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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:45 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Backes-Kopitar matchup a highlight of this series

ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings finally lace the skates and begin what is expected to be a hard-hitting, hard-nosed and physical Western Conference Semifinals, two players quite familiar with one another will get re-acclimated shortly after at the drop of the puck Saturday night.

The Blues' David Backes and the Kings' Anze Kopitar will see a lot of ice time together, and they'll be in each other's way more times than they might care to see but both will be faced with the challenge of overcoming what the other has to bring.

Backes is the Blues' checking specialist and just got done engaging with San Jose's Joe Thornton in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It will be contrasting styles when going up against Kopitar and his linemates.

"Joe's a little bit bigger of a body, but I think Kopitar's got a speed element ... he's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Backes, who finished with one point in five games against the Sharks. "If you've seen me skate, I'm not.

"There's a physical element on my side that needs to balance out his speed. It's not one-on-one. We're not out there playing one-on-one on a full sheet [of ice]. I've got linemates [David Perron and T.J. Oshie] and he's got linemates [Dustin Brown and Justin Williams] helping him. I think the collective unit needs to be better than their collective unit and we'll see if that happens."

Kopitar, who saw a lot of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in their quarterfinal series, had a goal and three assists in five games. He expects a different challenge facing Backes but is quite familiar with it.

"It's going to be a physical game," Kopitar said. "I have seen him quite a bit over the last couple seasons. It's nothing new. I'm sure the intensity's going to be high and I'm sure it's going to be a physical game.

"I don't think [Kings coach] Darryl [Sutter] was too big on matchups even the first series. He was rotating lines and was pretty much going with his feeling on whoever was going. ... We're going to come out, we're going to have to play. If the matchups are important to them, they're probably going to match it since we're here. For us, we just have to go out and play."

Brown was a teammate of Backes' at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Just a big, straight-line body ... he does a lot of the little things right," Brown said of Backes. "You don't see him change his game too much. That's why he's probably successful on a nightly basis. He's big, he's strong and he knows a straight-line game, physical ... he's just hard to play against in general."

Sutter is equally as impressed with Backes.

"He's one of the really good young captains in the League," Sutter said. "I think he has an identity and it's a strong one. He plays both sides of the puck, plays a 200-foot game. We're lucky we have a couple centermen like that, too, so hopefull we can saw that off a little."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more offense from the Backes line, which collected two goals and five assists but understands their commitment to defending playing with a lead the majority of the last series.

"The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more and secondly he's got to play more reckless," Hitchcock said. "He played safe ... and playing against Joe is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life. He was a terrific player in our series, so David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5 with as much as David plays on the power play and he kills penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is a rest and we want to get him past that, where he's really contributing more 5-on-5 because he's back playing a little more reckless and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great, it helps us. He's obviously a great penalty killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not have to be the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time."

Added Backes: "It's kind of situational, who you're out against, time of the game, score of the game ... that kind of dictates it. Luckily in the series against San Jose, we were faced with leads and just protecting them and making sure we took care of mostly in the defensive side.

"There's going to be times in tie games when you need a goal and we're going to have to wade it on the other side. There's a balance there that needs to be found; I don't think it was perfect in the first round. It was good, but we need to be great in order to win this series."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Washington lineup for Game 1

NEW YORK -- The Capitals and the Rangers are meeting for the third time in the last four postseasons. Washington forward Matt Hendricks doesn't think it'll take too long for the teams to get reacquainted.

"Hate is a strong word, but we battle against them," Hendricks said. "This is a team that I think we match up very well with. They're physical, they play a defensive style, they block a lot of shots. When you find teams that are similar with your team you seem to have those tight, close games where you're getting under each other's skin. There is a little bit of a dislike there for each other. We've met in the playoffs here, so it's going to be a good one, I think."

Game 1 is Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.

Here is the Capitals' lineup:

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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
John Erskine - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter offers more praise for Holtby

NEW YORK -- Capitals coach Dale Hunter predictably did not offer any updates on his lineup during his chat with the media roughly two hours before Game 1 on Saturday. However, Hunter did have some strong words of encouragement for defenseman Jeff Schultz, who played more than 11 minutes in Game 7 against Boston on Wednesday.

"Schultzie gave us a good game," the typically understated Hunter said. "He's a big guy, he moves the puck well, and we need some more size."

If Schultz plays in Game 1 against the Rangers, he'll likely be paired with Dennis Wideman.

One absolute certainty for the Capitals on Saturday is that Braden Holtby will be between the pipes. The 22-year-old rookie goalie got the best of Boston's All-Star Tim Thomas in the first round.

Holtby played every minute for the Capitals, finishing with a 2.00 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He may have surprised a lot of people in the hockey community considering he was No. 3 on Washington's depth chart for virtually the entire season, but Hunter expected Holtby to be excellent against the Bruins.

"Even down the stretch we were battling for the playoffs he had to go into Detroit, we needed the points, he won," Hunter said. "We went into Philadelphia, we lost in overtime, but we got a point. He's a battler. The kid battles. He's got a great personality about him that he doesn't let stuff bother him."

Holtby's play has drawn comparisons to Ken Dryden, who played in only six regular-season games in 1970-71 before leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup championship that spring. Holtby, of course, played in only seven games for the Caps in 2011-12.

Hunter said he isn't concerned about Holtby getting caught up in his own press clippings.

"With this kid you don't have to. He's not like that," Hunter said. "He's one of the hardest working goalies in practice. He just keeps working and he's having fun with it. He has fun playing hockey. It's always much better when you're playing well, but whatever happens he's going to still have his work ethic and he's going to battle."

Since Holtby has already knocked Thomas out of the playoffs, the Capitals believe he can do the same to Henrik Lundqvist, who is a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy.

"He (just) battled against one of the best goalies in the League and now he has to do it again with another one of the top goalies in the League," Hunter said. "He knows it, but he's a battler. He's got a good head on his shoulders."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:13 PM

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

No pre-game updates on Boyle, Dubinsky

NEW YORK -- Rangers coach John Tortorella offered no updates on injured forwards Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky on Satuirday afternoon.

Boyle (concussion) and Dubinsky (lower-body) will likely be game-time decisions as the Rangers face the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Madison Square Garden.

Boyle missed Games 6 and 7 of the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators after taking a jarring hit from Chris Neil in Game 5. Boyle practiced for the first time since the hit Friday and said his availability would depend on how he felt in the hours after practice.

Dubinsky absorbed a hit late in Game 7 against the Senators and did not return to the ice for the final 11 minutes and did not practice Friday.

If one or both are unable to play, defenseman Steve Eminger could return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in mid-March. Tortorella could also move defenseman Stu Bickel to forward, a position he played earlier in the season. Forward John Scott, who has yet to appear in the postseason and hasn't played since March 9.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 12:49 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Projected Game 1 lineups

ST. LOUIS -- Here are the probable lineups for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dwight King - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Forwards Kyle Clifford [concussion] and Scott Parse [hip] will not play. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Alex Steen
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

Goalie Jaroslav Halak [lower-body] will not be available for Games 1 and 2 but has been skating and is progressing. Healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 11:21 AM

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

Flyers juggle a pair of lines

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers have taken the ice for their final practice before their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the New Jersey Devils starts Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

The look was a bit different, as coach Peter Laviolette juggled two of his lines, splitting up the highly productive Danny Briere line. Briere was with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, while Brayden Schenn shifted back to the middle, flanked by Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read.

Whether those groups stay together for Game 1, however, remains to be seen.

The Flyers also had all eight defensemen on the ice, all wearing the same color jersey. Whether that means Nicklas Grossmann (upper-body injury) and/or Andrej Meszaros (back surgery) are ready for Game 1 remains unknown.

Here is how the rest of the Flyers' lineup looked in practice Saturday:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
James van Riemsdyk - Danny Briere - Jakub Voracek
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Eric Wellwood

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Andreas Lilja - Erik Gustafsson

Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo skated as extra forwards. Andrej Meszaros and Pavel Kubina were the fourth defense pair.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 1:45 AM

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

Parade of overtime games continues

We've moved past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the deluge of overtime games shows no signs of abating.

After 16 of the 48 games in the conference quarterfinals went past regulation, the conference semis started out the same way, with Phoenix needing an extra 14:04 to beat Nashville 4-3 on Friday night in the opener of their Western Conference Semifinal series.

It was the first OT game of the playoffs for Nashville, the only team to make it to the second round without playing one. The Coyotes more than made up for it -- Phoenix tied a playoff record by going into overtime in each of its first five games against Chicago and set a Stanley Cup record by going past regulation for the sixth time in their seven games.
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 11:35 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NSH at PHX 12:36 of the third period



At 12:36 of the third period of the Predators/Coyotes game, video review was used to determine if the initial shot by Nashville defenseman Roman Josi crossed the goal line. Video review determined that the original shot did not cross the goal line before the play was blown dead. Call on the ice stands, no goal Nashville.
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 6:39 PM

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

Holtby ready for the bright lights of New York

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby is ready for the bright lights of New York -- even though, he says, the lights aren't actually that bright after all.

"It's just a different color in there," Holtby said of playing in New York's Madison Square Garden. "It's almost a yellow."

Holtby spoke Friday about his limited experience playing in "The World's Most Famous Arena" as the Washington Capitals prepared for the opener of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the top-seeded New York Rangers.

The rookie goaltender started the Caps' regular-season finale in New York and turned aside 35 of 36 Rangers' shots in a 4-1 Washington win. The loss kept the Rangers from claiming the Presidents' Trophy.

Exactly three weeks after his first career start in New York, Holtby will start again for the Capitals in Game 1 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC). Holtby believes his having played in New York once before will make him feel more at ease with the surroundings.

"Especially with getting used to the lighting and whatnot and the different confines," he said. "It's not exactly your typical building. It was good to play in it… Darker buildings usually it impact the goalies more than usual."

Holtby says that he's confident that the arena lightning won't be a distraction and that he's not worried about the hostile environment that will greet the Caps in New York.

"It doesn't bother me that much," he said. "That's what everyone pays the money for is to have their two cents. It's good. It's not motivation, but it's definitely fun… If someone was playing the [Toronto Blue] Jays in the playoffs or something, I'd probably heckle them, too. That's what happens. It's hockey. It's fun. It adds to the intensity and it's a good thing."

Holtby became the third rookie goalie to backstop a team to a series win over the defending Stanley Cup champions when the Caps eliminated the Boston Bruins in seven games in Round 1. The 22-year-old stopped 31 shots in the Caps' 2-1 overtime win in Game 7, and he enters Round 2 with a 2.00 goals-against-average and .940 save percentage.

"I don't feel more comfortable or anything," Holtby said of his confidence now compared to before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began. "Not that I felt uncomfortable before. It's still the same. We're still a confident group in here. I still feel confident in my abilities that I can give this team a chance to win. It doesn't change much. It's still the Capitals vs. Rangers."

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 4:25 PM

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

Boyle skates with teammates

New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle skated Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators five days ago.

Boyle, who had three goals in five games against the Senators, rode a stationary bike Thursday morning and was cleared to participate in on-ice activities. As is the case when recovering from any concussion, how Boyle feels after exerting himself will determine his availability for Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"This is my first day on the ice. I felt pretty good, but we'll see," Boyle told reporters at the Rangers' practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "It's all how you react when you take another step, so I have no idea."

Boyle sustained his concussion when Senators forward Chris Neil delivered a huge body check just after Boyle released a shot early in the third period. Boyle returned to play several shifts after the hit, but eventually left the bench with about two minutes left and missed the final two games of the series.

The third-line center's absence became a rallying point for the Rangers in Game 6, as forward Brandon Prust fought Neil with the Senators leading 1-0 late in the first period. The Rangers would score the next three goals in a season-saving 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

"That means a lot to me," Boyle told reporters. "The teammate thing and the whole code and all that, that's great. But the whole friendship thing ... they were texting me and it felt really good. I felt blessed and loved and everything you can say. That was pretty awesome."

To fill Boyle's role on the third line, Rangers coach John Tortorella moved Brandon Dubinsky into that spot. But Dubinsky missed the final 11 minutes of Game 7 against the Senators on Thursday with a likely lower-body injury and did not participate in practice Friday.

When asked about the status of Boyle and Dubinsky, Tortorella told reporters, "No update."

If Boyle avoids a setback and Dubinsky isn't well enough, it's a simple lineup swap. But if both players are unavailable for the series opener against the Capitals, Tortorella could insert defenseman Steve Eminger, who hasn't played since March 15 due to an ankle injury, into the lineup. Eminger could act as a seventh defenseman or it could allow defenseman Stu Bickel to act as the 12th forward, a role he played briefly in the regular season.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players