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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:32 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Ovechkin-Chara matchup a major storyline

ARLINGTON Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich recalled this week one of his very first experiences at his first NHL training camp in 2002.

Laich was 19 years old at the time and the Ottawa Senators prospect was undergoing the standard conditioning tests that greet all hockey players every fall.

"It was a fitness test," Laich said. "I did 225 [pounds] on the bench six times as a 19-year-old, and I was happy as a pig in [slop] that I did it."

But Laich's giddiness was short-lived. Moments later, Laich watched as his Senators teammate -- 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara -- began his fitness test.

"And he came in and put on 315 [pounds] and started warming up and was basically just carrying on a conversation while doing it," Laich recalled. "And then I think later on he was squatting five-something and they told him just to rack it -- 'Don't worry about it. We know you have leg power.' And then I think he actually broke the VO2 bike that year, if I'm correct."

Nearly 10 years have passed since Laich's first encounter with Chara, but the Boston Bruins' captain remains among the game's most physically imposing players.

"He's just a specimen," Laich said. "He's head and shoulders -- physically as far as strength and everything -- above everybody in the League."

Laich and the Capitals should see plenty of Chara when they begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Thursday night in Boston.

Laich is expected to center Washington's No. 1 line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer and with the Bruins owning the last change in Games 1 and 2, Chara will likely be matched against Ovechkin as much as possible.

"Everybody knows he's tough, strong," Ovechkin said. "He's big and we have to use his side -- I think we have small forwards [who are] faster than him and we're just going to use it."

Ovechkin has 10 goals and 25 points in 21 career games against Boston with Chara in the lineup, but the two have never met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ovechkin has said that Chara and Hal Gill are among the defensemen who have given him the toughest challenges throughout his career. Ovechkin faced the 6-foot-7 Gill twice in the playoffs -- in 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and in 2010 against the Montreal Canadiens -- and lost both series in seven games.

"Hal Gill and Chara have two pretty good things in common right? They have a long reach and you have to take a long way around those guys," Bruins coach Claude Julien said in Washington earlier this season.

"As far as Zdeno is concerned, he loves the challenge, he's got the size, he's got the reach and he's got the strength. Ovechkin is a pretty strong player, he's got good speed and somehow you have to make him go around you -- the long way -- in order to get some goals."

Capitals coach Dale Hunter is a notorious line-matcher, but home or away he'll be hard pressed to keep Ovechkin away from the 2008-09 Norris Trophy winner.

"I think over the years they've been playing against each other, so I think they know each other," Hunter said. "And it’s just that you have to work as a line. It's not Ovi against Chara -- it's the line against the Boston Bruins. Not just Chara, either."

If Ovechkin is in fact lined up alongside Laich and Brouwer, Brouwer could provide a physical presence that Ovechkin has not always had when going up against Chara. Creating space, Brouwer says, is the key.

"You can finish him, you can dump it in his corner and you can try to isolate him away from the puck as much as you can, but he's probably going to be on the ice whenever Ovi is, and that's a pretty daunting task for both players," Brouwer said. "They're both good players, they both need to find room out there, and I think it's going to be a real good battle in this series."

Added Ovechkin: "It's going to be nice. It's not going to be just against me and Chara. It's going to be Boston versus Washington, and of course our personalities are going to be out there, but the most important thing is how is the team going to respond to what's going to happen out there."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:24 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Rangers, Kreider agree to entry-level deal

The New York Rangers on Tuesday agreed to terms on an entry-level contract with Boston College's Chris Kreider, the 19th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft.

The 20-year-old forward will report to Rangers practice Wednesday and is eligible to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Kreider's deal is for three years, but the first year of the contract will be burned when he arrives at practice. TSN's Bob McKenzie is reporting Kreider did not receive a signing bonus for this season, but he will receive bonuses if he plays in this year's postseason.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Kreider possesses the size and speed necessary to make the immediate jump from the NCAA to the NHL. In three seasons at Boston College, the Boxford, Mass., native had 49 goals and 43 assists in 114 games and was part of this year's national championship squad.

Kreider had 23 goals and 22 assists in 44 games as a junior.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather has said in the past that he believes Kreider can contribute right away at the NHL level, but it remains to be seen how coach John Tortorella will work him into his lineup, if at all, during the postseason. The Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference and lack any serious injuries to their forwards right now.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:12 PM

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

Senators give Zibanejad a look at practice

KANATA, Ont. -- The Ottawa Senators held their second full practice Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their series against the New York Rangers, which begins on Thursday. Here were the lines as they appeared during the skate:

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Mika Zibanejad
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Colin Greening - Jesse Winchester - Chris Neil
Zack Smith - Jim O'Brien - Erik Condra

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

Craig Anderson
Ben Bishop

Matt Carkner (lower-body injury) was absent from practice for the second consecutive day, but coach Paul MacLean expects that he will participate in Wednesday's skate. O'Brien took a puck off his hand and left practice early. MacLean said he will be evaluated but he didn't hear anything "drastic about it" from the team's physical trainers.

Mika Zibanejad was given time as a top-six forward, leading to additional speculation that the No. 6 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft could see action during the Senators' postseason. Zibanejad, who had one assist in nine games for the Senators at the start of the season before he was returned to Djurgårdens IF of the Swedish Elite League, will head to Binghamton to play in the final two games of the season, after which he would be made available to the big club.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Zibanejad said. "We'll take it day by day. I'm just doing what the coach and [Bryan] Murray wants me to do. Obviously, you hear so much about the playoffs and you want to be a part of it. But I'm here to work hard and just make sure I'm ready when the opportunity comes up.

"[Zibanejad] brings speed and offensive ability, there's no question," Daniel Alfredsson said. "He's been playing in Sweden most of the year and getting lots of ice time. We haven't seen him much lately, but he's looking good in practice. We'll see what the coaches decide."

"We wanted to see how [Zibanejad's] done, now with his season over, and just give him an opportunity to practice with our best guys and see how he looked," MacLean said. "I think right now he's going to Binghamton to play with them this weekend, and he'll be available to us if we feel like we can use him. Basically we're seeing how he's progressed. I thought he skated real good, but he's still a young player."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:01 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

No setbacks for Toews, Game 1 status still uncertain

CHICAGO -- His status is status quo, which is good news for Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews, who missed the final 22 games of the regular season after sustaining a concussion, practiced for the second straight day as the center of the top line in Chicago's final home practice before flying to Arizona to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"Same as [Monday]," Toews said, when asked how he was feeling following Tusday's practice at Johnny's Ice House West, near United Center. "[I'm] just waiting until gametime time on Thursday. I feel good. I’ve been making improvements and working on little things every single day, so that’s going to be the routine for the next little while."

Neither Toews nor the Blackhawks have officially said the 24-year-old star will play in Game 1 on Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena, but the feeling around the team since Monday is that he will.

"Compared with a couple of weeks ago, it’s night and day," Toews said of the symptoms he's dealt with since leaving the lineup. "[I've] made huge progress and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be sitting here talking. It’s been going good the past week. [I'm] just taking as good a care of myself as I can. It’s great when you see a difference every single day. Finally, those things I’m doing are paying off and I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I guess."

Toews did say he's still experiencing some dizziness on the ice, but attributed it more to physical conditioning than the concussion. He also said it's tough to weigh his long-term health -- especially after he's done playing hockey -- with the present situation.

"As a young hockey player, you have a certain level of invincibility," said Toews, who's had at least one prior concussion in his NHL career. "You don't really think that far down the road. You're thinking about
the here and now, getting back in the room and on the ice to be part of the mix and help your teammates."

Toews cited the uncertainty of how, exactly, concussion-related injuries and symptoms affect the brain in the long run as one of the issues he's been mulling over the past few weeks.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Toews has cleared every protocol that's been put in place for a player to return from such an injury and that it's now up to Toews to make the call as to when he's healthy enough to play.

"I think those hurdles will be crossed before he even begins," Quenneville said. "I think he's made some real consistent progress recently and that's where we're comfortable with where he's at. Each and every day, he feels even better and that gives him reassurance and us confidence that when he's ready, he will be ready to play. We're hopeful and looking forward to that."

It's not an easy decision to make, but the more Toews talks about it, the more it sounds like he'll be in uniform Thursday night against the Coyotes.

"It's tough to see where this is an injury that maybe does have long-term effects ... who really knows?" Toews said. "But you've got to be careful and do what you think is right. It's tough to see where ... it's a case that's debatable. You could talk about it all day, but no one really knows if things like that happen because of an injury like this. Every case is different and no one can tell you what to do. You've got to be smart about it and do what you think is right."

Meanwhile, his teammates say that getting their captain back will be a welcome sight whenever it happens.

Toews said he's not going do too much whenever he gets back into the lineup, anticipating some rust in his game after the long layoff, but at least one of his teammates is leery of setting the bar too low.

"I don't expect that," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp said. "I've been out for long stretches and come back. Now's the time when I felt a little nervous, leading up to the game ... but Johnny's played in a number of big games in his career already. I anticipate him to come back and pick up where he left off."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 3:54 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill (lower body) a game-time decision for opener

NASHVILLE -- The Predators acquired defenseman Hal Gill, who made appearances in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009, winning it with Pittsburgh the second time around, precisely for the postseason, but his presence in the lineup for Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Detroit on Wednesday will be a game-time decision, coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday.
 
One of the 6-foot-7 Gill's specialties is blocking shots, and he may have injured himself doing just that in Nashville's home finale on Thursday when he stepped in front of a drive by Dallas' Sheldon Souray, owner of one of the League's hardest shots. Gill did not practice on Wednesday. Trotz would not confirm that Gill injured by blocking Souray's shot, but did confirm Gill had a lower-body injury.
 
"We felt with his injury, just no sense trying to aggravate it anymore, so we'll know in the morning," Trotz said.
 
Gill did not play in the season finale on Saturday against Colorado and Trotz said he had a "maintenance day" on Monday when Gill did not practice either. Gill skated by himself on Tuesday before the team's main session.
 
Splitting his time between Montreal and Nashville, Gill averaged 17:08 in time on ice in 76 games and posted a minus-3 rating, though he was plus-4 in 23 games with Nashville playing slightly more than he did in Montreal at 18:02. In particular, Nashville wanted him for his penalty-killing ability. At 3:28 per game, he is by far the Preds' leader in average shorthanded time on ice. Nashville acquired the 37-year-old with a conditional fifth-round pick on Feb. 17 in exchange for forwards Blake Geoffrion and Rob Slaney and a second-round pick. Coincidentally, both of Gill's appearances in the Cup Final came against Detroit, Nashville's opponent in the coming series.
 
Gill led the Preds with 161 blocked shots, which ranked him 16th in the NHL.
 
Trotz was asked if he were worried about a letdown if Gill cannot play on Wednesday.
 
"Well, we can't," he said. "The playoffs are about, there's going to be adversities, there's going to be changes in the lineup, and you just have to adjust. If he's in the lineup, great. If he's not, then we'll just have to adjust. The playoffs are all about adjustments. Not everything's going to go perfect. After Game 1, whoever wins is probably going to limit their adjustments, and the team that loses is probably going to adjust a little more because something didn't work.
 
"That's sort of the cat-and-mouse game that happens in the playoffs, especially when you're playing a team and playing them maybe up to seven games."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 3:45 PM

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

Richardson out after emergency appendectomy

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings winger Brad Richardson had an emergency appendectomy and is unavailable for the immediate future, coach Darryl Sutter said Tuesday.

Richardson had symptoms "the last couple of days" and had the procedure done Monday night, according to Sutter.

Sutter had no idea how long Richardson will be out, but Richardson is expected to at least miss Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday in Vancouver.

Sutter said he underwent the same procedure four or five years ago when he was with the Calgary Flames.

"Better to have it out than have it ruptured, because it's not about hockey," Sutter said. "The procedures they have now -- you're resuming activity within a couple of days. You know what? We won't have him for a while."

Richardson was inserted on the top line when Jeff Carter had a bone bruise. Richardson had two goals against Minnesota on March 31 and an assist against Edmonton on April 2 in Carter's absence.

"We played without Carter," Sutter said. "We've been short, so we know [what it's like]."

The Kings have recalled center Andrei Loktionov from Manchester of the American Hockey League.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:18 PM

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

Flyers have decision to make on defense

VOORHEES, N.J. -- One of the more interesting lineup decisions for Flyers coach Peter Laviolette could come in his third defense pairing.

For the second straight day at practice, Andreas Lilja and rookie Marc-Andre Bourdon formed the third pairing, while Pavel Kubina -- acquired from Tampa Bay in February to bolster the back end -- skated as the extra blueliner.

Kubina had just four assists in 17 games with the Flyers, and missed two weeks in March with what the team called an upper-body injury. In 10 games back since the injury, he has two assists, a minus-3 rating and has looked easy to push off the puck.

"Pavel has been really good," Laviolette said. "He's been a welcome addition to our back end."

Bourdon has been a pleasant surprise this season, with four goals in 45 games and a good level of physical play for his 6-foot, 206-pound frame. Lilja also brings size and physicality, but played just 46 games due to injury and being a healthy scratch 26 times.

Laviolette wasn't going to discuss his lineup, which at Tuesday's practice saw Braydon Coburn paired with Nicklas Grossmann -- likely to play in Game 1 after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury -- and Kimmo Timonen with Matt Carle.

"We're fortunate to get some health now so we've got good defensemen available for the playoffs," Laviolette said.

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



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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Daniel Sedin absent from Canucks practice Tuesday

Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin practiced with teammates Monday, but didn't talk.

He didn't practice Tuesday, but skated shortly after.

What does it mean for the Canucks' leading scorer in Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday?

No one with the Canucks was saying, leaving only question marks about whether last season's Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer would be ready to return from a March 21 concussion in time to face the Los Angeles Kings when Vancouver starts the first round.

Twin brother Henrik, who said Daniel was "100 percent" a day earlier, offered only no comments when asked about his lifelong linemate's health and playing status.

Coach Alain Vigneault did at least say Sedin hadn't suffered a setback in his recovery after practicing for the first time with teammates on Monday, but that was about it.

"It's not a setback," Vigneault said twice. "It's a unique injury and he will continue the protocol and when he's ready to play he'll address you. Until then he won't talk to you."

Daniel, who missed the final nine games of the season, but still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points, did not talk with reporters after practicing on Monday. He skated with regular linemates Henrik and Alexandre Burrows, and worked in his usual spot on the top power-play unit, staying out through the end of a hard skating session at the end. On Tuesday he didn't go on the ice until most teammates were talking to the media -- mostly not answering questions about his status.

Daniel skated for 40 minutes with six spares, including Keith Ballard, who is coming off a concussion of his own and not expected to play in Game 1, doing drills with skill coach Glenn Carnegie, and firing into a net guarded only by a shooter tutor.

There was no word -- or even a hint -- if he'd play Wednesday.

"You should know by know I don't discuss lineup decisions," Vigneault said.

Daniel still wasn't wearing a white helmet the way Ballard, who has been out since early February, did before he was cleared for contact last week. But there was no contact.

Keith was suspended five games for the hit. The Canucks won eight of their last nine games without Daniel to secure a second-straight Presidents' Trophy.


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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:02 PM

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

Flyers put youth up against Penguins' experience

VOORHEES, N.J. -- No team got a bigger contribution from its rookies in the 2011-12 season than the Philadelphia Flyers.

They got a League-high 64 goals from their rookies, and with as many as six first-year players expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, their play will be pivotal for Philadelphia.

How those young players react in the crucible of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be so important because of the Penguins' advantage in experience -- 11 players expected to be in the Game 1 lineup for Pittsburgh were part of the team that won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

While many would think that playoff knowledge would give the Pens a major advantage, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he isn't so sure.

"That's one I don't have an answer for," he said. "If you're asking me if I like our team and if I like our young players that we've had and that we've had in place all year and if they've answered the bell every time we've asked them to answer a bell, I have. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in this group. And I guess the guys, to answer your question, the guys that don't have the playoff experience, we really like them as players. They've done a terrific job all year.

"How does that compare to [the Penguins]? I'm not sure. I'm not sure if matters. We're going to go in there and we expect to play a good hockey team and we expect to win."

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


 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 1:52 PM

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

Hitchcock downplays news of Elliott injury

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Maybe Ken Hitchcock's selection of a goalie for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the San Jose Sharks became easier with the news of Brian Elliott's upper-body injury.

But Hitchcock said it's nothing that will alter a decision as to who starts, because Elliott is in play along with Jaroslav Halak. The injury is one that Hitchcock said, "is from weeks ago when he fell into the net."

The Blues had a double practice session that lasted 90 minutes. They split the time up and Elliott was on the ice for the first session. He took a good amount of work, but the team decided to keep him off the ice when they returned.

"He's got a little bit of an upper-body issue, day-to-day," Hitchcock added. "Rather than just try to squeeze the big, long [practice], we took him [out after] the short one and we'll get him back out here tomorrow or the next day and see how it is. He'll be fine, though.

"We didn't want to aggravate it. We've been nursing it for a week. We didn't want to take him too far down the lineup. He got a lot of work in the first 45 minutes."

Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season after going 23-10-4. Hitchcock said Elliott will still be up for selection for Thursday's opener.

"It's more maintenance," Hitchcock said. "We've been nursing this thing for a week now. It's not a big deal. We knew how long this day was going to be and we just felt like, 'Man, why cool a guy down?' If we're going to continue to practice at this tempo, we might bring a third guy in."

The team recalled Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis but only to participate in the practices. Hitchcock has moved up a day for naming a starter after initially saying he would wait until Thursday morning.

"I'm going to move it up a day so you guys can write about something," Hitchcock said, joking. "I'll give it to you on Wednesday. I'm going to give you a little treat."

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