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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:28 PM

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

GM of the Year finalist Armstrong rebuilt Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Doug Armstrong was on a mission to get the St. Louis Blues back on track.

It was a bit of a rocky start at the outset, but ultimately with a few changes and some tweaks to a roster chalk full of younger talent, the Blues were able to persevere.

And on Tuesday, the NHL announced that Armstrong, along with Florida's Dale Tallon and Nashville's David Poile are the finalists for the 2012 General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong became the 11th GM in Blues history on July 1, 2010, and is in his second full season.

Since taking the reins in 2010-11, Armstrong has orchestrated several additions to the club, including trading for Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell and Chris Stewart while also signing veteran free agents Jason Arnott, Brian Elliott, Kent Huskins, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol to mix in with that youth core.

The moves helped the Blues go from ninth to second in the Western Conference this season.

"It's certainly a great honor to be in there with David Poile and Dale Tallon, two guys who have done a tremendous job this season," Armstrong said. "It's certainly something that we cherish here as an organization.

"I sort of look at the Jennings Trophy as accepted by the goaltenders, but it's a team award. I think the manager of the year is really the ultimate team award from the work that the players and the scouts and coaches do. It's verification almost of an organizational award."

This season, the Blues posted their first 100-point campaign (49-22-11, 109 points) since 2001 and their first playoff series win since 2002 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The club broke or tied 13 franchise records in 2011-12, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins overall, which is a franchise record. Overall, the Blues have gone 87-55-22 in the last two seasons, tying for 11th best in the NHL under Armstrong, who now becomes the team's biggest fan since the GMs can't make any more deals or transactions.

"You're here to lend support to the training staff, the coaching staff and the players," Armstrong said. "Really after the trade deadline, the job is done and as we say, you hope you haven't messed up things too much. You just move forward and you support the guys. Ultimately, the players have done a tremendous job right from training camp on. We got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but they were able to right that ship. I enjoy watching them go through this."

That rocky start included a 6-7 run that saw Armstrong make arguably his boldest move when he fired Davis Payne and brought in Ken Hitchcock to get back on track.

"Doug's a smart hockey guy," Hitchcock said. "I think his strength for me is, he trusts his people but he asks for information and really listens. He has a core group of guys, Army asks a lot of questions, he doesn't do anything without being very thorough and he's been that way since he worked in Dallas. That's his real strength, he's not afraid to ask questions, and if he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent, he's going to ask a lot of questions to get the right answers. He's very, very thorough. And he understands from the Dallas days what a good team feels like. The balance between veterans and young people, the necessary element to have on your team to demand the young players play accordingly."

Before joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years with the Dallas Stars organization and his final six seasons as the club's GM. He was a part of the Stars’ organization since the club moved to Dallas in 1993 and helped lead the franchise to two Presidents' Trophies, two Western Conference titles and the 1999 Stanley Cup.

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:19 PM

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

Flyers focus on staying sharp

VOORHEES, N.J. -- For their first practice after eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers spent Tuesday skating.

Lots and lots of skating.

Coach Peter Laviolette put his players through a number of drills during the 60-minute session that focused on moving up and down the ice, transition play and puck movement. 

"I think it's real important to keep the guys out there and moving," Laviolette said. "It was really good. We didn't want them to think too much about systems today or what we may or may not be looking at or what we may or may not be doing. Just getting them up and down the ice. I thought it was a really good clip, 30 minutes up and down, was a great pace."

With the Flyers off for at least another few days while awaiting the start of the second round, Laviolette said he's going to use this time to let some players rest while keeping the group moving.

"I don't know the schedule, but we're looking somewhere on the weekend [to start the second round]," Laviolette said. "We still have time to prepare and go over things. I think an important thing right now is to keep moving. Keep breaking a sweat and move up and down the ice. These guys want to work, they want to run. I thought today was good."

The only healthy regulars missing from the workout were forward Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who received treatment and worked out off the ice. Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, skated earlier in the morning with the extra players.

Of the players who did skate with the main group, one noticeable participant was defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who is recovering from back surgery performed last month. He wore a gray, non-contact jersey, and likely is at least another two weeks away from returning. However Laviolette said it was nice to see the big blueliner back with the main group.

"Really encouraged," Laviolette said when asked what he saw from Meszaros. "He's a big part of our team. Any time you get a player back, that starts practicing, that's a positive."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:18 PM

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

Similarities between Kings, Blues are hard to ignore

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Judging by how most observers project the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues to unfold, they might as well go straight to overtime.

The similarities are a big talking point leading up to the start of the series: two low-scoring teams that are designed by defense and goaltending to grind opponents down.

"Mirror image," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "What were we, one and two in goals against [average] this year? The games are always close -- low-scoring, big forwards, tough team, great goaltending. For both teams you don't know who you're talking about."

Yes, St. Louis was first in the League with 1.89 GAA in the regular season to L.A.'s 2.07. The Kings won three of four regular season meetings, but the teams split the final two games, each by 1-0 scores.

Brian Elliott had a 0.71 GAA in two appearances against L.A. Jonathan Quick had a 0.33 GAA with 94 saves on 95 shots against the Blues. The Kings enter the series on a scoreless stretch of 130 minutes, 49 seconds against St. Louis, while the Blues have gone 96:22 without scoring against L.A. 

L.A. regards St. Louis as a much more physical, hard-nosed team. The teams combined for 86 hits in the March 22 game, a 1-0 shootout win by Los Angeles.

"They all play a heavy game and they all forecheck and hit and they're all hard on you," Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. "I think we've got to bring that to our game and push them back."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said that the teams are similar statistically, but he again brought out the underdog card when asked if the Blues were a mirror image of the Kings.

"We didn't have as many wins as they did," Sutter said. "They won 30 games at home."

The Kings' quarterfinal victory against top-seeded Vancouver threw all conventional thinking out the window. So did the elimination of typical Western powers the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
L.A. was also the team that pulled out two shorthanded goals in one game against Vancouver and outscored it, 7-5, overall in even-strength play.

"Everybody's asking me about how low-scoring it's going to be," Quick said. "But I think I'm sure if you looked back at postseason history and teams that matched up like this, I'm sure there's been quite a few games that have gone the other way, and games that people didn't really expect, 3-4, 4-5 games. When you get out there you can expect anything. You got to be ready for anything. It's all about who comes and competes the hardest."

Penner on the second line: Penner skated on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in practice Tuesday, while Dwight King was dropped to the third line with Lewis and Jarret Stoll.

That's a significant change for a Sutter team that has used the same lines since the acquisition of Jeff Carter in February.

"We got to continue to move around," Sutter said. "We're lucky we've got guys that can play everywhere, so it's not like our left wing hasn't excelled five-on-five. We're trying to find stuff that works."

Kyle Clifford skated at the end of practice, an encouraging sign for the fourth-line winger who is trying to recover from a probable concussion.

Lewis a hero, too: While Stoll joined Adam Deadmarsh and Mike Krushelnyski as players to score series-clinching overtime goals in Kings history, Lewis made the play happen when he got the puck away from Dan Hamhuis.

A typical Sutter third-line grinder, Lewis has become a valuable role player and even contributed a goal in the Vancouver series. He said he received some attention after his play.

"I had a few more text messages after the game than normal and talked to a lot of people that I hadn't talked to in a while about it, so it was pretty cool," Lewis said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

No qualms from Sens' stars about benching

OTTAWA -- The Senators held an optional practice Tuesday afternoon, but the rink remained dark as players milled in the hallways, kicking soccer balls and getting some rest before Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the New York Rangers on Thursday.

More fallout from the benching of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson at the beginning of the third period was the hot topic on Tuesday. Both Spezza and Alfredsson (who lost his temper on the bench) had discussions with coach Paul MacLean after the game.

"I think the conversations a lot of the times [with Spezza] are 'skate through the middle of the rink and shoot the puck,'" MacLean said. "We're not disappointed in any way with the way that Jason has played. This is a playoff series where every night the other team makes it hard for you to do things. You've got to stick to it. Those are the conversations that we have."

Added Spezza: "There's no issue between [MacLean and myself] whatsoever. I really like how he coaches the game. That's not saying that I disagree sometimes with how he does things. I want to be on the ice at all times. At times, emotions can come out. But I really enjoy Paul as a coach. I think he's done a phenomenal job."

When asked about his lack of ice time in the third, Spezza's response was short and to the point.

"If there was a message sent, it was received," he said.

After saying Monday night that he would discuss Alfredsson's behavior on the bench with his captain -- the Swede was seen smashing his stick and stomping on water bottles after coming off the ice from a shift -- the coach admitted he had indeed spoken to the team leader about his outburst.

"[Alfredsson and I] had a good conversation about it -- about frustration and how it limits your focus," MacLean said. "He's frustrated. He got hit -- a little quasi-from-the-backside when he's killing the penalty, and I think coming off the injury that he had was part of the frustration he had. You get hit in that vulnerable position after coming back (from a concussion). That kind of led to it."

"[Monday] was frustrating," Alfredsson added. "I thought I had control of it, then I went out on the penalty kill and [John Mitchell] made a pretty good lick on me. I [didn't] see him at all until the last second. Then I [lost] it pretty much. I was mad at myself for not being able to see him. I felt pretty bad for a bit. I know I have to refocus. I don't send a good message to the team by doing that."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 3:25 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Alfredsson 'honored and humbled' by Masterton nod

OTTAWA -- After coming off back surgery at the end of a disappointing 2010-11 season, the future of Daniel Alfredsson’s NHL career was left in doubt.

However, the Ottawa Senators captain battled back with a renaissance year, and on Tuesday was announced as a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, along with Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Max Pacioretty of Montreal Canadiens. The Trophy is awarded to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

"I'm honored and humbled," Alfredsson said. "It feels really good to come back and play, especially after a frustrating couple of years. The doctors did a great job with my surgery. I got much better this year and I'm having more fun playing. I put a lot of work in, rehabbing and getting ready, and I'm so happy with the success we've had this year. It's been a great group to be a part of and a lot of fun."

Alfredsson's surgery gave him a new lease on life in the League, and the captain has taken advantage. He had 27 goals -- including the 400th of his career -- 59 points and a plus-16 rating, recorded his 1,000th point and was named an All-Star captain.

"Once I had the surgery [in June], even the same day I felt better," Alfredsson said. "That was really encouraging. It was fun to work out again, instead of being limited to what you can do in the gym. It's been hard, but it's been good."

The revitalized leader lit a fire under his team, and for the Sens -- who were not expected to make waves this season -- their captain's perseverance provided a great amount of motivation.

"[Alfredsson's] a class act," goalie Craig Anderson said. "He's our captain, he's our leader. He's very emotional about the team; very emotional about himself. He wants to perform at his best at all times and we want to stand alongside him. His passion for the game is second to none."

Added Jason Spezza: "Coming off back surgery at that age is an accomplishment, and he's had a great year while staying relatively healthy. We were encouraged -- we didn't know how healthy he'd be for the season. We were happy to see him have the success he's had this year, and it's really nice to see him get recognition like that."

The 39-year-old Alfredsson has yet to decide whether he will come back for a 17th season. For now, his mind is focused on chasing the Stanley Cup.

"I'm still taking things day by day," Alfredsson said. "I'll think about it in the offseason, whenever that may be. Right now I'm thinking about Game 7 (against the New York Rangers)."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Meszaros, Grossmann on the ice for Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Nicklas Grossmann were on the ice briefly Tuesday as they attempt to recover from their injuries.

Grossmann is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury that kept him out of the final two games of the Flyers' first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He skated with the team's extra players prior to the start of regular practice.

Meszaros is recovering from back surgery performed March 21. He skated with the extra players and also was on the ice briefly with the main group wearing a gray, non-contact jersey. It's the first time he's skated with the team since leaving the lineup March 1. The original prognosis was for him to miss 6-8 weeks.

All but two of the healthy players were on the ice for Tuesday's practice. Center Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen were absent from the workout, which was heavy on conditioning.

In Briere's absence, the Flyers shuffled two of their four lines, with the top trio of Claude Giroux with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell staying intact, along with the line of Sean Couturier between Maxime Talbot and Eric Wellwood. The other lines saw Matt Read centering James van Riemsdyk and Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn between Zac Rinaldo and Jakub Voracek.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK






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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Marchand knows what it takes to win a Game 7

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- When the stakes were their highest last June for Game 7, Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand came through to make sure his team was the one that raised the Stanley Cup in Vancouver.

Marchand, then a rookie, scored two goals in the final game of the Stanley Cup Final, as the Bruins won the third Game 7 of their historic run. So if anyone knows how to prepare for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington on Wednesday, it's Marchand.

"You just realize and continue to tell yourself that you're fighting for the Stanley Cup and that last effort. And you just leave it all on the ice," Marchand said after an hour-long practice at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday. "It's the same as [Wednesday]. It's either do or die, so we have to prepare the same way and realize that if we want another opportunity we have to win tomorrow."

After scoring 28 goals during his second NHL regular season, Marchand has been uncharacteristically quiet offensively through six games against the Capitals with just one goal and one assist. After he scored that goal and fired five shots on net in Game 5 on Saturday, he landed just two shots on goaltender Braden Holtby in a point-less effort Sunday in Game 6.

"I didn't have a ton offensively, but it was still a decent game. It really doesn't matter now. We won and that's all that matters," he said.

Marchand is one of a handful of Bruins who've played in multiple Game 7s but never lost. He's going to have to produce more like he did against Vancouver than he has against the Capitals to make sure that streak of success continues.




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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:32 PM

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

Projected Game 6 lineup for Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils coach Peter DeBoer told the media on Monday that he would not make any lineup changes for Game 6, meaning rookie defenseman Adam Larsson would be a healthy scratch for the 11th time in 12 games.
 
"It's hard," Larsson said. "I try not to show it so much. I try to be positive."
 
Larsson, a participant at every practice this postseason, has yet to experience the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
Here's the projected lineup for New Jersey:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Projected Game 6 lineup for Panthers

NEWARK, N.J. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen said he still has a few decisions to make regarding his lineup for Game 6 Tuesday against the Devils at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). He has to get a medical report on Jose Theodore before deciding on a starting goalie, and he's not sure what defenseman Keaton Ellerby's status is just yet.

Theodore did not practice Tuesday morning, but Ellerby was on the ice after missing Game 5 with a lower-body injury.

Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen basically said he was going to start Game 6, so we'll take him on his word and put him in the lineup. If Ellerby is able to play, Tyson Strachan will likely come out of the lineup.

Here is what the Panthers lineup could look like for Game 6:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jerred Smithson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Tyson Strachan/Keaton Ellerby

Scott Clemmensen
Jacob Markstrom

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Panthers believe they have found close-out mentality

NEWARK, N.J. -- Several of the Panthers veteran players have been in this situation before; up 3-2 in a playoff series with the potential of closing out the opponent in Game 6. However, as a team they are entering that very situation for the first time Tuesday night at Prudential Center against the New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

If recent history is an indicator, the Panthers understand that nothing is guaranteed when you're closing in on something special.

Florida had several opportunities to capture the Southeast Division title late in the regular season, but still had to go down to the very last day of the season to get the job done. The Panthers let Washington hang around and even have a chance to win the division on the last day of the season by going 1-3-5 in the nine games prior to their regular-season finale against Carolina.

The Panthers finally got the job done on April 7, when they beat the Hurricanes 4-1 to win their first division title.

"I think after 10 years of not making the playoffs and you're constantly getting bombarded with that everyday, there's no doubt that it weighed on our shoulders in the last two weeks of the season," Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. "You look back on it now and it's easy to say that yeah, we were squeezing our sticks. We wanted to do it so bad for each other, for the organization, for the fans."

The Panthers don't anticipate the pressure of potentially closing out the series to be an issue Tuesday, but Devils coach Pete DeBoer has already reminded his team of how much of a struggle Florida had down the stretch when it controlled its own destiny.

"When the pressure is on to finish somebody off, it's a different game," DeBoer said.

The Devils know all about it. Three years ago they were up 3-2 on Carolina heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They went into Raleigh and got beat 4-0.

The Devils also lost Game 7 at home.

"It's a hard game (when you're the team leading 3-2)," Devils left wing Zach Parise told NHL.com. "I remember when we were up on Carolina, we went down there and they kicked our butts. It was a really hard game. Their fans were crazy and they just blew us out of the rink. Then all of a sudden Game 7 is a crapshoot."

Obviously the Panthers don't want to gamble with a Game 7, even though it would be in their own building. That's why they feel thinking back to the difficult time they had at the end of the regular season can serve as a motivator now.

"We made the playoffs and I think we learned from it, that it is hard to close out games," veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson told NHL.com. "I think this group, even if guys have been around, as a group you learn what it takes to close out games. We did it in the end. That was big. We ended on a good note. The last game (against Carolina) for us was good."

The Hurricanes, though, were only playing for pride on April 7. The Devils are playing to keep their season alive Tuesday.

"The key is not to focus on that," Weiss said. "It's just to go out and go through your gameday routine, do the same things you've been doing all year. You know in the back of your mind there's a little bit more on the line, but the key is not to worry about, 'Hey, we've got a chance to move on.' You've got to go through your routine … and at the end of the night hopefully the result is what we want it to be."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery