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Posted On Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 1:25 PM

By Shawn P. Roarke - Senior Managing Editor / - Penguins-Bruins series blog

Bruins enjoy advantage in faceoff circle

PITTSBURGH -- Though there are many areas in which the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins seem to have an advantage in this Eastern Conference Final, the faceoff circle is not one of them.

The fourth-seeded Boston Bruins have dominated draws throughout the postseason, topping the League with a 57.5 success rate. Pittsburgh is at 50. 1 percent.

This could be a key area because if Boston can start with possession of the puck on a regular basis after play stoppages, Pittsburgh's skill players will have to expend more energy trying to regain possession. That means less time spent generating offense.

Part of the reason Boston is so good in the faceoff circle is that they have so many quality options. Five players have taken 90 or more draws for the Bruins during their 12-game postseason run. Almost all have been phenomenally successful.

Posted On Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 1:00 PM - Combing the 2013 NHL Combine

Lehkonen admires Barkov's game

TORONTO -- Aleksander Barkov of Tappara and Artturi Lehkonen of KalPa are opponents on the ice in SM-liiga, the top Finnish professional league. They're also NHL Central Scouting's top two Finnish-born forwards in their final ranking of European skaters. Off the ice, however, the two are close friends from their time as teammates on various Finnish national teams and were roommates at the NHL Scouting Combine this week.

"We have been friends for four years," Lehkonen told "Since we started with the national team. We've been roommates, like, seven times. We're close to each other."

That relationship gives Lehkonen a unique viewpoint on Barkov's game, and what makes the 6-foot-3, 209-pound center Central Scouting's top-rated European skater.

"He's an amazing player," Lehkonen said. "I think he sees the game well. When I watch his game, it's like art. He does many things that he doesn't even have to think about. He doesn't have to hurry any situation. He always finds the space to pass and shoot."

Posted On Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 12:12 PM

By Chris Adamski - Correspondent / - Penguins-Bruins series blog

Penguins stick with same lineup for Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- If it isn't broken, coach Dan Bylsma and the Pittsburgh Penguins see no reason to fix it.

Over the past week as the team practiced for the beginning of the Eastern Conference Final, several players said the Penguins peaked at the end of their series victory against the Ottawa Senators. Through five practices and a morning skate in advance of Game 1 against the Boston Bruins on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), Pittsburgh kept its line combinations and defense pairings stable.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they appear identical to what Bylsma utilized in Pittsburgh's 6-2 victory in Game 5 against Ottawa, the most recent game the Penguins have played. Other than veteran forward Brenden Morrow subbing in for rookie Beau Bennett after Game 4 of that series, Pittsburgh largely has kept its lineup and line combinations the same after a period of flux earlier in the postseason.

Against the best faceoff team in the NHL, forward Jussi Jokinen likely will be counted on to win critical draws. Another player who was a healthy scratch when the playoffs began, wing Tyler Kennedy has earned a regular spot back in his customary third-line role. Bennett, Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale appear to be the odd forwards out.

Veteran defenseman Mark Eaton was scratched for four consecutive games earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but has re-established himself as a stalwart in the lineup. Deryk Engelland and rookie Simon Despres are other future options.

Here are the Penguins' projected lines for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final:

Posted On Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 11:41 AM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Blackhawks-Kings series blog

Positioning in front of Quick key for Hawks

CHICAGO -- Every team talks about how winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs comes down to getting pucks and bodies to the net, fighting through traffic to score so-called dirty goals off rebounds. The Chicago Blackhawks are no different, but their challenge in the Western Conference Final is.

The Los Angeles Kings are one of the best teams in the NHL at keeping bodies away from their net. It starts with goalie Jonathan Quick, who is so aggressive and challenging when he plays above the blue paint, precisely the position Chicago will want to occupy starting with Game 1 Saturday at United Center (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS). The Kings also are one of the better teams at boxing out in front of Quick.

For the Blackhawks to win positional battles in front of the crease, to own the area Quick wants for himself, they have to be the first ones to get there. It's critical against Quick, who is the best goalie going in the playoffs with a 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. And it's arguably the most important piece of ice for the Blackhawks if they want to win the series.

"You like to get early position there and hopefully you can keep him [Quick] from getting how far he gets out there," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday morning. "They do box out. Detroit did a lot of that as well. There's got to be a willingness to fight through that traffic and the physicality, we can't be deterred by it at all. Getting in front of him is going to be key."

Posted On Saturday, 06.01.2013 / 10:16 AM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - Combing the 2013 NHL Combine

Return to first round possible for Blues

TORONTO -- The St. Louis Blues won't make their first pick at the 2013 NHL Draft until the middle of the second round. At least, that's the plan right now.

"We don't have a first round pick yet," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told "But the draft's not tomorrow either."

The Blues traded this year's first-round pick to the Calgary Flames as part of the Jay Bouwmeester deal, but Armstrong said getting back into the top round this year remains a possibility.

"We know we're not going to get into that top five or six, but anything after that is always a potential on draft day," he said. "There's a lot of emphasis put on, don't worry about what we don't have, we could acquire something, and make sure we're prepared for it."

Posted On Friday, 05.31.2013 / 9:58 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - Combing the 2013 NHL Combine

Defensemen take lead in first day of Combine testing

TORONTO -- The first day of fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine saw 72 players get measured, poked, prodded and tested in front of scouts and managers from all 30 teams, as well as members of the media.

The two most infamous tests are the bike tests: the Wingate Cycle Ergometer and the VO2 Max. The Wingate measures a player's peak output in a 30-second sprint, and the VO2 tests a player's stamina and ability to recover between shifts.

Posted On Friday, 05.31.2013 / 8:42 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Blackhawks-Kings series blog

Blackhawks planning to stick with their game

CHICAGO -- The general idea in hockey is that each playoff series is its own story, complete with unexpected twists and villains and heroes and a happy ending for some but not for others.

This is almost certain to be an accurate depiction of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Western Conference Semifinals was a drastically different experience than the opening round. Now comes the Western Conference Final, which commences Saturday at United Center (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN) and the Los Angeles Kings could present quite a different challenge for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

“Yeah, they do play a little differently than Detroit and Minnesota,” Chicago forward Viktor Stalberg said of the defending Stanley Cup champions. “I know that’s the way they like to play. I’m sure there will be more hits and it will be tougher. At the end of the game, we know that’s not how we usually beat teams. We beat teams by playing quick hockey and moving the puck fast and making it tough on them that way. We know that’s how we’re going to match up against them.”

Posted On Friday, 05.31.2013 / 7:18 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - Combing the 2013 NHL Combine

Quebec forward Duclair familiar with fitness test

TORONTO -- It was a long wait for Quebec Remparts forward Anthony Duclair, but he became the final draft hopeful to complete the fitness testing portion at the NHL Scouting Combine on Friday.

"The excitement builds up to it, but at the same time it's done and it was a pretty good experience," Duclair told

Though the tests can be challenging or unique to some prospects, Duclair had a bit of an advantage; he had gone through a mock test with the same York University professionals. That includes the bike tests, which feature players having their feet duct-taped to the pedals and trainers screaming motivation from their left, right and front.

"I did it with the same staff," Duclair said. "My trainer had contacts. We called them up and we had them scream in my face as well, so it was pretty fun."

Posted On Friday, 05.31.2013 / 7:04 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - Blackhawks-Kings series blog

Blackhawks try to move size throughout lineup

CHICAGO -- After grinding out a Western Conference Semifinal win in seven games against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks returned to practice Friday prior to the start of a conference final against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at United Center (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville juggled his forward lines for the workout from what he used in the 2-1 overtime victory in Game 7 against Detroit and appears to be looking for more size up front by adding 6-foot-4, 233-pound power forward Bryan Bickell as the left wing for 6-2, 208-pound Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews.

“I think he’s earned that opportunity [with] how he’s played,” Quenneville said of Bickell, who’s one of Chicago’s top scorers this postseason with five goals and one assist. “Not just his production offensively but physically he’s been engaged and he’s got some speed and he’s had a lot of puck time. When he did get the opportunity [against Detroit] to move up with those guys he did a great job. I think it gives a little more size and presence on that line.”

Posted On Friday, 05.31.2013 / 6:24 PM

By Shawn P. Roarke - Senior Managing Editor / - Penguins-Bruins series blog

Bruins aren't worried about long layoff

PITTSBURGH -- Despite a sketchy history when it comes to long layoffs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien said his team is ready for the Eastern Conference Final despite having a week without a game.

Boston last played this past Saturday when it defeated the New York Rangers to end their second-round series in five games. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had eight days off after eliminating the Ottawa Senators in five games a week ago Friday.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final is Saturday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

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[Stamkos] is a great teammate and a great leader, that's why he's got the 'C'. He brings that tremendous work ethic to the rink and he's one of the top players in the game. I know if I put the passes where they are supposed to be, there's a very good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net.

— Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin on linemate Steven Samkos
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