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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:51 PM

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

Blues and Kings ready for new challenge

ST. LOUIS -- Both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are perfect on the road in these playoffs, but for the Blues, they have home ice and were one of the best teams at Scottrade Center this season with a 30-5-6 regular season record and two wins and an overtime loss against San Jose in the first round.

But the Kings won all three games at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks, who won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champions.

"We were a pretty confident group going in," Brown said of the road success. "I think a lot of players have been in this room for a while, have been playing together for a while.

"We understood the situation we were in and we understand the type of team we have. Knocking off the top seed Vancouver obviously adds a little bit of confidence, but I think we all understand that St. Louis is a different type of beast and it's going to be a hard series.

"They're just a different team than Vancouver. We found a way to be successful against Vancouver and now it's a new challenge. There's different things that we have to do to be successful against the Blues. A lot of it comes down to work. That's the one thing you can control, which is a good thing. To beat a team like St. Louis, you've got to be willing to do all those little things on every single play."

The Blues hope to be as relentless as the Kings are advertising them to be.

"Just a strong defensive game like we had all year and in the San Jose series," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We're going to really have to work for our chances, throw everything we can on net and get second chances. It's going to be predictable hockey from both sides, a hard-fought series and it's going to start right from the first drop of the puck."

Added veteran center Jason Arnott: "We just can't get out of our element. We have to stick to our system. You can't get frustrated, that's the biggest thing. We know we're going up against a great defense and a great goaltender. They play a solid defensive game. It's going to be tough and frustration's going to creep in here or there, but we just have to stick to our system and play to our game plan and keep funneling pucks as much as we can and hopefully a few go in for us."

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:50 PM

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

New look for two lines

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Whether he was trying out a new line or just trying to give the New Jersey Devils something to think about ahead of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC), Flyers coach Peter Laviolette switched around a pair of lines at practice Saturday.

He broke up the productive trio of Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, giving Briere a new pair of wingers -- James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek. Schenn moved from left wing to center, where he was flanked by Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds.

Laviolette refused to comment on any line combinations, and even his players weren't sure what the plan for Sunday was.

"We'll see how it shakes out [Sunday]," van Riemsdyk said.

Briere told NHL.com recently how much he enjoys playing with Schenn because of their on-ice similarities, but said playing with van Riemsdyk and Voracek is also good.

"It doesn't really matter," he said. "I've played with pretty much everybody all year. long. For me it's not a big change."

Van Riemsdyk, who was held without a point or a shot in two games in the first round against the Penguins -- his first two since breaking his foot March 1 -- said nothing changes his approach to the game, no matter who his linemates are.

"I've played with pretty much everyone in the room here so you know what to expect a little bit playing with guys," he said. "You just do what you do best and hopefully it works well together."

The Flyers' other two lines remained the same as they were in the final two games of the Pittsburgh series -- Claude Giroux centering Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, and Sean Couturier between Maxime Talbot and Eric Wellwood.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:31 PM

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

Grossmann unsure of Game 1 availability

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Saturday marked the second straight day Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann practiced with the full group, but his status for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC) remains unknown.

Grossmann hasn't played since leaving Game 4 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period. In that game he sustained what the team is calling an upper-body injury but which at least one teammate called a concussion.

Grossmann skated Saturday with his usual defense partner, Braydon Coburn, and took part in all the drills.

"Nick's looked good," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's moving up and down the ice well."

Grossmann said it felt good to be back with the team, but said he's unsure if he'll be ready to play Sunday.

"I don't know at this point, we'll see," he told reporters. "It feels good to be on the ice. I haven't talked to the doctors yet. I don't want to make any conclusions yet. I feel better every day and try to take it a day at a time."

If Grossmann is able to play, it's likely veteran Pavel Kubina will be a healthy scratch. Kubina on Saturday was paired with Andrej Meszaros, who likely won't be available until the middle of the series at the earliest as he recovers from back surgery last month. Kubina sat out Game 1 of the first round but played the final five games after an injury to Marc-Andre Bourdon; however, he averaged just 10:33 per game of ice time, fewest among Philadelphia defenders.

Other defense pairings featured Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen, and Andreas Lilja with Erik Gustafsson.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 2:03 PM

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

Players eager to get started

ST. LOUIS -- As has been the case all week, both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are eager and anxious to begin their playoff series.

There's only so much the respective teams can do in practice and only so much a team can do to simulate what their opponent is going to do.

From a rest standpoint, getting a week off for St. Louis and six days off for L.A. was a blessing. But from a game standpoint, since both teams went 4-1 in their first-round series, players remain cautious about any rust that may have developed during that time off.

"You look at Nashville last night, they came out a little slow," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "We've definitely got to get out there and get on our toes and take it to them. We have to show why we can use home ice advantage."

Added Blues winger Andy McDonald: "We've had some rest, a lot of practice and it gives you a lot more time. We knew before they did when we would be playing and who we'd be playing against. It gives guys a little bit more time to recover, we've got some bumps and bruises but I think we're ready to go. It's been kind of a long layoff. I think guys are pretty anxious."

The Kings agreed.

"You want to play. You watch games on TV," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Getting some rest obviously is important. Both teams had ample time to get ready, both physically and mentally. Guys are ready to go now."

Added Kings center Mike Richards: "I don't think there's much of a process. I think you just get excited. A week looking at tape, a week of practicing... it doesn't take much to get out there and you feel the excitement.

"Coming here this morning, I think there's a lot of excitement. Finally gameday's come. I don't think there's going to be much of an amping-up process."

Watching the Predators and Phoenix Coyotes Friday night definitely made players eager to get started.

"It's been a long week," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "There's been a lot of practice, a lot of things that we've gone over but at the same time, we're excited to get this thing going and jump into it. Watching the game last night gives you that itch to get things started."
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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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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres