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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Playoff spot in the bag, Blues go for division clinch

CHICAGO -- Step by step, the Blues have been presented with goals, and each time, they knock the door down and reach uncharted territory.

First, it was clinching a playoff berth for the first time since the 2008-09 season and only the second time since the work stoppage.

Next up is the Central Division title, and it's there for the taking when the Blues (48-20-9) play against a division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-9) at United Center.

Coupled with Detroit's surprising loss at Columbus on Wednesday night, the Blues have the chance to wrap up their first division title since 1999-2000 with a regulation or overtime win over the Blackhawks.

"It'll definitely be a good accomplishment for us," winger T.J. Oshie said. "You look at the points that are in our division and the teams that are in our division ... even Columbus coming up with a big win (Wednesday). It's a tough division, and to be at the top of that would be a good stepping stone for this team. It would be a stepping stone because we want to get up to that big goal at the end, but it's definitely something we'd like to have on the resume."

The Blues have a chance to knock the Red Wings off the perch for a change. Detroit, which has clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season, has owned the Central, winning it in nine of the last 10 seasons.

"This would be a good feeling for someone else to be able to do this other than those big two (Detroit and Chicago, which won the division in 2009-10) and maybe sometime down the road give them something to think about," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got lots of goals in front of us now between the Jennings (Trophy), the division, the conference, the Presidents' (Trophy) ... they're all obtainable. They're in our control.

"We spent seven months getting to this stage. We want to just keep going. We don't want to give up something that we've earned and kept for a little while. We've got teams pushing us in every aspect. The loss for Detroit to Columbus opens up a door for us tonight, so hopefully we jump all over it."

For a team with so many younger players who haven't experienced what's been presented to them, the Blues have been even-keeled and not looked too far ahead and lost sight of what's in front of them.

"There's been a lot of patience with this team from the fans and management and players," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "To be in the position we are and contending for first place in the division and the conference and potentially overall, it's pretty gratifying and it shows the hard work we've put in this year.

"Everybody's smart enough in this room to know that the Presidents' Trophy isn't going to get you anything in the playoffs. It doesn't give you any freebies, any first-round byes or guarantees you're going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know the toughest part is still to come. We're excited about the potential, but you look at our game in Tampa Bay to be the first to clinch a playoff spot, we didn't bring out any champagne. It was business as usual and moved on."


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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:15 PM

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

Quenneville: Montador out indefinitely

CHICAGO -- The comeback from an upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related didn't even last one full game for Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador.

The 32-year-old Montador, who'd missed 22 games in a row, was re-injured Tuesday night in New Jersey when his head collided hard with Devils defenseman Mark Fayne early in the third period. Montador did not participate in Thursday's morning skate at United Center and will not play against the St. Louis Blues.

"We'll just say right now he's out indefinitely," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Upper body."

It's been a frustrating second half of the season for Montador, who was acquired by Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman before free agency started last summer and signed a four-year contract extension worth $11 million ($2.75 million cap hit) according to capgeek.com.

He's missed 25 games because of injuries overall, and has five goals with nine assists and a plus-4 rating in the 52 games he's played. Chicago will also play its third straight game without top puck-moving defenseman Duncan Keith, who's serving a five-game suspension for elbowing.

Montador actually played forward on the fourth line in New Jersey, rather than defense, which meant veteran 40-year-old defenseman Sean O'Donnell was on the third pairing with rookie Dylan Olsen. Sami Lepisto isn't ready to return yet, so that appears likely to be the setup for the game against the Blues, as well.

Look for Michael Frolik to grab Montador's spot on the fourth line with rookie Jimmy Hayes likely being a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 2:47 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Likely lineups for Flyers, Maple Leafs

TORONTO -- Here are the expected lineups the Flyers and Maple Leafs will use Thursday when they face off at Air Canada Centre:

MAPLE LEAFS
Matthew Lombardi - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Matt Frattin
Carter Ashton - Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Jay Rosehill - Colby Armstrong - Mike Brown

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Jonas Gustavsson
Jussi Rynnas

With James Reimer out with an upper-body injury, Gustavsson likely will start the remainder of the games.

David Steckel will be a game-time decision because of a lower-body injury.

"I've got a sheet of paper, there's about 15 different combinations I have put down there." said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "I would think that you are going to see Tim Connolly go to the middle with Carter Ashton and (Joey) Crabb, that is tentatively on one of those little pieces of paper."

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

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossman
Matt Carle - Marc-Andre Bourdon
Pavel Kubina - Erik Gustafsson

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jason Bacashihua

The Flyers are without goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, neither of whom made the trip. Bryzgalov has a chip fracture in his right foot, while Timonen is taking a game off to treat an upper-body injury.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 2:13 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lindros joins Flyers for morning skate



TORONTO -- The Flyers had a special guest on the ice at their morning skate Thursday here at Air Canada Centre -- Eric Lindros, who skated onto the ice in his old black and orange colors, wearing a black helmet, emblazoned with No.  88.

"It was a lot of fun," said Lindros, who spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career with the Flyers. "Anytime you can wake up and head to this building and go have some fun on the ice, it's a blast."

He joined the club at the behest of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

"(Holmgren) gave me a call, said come down to the room, say hello to the guys, go out for a skate," said Lindros.

Philadelphia is back at Air Canada Centre for the second time this month in hopes of sweeping the season series with the Maple Leafs. Philadelphia currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Penguins for the final home-ice slot in the playoffs.

On March 10, Philadelphia came up with a 1-0 victory on the strength of a beautiful shootout goal by Claude Giroux. Ilya Bryzgalov earned the shutout victory that night, but will not play and is not with the team due to a chip fracture in his right foot suffered Monday. Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the start in goal, with Jason Bacashihua recalled from AHL Adirondack to serve as the backup.

Defenseman Kimmo Timonen also did not make the trip for the Flyers, with Marc-Andre Bourdon called up from the AHL on Wednesday to play in his place.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Toews getting close to return

CHICAGO -- Good news keeps coming by the day for injured Chicago Blackhawks captain and top center Jonathan Toews.

He'll miss his 18th straight game Thursday, when the Hawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center, but Toews hinted that his return from an upper-body injury believed to be concussion-related could be right around the corner.

 "(I'm) getting very, very close," said Toews, who has skated for 10 straight days, including Thursday's morning workout. "I think getting to this point and not playing is probably the toughest thing to do, but at the same time it's smart. I definitely need a few more days to kind of see how it goes through this weekend and we'll see where we're at next week, basically. Right now, I'm feeling great. I've just got to get those legs going and try to get myself back to being as close to game shape as I can."

Toews said he expects to get clearance for contact either Thursday or Friday, which is one of the last steps he'll have to clear in order to return to game action.

"He's getting real close (for contact)," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think in the next day or so, so hopefully he gets out there and gets a little bit more (on-ice work), but he had a lot over the last few days and we like the progress."

Toews does, too.

The last time he tried to return from his current injury, he skated hard for four straight days and then had a return of the symptoms that have kept him out. This time, he's gone six consecutive days longer and apparently feels more like himself following each skating session.

 "Last time I was on the ice, I was feeling like I was close to being able to play and I (had) more of a setback than anything, so this time around I feel like there's nothing I can do really that's going to make that happen," Toews said. "I've been pushing myself harder and harder every day and I feel good. I feel confident. Any day now I should be ready to go."

The Hawks are likely to take the conservative approach, however, which means Toews' most likely will return in one of two games next week -- at Minnesota or at Detroit in the regular-season finale.

"It (stinks) when you see the season wind down," Toews said. "Of course everyone's excited to get into the playoffs, but I haven't played in what feels like forever, so it doesn't matter to me. As soon as I'm able to be on the ice, I'll be out there."

What, exactly, will be the key thing that will earn him the green light?

"When he's ready to go," Quenneville said. "He's got to be comfortable as a player, and organizationally there's some hurdles you've got to pass."

Chicago is 10-5-2 in the 17 games Toews has been out, but that success doesn't surprised the Hawks' 23-year old captain.

"We have a good leadership group and we don't always just rely on one guy," said Toews. "In these games that I've missed, the guys have realized they want to keep winning and they want to hang in there and play playoff hockey and be competitive once you do get there. So they've kind of committed themselves to doing those little things right and playing the right way. It's been fun to see that."
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:52 PM

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

Weiss, Panthers nearing a postseason spot

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps it is because the Florida Panthers are based in Miami, but one of the NHL's best teams has flown under the radar all season.

That's fine with forward Stephen Weiss, who is just happy the Panthers are on the radar at all.

Weiss has been a full-timer with Florida since 2005-06 and has played more games in a Panthers sweater than anyone in franchise history. He's never played in a playoff game as a NHL player.

That could change if the Panthers continue to take care of business. With six games remaining, Florida leads Washington by five points in the Southeast Division and is on the verge of winning its first division title in history.

"It's what it's all about, being in the mix this time of year. Haven't done it too many times in years past," Weiss said. "Playing in big hockey games, it's a lot of fun."

Because the Panthers don't play in a traditional hockey market, little has been said about Florida lately. It is a team with a lot of known, and unknown, talent, but more has probably been written about their opponent Thursday, the Wild, and their historic collapse.

That's fine with Weiss though. He said he enjoys avoiding the headlines.

"We're not worried about what other people think," Weiss said. "We knew it was going to be like that all year. We're content flying under the radar and just going about our business and winning hockey games.

"Hopefully we can continue to do that over the last six games and get into the playoffs. Maybe then, we'll get a little bit of respect."

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen says it would mean a lot to the franchise to get back to the playoffs, especially for a guy like Weiss.

"He takes a lot of pride in wearing the Panther uniform," Dineen said. "He's a large part of our identity. Certainly, he's suffered some games this time of year that have not been relevant. I think he's enjoying this process right now and I think his teammates are enjoying it for him as well."

Weiss credited his teammates, coaching staff and front office for making this season's run possible, saying it would be big for the South Florida hockey community as well.

"It would mean a lot. Not having success over the years, to bring it together that quickly, if we can manage to get it done, it would be huge," Weiss said.

In the lineup tonight will be former Wild forward John Madden. The veteran didn't play Tuesday at Montreal, but will replace Mikael Samuelsson.

Madden scored 12 goals and 13 assists as a member of the Wild last season. He has two goals in 25 games with Florida this year.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:45 PM

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

Projected lineups for Wild-Panthers contest

ST. PAUL -- Here are projected lines for tonight's game between the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Tom Gilbert
Clayton Stoner - Steven Kampfer
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser

Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - John Madden
Scottie Upshall - Jerred Smithson - Marco Sturm

Brian Campbell - Jason Garrison
Mike Weaver - Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:30 PM

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

Stamkos' scoring ability wows opponents as well

NEWARK, N.J. -- The return of Vincent Lecavalier to the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday comes at a time when Steven Stamkos seeks to become the 39th player in League history to score 60 goals in a season.
 
The Lightning visit Prudential Center on Thursday for the fourth and final meeting of the season with the New Jersey Devils. Stamkos has produced an NHL-leading 55 goals in 2011-12, recording 12 goals in his last 14 games.
 
Is 60 goals on his mind?
 
"With six games left, I'm not thinking about [60] too much as I was thinking about 50," Stamkos said. "That was more in my head a little bit. But I'll go out there and whatever happens, happens. It is a possibility, and I'll try for it."
 
He would also trade in all those gaudy statistics if it meant a playoff berth.
 
"You'd trade in some of these individuals stats and goals to be in the playoffs, especially for me, going as far as we did last year and, ultimately, believing that we had a team that could have won it," Stamkos said. "It's tough. That's what you play for. You don't play for individual stuff, you play for the Stanley Cup, and when you're not in it, it's tough and frustrating."
 
His 55 goals are the most by a center since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96. The fourth-year center has 174 goals and 322 points in 319 NHL games.
 
Not surprisingly, Stamkos has become one of the more respected players in the League.
 
"I think he's phenomenal," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think he may be the best scorer to come along in the last 20-25 years in my mind, because he's found different ways to do it. He came in as a power-play, one-timer type of scorer, and the game takes that away from you because of the preparation and studying that was done. But he's found other ways to score."
 
Said Devils captain Zach Parise: "He goes about his business, scores goals and dominates games, but you can tell he respects other players. He plays hard and he'll hit you and do whatever he needs to do between the whistles, but he's not a dirty player. He plays the right way, and because of that you appreciate and respect what he does even more."
 
DeBoer finds it rather remarkable that Stamkos has been able to light the lamp so frequently at a time when coaching and goaltending are so good.
 
"You listen to comments on how hard it is to score in the League nowadays … Zach Parise discussed how hard it was to reach 30," DeBoer said. "That puts that number [50 goals] in perspective. I think the game is faster and better, the coaching preparation and film work and system play is at an all-time high. I know the hours the staff put in to matchups every night. I don't think I've seen it at this level ever before, so that's what makes scoring 50 so impressive to me."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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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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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1