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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals face another test of their mental toughness

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Since he was hired to coach the Washington Capitals in late November, former captain Dale Hunter has worked on improving his team's mental toughness.

The fruits of his labor were on display during a late-season playoff push which saw the Capitals win four of their last five games, and again during a seven-game first-round series win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

The next test comes Saturday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals when the Caps will look to rebound from Wednesday's triple overtime loss in Game 3 against the New York Rangers

"We had to play some tough hockey to get into the playoffs," Hunter said. "Playing playoff hockey you have to [be able to] bounce back and be tough during the game if something happens on the ice. You go down a goal, you just keep battling and good things will happen."

In Washington's case, the Caps have now gone down a game, as the third-longest game in franchise history leaves them in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-seven series.

But for those that have been around the organization since its streak of five-straight playoff appearances began in 2008, the sense is that this year's club is better equipped to overcome a potentially deflating loss than the teams of years past.

"There's no question," said associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig, who acknowledged that this year's team had no choice but to become stronger mentally down the stretch.

"The adversity that we faced this year as opposed to the last two years where we basically solidified a playoff spot in January and kind of cruised into the playoffs, this year we had to scratch and claw …

"Teams that battle right to the end, if you can stay healthy and physically you're there, then you're going to have the edge over teams that solidified a spot two months in advance, and I think that's what we're experiencing, so I don’t think that we're going to be as down as maybe some other teams would be after a game like [Wednesday]."

The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals in 2010 proved fragile in the postseason when they became the first No. 1 seed to blow a 3-1 first-round series lead.

The highest scoring team during the regular-season managed just one goal in Games 5, 6 and 7 against Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens, and grew increasingly frustrated as the series went on.

Kolzig says that the blue-collar style that Hunter has instilled in this year's Capitals allows the team to stay more even-keeled. The Caps have proven to be a resilient bunch under Hunter and have gone 17 straight games without losing two straight, dating to March 23.

"I think the guys have finally bought into Dale's type of hockey and they're realizing what he's been trying to emphasize throughout the year is finally paying off now in the playoffs," Kolzig said. "This is why we've played the way did. The guys are rising to the occasion, the way they battled against Boston and to go into Boston and win three games out of four in that building including Game 7 -- that says a lot."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 11:58 AM

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

Projected Game 3 lineup for Flyers

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers held an optional morning skate Thursday in preparation for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Central (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
 
All players expected to be in the lineup Thursday stayed off the ice, including goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Coach Peter Laviolette also was not available.
 
The best-of-seven series is tied, 1-1.
 
Here are the probable line combinations for the game:
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
James van Riemsdyk - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Eric Wellwood
 
Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Andreas Lilja - Erik Gustafsson
 
Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 11:41 AM

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

Devils say Kovalchuk a game-time decision

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk will be a game-time decision on Thursday when his team battles the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal round series at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
 
Kovalchuk was sidelined for Tuesday's Game 2 in Philadelphia -- a 4-1 Devils victory -- with a lower-body injury but was back on the ice Thursday morning during the team's practice. The Devils will host the Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET.
 
"I just have to make sure I'm ready for the game … I feel really good," Kovalchuk told the media. "It will be a coaches' decision. I just have to prepare myself for the game and we'll see."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 1:34 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Rangers end OT drought in dramatic style

Maybe what the New York Rangers needed to end their overtime drought was a game for the ages.

Marian Gaborik
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 23 | +/-: -1
Overtime has never been the New York Rangers' forte -- they entered Wednesday night having won just 31 of 70 playoff games that had gone past regulation and had dropped seven in a row, including two in the first round this year. One more loss would have tied the NHL for consecutive OT losses.

Instead, the Rangers ended their drought with the second-longest victory in franchise history -- no mean feat for a team that began play in 1926. Marian Gaborik's goal at 14:41 of the third overtime gave the Rangers a 2-1 win at Washington in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 9:45 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX @ NSH -- 13:49 of first period

At 13:49 of the first period of the Phoenix-Nashville game, video review was initiated by the Situation Room in Toronto because the puck ended up in the Phoenix net. It was ruled on the ice that the play had been whistled dead before the goaltender was pushed into the net. No goal.

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 8:58 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Preds dress Halischuk and Tootoo

NASHVILLE - Wings Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo took the spots in the lineup for suspended Predators Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn on Wednesday for Game 3 of Nashville's Western Conference Semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Predators announced on Tuesday that Radulov and Kostitsyn, who lead them, respectively, with six and four points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, would sit out for a violation of team rules.

Tootoo has 37 playoff games under his belt in his career -- all with Nashville -- but only one this postseason. A hard-hitting right wing who brings energy, he skated in warmups with fourth-line center Paul Gaustad and Halischuk on the left. Halischuk has played in three games this postseason, all in the previous round against Detroit. He has an assist and a plus-1 rating but has not played more than 6:50 in a game. Last year, Halischuk, 23, scored an overtime goal against Vancouver in the conference semis.

Rookie Craig Smith was the other player in consideration for a lineup spot on Wednesday.

Predators coach Barry Trotz elected to juggle his lines - except for the first one -- entering the game with his team down 0-2 in the series. Patric Hornqvist, the team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season with 27, moved up from the third line to the second, taking Radulov's spot with center David Legwand and rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque.

The third line was Colin Wilson, making his second appearance of the postseason and his second straight, at left wing with Nick Spaling at center and Brandon Yip at right wing. Wilson and Yip were teammates at Boston University.

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 5:39 PM

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

Blues hope Pietrangelo is OK for Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Alex Pietrangelo participated in practice Wednesday but St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn't commit to his status for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

"He feels OK," Hitchcock said after the Blues' skate. "I don't know. We'll see tomorrow, if he feels OK tomorrow and wants to give it a go, we'll let him go. But it was nice to see him out there and he lasted the whole practice. It was a hard practice and he participated in everything, so we'll see."

Pietrangelo was boarded by Dwight King late in the second period of Game 1. He was at first thought to be concussed but Hitchcock later said it is a lower-body injury. Pietrangelo did not play in L.A.'s 5-2 win on Monday.

Pietrangelo is a major piece of the Blues' power play and his absence translated to an 0 for 9 performance in Game 2. St. Louis is 0 for 12 for the series and 0 for 26 on the season against Los Angeles.

One St. Louis player who didn't skate Wednesday was Jason Arnott. Hitchcock said the veteran center has a lower body injury and is day-to-day.

The Blues skated with Andy McDonald, David Backes and Matt D'Agostini on the first line, Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie on another line and David Perron, Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Stewart on another. There was no change on the fourth line of Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and B.J. Crombeen.

Hitchcock appeared to mix up the defensemen pairings as he had Pietrangelo with Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo with Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak with Kris Russell.

"Don't read the d-pairs in," Hitchcock said. "You can read the forwards in if you want and write those down and see how far you can get with that one but don't take the d-pairs."

Hitchcock continued to credit the Kings for their performance in back-to-back wins in St. Louis and pointed to what his team is up against.

"This opponent has had to be dug in for a long time," Hitchcock said. "L.A. has had to dig in for a long time. And then they had to go through a really good team to get to this level. They're at 100 percent. Their commitment is 100 and we're probably 85, and we know now against L.A. that's not good enough."

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 4:22 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes expect energy, desperation from Predators

NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes have an opportunity to strengthen their hold on this Western Conference Semifinal series, and their opponent is going to be without its leading point producer and co-leader in goals during the playoffs.

Yet they are bracing for a stern test from the Nashville Predators, even if they will be without Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.

"You look at what those guys did before [Radulov and Kostitsyn] got there, and they were a great team before," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "I think those guys made them even better, but it is not like they were struggling along beforehand. ... If it is coming home to my building, you're going to come out flying. We expect that, and we have to be ready for that. We can't sit back and wait for it. We have to go after it ourselves."

Added Coyotes forward Boyd Gordon: "They've got a great hockey team and we expect them to respond. We expect them to come out hard, and it is a tough building to play in. In a series, the momentum can change pretty quickly. We're aware of that and tonight is a big one for us."

The Predators would be desperate even if Radulov and Kostitsyn were not suspended for a violation of team rules. Teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit three times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, Philadelphia did it two years ago, but that hasn't stopped clubs from viewing a Game 3 when down 2-0 in a series as a must-win.

Even without Radulov and Kostitsyn, the Predators aren't likely to want for effort. Adding a guy like Jordin Tootoo to the lineup could also add an extra dash of spice for what should be an electric atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena.

"I don't know if we're going to expect too much different from them," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "They are a hard-working team. That's just the way that they play. Like us, they have some skill guys but they have a lot of guys who work hard and it doesn't matter who is the in lineup."

Added Gordon: "They're a hard-working team. They've got a few key guys out, but they have great depth up front and they're down 2-0. We know we're going to have to match their sense of urgency. We want to build on Game 2. I think we played pretty well, so we want to keep building on that."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes aiming to improve road playoff record to 4-0

NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes were a solid road team during the regular season, winning 20 times away from Jobing.com Arena.

Like other teams around the NHL, they have found even more success in the postseason while donning the white sweaters. Phoenix will try to win for the fourth time in as many tries away from home in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Coyotes face the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series.

"Our game is similar. We don't change a lot home or on the road. I think we're very competitive in both areas," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Our group is very focused on how we play, and we take in where we play after that. It is pretty much the same game for us, home or on the road."

The Coyotes went to Chicago and won three times at United Center in the first round of the playoffs. Two were won in overtime on Mikael Boedker goals, but Phoenix also posted a 4-0 win in the clinching Game 6 at "The Madhouse on Madison."

Chicago was 27-8-6 at home during the regular season, but the Coyotes prevailed each time.

"We've been opportunistic," Tippett said. "There were a couple of games, two game in Chicago, that could have gone either way. Boedker was opportunistic in getting a couple of overtime goals.

"I think you've seen that throughout the playoffs this year. I don't know how much home-ice advantage has really been an advantage. I think it can be late in a series. If we're going to close out a series in Game 7, I'd certainly rather be at home."

Tippett is right -- home-ice hasn't been much of an "advantage" during this postseason. The road team is 34-22 after New Jersey defeated Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Pacific Division teams are 9-2 on the road, including three wins in Vancouver, three in Chicago and three in St. Louis.

Being at home for Game 7 wasn't even much of a help in the first round -- two of the three winner-take-all showdowns were won by the team in white.

"We had good road success until the last two games," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose team went to Detroit, which had the best home record in the League this season, and swept Games 3 and 4 in the opening round. "I think it is just your group against the world. You're going into the lion's den all the time. It keeps you patient, keeps you focused."


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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 3:52 PM

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

Despite road success, Sutter still prefers home cookin'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- While his team became the first to win its first five road playoff games since the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter reiterated that he still prefers being at home.

Sutter is a stickler for scheduling and routine, and he says there also is a something to playing in a familiar building and feeding off that energy.

"I'm still old school and I still want to play a deciding game in our building," he said. "I think early in the series, early in the playoffs, especially teams in the West, they prefer to play that always, because of travel. That's how I feel. I've been on both sides of it and I've won and lost both sides, so I don't know what the answer is.

"If you have a distinct home crowd flavor, it's always better. I go back again, those old buildings, old Chicago Stadium. Now they say what's the difference? All the buildings are the same. The ice surfaces are the same. But your home crowd can influence if you handle it right. Composure with young players is a big thing. Preparation is a big thing. When you weigh all that stuff … I'm just set in my ways now."
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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential