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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:51 PM

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

Lundqvist absent, but Tortorella says he's 'just dandy'

NEW YORK -- Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Marian Gaborik were the only two Rangers who didn't participate in the optional morning skate Saturday. Lundqvist has been known to take skip game-day skates if there is a full practice the previous, but this is the first time he's done it in the playoffs.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said Lundqvist is "just dandy" and will play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Rangers forwards Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) and Mats Zuccarello (wrist) are out. Dubinsky made a brief appearance in the locker room this morning without the aid of a boot or crutches and said he, "defers all questions to Torts" about his injury status. Dubinsky did not participate in the optional skate.

The only true question mark in terms of availability is Caps forward Jay Beagle, who will be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. He missed Game 6 of the series and did not participate in the morning skate Saturday.

Here are the projected lineups for Game 7:

CAPITALS

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

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

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

RANGERS

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

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

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:44 PM

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

Zidlicky, Volchenkov return to practice for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Anton Volchenkov were both a welcome sight at New Jersey Devils practice here at AmeriHealth Pavilion on Saturday.
 
Both players had been off the ice since the team's Game 5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. According to the team, each player was "resting" after being shaken up in the series-clinching win.
 
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told the media on Wednesday that Zidlicky was "day-to-day" with an unspecified injury he sustained in the second period of Game 5 against the Flyers on Tuesday.
 
Zidlicky, who was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 24, was shaken up 8:14 into the second after taking a crunching hit from Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds in the left-wing corner. He did return to the game and played four more shifts but sat out the entire third period.
 
Volchenkov took a hard hit from Zac Rinaldo in the opening period and, despite taking several minutes before returning the bench, was able to finish the game.
 
Right wing Dainius Zubrus, who practiced with the team on Thursday, was also skating hard on Saturday. The veteran forward sustained a charley horse on a hit from Rinaldo in the second period on Tuesday.
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer conducted a double session on Saturday in preparation for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.
 
The Devils will either play host to the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center or visit Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers. New Jersey's opponent will be determined on Saturday when the Capitals and Rangers play in Game 7 in Manhattan.
 
Here were the line combinations during the first session of Devils practice on Saturday:
 
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - David Clarkson
Petr Sykora - Adam Henrique - Dainius Zubrus
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Eric Boulton - Tim Sestito - Cam Janssen.
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Adam Larsson
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
 


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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:33 PM

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

Beagle unlikely for Caps in Game 7

NEW YORK -- It appears as though Capitals forward Jay Beagle will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers on Saturday night, although coach Dale Hunter said "game-time" when asked about Beagle's status.

Beagle missed Game 6 of the series with a lower-body injury and did not participate in the game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. He was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Halpern, who had been a healthy scratch since March 23. Halpern was a minus-1 in 10:23 of ice time in the Caps' 2-1 win. Beagle hasn't skated with the team since blocking a shot with right leg during Game 5.

Capitals forward Alexander Semin was also absent from the team's optional practice, but Hunter said he Semin will be in the lineup.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 5:59 PM

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

Aucoin status for Game 1 up in the air

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin was unable to practice for a second straight day, leaving in doubt his availability for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Los Angeles on Sunday.

Aucoin, who was injured early in Phoenix's 2-1 series-clinching win against Nashville on Monday, hasn't returned to the ice since.

"He was going to skate a little before practice but it didn't happen," coach Dave Tippett said. "Call him day-to-day."

Aucoin missed a game due to injury earlier in the playoffs but has averaged more than 18 minutes a game during the postseason. David Schlemko, who has filled in for Aucoin, Michal Rozsival and Rostislav Klesla once each during the playoffs, played very well in the clincher against the Predators and would be the likely replacement if Aucoin can't go.

"We have more depth on this team that in the past. That's a real plus for us," Tippett said.

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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 4:38 PM

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

Smith's puck-handling ability a challenge for Kings

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- One of the memorable plays from the Phoenix Coyotes' 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 16 was goaltender Mike Smith nearly scoring on the empty net with a length-of-the-ice clear in the waning seconds.

Smith is known for his deft puck-handling, and the Kings will have to limit his activity and possession time in the Western Conference Finals, which start Sunday.

"If he's going to be a third defenseman and he's going to be breaking them out of the zone all day, then we're not going to get the sustained pressure that we want," Justin Williams said.

"Certainly, the less he handles the puck the better off we are."

Smith's puck-handling can get him into trouble, too, in the form of turnovers and stray or poor clears. But it hasn't cost Smith much against L.A. He had a 1.76 goals-against average against the Kings this season, with nine goals allowed in five games.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Smith also presents a physical challenge as well.

"He's huge," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Obviously he's worked hard on his game. The one thing you can't teach is size. There are times when he makes a save, we get good traffic on him, he goes into his stance or whatever you want to call it and the puck just hits him because he's so big. That's not something you can teach. The fact that he's as big as he is, makes it even more difficult for us.

"He's pretty good at staying above, looking above guys. He goes down and probably gives more room up top. He's able to track the puck really well again, because of his size. He plays as little deeper in his net, which has its advantages and disadvantages. For a guy that big, it gives him that extra second to react to the puck. Like I said, he's on top of his game right now. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 4:04 PM

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

Capitals have mostly avoided injury bug in playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When a team plays in as many close games as the Washington Capitals have this postseason, there is bound to be some luck involved.

One area where the Capitals have had some good fortune is in the trainer's room. Every team has players dealing with minor injuries at this point of the season, but when Jay Beagle missed Game 6 against the New York Rangers, he became the first player to miss a contest because of injury this postseason.

"Guys have been playing hard, and it is a little surprising," veteran forward Mike Knuble said. "That Boston series was a physical series. It just seems like there is always somebody tweaking something and missing a game or two here or there. Knock on wood, we've avoided the big one, and Jay is the first guy to go down."

Dealing with injuries goes beyond man-games lost in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals know that as well as any team. Past postseason failures have been littered with guys, often critical guys, trying to play through an injury because that's what hockey players do at this time of the year.

Brooks Laich played through a postseason with a broken foot. Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have played with a broken thumb. Mike Green has had multiple postseasons marred by multiple injuries, and he did finally miss time at the end of the series against Tampa Bay last year because of a shoulder ailment. Even Alex Ovechkin, who just scored his 30th goal in 50 career postseason games, has played through injury in years' past.

Some of the Capitals are certainly playing through pain right now as they prepare for Game 7 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. But both Knuble and Karl Alzner admitted the team has had better luck with injuries than in years' past, and the club is relatively healthy -- sans for Beagle, who didn't skate again Friday and seems doubtful for Game 7.

"We are [healthier]," Alzner said. "I think we're very fortunate with the style of hockey we've been playing that we don't have as many injuries as we've had in the past. I mean, guys are taking care of themselves really well and the trainers are making sure everybody is healing up. We're very, very fortunate that is the case right now.

"It is very nice. We just hope that nothing goes the wrong way. That's all you can really do. Injuries are going to happen, and teams that are the deepest are going to figure it out the best."
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 2:26 PM

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

Rangers not concerned with low offensive totals

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Rangers aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard on the way to what could be their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1997.

Entering Game 7 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers rank 11th in scoring at 2.08 goals per game and are last among the teams still remaining in the postseason.

The Rangers haven't scored more than three goals in a game since Game 1 against Ottawa and have been held to two goals or fewer in nine of 13 games.

Despite that avalanche of statistical information condemning the offense, Brad Richards doesn't see it as a problem heading into Game 7.

"It's really one game," Richards said. "If we win 1-0, it's the same as if we win 5-1. You play the game the way it's being played, and we're not going to abandon our structure just because people are writing about lack of scoring. We just have to win a game."

The Rangers haven't generated much offensively and neither have the Capitals in what has been an extremely tight series. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a major reason the Rangers are still alive in the postseason with their lack of scoring, posting a 1.73 goals-against average.

Lundqvist said he wouldn't mind some additional support, but understands there isn't much room in the Caps' defensive zone.

"They've been playing pretty tight in their own end," Lundqvist said. "It's tough for us to create scoring chances. I hope that changes tomorrow and we come out and play our best game of the year."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 1:35 PM

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

Kreider back on Rangers' second line at practice

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's been a roller-coaster month for Chris Kreider with more ups and downs than an elevator in a high-rise office building.

If the line combinations at Rangers practice Friday are any indication, the 21-year-old rookie looks like he's on his way back up again.

Kreider was back on the team's second line on the left wing with center Derek Stepan and right wing Ryan Callahan after spending the past two games playing limited minutes on the fourth line. A gaffe by Kreider in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals led directly to a goal by Alex Ovechkin, and Rangers coach John Tortorella has reined in Kreider ever since.

Kreider was averaging about 17 minutes per game from Game 7 of the Rangers' first-round series against Ottawa up until Game 2 against the Capitals and played 26:17 in New York's 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.

But since the blunder in Game 4, Kreider hasn't cracked the seven-minute barrier. If he's back with Stepan and Callahan, that will likely change Saturday night in Game 7.

"It always takes a while, especially in this situation, for him to understand how we play, especially the defensive part," Tortorella said. "Really, we haven't overloaded him with too much. That's going to be a process he needs to go through next year. It doesn’t happen overnight. As we've gone through here, we've given him the foundation of it, not overload him, because you just don't want to turn him into a robot."

It took a few games for Kreider to earn Tortorella's trust after signing with the team right before the start of the postseason after winning two national titles in three years with Boston College. Kreider's debut in the NHL was accelerated when left wing Carl Hagelin was suspended for Games 3-5 of the Ottawa series for an elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson.

Kreider improved enough that he stayed in the lineup after Hagelin's return. He scored the winning goal in Game 6 vs. the Senators and had a goal and an assist in Game 1 vs. the Capitals. But Kreider hasn't registered a point since and knows he needs to be better.

"I think my role has been the same in my time that I've been here, regardless of the line I'm playing on," Kreider said. "They probably want more of the same, trying to win puck battles, trying to beat guys to pucks. I think I've learned things every single game regardless of the minutes I've played. It's little nuances, little details."

Kreider was a combined minus-4 between Games 3 and 5 of this series. He said his diminished role in recent games was a motivator to show he can be effective in Game 7.

"I think so," Kreider said. "I think it's kind of hard not to be motivated regardless of the situation here, playing big minutes or small minutes. I was pretty inspired and motivated throughout the playoffs."

With Kreider on the second line, forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has zero goals in 13 games in the playoffs, was on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Here's how the lines all looked at practice Friday:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

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

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 12:00 PM

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

Devils get off day; status quo on injured defensemen

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils stayed off the ice Friday as they continued to wait for their opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals to be set.

That extra day of rest could be most beneficial to a pair of New Jersey defensemen who were injured in the Devils' series-clinching Game 5 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

Marek Zidlicky and Anton Volchenkov sat out practice Thursday, but coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Friday the same thing he said Thursday -- he expects both to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the conference finals.

"Everyone's getting better," he said. "Shouldn't be an issue."

Neither player was available to speak to the media.

Volchenkov had to go to the locker room after absorbing a hit from Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo 6:28 into the game. He missed about seven minutes of game time, but returned and played a total of 14:59, just off his playoff average of 15:21 per game.

Zidlicky was shaken up after a hit by the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds with 8:17 left in the second period. He returned to play four more shifts in the second, but sat out the third.

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

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:39 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Coyotes play down underdog staus

The Phoenix Coyotes seemingly are perpetual underdogs. Between their struggles on the ice and their unsettled ownership situation, it's easy to forget that they've made the playoffs three years in a row and are the reigning Pacific Division champions.

The Coyotes earned the third seed in the West this spring by virtue of their division title, and they'll have the home-ice edge for the third series in a row against Los Angeles. It's the third year in a row they've been in the top six in the West -- a fact that Phoenix captain Shane Doan doesn't want people to forget.

"No one seems to mention that two years ago we finished with 107 points and we were three points away from leading the West, and five points away from leading the whole NHL," Doan said during Thursday's conference call with the media. "But no one recognizes that. We got knocked out in seven games by Detroit. Had a couple things go wrong with a couple of injuries in the playoffs that really hurt us. But I think that it's kind of been it's been kind of the next step as we move along, and we want to keep it going."

Coach Dave Tippett doesn't mind having his team labeled the underdog against the Kings -- after all, the Coyotes weren't favored to beat Chicago or Nashville in the first two rounds, and they did.

"Hasn't bothered us much yet, so we'll find where we are," he said of being the underdog. "It was very competitive all year in our division. I think we won the last couple of games of the regular season to get the third seed, which turned out to be very important to us for home ice advantage.

"But our team, I think, a lot of people always view us as a smaller-market team that we're in the hunt, but nobody views us as a contender. I look at our game as kind of evolved [during] the last part of the regular season into the playoffs, where we have the confidence we can beat anybody. We recognize that we'll probably always be looked at as the underdog, but that hasn't changed for us in the last three years. So we're comfortable in that mode."

Tippett said his team benefitted by having to deal with fewer off-ice distractions this season.

"The distractions were less this year," he said. "I thought the NHL did a very good job of keeping it away from us. The thing about last year, we were going through a situation where it looked like there was an owner and then lawsuits, and gold water groups. There was a lot of stuff going on that we didn't have to deal with this year.

"I think ultimately what's happened is we've become very hardened to it. Our group has always used it as a motivating factor, not a crutch. This year as much as it was still around, it seemed less infectious on us."

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