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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:45 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

A special dinner with Mr. Jim Gregory

The highlight of my weekend stay with NHL Central Scouting was, without question, Saturday night.

After being told a table for seven at a local steak establishment would take approximately 45 minutes, Hall of Famer Jim Gregory, 77, took out his cell phone and began punching in numbers while sitting in the driver's seat of his white Cadillac.

I'm thinking to myself, "This is going to be good."
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:39 PM

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

Flyers' Briere, Grossmann injured

The Philadelphia Flyers won Sunday's battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins but did not emerge unscathed.

The team announced Monday that center Danny Briere is out indefinitely with an upper-back contusion, and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann is out 7-10 days with a lower-body injury.

Grossmann was injured midway through the first period when he collided with the Penguins Joe Vitale.

Vitale's hit on Briere with 1:03 left in regulation sparked the late-game melee that saw 52 minutes in penalties assessed, as well as the ejections of and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato.

The Flyers play their final three regular-season games this week -- Tuesday against the Rangers, Thursday against the Sabres and a rematch with the Penguins on Saturday in Pittsburgh.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:27 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Who's your goalie?

Before I left the meetings for the flight back to New York, Central Scouting's Al Jensen was given the floor just prior to the lunch break to discuss the top North American goalies he had locked in on the draft board.

Keep in mind, the top eight goalies are usually invited to the NHL Combine in May.

Here are the numbers for the top five North American goalies  that Central Scouting had listed on their midterm rankings.

1-Malcolm Subban, Belleville, OHL, 39 games, 2.50 GAA, .923 save percentage
2-Matthew Murray, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL, 36 games, 4.08 GAA, .876 save percentage
3-Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville, QMJHL, 36 games, 2.74 GAA, .896 save percentage
4-Jon Gillies, Indiana, USHL, 48 games, 2.76 GAA, .916 save percentage
5-Jake Paterson, Saginaw, OHL 42 games, 3.42 GAA, .904 save percentage

Jensen went one by one, starting from the top. Many of the scouts, who obviously were involved with keeping tabs on skaters for much of the year, also watched a few of the top goalies ranked.

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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:26 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ehrhoff won't return this week, Myers questionable

Buffalo's bid for a playoff berth will have to go on without defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and possibly fellow blueliner Tyler Myers.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Monday that Ehrhoff will not play in the final three regular season games. He added that Myers could be back this week, but the towering defenseman was not on the ice for Monday's practice after sitting out Saturday's game with a foot injury.

Ehrhoff has missed the last two games since injuring himself last Tuesday in Washington when he appeared to have a knee-on-knee collision with Capitals forward Troy Brouwer.

Buffalo is 0-2 and has allowed a combined nine goals in the games Ehrhoff has missed. He has 32 points in 66 games this season.

Ruff said Ehrhoff would probably be available for the playoffs, but the Sabres have to get there first and that's not going to be easy.

Buffalo trails the Capitals by two points for eighth place, but Washington could extend its lead to four points with a win Monday in Tampa Bay. If the Capitals beat the Lightning, the Sabres will only stay alive in the race if they pick up at least one point Tuesday against Toronto.
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lightning promise 'work-ethic show' against Capitals

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning play their final home game of the 2011-12 season Monday night when the Washington Capitals visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

For the Capitals, with three regular season games remaining and a slim two-point grip on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the game has huge postseason implications.

"It's a big game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "We need all those points and we have to be ready to battle out there and get our two points."

But for the Lightning, the contest is meaningful, too, as they have the chance to play spoiler and send the home crowd off with optimism for the future.

With that in mind, Tampa Bay is planning somewhat of a fan appreciation night.

"We'll try to give the fans a great show tonight," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Regardless of playoffs or no playoffs, we've always talked about isolating games and this game is isolated. We want to please our fans with a work-ethic show."

To the players' disappointment, there is little else left for them to offer the fans now except hard work.

"We're disappointed that we won't be playing some hockey in April and May," Martin St. Louis said. "It's a tough League and we want to finish strong and make the fans feel good about the last home game. It's not about the wins and losses, it's the effort you put on the ice. The fans will recognize the work ethic and the effort, and if you do that you give yourself a good chance to win games. We'll work on that tonight."

Also on display, though the team is playing it down, will be Steven Stamkos' continued drive to be the first NHL player to get 60 goals since Alex Ovechkin notched 65 in 2007-08. Stamkos currently has 56 with four games remaining.

"I'll be honest, I'm not big on these things," Boucher said. "Nobody in the room talks about that. The only people that talk about it are the media. If he gets 59, does that diminish him as a player? When players chase these intangibles they aren't part of a team-oriented mentality. Steven is the first guy to be an unselfish, team-oriented guy. Whether he stays at 56 or goes to 62 he's still going to be a great leader, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had 59 and an open net, if he didn't pass the puck to someone else."

Boucher might not be surprised, but everyone else in the building would be.

Still, Stamkos has been making a point of telling teammates not to go out of their way to set him up for scoring chances.

"I think what Steven is saying with that is that he wants everyone to understand that he's not going after 60 goals," Boucher said. "He's going after our team winning. But that's him. That's what makes Steven special. He sees things as they are and he's a great leader for it."

This is the sixth and final meeting between these two clubs this season. The Capitals have won three of five, but the Lightning (2-1-2) have points in four of five. They have defeated the Capitals in two home games previously.
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Capitals, Lightning

Here's how the lineups project when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Washington Capitals on Monday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum:

CAPITALS

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

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

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - J.T. Brown 
Tim Wallace - Tom Pyatt - Nate Thompson
Brandon Segal - JT Wyman - Brett Connolly

Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Keith Aulie
Brian Lee - Brendan Mikkelson

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron

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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 12:17 PM

By Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

Royals claim New York State championship


In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the team's road to winning the New York State championship. After going 2-1 in round-robin play, the Long Island Royals Midget National team defeated the Junior Sabres, 7-4, in the semifinal round, and the Amherst Knights, 7-1, in the final held in Amherst, N.Y. The Royals are 56-6-3 for the season.
 
Pat LaFontaine
 
We had three games leading up to semifinals and final and we won the first two pretty handily [by a combined 18-0 aggregate]. The kids were firing on all cylinders. Then we played the host team, the Amherst Knights, and got off to a tough start; they scored on their first three of four shots and their goalie stood on his head [in an eventual 3-1 loss].
 
Amherst is Justin Bailey's former team and he was excited. But it was one of those games where we played well, and ran into a hot goalie. The bounces didn't go our way and we ended up losing. But we win as a team and lose as a team. We regrouped and refocused and played the Junior Sabres in the semifinals. They threw everything at us but we were able to weather the storm and get that first goal. They fought back to close within 4-3 before the third period and we made some adjustments.
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 11:17 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Expectations for the top 2013 draft prospects

The scouts at Central Scouting had an interesting discussion on Monday morning regarding expectations of certain underage players in the season leading up to their draft year.

  Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads
Halifax forward Nathan MacKinnon, for instance, is regarded as a top five pick for the 2013 Draft. MacKinnon, who centered 2012 draft eligible wing Martin Frk most of the season, finished the regular season with 31 goals, 78 points and a plus-11 rating this season for the Mooseheads.  

Needless to say, expectations for the 16-year-old, 5-foot-11, 179-pounder will be through the roof in 2012-13. Add to that the fact MacKinnon is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the home to Sidney Crosby. He also played at Shattuck-St. Mary's, where Crosby spent some of his early years.

"It really isn't fair to put those expectations on Nathan," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "It's a tough label to carry. You're comparing him to Crosby, who has been the premier player in the NHL in the last number of years and probably the foreseeable future. That's tough."
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 9:47 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: April 2nd

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
7th 79 92 3 95
8th 79 88 3 91 2

9th 79 86 3 89 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 79 91 3 94 2
8th 79 90 3 93 2

9th 79 89 3 92 3
The skinny: The Washington Capitals visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday with an opportunity to apply enormous pressure to the Buffalo Sabres.

A win by the Caps and the end will be near in Buffalo on Tuesday when the Sabres put their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes on the line against the Maple Leafs, who already beat Buffalo this past weekend to put the Sabres in such a precarious position. If the Caps win Monday, Buffalo will be four points out, and on the losing end of the tiebreaker. With just three games remaining, and a maximum of six points on offer, the Sabres realistically would need to win out just to have a chance.

Whoever runs the music in the Washington dressing room might want to crank up Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business" throughout the day because that is what this game is all about for the Caps. Washington is 3-1-1 against the already-eliminated Lightning this season, so there are no "mental" hurdles to overcome for the Caps. I'm a big believer that when teams have an opportunity to put themselves in an advantageous position, it best get done. Washington has already beaten the Bruins and Canadiens in shootouts to get a leg up in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Amazingly, they still have an outside chance to win the Southeast Division as the Florida Panthers stumble to the finish line. Washington and Florida meet Thursday in a game that could have huge seeding implications. But first, Washington must take care of business Monday.

Moving to the West Coast, the Kings are in an almost identical situation to the Caps.

With a win Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Kings can move three points up on the Sharks and four on the Stars before those two teams meet on Tuesday in Dallas. However, both the Sharks and Stars will have played one less game than the Kings, who sit in the Pacific Division lead at the moment. Phoenix is also in the mix with 91 points.

With the projection in the West being 93 points to qualify, Los Angeles will feel good reaching that total with a victory on Monday, but little will be decided. If the Kings win, the Avalanche, who have two games remaining, will not be able to catch Los Angeles and the loser of Tuesday's Sharks-Stars game will begin to "look smaller" in the Kings' rear-view mirror. But if the Kings fail to win, they will find themselves in a real fight for a playoff spot as they conclude the season with two games against the Sharks.

A team with playoff designs has to beat teams below it in the standings at this point of the season, and with the Oilers far below the Kings, this is a must-have two points for Los Angeles. The Kings can't take the Oilers lightly, though, as Edmonton has reeled off three consecutive road victories and has a record of 5-0-2 in its past seven road games.

The teams not playing on a light Monday schedule will likely be glued to TVs across North America. You can bet the Sabres will be watching the game in Tampa, as will the Panthers. The Sharks, Stars, Coyotes and Avalanche will have a keen eye on Los Angeles and might even break into chants of "Let's go Oilers" as Stanley Cup Playoff hopes will rise and fall throughout the night.

The standings will tell the story at the end of the night, so be sure to check NHL.com for the definitive word. Six days to go in the regular season and the race is intensifying.
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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 9:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

Central Scouting pleased with final top 10

I caught up with most of the scouts prior to calling it a day on Sunday and they all agree that the top 5 of the 2012 rankings of North American skaters is as solid as it can get at this stage in the season.

Here's a wrap-up of NHL.com's four days at the final Central Scouting meetings.

"Right now you have to be pleased," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "We'll go back and hum and haw. It's never finished until it's finished [on Wednesday] and we have that luxury to go back, but we're pleased overall."

Sullivan and B.J. MacDonald are the lead scouts of the Western Hockey League, which is stocked with many talented defensemen this year. Making the decisions are never easy, but they both feel confident in the placement of players.

"We all have our individual lists and after the area groups are put in order [read here], we have to have respect for our part-time guys who do a lot of work for us," Sullivan said. "If my player isn't where I want him, I have to respect the rest of the group. If they've seen them as much as I have, and if they feel a player is better than my own personal player, so be it. We are here as a team, and that's the way we operate.
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I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round