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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Zucker will make NHL debut for Wild

ST. PAUL -- With their playoff hopes dashed, it's nights like tonight Wild fans have been waiting for for weeks, as Minnesota faces off with the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center.

Rookie left wing Jason Zucker, a Wild second-round pick in 2010, will make his NHL debut in front of the home crowd this evening, in a building he is very familiar with.

Just six days ago, Zucker played in his final collegiate hockey game in the NCAA Tournament as a member of the University of Denver. Two weeks ago to the day, Zucker scored the game-winning goal, in this building, as the Pioneers defeated Michigan Tech University in the WCHA Final Five.

Asked that day if he had planned on turning pro after the season, Zucker said he wasn't sure. Little did he know he'd be making his big-league debut in the same arena just 14 days later.

"I actually slept better than I thought," Zucker said.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he doesn't have any expectations from Zucker, either high or low. He will play tonight next to playmaking center Erik Christensen and fellow rookie Nick Johnson, whose speed should play well with Zucker's.

"This is an incredible experience for him," Yeo said of Minnesota's final six games. "It will be what he makes of it, that's for sure."

The Wild will go with Niklas Backstrom, who is finally recovered from a litany of dings, most recently a groin. He has backed up Josh Harding some recently, including Tuesday night's loss to the Rangers. Backstrom hasn't played since Mar. 1 in Montreal, when he left after just 2:52 with an injury.

Minnesota will also get back defenseman Justin Falk back from a leg injury. He hasn't played since March 4 against Colorado. His return will push Kurtis Foster out of the lineup.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning captain Lecavalier set to return

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will get their captain, Vincent Lecavalier, back in the lineup on Thursday when they visit the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
 
Lecavalier has missed the previous 18 games with a fractured right hand sustained Feb. 18 against the Capitals when he was hit by a puck. Lecavalier actually announced his return via his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.
 
"I'm ready to play and happy that it's six games," Lecavalier said. "It wouldn't have mattered if it were six games, one game or three games. To me, when you're ready to come back, you come back and these guys have been working so hard the last month. I wanted to come and play and have some fun and play the game and try to finish strong."
 
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said Lecavalier's minutes will be monitored, but he expects the big center to provide some extra energy to the lineup.
 
"My minutes won't be limited as a result of the injury more than the fact I've been away for five weeks," Lecavalier said. "We'll keep the shifts short and simple, but I'll be ready. I've worked out hard and I feel good."
 
Additionally, center Nate Thompson will miss his seventh straight game with upper-body injury. Boucher will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for Thursday's contest.
 
Despite the lost time, Lecavalier has 21 goals, 46 points in 58 games while averaging 19:04 of ice time. He's second on the team with five game-winning goals and also second with 505 faceoff wins -- five behind Steven Stamkos.
 
Tampa Bay is a longshot to qualify for the playoffs. The team is nine points behind eighth-seeded Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Here are the projected lineups for the Lightning:
 
Teddy Purcell - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
JT Wyman - Tom Pyatt - Tim Wallace
Trevor Smith - Adam Hall
 
Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brett Clark - Brian Lee
Keith Aulie - Brendan Mikkelson
Bruno Gervais
 
Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:10 PM

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

Capitals get Vokoun back between the pipes

BOSTON -- After six games out with a lower-body injury, Tomas Vokoun is scheduled to be the Washington Capitals' starting goaltender tonight against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden.

Vokoun carries a 25-17-2 record with a 2.53 goals-against average and .916 save percentage into the vital game for the Capitals, who trail eight-place Buffalo by two points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

After practicing Wednesday, Vokoun declared himself ready to return. The morning skate today did nothing to change that.

"We are basically with our backs against the wall," Vokoun said. "You want to be on the ice and make a difference, a positive one. So I'm glad I'll get the chance to play."

Joel Ward and Nicklas Backstrom both skated for the Capitals but will remain sidelined with their injuries.

Here’s a look at Washington's projected lineup:

Marcus Johansson - Brooks Laich - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Cody Eakin - Keith Aucoin

Dennis Wideman - Karl Alzner
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
John Carlson - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:01 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Likely lineup for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Here is the lineup the Chicago Blackhawks likely will use when they take the ice Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.

The Hawks have a lot to play for, as a win could help them clinch a playoff spot tonight. They need to beat the Blues and then hope the Coyotes lose in regulation tonight to the Stars to become the fifth Western Conference team to clinch a spot in the postseason.

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:58 PM

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

Seidenberg to miss first game this season

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has played in all of the team's 76 games so far this season, but he has been ruled out of tonight's game with Washington at the TD Garden.

Seidenberg suffered a cut from an opponent's skate last Saturday in a win over Los Angeles. He played in Boston's two games since then. However, according to coach Claude Julien, the cut has become infected and Seidenberg is on antibiotics. The blueliner is classified as day-to-day and he's being kept out of the lineup as a precaution.

That means the Bruins will re-insert Joe Corvo tonight as they try to earn the two points that will clinch them a playoff berth. Corvo, who had a cortisone shot in his right hand a couple weeks ago, has been scratched for six straight games.

As for the playoff berth, the Bruins are looking to make it five trips to the postseason in the five years under Julien's tutelage. Julien believes his team is playing the perfect opponent to make sure it doesn't try to coast to those two points.

"That's a first step in the right direction, right? Clinching a spot is something, and you're playing a team that's really battling hard to get themselves in the playoffs," said Julien about the Capitals, who sit ninth in the Eastern Conference. "We all know here, and we can say and pretend it's just smoke coming out of my mouth, but really this team here is going to be tough to play against tonight. Really, desperation makes it tough. So, again, I like those kind of challenges. Those are the kind of challenges you need to finish the season with in order to bring the best out of your hockey club. And we're going to need to be at our best if we expect to win tonight."

Here's the Bruins' projected lineup:

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

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
Greg Zanon - Joe Corvo

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco

 
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:07 PM

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

Flyers have special guest on ice

With the Philadelphia Flyers coming to his hometown, a former Flyer joined the club for Thursday's morning skate.

Wearing an orange practice jersey and his familiar black helmet with No. 88 on it, Eric Lindros skated around, took shots and chatted with a few players and assistant coach Craig Berube, a former Flyers teammate, prior to the Flyers' game Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's another step in the improved relationship between the former star player and the franchise. Lindros memorably pulled on a Flyers jersey for the first time in more than a decade at the Flyers-Rangers alumni game as part of the 2012 Winter Classic.

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

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Devils get shot-blocker Volchenkov back in lineup

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils will have a key cog back in the lineup on Thursday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center, with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
 
The (Bergen) Record reported on Wednesday that Volchenkov did skate on his own Wednesday morning after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Peter DeBoer informed the media that there was a chance he could return to the lineup.
 
The return of Volchenkov is huge for the Devils, who currently stand sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-seeded Ottawa.
 
Volchenkov, who has 2 goals, including a game-winner, 11 points and a minus-3 rating, leads the team with 166 hits and 120 blocked shots while averaging 18:02 of ice time. During the team's morning skate on Thursday, Volchenkov was paired with Peter Harrold.
 
"He's one of the better D-men on our team and it's kind of good for me to play with him because he's a good stay-at-home defenseman who takes care of his own end … it's comfortable back there with him," Harrold said. "I played a little with him the last stint up, but it's a comfort level with all the defensemen. Everyone here talks a lot and everyone knows what's going on, so they make the transition pretty seamless."
 
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will sit out his second straight game as a healthy scratch. Larsson was forced to leave a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2 with 5:58 remaining in the third period after being hit hard by defenseman P.K. Subban.
 
The rookie Swede would produce just 2 assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough, listing him as a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
 
"We had a good conversation prior to the Chicago game about my reasons for doing what I was doing and he understood," DeBoer said. "We had an assistant coach sit with him during the Chicago game and kind of watch the play and point out things we felt would help him when he got back in and be more successful."
 
For the season, Larsson, drafted fourth by the Devils last June, has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He ranks third on the team with 44 giveaways but also has 93 hits and 67 blocked shots while averaging 20:44 of ice time.
 
"There's lots of communication going there, but it's not a daily conversation for me," DeBoer said. "This time of year, we've got a lot of bigger things on our plate and Adam Larsson is a huge part of this organization going forward. But he's not the focal point; the focal point is our team and how we're playing."
 
DeBoer inserted Harrold, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, into the lineup in Larsson's absence on Tuesday. He responded with two blocked shots in 19:06 of ice time.
 
There are several players looking to snap out of unusual offensive slumps, including Patrik Elias, who has 1 goal in his last eight games. Zach Parise has 3 goals in his last 13 games, David Clarkson is in the midst of a season-long nine-game goal drought and rookie Adam Henrique has 1 goal in his last 20 contests. DeBoer will have Travis Zajac centering Parise and Kovalchuk to begin the game to see if he can generate more offense.
 
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
 
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 9:26 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 29th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 86 5 91 3

9th 77 84 5 89 4
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 77 87 5 92 4
The skinny: The road to the playoffs for the Washington Capitals has become a little more difficult with their loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, and it doesn't get easier playing in Boston against a Bruins team that has won five of their past six games.

It is still a very tight race in the East with Washington, Buffalo and Ottawa vying for the last two spots. My projection for the eighth spot is 92 points, so the Capitals (84 points) have the least margin for error -- they need to win four of their remaining five games. While Washington holds the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins) over Buffalo and Ottawa, a loss virtually guarantees a zero margin for error in their final four games.

The Florida Panthers visit the Minnesota Wild with a five-point cushion ahead of the Caps for the Southeast Division lead. They need only three points in their remaining six games to get to 92. That is a far more enviable position to be in than the Caps find themselves in.

In the Western Conference, losses Wednesday night by the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have seen their playoff hopes essentially vanish. My projected 'magic' number is 94 points in the West, and the Avs and Flames can max out at 93 with a sweep of their remaining four games.

The problem for these two teams is they meet in Calgary on Friday. One team will come up short again and no amount of help from other teams will be of assistance, while the winner will be left with the faintest of hope.

Phoenix has an important home game Thursday against the Sharks. Phoenix got some help for their playoff hopes Wednesday night when the Ducks beat the Sharks. A win by the Coyotes moves them ahead of the Sharks and Kings and only one point behind the Stars.

The Pacific division has one of the best races in the NHL and it will go down to final day (April 7th) before it is settled. It looks like three teams from the Pacific will be in the playoffs this year, and the Coyotes want to be one of them. A win will move them in that direction, and they have the added consolation of knowing the Sharks face the Stars and Kings two more times each.

A playoff race creates some of the fiercest games and rivalries as well as some of the strangest bedmates -- depending on where your team is standing.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:37 AM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

SJS @ ANA - 19:51 of the Third Period

At 19:51 of the third period in the Sharks/Ducks game, with the Sharks net empty, Corey Perry shot the puck at the net and Dan Boyle knocked the net off the pegs stopping play. According to rule 63.6 "when the goal post has been displaced deliberately by the defending team when their goaltender has been removed for an extra attacker thereby preventing an impending goal by the attacking team, the Referee shall award a goal to the attacking team."  Good Goal Anaheim.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:18 AM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

COL @ VAN - 4:53 of the Third Period

At 4:53 of the third period in the Avalanche/Canucks game, the Toronto situation room initiated a review because the puck crossed the goal line after a scrum in front of the Avalanche net. The referee ruled that he had blown the play dead after Alex Burrows shot was stopped by Semyon Varlamov and prior to the puck crossing the goal line. No Goal Vancouver.
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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