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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 1:33 PM

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

Return for Pens' Niskanen possible in Game 3

PHILADELPHIA -- Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen could become a part of this first-round series against the Flyers on Sunday if he gets through warmups OK.

Niskanen, who has not played since April 3 because of an upper-body injury, will take warmups for the first time in the series prior to Game 3. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called him a gametime decision, but if he is to play he will likely replace Ben Lovejoy, whose turnover led to Sean Couturier's hat-trick goal in Game 2 that made it 7-5.

The Flyers hold a 2-0 lead in the series.

"It's a strength issue," Bylsma said. "We know where he's obviously been at the last few days, and as long as that is there he'll be a possibility to play."

Niskanen, who had 21 points in the regular season, said Saturday that he will play through any pain, but he doesn't want to be restricted. He has missed four straight games.

"It's just killing me being in the press box. It really hurts to watch," Niskanen said. "But I've got to get back when I can, and I have confidence in the guys that we're going to turn it around."

After witnessing the Penguins and Flyers combine to score 20 goals in the first two series, Bylsma said he anticipates Game 3 could be different.

"The one thing about our series is it felt like that game (Game 3) was a Friday the 13th type of game," Bylsma said. "It was an odd game and it happened very fast. I'm not sure I've seen two goals scored in 16 seconds on a power play. You put your head down one second and there's another situation arising. It's been that way for the two games, but you talk about it now and I feel like we might be in for a low scoring affair (Sunday)."

It should be noted that the Penguins came back from 0-2 deficits twice in 2009 en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Their mentality heading into Game 3 Sunday is the same as it was when they were staring at a similar uphill battle against both Washington and Detroit three years ago.

"You can look at a lot of different situations to understand that right now it's about one game, getting one game to make this 2-1," Bylsma said. "You can look at '09. You can look at the Boston Bruins last year. There are other examples. That's the challenge right now, coming out real focused and real galvanized as a group to get a win here in Philly and make it 2-1."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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POSTED ON Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 1:29 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Laviolette holding off on Couturier comparisons

PHILADELPHIA -- After his outstanding performance in the first two games of the series -- especially his Game 2 hat trick -- Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier has become the talk of the postseason in Philadelphia.

The 19-year-old has received rave reviews for his play at both ends of the ice, including the job he's done limiting the League's leading scorer, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, to just two assists in the first two games.

Some have compared Couturier to another tall, lanky defensive-minded center who can chip in offensively -- the Penguins' Jordan Staal. Teammate Jaromir Jagr went even further, comparing Couturier to one of his former teammates -- Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis.

"I don't know if I know any words to describe his game today. Awesome? Maybe something better than that?" Jagr said to reporters after the game. "I would say he's our best defensive forward. Age 18, 19 years old. Ron Francis was kind of like that."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who coached Francis for one season and worked with him for three seasons in Carolina, said it was a bit early to make that comparison.

"Sean is a good player, he's a young player, he's done a good job for us," Laviolette said. "It's his [third] playoff game. For the sake of Sean, let's let him develop into the player he is and maybe hold off on calling him Ron Francis, who's the … fourth-leading scorer in the game.

"[Sean is] doing a real nice job for us. Let's let him grow into his position here in Philadelphia."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 10:58 AM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Predators-Red Wings projected lineups

DETROIT -- It's only two games into their Stanley Cup Playoffs Quarterfinals series and already it's been kind of an odd one for both the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators.

Not only was there the well-publicized incident with Shea Weber and Henrik Zetterberg at the conclusion of Game 1 at Bridgestone Arena, but there's also the fact Detroit won Game 2 with both coaches basically agreeing Nashville played a better game.

The Red Wings were limited to just 17 shots on goal in the second game, yet triumphed 3-2 on goals by Ian White, Cory Emmerton and Johan Franzen plus some outstanding work in net from Jimmy Howard (24 saves). The only constant thus far, heading into Sunday's Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena (Noon NBC, CBC, RDS), has been the tight-checking nature of both games -- which both ended in 3-2 scores.

There's no reason to expect any different on Sunday, either.

"I don't think there's been a whole lot of room either way," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We only had [17 ]shots on goal [in Game 2], so we stopped playing the third period -- didn't skate I didn't think [and] got in a protective mode, which isn't the way you want to do it. In saying that, there's just not a lot of room for either team and that's what we expect. They'll go make some adjustments. We'll go make some adjustments. And we'll both try to do better."

Predators coach Barry Trotz didn't sound all that different in his assessment of the series.

"I was more comfortable with our game [on Friday] when we lost than our first game, when it was just a game that broken up through penalties," Trotz said. "It really hasn't been that physical of a series. Last year against Anaheim, that was nasty. This one's just ... you have to grind for inches. It's more of a grinding series than it is physical."

Detroit's Ian White missed practice on Saturday with a sore instep on his left foot as the result of blocking a slap shot in Game 2, but he's expected to play on Sunday. Nashville defenseman Hal Gill, who hasn't played since the end of the regular season, will be a gametime decision.

Here is how each team is likely to start Sunday's game:

PREDATORS

Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Brandon Yip/Jordin Tootoo

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

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

RED WINGS

Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Todd Bertuzzi - Pavel Datsyuk - Johan Franzen
Gustav Nyquist - Justin Abdelkader - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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POSTED ON Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 2:26 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Home ice no edge thus far in playoffs

Remember the home-ice advantage? The thing everyone is so desperate for in the playoffs? Four days into this year's postseason, home ice has been anything but an advantage.

With 15 games in the books, home teams have won all of five contests. None of the eight teams that opened with two games at home won both of them -- and two visiting teams, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, swept both games.

For all the effort teams put into getting the home-ice advantage, it hasn't been much of an edge in the opening round in the last couple of seasons. Home teams went just 22-27 in the first round last spring and were just 23-26 in 2009-10. The last time home teams were above .500 in the opening round was 2008-09, when they won 24 of the 44 games played.
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POSTED ON Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 12:41 AM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Will Canucks go with Luongo or Schneider in Game 3?

VANCOUVER -- Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo stripped off their goaltending equipment side by side in the Canucks locker room after practice Saturday as a large circle of media gathered around them.

It wasn't at all unusual, except this time the crowd formed around Schneider, while Luongo was granted a free path towards the showers.

There is a growing sense the Canucks will do the same in Game 3 on Sunday night.

Cory Schneider
Goalie - VAN
Record: -
GAA: - | Sv%: -
Down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault admitted after practice that he had a decision to make between the pipes. Actually, he'd already made it, but had yet to tell his own goalies, so he wasn't about to share it with the rest of the world.

It won't come as a surprise if it involves a switch, even if Luongo singlehandedly kept the Canucks in Game 1, and made several more big saves in Game 2.

"Maybe give them a new look, shake up the team … I don't know," Schneider said when asked why he might play in L.A., while insisting he didn't know if he would.

There's another reason: Schneider can flat out play goal.
 
The 26-year-old may be the No.2 goaltender in Vancouver, but he was also the second-best goaltender in the entire NHL when it came to save percentage during the regular season, posting a .937 that trailed only Brian Elliott in St. Louis. And Schneider's 1.96 goals-against average was third in the League, just .01 behind the Kings starter and Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick.
 
The only thing missing on Schneider's short NHL resume is playoff success.

He did get a surprise – many would say shocking – start in the first round last season against the rival Blackhawks, playing Game 6 in a hostile Chicago environment after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. But the rookie turned two puck-handling gaffes into goals, and was forced to leave early after cramping up badly while getting beat on a penalty shot that tied the game.

Luongo went back in for Game 7, backstopped a 2-1 overtime victory and led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final before struggling in Boston, getting pulled in two of three road games.

Perhaps because of that, the Canucks made sure to get Schneider more and tougher starts this season, including a big Cup rematch victory in Boston and another tough win in Chicago. And they were careful to keep the sophomore stopper fresh down the stretch, splitting time with -- and for the most part outplaying -- Luongo over the final six weeks of the regular season.

"I would feel pretty comfortable," Schneider said of starting Game 3. "I played in so many games this year and I had a taste of it last year, so I know what to expect. No real surprise for me, just try to play the way I played all year."

Expect, perhaps, while handling the puck.
 
Schneider's stickhandling mistakes didn't end in the Chicago series, and could become an issue against a strong Kings' forecheck Luongo has helped temper with smart, safe plays.

"I have to make smart decisions and put it in position where they are better off than if I hadn't played the puck," Schneider said. "Not try to get too fancy, but just make plays that will put us in position to get out of the zone."

If he plays, it will be Schneider's first game against Los Angeles. And while Luongo had success in the regular season – he had a .944 save percentage in four starts against the Kings – it could be an advantage for the Canucks.

"It can help sometimes if a team doesn't know much about you," Schneider said.

As for Luongo, he said he's seeing the puck well, feels good about the way he's playing, and has always enjoyed playing in the well-lit Staples Center. Despite a lot of talk from teammates about hanging him out to dry with point-blank chances, and poor penalty killing, though, Luongo said he needs to be better.

"You want to come up with the big save when it's needed," Luongo said.

Some might argue he already has made a handful against the Kings. But the question now is whether or not he'll get a chance to make any more.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 11:21 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Red Wings happy with penalty killing, not penalties

DETROIT -- On the one hand, the Detroit Red Wings couldn't be happier about their penalty-killing units in their first two Western Conference Quarterfinal games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Detroit has killed all 12 power plays that were granted to the Nashville Predators and the Red Wings haven't allowed a power-play goal in the last nine games dating back to the conclusion of the regular season -- totaling 37 straight successful penalty kills.

On the other hand, the Wings also took significantly more penalties in the first two games than they'd averaged per game all season.

"I have no idea how many in a row it's been," Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said of the penalty-kill streak. "The last two games there, have been a bit too many penalties we've taken. We don't really want that."

What they do want is to continue doing the things that have sparked such recent success while playing with less skaters -- such as blocking shots in bunches, clearing out loose rebounds and winning faceoffs inside the defensive zone.

"I think we've just been doing a great job frustrating them, blocking shots, taking away passing lanes and just working hard out there," said Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who's also been a big part of the defensive special teams unit's hot stretch. "I really think it's the sacrificing [of] the body, the way we've been blocking shots. Guys have been putting their bodies on the line out there. It's not easy to step in front of Shea Weber's shot. Guys have been doing it."

The Wings have also been doing it without the help of two top penalty killers -- Darren Helm and captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Helm is out for the remainder of the playoffs after severing tendons in his forearm in Game 1, while Lidstrom isn't playing on either penalty-kill unit because of a deep bone bruise on his foot that's susceptible to getting hit again by a hard shot -- which is what caused the initial injury.

"Not having [Helm] out there is a huge blow," Howard said on Saturday. "With his speed and everything ... he gets up ice and then disrupts the flow of their breakouts. But at the same time, guys are stepping up and that's great to see."

Speaking of things to see, Howard's been having a difficult time seeing shots because of traffic in front of the net caused primarily by Patric Hornqvist -- who said he patterned his net-front game after fellow countryman Tomas Holmstrom.

Though Hornqvist hasn't scored yet on the power play, he's definitely making his presence felt in front of Howard.

"He's just like [Holmstrom]," Howard said. "He's really going to get his stick on pucks. As a goalie, he just makes your life miserable out there. He's a hard guy to move as well."

That's why it's nice to have the big body of Ericsson back from a wrist fracture that kept him out for much of the final stretch in the regular season. Ericsson's play in all situations has been noticeably improved this season, especially since his return, but especially so while killing penalties.

"That was one of my goals before the season and from the meetings I had, was to take a step on the penalty kill and become a bigger factor for the team," Ericsson said. "That's how I wanted to contribute. I think I got better throughout the year on the penalty kill, but you're always working as a unit out there. Everyone has to work together. It's not one player or two."
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 11:10 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Red Wings 'bottom six' help them come out on top

DETROIT -- Mike Babcock wasn't real thrilled with the play of his third and fourth forward lines down the last stretch of the regular season and into Game 1 of the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup Playoffs Quarterfinal series.

He told reporters prior to the second game on Friday at Bridgestone Arena that Detroit needed more at both ends of the rink out of his "bottom six" forwards and they responded in kind. Rookie Cory Emmerton, who centers the fourth line, scored his first NHL playoff goal on a great individual effort late in the first period to highlight the offense, but third-line wingers Drew Miller and Danny Cleary also drew recognition from Babcock on Saturday.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 10:18 PM

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

Hawks, Coyotes tweak lineups

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes tweaked their lineups for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Saturday.
 
Chicago started defenseman Sami Lepisto in place of Sean O'Donnell, who was a minus-2 in Phoenix's 3-2 overtime win on Thursday night. The Coyotes made a change in their fourth line, with Kyle Chipchura subbing for Gilbert Brule to give the Coyotes a more defensive look.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 6:25 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings know they have to finish the job


EL SEGUNDO, Calif.
– No Los Angeles Kings player was alive the last time the Kings had a 2-0 series lead. Los Angeles was in its first year of existence when it won the first two games against the Minnesota North Stars in 1968.

But …

"The Kings team that was up, 2-0, lost in seven games," captain Dustin Brown said.

Brown didn't thumb through a media guide. Someone told him how long it had been, and for good reason. The Kings are in uncharted territory with a 2-0 lead on the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, with the series shifting to Staples Center for Games 3 and 4.

The Kings are on letdown alert given their underwhelming postseason history. L.A. lost all three home games against San Jose in last season's quarterfinals and two of three against Vancouver in 2010.

"Historically, for this team in recent playoffs, we haven't played well at home," Brown said. "It's important to draw attention to that. We've done a good job getting two wins, but there's a lot of areas we can get better at and it's really important to take advantage of home ice."

The Kings were up, 2-1, on Vancouver in the 2010 quarterfinals and lost the next four games. Can they draw on that experience?

"What we've learned is when you're up, they're going to be a desperate hockey club," Anze Kopitar said. "We have to make sure we don't give them any life. As soon as there's a chance to finish them off, we have to finish them off. We didn't do that two years ago, but I think everybody's learned from that."

Five-on-five needs improvement: Despite the 2-0 lead, the Kings are not grading themselves well outside of special teams. They've scored three power play goals, two shorthanded and gone 10-for-10 on the penalty kill.
 
But there is a general feeling that Vancouver has been at least even and perhaps better in 5-on-5 play.
 
"We're up, 2-0, but we feel fortunate in a lot of ways to be up, 2-0," Jarret Stoll said.
 
Kopitar and Mike Richards pointed to committing too many turnovers and relying too much on Jonathan Quick, who made 46 saves in Game 2.

"We didn't spend a lot of time with the puck in five-on-five [Friday] night just because we turned too many pucks over and I thought we were chasing the game a little bit," Richards said.

Said Kopitar: "We've been shorthanded for close to 19 minutes in two games. That's too much. The penalties that we're taking are sometimes not the best penalties – holding and tripping. Those are the ones we have to avoid."

Experience factor: No Los Angeles player that came up through the organization has made it past the first round. Dustin Penner, Colin Fraser, Rob Scuderi and Justin Williams won the Stanley Cup with other teams.

Sutter alluded to that mix in needing to improve.

"It sort of overrides everything we've talked about," Sutter said. "We haven't had our foot on the gas the whole way. We have a number of guys that have experience with long playoffs or a lot of games played that can play a hell of a lot better."

Richardson skating, Clifford out: Brad Richardson resumed skating for the first time since he had an emergency appendectomy Monday night.

Richardson said his mother, Jan, a longtime nurse, diagnosed it after Richardson had pain Sunday. Richardson did not know when he would be cleared to play. He'll see a doctor on Monday.

"I was lucky I was there at the right time," Richardson said. "I feel a lot better than I was. I was on the ice a little bit today and I felt okay. It's still pretty sore, but I think that's the way it is."

Kyle Clifford (upper body) did not skate and Sutter did not have an update.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 5:19 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Five reasons the Canucks are in trouble

It may pain them to do so, but when it comes to inspiration after losing the first two playoff games on home ice, the Vancouver Canucks need look no further than the team that bullied them into submission to win the Stanley Cup in June, the Boston Bruins.

That’s right, Vancouver’s new rival can now be looked upon as a role model, a team that recovered from the same hole the Canucks now find themselves in their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings -- and the Bruins went on to hoist the Cup after falling behind two-zip to Montreal.

Boston also dropped the first two in the Final in Vancouver before winning four of the last five. Of course they also proved to be a better team than the Canucks in that Final.

Maybe that explains why players looked elsewhere for inspiration.

“We are not going to do everything the same way as last year, cruise to the Stanley Cup Final,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “We are going to make it interesting. Last year we were up three against Chicago and then we let them come back. This year we will spot them a couple and see what happens.”

Vancouver nearly blew that 3-0 lead over the Blackhawks in the first round before needing overtime in Game 7 to advance, eventually to the Final.

Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t interested in history, however.

“I’m not going to give you a rundown of all the teams that have come back in the past and da-de-da because that would be standing up here and trying to be real positive,” he said. “Reality is we’re down by two and we got to win [Game 3 on Sunday]. That's it. All the other stuff doesn't matter.”

Maybe that’s because a lot of that other stuff doesn’t bode well for a Canucks team facing at least five good reasons it will be tough to secure four more wins:

1) THE NHL’s WORST BEST POWER PLAY: There will be no shortage of talk about the ongoing absence of leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who did not travel with the team to Los Angeles on Saturday. But the reality is Vancouver’s power play problems started long before Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith concussed the Canucks’ leading goal scorer and last year’s NHL scoring champion Sedin with an elbow on March 21. On top of the League by a wide margin through early January, the Canucks slump started almost immediately after going 4-for-11 to win the Cup rematch in Boston on Jan. 7. They finished fourth in the NHL, but are just 10-for-130 since, a 12.3 per cent success rate that ranks well below the worst power play in the League.

In addition to being 0-for-10 through two games against Los Angeles, they gave up two shorthanded goals to the Kings in Game 2. Despite not having Daniel Sedin the last nine games of the regular season, the Canucks were still experimenting with new combinations at practice Saturday, and a lack of cohesion that cost them the night before.

“We can’t expect to score every time but we’ve got to gain some momentum for us and we did the opposite,” Captain Henrik Sedin said.

2) TOUGH TO PUSH AND BE PATIENT:
Vancouver’s lack of scoring against the Kings extends beyond the power play, and even this series. Since Darryl Sutter took over as the coach in Los Angeles mid-season, the Canucks are just 1-3-1 and have only managed to score eight goals in those five games. Further complicating things is the Kings’ stifling style, which can punish impatience if you try to force things, and create odd-man rushes the other way.

“They're a very stingy team, they don’t give up a lot so it's very important to stick to our game plan and not try to overdo things and when the opportunities arise make sure we try to capitalize,” forward Manny Malhotra said.

It may be easier to say than do, especially if they fall behind in Game 3.

3) KINGS BETTER THAN AN EIGHT SEED: For all the focus on the Kings’ above-mentioned defensive play, the discussion about their offense has been largely misdirected. It centered largely on finishing 29th in goals this season, and not on averaging more than three a game after acquiring Jeff Carter in a pre-deadline blockbuster. That’s more than half a goal better per game than the Canucks over that same stretch, and despite stereotypes the Kings sit back and defend, they have become much more aggressive under Sutter, with a lot more puck possession and a forecheck that is causing the Canucks defense fits.

"I'm sure people aren't going to be expecting us to score goals but I know in here we all think differently," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said.

4) TWO NOT BETTER THAN NO.1 IN GOAL: Vigneault wouldn’t confirm it until he told the goaltenders themselves, but there is growing speculation the Canucks could change things up between the pipes, with impressive second-year backup Cory Schneider taking over for Roberto Luongo in Game 3. Schneider finished second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage, and despite the fact Luongo has actually been very good the first two games, especially Game 1, there is a sense the Canucks may not want to try that change before it is too late.

“We haven't given him a lot of help on a lot of these goals and kind of hanging him out to dry on a few of them,” Schneider said of Luongo. “It's not my decision. Maybe give the team a new look, shake up the team.”

It won’t matter if neither goalie can best Kings’ crease counterpart Jonathan Quick, who made 46 saves in Game 2 and is coming off a Vezina Trophy-worthy regular season.

“Give him credit, he was real good,” Vigneault said.

5) ROAD RECORD WON’T MEAN MUCH IN L.A.: Vancouver had the best road record in the Western Conference at 24-12-5 in the regular season, and finished second only to Philadelphia in the entire NHL. The Kings were just ninth in the West and 19th in the League at home at 22-14-5. But with Game 3 just hours after the Lakers play at Staples Center on Sunday, the ice could be soft, and the speed advantage the Canucks forwards were supposed to enjoy in this series – and it has been evident at times -- will be largely negated.
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For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory