NEWARK, N.J. -- An obvious hole needed to be filled when center Jacob Josefson suffered a fractured wrist late in the season, altering the lineup plan for New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Looking back, DeBoer admits the one name that kept coming up as a more-than-capable replacement was 5-foot-7, 185-pound Stephen Gionta.
"He hadn't played center in probably a year, but came in and has seamlessly jumped into that spot and given us everything we could ask for … I can't say enough about him," DeBoer told the media following his team's 4-0 victory over Florida on Thursday in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
The Devils conducted an optional workout at Prudential Center on Friday before departing for Sunrise, Fla., for Game 5 on Saturday at BankAtlantic Center. The best-of-seven series is tied, 2-2.
"Stephen's been a great, great story," DeBoer continued. "Here's a kid who never even had a game all year with us, but has come in and given us a real spark. He's enthusiastic and dependable."
Strange, but it almost sounds like DeBoer is referring to the elder Gionta, Brian, who just happens to be the 33-year-old captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
"He has a lot of the same traits as his brother, and his brother has a history of rising to the occasion in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "I think Stephen is one of those types of guys."
Gionta, who was recalled from Albany on April 6 for the second time in three days, had six goals and 16 points in 56 games in the American Hockey League this season. The 28-year-old undrafted forward out of Boston College has been with the organization since the 2005-06 season. The move to bring him up is certainly paying off right now.
"I try to bring energy to the team when I get an opportunity," Gionta told NHL.com. "Hopefully, I can give the team quality minutes out there when I do get that opportunity."
As you might expect, Gionta, who averages 6:41 quality minutes each game in the playoffs, does communicate with big brother quite frequently.
"We stay in touch pretty good and we've talked quite a few times since the original call-up, so it's been nice and he's shown great support," Gionta said. "He just told me to go out, have fun and play my game and let the chips fall."
Right now, Gionta is playing a key role centering the club's fourth line alongside left wing Ryan Carter and right wing Steve Bernier.
"I don't know if I'm surprised [to see how well Gionta has played], but it's nice to see," Carter told NHL.com. "A guy enters a scenario where he's playing playoff games right off the bat, and having confidence. That says a lot about the guy, and he's enjoying it, too."
Through four games in this series, Gionta's line has produced three goals, five points, a plus-7 rating and 15 shots on goal. Gionta has also delivered six hits, including three crunching blows in Game 4 that generated plenty of excitement on the bench.
"I think we're finding success in not trying to do too much," Carter said. "We're trying to keep the puck behind their goal line, wear them down a little bit. We just want to make it difficult on them. Our game right now is making them go 200 feet and forcing them to battle."
"That fourth line has done a great job for us," DeBoer said. "They've chipped in a couple of goals and have generated momentum."
Gionta has played five games since his recall from Albany. He scored his first NHL goal in the season finale and has a goal and an assist in the playoffs being moved from wing to center.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Ellerby sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Thursday's 4-0 loss at New Jersey in Game 4 when he was checked by Devils center Stephen Gionta into the Devils bench where the open door meets the stanchion. Ellerby was making his first appearance since March 15.
Ellerby was in the lineup because Garrison was a late scratch because of a lower-body injury. Dineen said the Panthers were "cautiously optimistic" Garrison would be able to play Saturday.
Dineen said the Panthers might call up a defenseman from the AHL's San Antonio Rampage, with the most likely candidate being Tyson Strachan.
NEWARK, N.J. --New Jersey Devils rookie center Adam Henrique didn't appear too surprised when asked if he expected to be named one of three finalists for this year's Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.
But he's certainly honored to be in the mix.
"I was excited," Henrique told the media following practice on Friday. "Obviously, it's a big honor to be nominated and be a part of the group, so it's something I'm very excited about and proud of."
Henrique remained off the ice on Friday, along with Ilya Kovalchuk, for some rest, but both will be in the lineup on Saturday when the Devils play the Florida Panthers in Game 5 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
Henrique is actually the first Devil to be voted a Calder finalist since Scott Gomez won the award in 2000. Martin Brodeur also won it for the Devils in 1994.
"It's a great honor, the Calder is one of these trophies that's once in a lifetime, so for you to be part of the top rookies is special," Brodeur said. "He's had a heck of a season, and played like a veteran out there. He was responsible, being on the power-play, penalty-kill and in five-on-five situations while playing on the top line.
"Sometimes, when you play on teams expected to win, it's a little tougher, but to play as a rookie, he adjusted really well."
The 22-year-old Henrique, selected in the third round (No. 82) by the Devils in 2008, earned a full-time spot in the lineup this season after Jacob Josefson fractured his right clavicle on Oct. 21. The Devils were already without center Travis Zajac, who was coming off Achilles surgery in August, so the need for a quality center became of the utmost importance.
"I think things started to click when early while playing with Zach and Kovy," Henrique said. "Once we started playing well, it gave me extra confidence to be here and stick around. That was a big confidence boost for me.
"Due to the injuries, this was something I wanted to take advantage of and prove to the staff and everyone here that I could play and fit in with those guys. Once things started going, it carried through the year."
The Brantford, Ontario native finished first among all first-year players with 35 assists and third with 51 points in 74 games. He also tied for the League lead with four shorthanded goals. Henrique finished one point behind Landeskog (22 goals, 52 points) and Nugent-Hopkins (18 goals, 52 points) for the rookie scoring lead.
"It was a hard thing to do at his age," Parise said. "In your first year, there's pressure and sometimes it's tough to cope with when you go through those funks. He never really changed his game whether the points were coming or not, though, and that was key."
Henrique led all rookies with 501 faceoff wins on 1,026 draws (48.8 percent). He ranked 10th among rookie forwards with 83 hits, third with 57 blocked shots and second with 49 takeaways during the regular season.
"He worked the entire season to be in that group, and it's a special group of players he's mentioned with there and deservedly so," DeBoer said. "He's skilled and a good kid, but I think the biggest thing is he doesn't have an ego. He got sent back at first, coming out of training camp, and I've seen that effect that could have on a player -- some feel sorry for themselves. But because he has no ego, he got another chance very quickly and made the most of it."
After being selected by the Devils at the draft, Henrique spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires and one more with the American Hockey League's Albany Devils.
Despite the fact he doesn't have a goal through four games in the playoffs and has gone 11 straight games without a score, he remains positive.
"I think you got to chip in any way you can," Henrique said. "It's the playoffs, and we've had offensive contributions from the fourth-line guys and the top guys are producing offensively, so that's another area where I need to try to do more.
"At the same time, we have to take care of other aspects of the game like playing solid defensively. I thought, as a [third] line, we had our best game in Game 4. We skated well, were on the puck. If you're not scoring, you need to be doing other things to contribute to the win."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
PITTSBURGH -- If the Flyers want to close out the series in Game 5 Friday, they know they have to be better in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. It would, of course, help if Bryzgalov was better as well.
Bryzgalov was pulled 3:07 into Game 4 after giving up his fifth goal on 18 shots. He has a 4.95 goals-against average and .844 save percentage in the series, but the Flyers remain confident that he will give them a series-clinching performance in net Friday.
"I'm not worried," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "He's a professional. He's a veteran. He knows what to do. I think he'll be great tonight."
Bryzgalov certainly looked loose at the morning skate. Prior to leaving the ice, he was doing snow angels around his net.
"I've got a feeling," Giroux added. "He's focused and he wants to win. He can't wait for tonight."
"I don't think it's fair just to say that Bryz has to have a good game," Laviolette said. "He certainly does. We have great veteran players and you can count on them for a win. We've got great youth in the locker room and you can count on them. We have all year. It's a team sport. If we don't play well in front of Bryzgalov it's going to be more difficult.
"We need big performances out of everybody."
The question is will one of those players be forward James van Riemsdyk? He says he's ready to play for the first time since March 1, when he broke his foot blocking a shot, but van Riemsdyk was not on the ice Friday morning.
Neither was Danny Briere, but Laviolette made the morning skate optional for his players.
Provided Briere plays and van Riemsdyk does not, here's is what the Flyers lines and defense pairs will look like:
OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators held their final practice on Friday morning prior to departing for New York without captain Daniel Alfredsson. The Sens will face off against the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Saturday night.
Here are the lines as they appeared during practice:
Stone and Hoffman saw time on the second line and coach Paul MacLean confirmed that Stone would be traveling to New York with the team.
“We’re keeping all of our player options open,” he said.
Alfredsson (concussion) did not skate, and MacLean informed the media that the captain would remain in Ottawa, along with Jesse Winchester (upper body). There has been no change in the conditions of either player.
PITTSBURGH -- The Flyers have gone back to their well of defensemen and pulled out Erik Gustafsson to play in Game 5 against the Penguins on Friday. Nicklas Grossmann did not make the trip to Pittsburgh, so Gustafsson said he will appear in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game.
The Flyers lead the series 3-1.
Grossmann was injured early in Game 4 on Wednesday. The team has labeled his injury as an upper-body injury.
"I think you just have to stay focused and visualize yourself doing good things on the ice," Gustafsson, who played in 30 regular-season games, told NHL.com. "Once I get out there I'm just going to try to keep it simple, don't make any mistakes. Once you get into the game, it's like any other game."
While the Flyers have not provided specifics about the injury, center Claude Giroux on Friday morning intimated that Grossman has a concussion.
When asked about Grossmann and the challenge of playing without him in the lineup, Giroux referred to his own concussion and said "it's all about your health."
"I had a concussion this year and it's just the worst," he continued. "You can't really do anything. You basically sit on your couch and you can't even watch TV because it messes up with your mind. It's not fun. We hope he gets better soon."
However, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he's proud of the way his team has handled the injury situations this season and he expects them to respond in a positive manner again Friday.
"The fact that we've lost another defenseman, it's hard to take; but in saying that, our team is filled this spot all year long," Laviolette said. "We have close to 450 man-games lost to injury this year. This isn't something new to us. We'd much rather have Grossmann in there or any of the defensemen you listed, but that's not an option for us. We have to play good team defense and the players that come into the lineup will be expected to play well."
The Flyers have lost 437 man games to injury, but that number includes season-long injuries to Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere.
Laviolette said he has confidence in Gustafsson because the Swedish defenseman has earned his spot in the lineup with his play. He suited up for 30 games in the regular season and had five points and a plus-12 rating while averaging close to 17 minutes of ice time per game.
"He's a player that got sent back to the minors a couple of times, but it wasn't based on performance, it was based on numbers and being allowed to only dress six defensemen," Laviolette said. "I think he's had a good year. He had one tough injury, but short of that he's done a good job of playing at this level. The minutes he's played, they've increased over time. He's had games where he's played 18, 20, 22 minutes and he's done a good job for us. We have a lot of confidence in Gus and the way he plays the game."
The key, though, will be how the Flyers utilize their defense against Evgeni Malkin. Grossman was paired with Braydon Coburn and together they were on the ice a lot against Malkin and his line. Malkin had no goals in the series until he scored two in Game 4.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma credited the Coburn-Grossmann pair for limiting Malkin at even strength even though most of the credit for that has gone to Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier.
"They've done a good job of having Grossmann and Coburn play in defensive situations," Bylsma said. "That was really a factor here at home. It wasn't having the Couturier line against Malkin, they really had Coburn and Grossmann on the ice in those situations. Without that matchup for them, if that's the case, there may be some circumstances where you try to have that in your favor given the last change."
Coburn pretty much disregarded the question when asked about the challenge of playing without Grossmann.
"Every game is a challenge," he said. "They've got world-class talent out there. We've got to find a way to win."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
NEW YORK -- During a conference call with reporters Thursday, Rangers coach John Tortorella was asked if his best players had been his best players through the first four games of his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Ottawa Senators.
"I'm not about to -- in Game 4 -- to start naming names," Tortorella said. "We've had some people, secondary players, play some good minutes."
Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, the team's top-two scorers in the regular season, have been almost non-existent at even strength since Game 1 of the series. They each have a goal and two assists, but they picked up their assists on the power play in the first period of Game 4. Richards' lone goal made it 4-0 during the third period of Game 1 when the contest was long since decided.
Following practice Friday at Madison Square Garden, a tight-lipped Tortorella added, "Our top guys, just like everybody, want to be our top guys."
Richards was more open to discussing the topic and agreed they need to put the puck in the net more, starting with Game 5 on Saturday night with the best-of-seven series tied at 2-2. The Rangers lost 3-2 in overtime in Game 4 after letting a 2-0 lead -- and golden chances to make it 3-0 -- slip away.
"Obviously, we just need to score more goals," Richards said. "It's 2-2 and we lose in overtime. (We need to score) more goals or make it 3-0 instead. We want to make big plays."
Captain Ryan Callahan has two goals and an assist in the series and said it's great that Brian Boyle (three goals) and Anton Stralman (two goals) have delivered, but the Rangers' top-flight guys need to be just that over the rest of the series.
"Your best players have to be at their best, especially this time of year. You need them," Callahan said. "You're going to have other guys step up and score some big goals like Boyle has and Stralman has two. For us to win the series, we definitely have to have our top guys going."
Since that four-goal barrage in Game 1, the Senators have outscored the Rangers 6-2 at five-on-five. The key to rectifying that problem, according to Callahan, is getting more traffic in front of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
"I think we just have to continue to get pucks to the net, get some bodies there," Callahan said. "I think he's seeing a lot of shots. If we do that and bang in some rebounds, I think we'll be successful."
NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz ruled defenseman Hal Gill out for Game 5 on Friday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC).
With a win against the Red Wings, the Predators would advance to the Western Conference Semifinals for the second straight season.
Gill, the Preds' leader in blocked shots and in shorthanded time on ice, has yet to play in this series with a lower-body injury.
Gill participated in his first full practice on Thursday and took part in the team’s optional skate. Gill said he would be a game-time decision before Trotz ruled him out. Asked if he expected Gill to play, Trotz said, "No, I don't expect him to play tonight." Then, asked if Gill was out, Trotz responded with a simple "yes."
Earlier, Gill was asked if whether he plays depends on pain tolerance or risk of further injury. He responded by saying, "There's a lot of decisions to be made from coaching, the trainers to me. There's a lot of conversation going on right now. To take a page from [former Montreal coach] Jacques Martin, there's a process and we're going to stick with it."
That once again leaves either Jack Hillen or rookie Ryan Ellis to take Gill's place in the lineup. Hillen played in Games 1 and 2, Ellis in Games 3 and 4. Neither has averaged more than eight minutes per game.
One Nashville defenseman who goes about his game quietly and often gets overlooked is 36-year-old Francis Bouillon. Bouillon leads the series with a plus-5 rating while averaging 14:37, fifth among Preds' defensemen.
"I guess I'm lucky," Bouillon said. "[Goalie Pekka Rinne] saved me a few times. I try to play a good game defensively and there's a little bit of luck, too, and I didn't create much offensively, so sometimes it's being in the right place at the right moment, but, defensively, I try to play pretty hard in my own zone and do my best."
Trotz called the 5-foot-8, 198-pound Bouillon a "battler."
"You talk about a veteran, a veteran always has a lot of pride when it comes to the game and they always seem to elevate their game at playoff time," Trotz said. "Frankie is just one of those guys, he gives you everything he's got. He battles through everything. Pound for pound, he's as tough mentally and physically as anyone you're going to meet.
"He's had a real strong series and it's because he's got some veteran poise, some veteran diligence, if you will -- all those things that make you a good pro, and he knows the importance of each and every shift in the playoffs and he's really elevated his game."
Bouillon's plus/minus rating has benefitted from playing with defenseman Kevin Klein, one of the unlikely offensive heroes in this series, as Klein has two goals. The two have been paired together on-and-off for most of the last three seasons.
Over his final 13 games of the regular season, Bouillon scored four goals. In the previous 663 games in his career, Bouillon had scored 25 times.
"It was different a month ago, but now it's like the opposite," Bouillon said. "Kleier skates, shoots and I back him up."
Note: On Thursday in practice, rookie forward Craig Smith skated on the fourth line with center Paul Gaustad and wing Brandon Yip, leading to speculation he could play his first game of the series over Matt Halischuk. Trotz said Smith, who had 14 goals during the regular season, would bring speed and determination to the lineup if he plays. Trotz said both Smith and Colin Wilson would be ready if called upon.
You don't see many. The [Drew] Doughtys, the [P.K.] Subbans, those are guys that create offense from the back and then on top of that ability, the size that he has. In the West you play against some pretty big players, and being able to clear the crease and contain the [Ryan] Getzlafs and the [Corey] Perrys and [Anze] Kopitars and players like that, we're excited about him going back there.
— Sharks general manager Doug Wilson on Brent Burns returning back to defense