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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Playoffs, division title within Panthers' grasp Tuesday

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are doing their best to remain focused, but they're also well aware what's at stake Tuesday night.

With a victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers not only will secure the organization's first playoff berth since 2000, they also will clinch the first division title in franchise history.

"We're excited as a group," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We've worked all year for games like this. We obviously know the importance of it, what it means to this group of guys, this franchise."

The Panthers can extend their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to five points with a victory Tuesday, and the Capitals have only two games left -- including one Thursday at home against Florida.

When they picked up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss at Detroit on Sunday, the Panthers already knew they could clinch a playoff spot Tuesday. But Washington's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday night, when Steve Stamkos scored the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, set up the division-clinching scenario.

Coach Kevin Dineen said he didn't watch the game, instead waiting for the start of the NCAA Tournament championship game between Kentucky and Kansas. Dineen did say he was made aware of the score by family members.

All Panthers players interviewed after the morning skate Tuesday, on the other hand, saw Stamkos' late-game heroics.

"I kind of let out a good jump on the couch when he scored with around a minute left," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We want to get in and work hard by doing what we need to do. But definitely you're always scoreboard-watching at this time of the season. But now we need to take care of our business."

The Panthers, whose playoff drought is the longest in NHL history, have held first place in the Southeast for 123 days this season, including the last 38.

They've managed to hold off Washington despite winning only once in their last seven games, largely because of their ability to pick up points most outings.

But after going 1-2-4 during that stretch, Florida needs a victory Tuesday to make the playoffs a reality.

"It's an exciting time for us, for sure," Dineen said. "We're confident, but also we understand there's still lots of hockey to be played in this season. It's quiet confidence with the understanding that, as always, work has to come before any kind of carrots. Certainly our players are ready to go in and put in a solid effort tonight."

In Winnipeg, the Panthers will be facing a team that saw its playoff hopes disappear in its last game.

But the Panthers aren't about to take the Jets lightly. Florida has won three of the first five meetings, but was shut out 7-0 the last time it faced the Jets, March 1 at Winnipeg.

After Tuesday, the Panthers have games remaining -- at Washington on Thursday, and at home against Carolina on Saturday. But they want those two points right away.

"You want to take anything the first opportunity you get," Campbell said. "We know what our schedule is like. It's been grueling over the last couple of weeks. It's a good challenge. If we play like we played in Detroit, we're going to have a lot of success.

"We're just trying to lock up a playoff spot here, and it's a great opportunity tonight. We've got a great challenge with Winnipeg and being at home is pretty exciting."

Dineen has spoken several times in recent weeks of being happy his team was relevant late in the season. With a victory Tuesday night, the Panthers will be relevant in the postseason.

"Obviously, there's a lot of clarity that we can do things here at home," Dineen said. "There's still some work to do, and we need to go out and take care of our business. It's right there in front of us."


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Fleury rests, Johnson gets start for Penguins

BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson has been limited to just one game played since Feb. 19 due to injury.

So when he gets the start against the Boston Bruins tonight at TD Garden, he'll be looking to shake off some more rust before the postseason. However, coach Dan Bylsma stressed that Johnson's start is more about Marc-Andre Fleury's well-being.

"[It's about] giving Marc-Andre Fleury a rest here going into the last week," Bylsma said after his team's morning skate. "And Brent has obviously played only one game in a long time, to get him back in the net and to play in a game ... but really it's about Marc-Andre Fleury getting some rest going into the playoffs in the last week."

Fleury has played in 13 of the Penguins' last 17 games.

Bylsma said the rest of the lineup will be a game-time decision. Both Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang came off the ice much later than the rest of their teammates.

Here is the projected lineup:

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland

Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury



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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Briere hopes to be back for playoffs after Vitale hit

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Danny Briere said the upper-back contusion he suffered on a hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale late in Sunday's game in Pittsburgh was causing back spasms, and said he's hoping to be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't know much at this point," Briere told reporters. "All I know is that my back is in spasm. … There's no timetable [for a return], but obviously I'd like to be ready for the playoffs. I just don't know at this point."

Briere said he saw Vitale coming at the last second and was able to brace himself for the hit, which he said allowed him to avoid worse injury.

"I saw him at the last second and braced myself," he said. "Try to take the hit. Just one of those things, sometimes it turns out bad, that's kind of what happened on the play."

It's the play itself, however, that Briere wasn't particularly happy about.

"Everybody knows that you put the line that they put on the ice at the end of the game with a minute left when the game is out of hand, everyone knows the intent," Briere said. "Was it a bad hit? No, it was a clean hit. But obviously whatever he was doing, he was obviously trying to hurt me. We all know that. It was a clean hit, I'm the first one to admit to that. I saw him coming at the last second. I braced myself to take the hit like I do when I've taken hits like that. Just turned out bad this time. Not much else to say or do about it. It is what it is. It just makes for a more entertaining series coming up if we face them in the first round."

Briere said the worst part of getting hurt now is he's playing his best hockey of the season. He has just 16 goals, and earlier this season he went through a 23-game goal drought. But in six games since being put on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, he has two goals and seven assists.

"I guess that's the positive side," he said. "I was very excited about our line the past couple weeks, it was starting to click, it was starting to really mesh well together. It's been a big issue all year, trying to find the right combination. It's disappointing in a sense, but I'm hoping we'll be able to pick up where he we left off whenever I have the chance to get back."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars know exactly what's at stake against Sharks

DALLAS -- Just three days after losing 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion, the Dallas Stars get another crack at their Pacific Division rivals, this time Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.

And with the Stars (42-32-5, 89 points) currently sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings with just three games remaining, there's no doubt how huge this game is if they are to have any chance of ending a three-year playoff drought.

"Yeah, we've talked about that a lot here the last couple days," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We control our own fate, is what we worked for, and the other thing is the conditions are good. We're not back-to-back or coming in late. We're at home with a practice, a day off and a morning skate. The conditions are what you want this time of year to have success."

Dallas is 4-6-0 over its last 10 games, including a 1-3-0 record on a recently-concluded road trip that took the Stars through Western Canada before ending in San Jose on Saturday night.

On the plus side, the Stars figure to get back third-line winger Eric Nystrom, who missed the last three games after suffering a cut on his leg in a 5-4 loss at Calgary on March 26.

"Nystrom went through a full practice. He's a full go," Gulutzan said.

Dallas may or may not have the services of veteran winger Radek Dvorak, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. Gulutzan termed him as a game-time decision.

"I know Devo's chomping at the bit to go. He's a pro and he's a hungry pro," Gulutzan said. "He takes care of himself and he’s been waiting for an opportunity. We've got to make a decision based more on health than anything."

Other that getting Nystrom back, it looks like the Stars will also have a capacity crowd for this crucial game with the Sharks. And after returning from a road trip that can at best be labled as disappointing, seeing a full house will be a welcome sight for the Dallas players.

"It'll be nice. Last game you look at their crowd [in San Jose] can get into it and it's definitely an advantage. That team over there is a different team on the road than when they're at home," Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "I think that's something we kind of want to establish here. We want to be extremely tough to beat at home and a big crowd will amp it up. It's obviously an important game as it is, so it'll just make it even that much more fun."

In Saturday's 3-0 loss at San Jose, the Stars did outhit the Sharks 42-17 -- and while that statistic can be a bit misleading, Dallas does want to bring a similar level of physicality to its sixth and final meeting of the regular season with their division rival.

"We want to be physical against them," Stars winger Adam Burish. "I think that just goes with the energy -- the way you play, the way you get on pucks, the way we forecheck. They do such a good job with the way they come out of their zone. We're going to have to be more physical, which means getting two guys on the puck."

But no matter how he and his teammates look at it, Tuesday night's game is a definite must-win.

"If you want to control it and tell yourself that you're going to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs, you have to win tonight," Burish said. "That's the way I'm kind of approaching it. This is one that you've got to have."
   
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Sharks, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday night's game between the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryan Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
T.J. Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Brent Burns - Jason Demers
Justin Braun - Colin White

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Injuries: Douglas Murray (undisclosed)

Scratches: Benn Ferreiro, Michal Handzus, Jim Vandermeer, Brad Winchester

Notes: Not only are the Sharks seeing their second victory over the Stars in a span of three days, but San Jose is also looking to avenge a 4-3 shootout loss during its last trip to American Airlines Center back on March 8. However, the stakes are much higher for this sixth and final meeting between these Pacific Division rivals. A win by San Jose and it takes a major step toward securing a playoff berth -- and in the process, the Sharks could deal a near-fatal blow to any postseason aspirations on the part of the Stars. Saturday's game was a physical affair and this one figures to be no different.

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Adam Burish
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Tomas Vincour
Brenden Morrow - Jake Dowell - Ryan Garbutt

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Mark Fistric

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Injuries: Radek Dvorak (ankle), Eric Nystrom (leg)

Scratches: Adam Pardy, Toby Petersen, Reilly Smith, Tom Wandell

Notes: The Stars head into Tuesday's meeting with the Sharks on the outside looking in as far as the Western Conference playoff race. Saturday's 3-0 loss at San Jose knocked them to ninth, which makes the sixth and final meeting between these Pacific Division rivals crucial for both clubs. It looks like Nystrom will be ready to return. He suffered a cut on his leg during Dallas' recently-concluded four-game road trip, while fellow third-liner Dvorak, who is battling an ankle issue, was called a game-time decision by Stars coach Glen Gulutzan after practice on Monday. Saturday's loss at HP Pavilion marked the first time the Stars hadn't scored at least one goal in 34 games. Dallas had last been shut out on Jan. 16 when it fell 1-0 to the Blues in St. Louis.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Turco starts, Krug to debut as Bruins face Penguins

BOSTON -- One of the Boston Bruins' main objectives for their final three games of the regular season, now that they're locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, is to get rest for some of their key performers.

Maybe no one on the roster is more important than goaltender Tim Thomas, and tonight Thomas' rest begins. Bruins coach Claude Julien said after his team's morning skate that Marty Turco will start in net against Pittsburgh at the TD Garden tonight. Anton Khudobin, who was recalled Monday from Providence of the American Hockey League, will serve as the backup.

Julien also confirmed that Thomas would play again before the season is out.

"Certainly, we're going to give him some rest. He's done a great job for us down the stretch and this is an opportunity to give him some rest," Julien said. "But at the same time, we’re going to continue to work with him so he's fine-tuned for the playoffs."

Turco is not eligible to play in the postseason because he signed with the Bruins after the trade deadline. So depending on the status of Tuukka Rask's recovery from an abdominal injury he's been working his way back from since early last month, Khudobin might have to be Thomas' postseason backup. That means the Bruins will probably try to get Khudobin some playing time before the season is done.

The Bruins will make a couple lineup changes tonight as well. Up front, Jordan Caron is out with the flu and Gregory Campbell should be back after missing one game with a lower-body injury.

On defense, rookie Torey Krug is scheduled to make his NHL debut. Krug signed as a free agent with Boston last month after his season was through at Michigan State.

Here's a look at the Bruins' projected lineup:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Rich Peverley
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Torey Krug - Greg Zanon

Marty Turco
Anton Khudobin

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Isles focus on strong finish to build for next season

NEWARK, N.J. -- After giving his team what he called a "wake-up call" Sunday by sending five defensemen out for one shift against Ottawa, Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he's now looking for nine solid periods of hockey this week so his club can go into the offseason with a positive feeling.

"We talk about the last nine periods of hockey that we need to play and just making sure that the accountability for one another, the compete level for one another, and playing for one another is important," Capuano said Tuesday in advance of the Islanders' game against New Jersey at Prudential Center. "You can't worry about the scoreboard. I've always told the guys your work ethic will dictate the outcome of the game. We have some young guys playing, guys we're taking a look at, and we want them to work hard."

The Islanders are looking to even the season series against New Jersey. They also play Thursday at home against Winnipeg before closing the regular season Saturday at Columbus.

They had won three in a row, including two straight over Pittsburgh, before dropping the last two on home ice against Boston (6-3) and Ottawa (5-1).

John Tavares said if the Islanders close the season with some good games against the Devils, Jets and Blue Jackets, it will boost morale going into the offseason and, eventually, training camp.

"I think you definitely would have a much better feeling with the way it ended," Tavares said. "Playing well and ending on a positive does a lot for morale. I think it's important and what we have to continue to do. As a group this is the last week we'll be together, so you want to enjoy that, end it on a positive note, and build on some things."

Al Montoya will get the start in net. Here is the rest of the Islanders lineup:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter
Michael Haley - Jay Pandolfo - Matt Martin

Mark Streit - Mark Eaton
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Matt Donovan - Dylan Reese

Al Montoya
John Grahame

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 12:54 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Injuries force Flyers to shuffle lines, defense pairings

VOORHEES, N.J. -- With Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossmann out of the lineup Tuesday against the New York Rangers, the Flyers shuffled three of their four lines and all three defense pairings.

The big move was sliding Matt Read into Briere's place between Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.

The trio of Briere, Schenn and Simmonds had combined for 9 goals and 10 assists in the last six games together.

Simmonds, named Monday as the NHL's First Star of the Week, doesn't see much changing with Read on the line.

"We've still got the same kind of look," Simmonds said. "Our line, with me and [Schenn] and Danny, we played well down low with the puck, and [Read] is really good down low with the puck. I think it'll be a seamless transition."

Simmonds and Read both said the fact that the trio had played together earlier in the season also gives them confidence the line will click.

"Over the course of the season you get comfortable with some guys, and these two guys I've played with and I'm comfortable playing with them," Read said. "I'm kind of excited for tonight, get things back together and take it to the Rangers tonight."

Here is how the rest of the lineup likely will look when the Flyers hit the ice Tuesday:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Matt Read - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Eric Wellwood - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Pavel Kubina
Andreas Lilja - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

 
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Oklahoma native Donovan set to make NHL history

NEWARK, N.J. -- Larry and Katherine Donovan were getting ready to head home to Oklahoma from Bridgeport, Conn., on Monday after watching their 22-year-old son Matt play for the Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

They never left. Matt got in touch with them just in time to deliver an exciting message.

He was headed to the show to play for the New York Islanders.

"They were boarding a flight when I got the call," Donovan said Tuesday morning from Prudential Center, where he will make his NHL debut against the Devils. "They didn't get on the plane. They got their bags off the plane, and they're going to make the drive here."

Donovan, a fourth-round pick by the Islanders in the 2008 NHL Draft, will be paired with Dylan Reese in his NHL debut. Donovan is an offensive defenseman and he leads all Sound Tigers blueliners with 42 points on 10 goals and 32 assists this season.

He's also unique to the NHL in that he is from Oklahoma. He will be the first Oklahoman born, raised, and trained in the state to play in the NHL.

"My dad is from Boston, so he got me into hockey and he runs ice rinks in Oklahoma," Donovan said. "That's how I got into it and I've been a rink rat my whole life."

Donovan left home at 16 to play midget hockey in Dallas. He went on to play for Cedar Rapids in the USHL and then the University of Denver, where he starred for two seasons before signing his entry-level contract with the Islanders. He won gold with Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship, scoring 5 points and posting a plus-6 rating.

"Being the first kid from Oklahoma in the World Juniors, I just tried to take it all in and play every game like it was my last," Donovan said.

He said he's going to try to treat the game Tuesday as any other, but said he realizes that will be difficult because of his nerves.

"It really hasn't hit me that tonight is the night that I'm going to be playing my first NHL game, but I'm excited and ready to play," Donovan said. "Just try to do the exact same thing I would in Bridgeport. Keep the same game-day ritual: go back to the hotel, eat, try to take a nap. I don't know how well that is going to go with the nerves going and the excitement, but just try to keep the same routine and hopefully my nerves don't get the best of me."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 12:42 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bryz back from chip fracture, will start vs. Rangers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers will have Ilya Bryzgalov back in the net when they face the New York Rangers on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.

Bryzgalov sat out the past three games recovering from a chip fracture in his right foot that occurred last Monday prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but has been on the ice most days since the injury happened.

He took part in the pre-game skate Tuesday at the club's suburban New Jersey practice site, and teammates were happy with what they saw.

"He looked pretty sharp," Claude Giroux said.

"It's good to see him out there," Scott Hartnell added. "He's been a big part of our success the last couple months. … I think he wants to get back in the lineup, he wants to get back to feeling good. Tonight will be a good test for him."

In two games against the Rangers this season, Bryzgalov is 0-2-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and .869 save percentage. For his career, he's 1-4-0 with a 3.64 GAA and .887 save percentage in five games.

But the more important numbers are the ones Bryzgalov posted in March, which earned him the NHL's First Star of the Month award -- 10-2-1, 1.43 GAA, .947 save percentage and four shutouts.

With the final three games of the regular season this week -- Tuesday against the Rangers, Thursday against Buffalo, Saturday in Pittsburgh -- it's likely Bryzgalov will start all three.

"I think it is easier to stay on top of your game when you're playing on a regular basis," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He had a little bit of time off, but not too much, so we're looking forward to getting him back in there."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery