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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Win over Jets would give Capitals breathing room

WINNIPEG -- A win tonight over the Winnipeg Jets would allow the Washington Capitals to keep their gaze looking forward and lessen the urge to look over their shoulders.

The Capitals (36-28-6) have used a 7-2-1 run that includes their current four-game win streak to put space between themselves and the Jets, whom they lead by four points. A win tonight would also move the Capitals to within one point of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and mark the first time they have won more than four games in a row since a seven-game win streak opened their season.

"We're getting good goaltending and timely scoring," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said of his club's recent push. "We're basically playing playoff-style hockey."

Settling down the Jets and their rambunctious crowd will be one key for the Capitals, who have split the teams' first two meetings this season in Winnipeg.

"They play with so much emotion and passion," center Brooks Laich said of the Jets.

Hunter is also keenly aware of Winnipeg's home power play, which ranks first in the League this season at a 25.0 percent clip.

"They move the puck well," Hunter said. "They have big shots from the point and get traffic in front. Stay out of the penalty box."

Washington will also regain the services of defenseman Mike Green, who will return after serving a three-game suspension. Tomas Vokoun will return to the Washington net after Michal Neuvirth turned in wins over the past two games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Capitals:

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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Dennis Wideman - Dmitry Orlov
Jeff Schultz - Mike Green

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets face critical matchup against eighth-place Caps

WINNIPEG -- The latest in a series of "must-win" games continues tonight for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre.

Washington holds a four-point lead on the Jets (33-29-8) for the Jets for the Eastern Conference's eighth-place slot. With a three-game road trip next week looming for the Jets, ending the Capitals' four-game win streak is crucial. The Jets ended the Dallas Stars' six-game win streak two nights ago at the MTS Centre, where several opponents have seen long point streaks come to an end.

Zach Bogosian's return from a nagging injury appears to be close, but he will again be out of the Winnipeg lineup against the Capitals. Chris Thorburn remains out as well, so former Capital Eric Fehr, who scored only his second goal of the season in the win against Dallas, will again skate on Winnipeg's checking line with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up. Pavelec, an anchor in net all season for the Jets, has spun off a shutout, three wins and a .931 save percentage over his past five games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Eric Fehr
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Varlamov, Dan Boyle and Iginla

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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars start big homestand looking to bounce back

DALLAS -- After seeing their 11-game point streak end with a thud in a 5-2 loss at Winnipeg on Wednesday, the Dallas Stars (39-27-5, 83 points) now look to rebound as the Chicago Blackhawks (38-25-8, 84 points) visit American Airlines Center for the second time this season.

Tonight's game begins a crucial four-game homestand for Dallas, a run of games that will see the Stars also face Phoenix, Vancouver and Calgary before they head out for a four-game road trip to end the month of March. 

"That word big comes before every game for the next 11, right?" first-year Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I think the focal point is they [Chicago] are a point ahead of us here. I know they're not in our division. Two points is two points and it's going to be a real tough game."

Gulutzan wasn't hesitant in saying No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen would get the start not only against the Blackhawks, but also for the entire homestand.

"I think for any team right now, the goaltending becomes a real big factor," he said. "There's a big spotlight on your goalie now and the other team's goalie. Kari's rested. He's going to get tonight and he's going to get the next four games. It's important, and we feel we've got a better chance than most people because we've got Kari Lehtonen."

Lehtonen is 8-0-1 with a 1.29 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage in his last nine starts for the Stars.

After arriving back in the Lone Star State early Thursday morning, Gulutzan gave his players a day off on Thursday before a morning skate on Friday morning at the arena.

Dallas will be without veteran winger Radek Dvorak and defenseman Sheldon Souray, who are both out with lower-body injuries. However, they should be ready to return by Tuesday, when the Stars will host the Coyotes.

"They both should be ready for Tuesday. They won't be tonight though," Gulutzan said.

And rookie defenseman Philip Larsen will be a game-time decision after suffering a knee injury in Wednesday's road loss to the Jets. Larsen did return in the second period but remains day-to-day. If he can't go, then fellow rookie Jordie Benn, older brother of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn, will get the start.

"He'll be a game-time decision and if not, Jordie Benn will go in. We're very comfortable with Lars, but very more than capable of Jordie Benn to go in if we need him," Gulutzan said.

Some might wonder if there are any lingering effects from Wednesday's streak-ending loss to the Jets, but Stars winger Steve Ott said any such concerns are off base.

"Those games happen. I truthfully believe that. I can't even really imagine the loss as much as how good we've been playing of late in the 10 games before that," Ott said. "I think taking the confidence that we've built in the last little while will be key for tonight."
   
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Crawford back in net as Blackhawks visit Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center:

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Carter Hutton

Injuries: Daniel Carcillo (torn ACL), Ray Emery (illness), Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body), Sami Lepisto (leg), Steve Montador (concussion), Jonathan Toews (concussion)

Scratches: Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger, Brendan Morrison

Notes: Chicago heads into tonight's game after beating the Blues 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night at United Center. Crawford will start between the pipes after playing well in a 4-3 shootout win over the Blues after Ray Emery started, struggled early and was pulled by coach Joel Quenneville. Emery did not make the trip to Dallas, so the Hawks recalled Hutton from Rockford of the AHL. Chicago is 14-18-3 on the road this season and has lost its only visit to American Airlines Center this season, 2-1 in the regular season opener on Oct. 11, 2011.

STARS

Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Brenden Morrow - Jamie Benn - Steve Ott
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Adam Burish
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Mark Fistric - Stephane Robidas
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
Trevor Daley - Adam Pardy

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Jordie Benn, Ryan Garbutt, Toby Petersen

Injuries: Radek Dvorak (lower body), Philip Larsen (lower body), Sheldon Souray (lower body)

Notes: The Stars saw their 11-game point streak, a stretch where they went 10-0-1, end on Wednesday night in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss to the Jets. Dallas begins a four-game homestand with tonight's visit by the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Two current Stars, Burish and Dowell, were members of Chicago's Cup-winning team two seasons ago. These clubs last met on Feb. 23 at United Center with the Stars coming away with a 3-1 win. That victory came in the second game of their recently-concluded point streak. Larsen is a game-time decision with a lower body injury and if he can't go, fellow rookie Jordie Benn, older brother of Jamie Benn, will get the nod.
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 12:58 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Win over Habs would vault Senators atop Northeast

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the starting lineups for Friday’s game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place:

SENATORS
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Rob Klinkhammer - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil
Bobby Butler - Zack Smith - Erik Condra

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Gilroy

Ben Bishop
Alex Auld

After being scratched for the past four games, Butler returns to the lineup, making Kaspars Daugavins, in addition to Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka, healthy scratches.

With a win on Friday night, the Senators could vault ahead of the Bruins to lead the Northeast Division. Spezza insists that the team is maintaining focus.

"It's obviously something that’s in the back of our minds," he said. "We're just trying to play good hockey and pick up as many points as we can. We're trying not to focus too much on what's happening around us, other than how we're playing. If we can take care of how we're playing, things will take care of themselves."

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Ryan White
Blake Geoffrion - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Brad Staubitz - Petteri Nokelainen - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber
Chris Campoli - Federic St-Denis

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

Andrei Markov is out with an upper-body injury, and Alexei Emelin will return to the lineup. Tomas Kaberle is day-to-day, also with an upper-body injury. Mike Blunden, who has missed the last 20 games (lower body) practiced on Friday morning with the team. Raphael Diaz remains out with a lower-body injury.

Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth was coy about playing the role of spoiler against the Senators.

"We still have a lot to play for," he said. "Other teams have other things to play for. But there's always something important to be playing for. We have to be playing for the right reasons. We have to play hard, we have to compete. If it spoils (things) for other teams, so be it."
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 12:36 PM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Ekman-Larsson, Wolski pick up steam

There's no question that the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes have opened eyes around the hockey world by remaining in the thick of their respective division races through mid-March.

But even more surprising may be the fact that two emerging assets from those teams, Phoenix's Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Florida's Wojtek Wolski, are widely available on the waiver wire for the stretch run of the fantasy season.

Let's start with Ekman-Larsson (11 G, 18 A, minus-2, 26 PIM, 8 PPP, 126 SOG, 128 hits), who has played in all 72 games for the Coyotes this season and is currently tied with Alex Pietrangelo for the fifth-highest goal output among NHL defensemen. The Swedish-born blueliner scored a goal in his third consecutive game Thursday in Calgary, and has added 2 assists, a plus-2 rating and 11 SOG during his current three-game points streak.

What's more, Ekman-Larsson is only owned in 15 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Considering the 20-year-old has been a solid point-producer all season long and has totaled 100-plus hits and 100-plus shots for the Coyotes' secondary defensive pairing, it's important to note he's there for the taking in most leagues to provide a lift on the blue line.

Wolski, meanwhile, has come out of nowhere to blossom as of late since being shipped from the New York Rangers to Florida on Feb. 25. The 26-year-old battled through some injury issues this season in the Big Apple, but has been a sparkplug for the Cats as they pursue a division crown and potentially even the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Owned in only 2 percent of leagues, this Polish-born winger has accumulated eight points (3 G, 5 A) in 11 games since moving to the Sunshine State.

His most impressive stretch has come during his current four-game points streak, as Wolski has thrived on Florida's top line in the absence of Kris Versteeg with 1 goal, 4 assists, a plus-3 rating and 6 SOG in that span. He notched a goal and had a plus-2 rating skating alongside Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss in the Panthers' 6-2 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday, lifting his value from a fantasy standpoint.

Each of these skaters could ultimately be diamonds in the rough for fantasy squads if their hot streaks continue, so it's important to monitor their performances over the next few days and potentially add the one that best fits your team.
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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 9:33 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 16th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 70 78 12 90 7

9th 71 75 11 85 9
10th 70 74 12 85 9
11th 70 71 12 82 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 81 9 90 7

9th 70 80 12 92 7
10th 71 80 11 91 7
11th 70 78 12 89 8

The Skinny:
During the course of a playoff race, it is inevitable to hear, "We have control of our destiny."

For the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals, that is exactly the case. It doesn't get better than this on Friday night -- Washington visits Winnipeg, where the fans are rabid and have spurred their hometown Jets on to a 22-10-4 record at the MTS Center.

Math can be complicated but in this case it's quite simple -- a Jets' regulation victory moves them within two points of the eighth-place Capitals. A Capitals victory moves them six points ahead of the Jets. Just wondering but, is that why they're called four-point games?

Regardless, a win by the Jets will not only have their fans cheering, but joining in the applause will be the Buffalo Sabres' faithful, who will remain three points behind Washington in the East. A Winnipeg loss and they are faced with the improbable, if not impossible task, of trying to gain seven more points than the Capitals in the remaining eleven games. A Jets' win and it sets up another showdown next Friday in Washington, where control of destiny would be the main theme once again.

The Caps also want to keep pace with the Panthers and continue their quest for another Southeast division title. Oh, what a night it's going to be.

In the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks are hanging on to very faint playoff hopes. If they want to keep those hopes alive, they must win at home against the Los Angeles Kings. For the Kings, they are trying to keep pace with the pack of Phoenix, Colorado, San Jose and Calgary for the last two playoff spots.

The games on the ice are intriguing, but wouldn't it be something to get a glimpse of the other teams in the pack and see their reactions as this game unfolds? I'm guessing they will be cheering for the Ducks. The Flames will be busy in Edmonton, but they will sneak a peek now and again at the out of town scoreboard to keep tabs on what is happening in Anaheim.


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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 8:50 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ FLA - 4:53 of the Second Period

At 4:53 of the second period in the Panthers/Bruins game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Joe Corvo's point shot was not touched by any Bruin and went into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Boston.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 8:42 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ FLA - 0:38 of the Second Period

At 0:38 of the second period in the Blues/Panthers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Brian Campbell's point shot was tipped by Marcel Goc's stick, which was below the crossbar, and into the net. According to Rule 60.5 "The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick. If the puck makes contact with the stick below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed".  Good Goal Florida.

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It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery