again after playing against Ottawa on Jan. 2. The 26-year-old forward is just happy to be back on the ice and contributing to the team.
 
"[DeBoer] made it easier on me when I came back, putting me with Kovy [Ilya Kovalchuk] and Zach [Parise], two of the best players in the world," Zajac said. "He put me in a great situation with them. They make the game easier and it's fun to play with them. They compete hard, and that wears off on you. This is the best time to play hockey and we want to do well. We have high expectations and wanted to get a shot at a Game 7."
 
Kovalchuk, who assisted on Zajac's game-winner, wasn't at all surprised by Zajac's heroics Tuesday.
 
"It's nice … he got a little hard check in the second period but came back, shook it off and scored a big goal," Kovalchuk said. "Like I said before, he's our best centerman and one of our leaders so it didn't surprise me that he scored that kind of goal."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Kovalchuk preparing to play in his first Game 7

NEWARK, N.J. -- It was a sequence even New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer couldn't draw up. Then again, why bother, when you have players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac on your roster.
 
It happened Tuesday night with over five minutes gone in overtime of Game 6 when Parise broke up a two-on-one breakout by the Panthers, getting his stick in on Stephen Weiss at the last second, before ultimately chipping the puck to Kovalchuk along the boards at center ice.
 
Kovalchuk carried the puck over the Florida blue line, drew two defenders to him and then zipped a pass to Zajac on his left for a quick shot from the left circle that beat Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen under the pads to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
 
"It's a cliché, but your best players have to be your best players this time of year and, in Game 6, ours were," DeBoer said. "Parise with the backcheck, Marty [Brodeur] with the save, Kovy with the great pass and Travis with the finish. I don't think there's any secret formula there, the guys know that and we've got to do it again."
 
So after 10 seasons of producing incredible regular-season statistics, Kovalchuk will finally get an opportunity to experience a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Is he excited? You bet.
 
"It's great," Kovalchuk said. "This is going to be my first Game 7 ever. It's exciting. I'm sure the building will be loud, they'll be going, but we have to do the same thing. If we're going to forecheck well, we can't give them a lot of turnovers in the second period. We have to be strong."
 
Unlike Kovalchuk, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur will be playing in his 10th career Game 7. He sports a 5-4 record in such contests and is 11-12 in elimination games over this 18-season career.
 
"I guess the preparation may be a little different for a Game 7, but when you get into the game, it's still a hockey game," Brodeur said. "It's an exciting time."
 
While the Devils did outshoot (42-16) and outhit (28-27) the Panthers in Game 6, they also turned the puck over 15 times. The Panthers finished the game with eight giveaways. DeBoer was also pleased with the fact his team took just one minor penalty in the game.
 
Kovalchuk believes both teams will be feeling the heat on Thursday, and not just because they'll be in the Sunshine State. The team scoring first has won five of the six games.
 
"The pressure is on," Kovalchuk said. "What are you talking about? It's Game 7, so it's anybody's game now. We just have to go out there and play well."

Kovalchuk now has three goals and five points in six playoff games.
 
DeBoer can sense, with each passing game, that Kovalchuk is gaining more confidence.
 
"Kovy rose to the occasion and we've seen that all year in him … he's been on board and willing to do what it takes," DeBoer told the media on Wednesday afternoon. "He has off-nights once in a while, but very rarely two in a row and he follows it up with a big performance. That's what we got last night, but he'll have to replicate that again."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:15 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Rangers turn to Twitter to ignite fans

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- A pair of well-known Rangers have taken to Twitter to start pumping up the Madison Square Garden crowd in advance of Game 7 Thursday against Ottawa (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

Marian Gaborik (@MGaborik10) tweeted Tuesday, "Just got back to NYC. We need the MSG fans to take us to the next level on thursday#bringushome"

It was Gaborik's first tweet of the playoffs.

Brad Richards (@BRichards_1991) also sent his first tweet of the playoffs on Tuesday. It read:

"Get ready fans to rock MSG on Thursday night! We need you to push us to the next level! #NYR"

The Rangers anticipate a wild crowd at the Garden for Game 7. They are just 1-2 in the playoffs at home so far, but they feel with the backing of their boisterous fans they will be able to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

"So far home advantage hasn't really played out that well for anybody, but hopefully our crowd can be the difference to help us push our game here, help us get some confidence right away," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "There is no better feeling to win at home. We've got to do all we can to win this game."

Added Brandon Dubinsky: "To do it at home would be amazing. We're going to need those fans."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 2:04 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Senators hope for road-ice advantage in Game 7

OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators held their final practice on home ice Wednesday morning before departing for New York. The Senators square off against the New York Rangers for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

The Senators did not skate any lines, but Daniel Alfredsson was seen running power play drills with Kyle Turris, Chris Neil, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips. Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka were absent from practice. Coach Paul MacLean said that both were taking "maintenance days." On Tuesday, Konopka was seen moving gingerly around the halls of Scotiabank Place. Mark Borowiecki and Mark Stone participated in the skate, and MacLean said that Borowiecki would be making the trip to Manhattan with the team.

Heading into Game 7, the Sens are hoping to get a boost from the visiting building. Ottawa won both of its regular-season games at Madison Square Garden, and has taken two out of three games in this series on the road.

"We've played well there, there's no question," Alfredsson said. "I think overall during the year, we've been better on the road than we have at home for whatever reason. But Game 7 is Game 7, and getting off to a good start is important. That will be our focus."

Erik Karlsson only has one point in this series -- a goal scored in Game 2 -- and the defenseman admitted the matchup has been frustrating for him at times.

"[It's been] a little bit [frustrating]," Karlsson said. "[The Rangers] are a good team and that's why they won the Eastern Conference. They've got really good goaltending and it's been tough for us. But I think we've done a good job in what we've [accomplished] so far. Obviously I want to do things offensively, but if I have to do something else to help the team win, whether it's throwing hits, blocking shots or playing [well] defensively, you do what you have to. Offensively, right now, it's tough."

Added MacLean: "I don't think [Erik] needs to do more. We just need [Karlsson] to be [Karlsson]. When [Erik] skates, that's obviously when he's at his best. He hasn't skated the way that we needed him to skate, and on [Thursday] we need him to use his skill as a skater to create offense. He's going to be a target on our team and he has to come up with ways to counteract that."
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:58 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Lundqvist focused, feeding off energy of series

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Henrik Lundqvist says he plays better when he's upset.

Well, he can recall only a few times in his career when he was as angry after a game as he was following the Rangers' 3-2 win in Game 6 on Monday night. Lundqvist was beside himself that the officials allowed Chris Neil's goal to stand with 32 seconds left in the game despite the fact that he felt he was interfered with and Neil kicked the puck into the net.

"I was really mad," Lundqvist said Wednesday after practice.

So how does he bring that anger into Game 7 Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS)?

It'll have to happen naturally, but if the Senators continue to crash his crease Lundqvist's blood should start to boil.

"I think it's been a similar style hockey each game, a lot of bodies in front, a little more intense, but that's part of the playoffs," said Lundqvist, who on Wednesday was announced as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. "I expect it to be crowded and a little more physical. I don't mind it. I like when two teams are fighting and competing. I kind of feed from that a little bit. Sometimes I play better when I'm a little upset."

Lundqvist, though, will not go into Game 7 angry. He will instead be focused on anything and everything that is in his power to control.

He's played in enough big games (Game 7 against Washington in 2009, the gold-medal game in the 2006 Olympics, the 2012 Winter Classic) to understand how best to approach this one.

"Mentally you try to block everything you can't control. You focus on the things you can control," he said. "Every time you're in a game where your season is on the line, the mental aspect, it's a bigger challenge. But if you can just control your emotion and focus on the right things, it doesn't have to change. I'm going to approach this game the same way I approached the last game and the game before that."

Lundqvist added that never having won a Game 7 in his career is not at all a factor now. He said he's living in the moment because he wants to win to keep playing.

"You want to go out there and play, enjoy it. It is a great moment," Lundqvist said. "You worked hard all year to be here. I think you have to see it as a great challenge, then you feel more positive about it, don't put too much pressure on it, and just enjoy it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Neil's comments no bother to Del Zotto

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto had nothing to say when asked for a reaction to Ottawa forward Chris Neil's comment after Game 6 Monday that he's sure he will catch Del Zotto with his head down "one of these times."

"I don't even know what he said," Del Zotto said Wednesday. "I'm just worried about (Game 7 on Thursday). It's a big game for us. We played well last game. It's Game 7 in our building and that's all I'm worried about."

Del Zotto hit Neil hard with 5:37 to play in the third period of Game 6. Neil is the player whose big hit on Brian Boyle gave the Rangers towering center with a concussion. Brandon Prust also fought Neil late in the first period.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Rangers practice minus Callahan, who gets day off

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rangers captain Ryan Callahan did not practice Wednesday at the team's suburban training facility, but coach John Tortorella said he was just given an extra day off and he will take the morning skate Thursday prior to Game 7 against Ottawa (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
 
Callahan blocked a Chris Phillips shot with his hand in the third period of Game 6 on Monday. He still played 30 shifts totaling more than 24 minutes of ice time.

John Scott was filling in for Callahan on a line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider.

Brian Boyle (concussion) was the only other player missing from Rangers practice. He has not been on the ice since Game 5, when Senators forward Chris Neil hit him hard in the open ice.

Here were the Rangers' lines and defense pairs during practice Wednesday:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - John Scott (for Callahan)
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brandon Dubinsky - Brandon Prust
Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Dan Girardi - Ryan McDonagh
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison part of Panthers' optional practice

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were back on the ice Wednesday when the Florida Panthers held an optional practice.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury.

Garrison has missed the last three games of the series after being a late scratch prior to Game 4 Thursday. He hadn't practiced since.

Along with Garrison and Theodore, the only players on the ice for the Panthers on Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krystofer Barch and Mike Santorelli, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.

Game 7 is scheduled for Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the BankAtlantic Center.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 12:56 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Projected Game 7 lineup for Capitals

BOSTON -- Jeff Schultz has watched the past three games for the Washington Capitals, but he expects to be back in the lineup for Game 7 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Wednesday night at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins.

John Erskine replaced Schultz in the lineup for Games 4, 5 and 6, but Schultz skated with Dennis Wideman on Washington's third defense pairing in practice Tuesday, and Erskine stayed on the ice for extra work Wednesday morning.

"It will be great," Schultz said. "It was tough watching, but [Erskine] did a great job after not playing for a long time. Now is it is key for me to come back and fill in for him. It is just a matter of going out there and playing. It isn't about worrying about mistakes or playing time -- just go out there and play and do what you do best and do your job."

Alexander Semin did not take part in the morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter said it was optional and he is fine to play. The Capitals are not expected to make any other changes to the lineup.

Here's how the Capitals should look Wednesday night:

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Matt Hendricks
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 12:54 PM

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

Caron prepared as last-minute addition to lineup

BOSTON -- Sometimes players perform better when they're surprised.

That's what Boston Bruins forward Jordan Caron found out Sunday, when he learned after warmup that he would be in the lineup for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington.

Caron, who hadn't played since April 7 in the Bruins' regular-season finale, made his NHL playoff debut in Boston's 4-3 overtime win. Luckily, over the course of his first full season in the NHL, he's gotten used to going long stretches where he's had to stay sharp even when he wasn't going to play.

"I think it's just a lot of it is mental. I think you just need to prepare even if you don't know if you're playing a lot. You've just got to be ready to jump in and do your job," Caron said Wednesday after the Bruins' morning skate.

Caron probably won't find out about his status for Game 7 until after warmup again. Caron and veteran forward Shawn Thornton, who was the healthy scratch in Game 6, rotated in on Boston's fourth line with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell during line drills at TD Garden.

In Game 6, Caron's ice time was limited to 4:56 and he and his linemates finished the afternoon with a minus-1 rating. But he threw a big hit that created a scoring chance for Campbell, and during his sporadic playing time he looked like the solid two-way player he was during his 48 games in the regular season. He finished the season with seven goals and 15 points, while skating time on pretty much all of Boston's four lines.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he spoke with Caron before the start of the series about being on-call.

"Well we talked to him before the series started, because I thought if anything, he was a real good player for us in that last stretch of the regular season. And it was tough to take him out but we went with some experienced guys, first and foremost," Julien said. "The one thing that we said to him -- we said you've got to stay ready because there's going to come a point where we're going to need you, and obviously we did last game."

While Julien would not disclose the reason he made a lineup change up front for the first time in the series, it's widely believed that Boston did not know how much it would get out of an injured Patrice Bergeron. Caron's skill set and versatility made him a better option for the Bruins if they needed someone to play up in the lineup.

The 21-year-old Caron impressed one of his veteran linemates.

"He did really good," Paille said. "Coming in there, stepping in for playing for Bergy possibly as well, I thought he did a good job. Other than getting scored against, I thought we created some opportunities early on. But he did good for his first game."

Once again, Caron will be ready should Julien have the equipment staff hang a No. 38 stall in the rookie's stall for Game 7.

"I think you just got to stay composed and take it as another game. Of course it's different, but you've got to forget about it, jump out there and be confident," Caron said. "I don't know if I'm going to be playing, but if I am I just got to stay calm and do my job."

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I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the OT winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round