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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 8:00 PM

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

My first-round playoff predictions



Here are my picks for the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Eastern Conference

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators


As it turns out, this is not the matchup we thought we would be getting during the final weeks of the season. For a long time it looked like New York would be facing Washington or Buffalo, but surprisingly it will be Ottawa. The Senators can score and they've got a pretty good power play and some solid young players, but I just think the Rangers are too gritty, too strong and too good defensively. It could be a tougher series than people expect, but I have to think New York will be able to shut down Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson with the smothering defense it has.

In many cases the equalizing factor in these series is goaltending, but Henrik Lundqvist is so good that Craig Anderson will have a challenge matching up. Anderson would have to play like Jaroslav Halak did with Montreal in 2010, and in the end, I think that's the only way Ottawa pulls it out.

Pick: Rangers in five.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals


Washington, if you look at their history in the playoffs, they haven't had much success, so it's not like they're a confident team in the postseason, but they are dangerous this time around. They have nothing to lose and they'll be loose, which is different from coming in as favorites, which they haven't handled well.

All that said, I expect Boston to just have too much experience and grit. I think Zdeno Chara and company will be able to shut down Ovechkin and Backstrom, particularly because Chara proved last year when he went against the opposition's top guys every night that he can negate lines like Washington's. As well, Backstrom may not be 100% healthy, and the Bruins will make his life miserable. Plus, the Capitals will probably have to go with Braden Holtby in net. He's played very well at times, but he's also looked very young at times, and it's pretty tough to expect a kid to walk in there and beat the mighty Boston Bruins.

Pick: Bruins in six.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils


I know how the teams are seeded, but this, to me, isn't a real 3-versus-6 matchup. I think the Panthers are good -- they found a way to win their last game and get that third spot -- but I like the Devils. Jersey is a deep team, and don't forget that the Devils are much better offensively. They have three 30-goal scorers this season, which is a pretty impressive arsenal. They're very good defensively like always, and Martin Brodeur has played well. He isn't the Marty Brodeur of 10 years ago, but he's played well in a rebound year, and I just think the Devils are very solid all around, and I like the way they're playing.

Also, don't forget, the Devils had eight more points than Florida in a tougher division. That's a pretty good indicator. Florida, too, I think will be one of those teams that is just happy to finally be back in the playoffs after so many years. Making the playoffs was their goal and they did it. They may be one of those teams that's just happy to be there, and I don't think the stay will be long.

Pick: Devils in six.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers


This is the one we've been waiting for. I think this is just going to be a great series, and it may be the best one of the entire 2012 postseason. These two teams both hate each other, they're both from Pennsylvania, they both have a bunch of star power and they've both been to the Stanley Cup Final recently.

I think this is a very evenly-matched series. The Flyers don't look quite as good as the Penguins on paper, but the Flyers know how to play Pittsburgh. They know how to get under their skin, they know how to goad them into penalties and they'll goad them into getting too emotional and losing their game plan. A lot of the reasons the Flyers win are intangibles that you don't see on paper. That said, the Penguins have so much scoring and a very deep defense. I see a very hard-fought, emotional, dirty, mean series, but I see Pittsburgh as the team that survives.

Pick: Penguins in seven.

Western Conference

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings


We have a major upset every year in the playoffs so you can't pick chalk all day long. I have a feeling this might be it. Vancouver is a great team again after winning another Presidents' Trophy, but I can see them walking into this series thinking it's going to win and underestimating the Kings. Remember, we don't know what's happening with Daniel Sedin, and that's a huge problem for the Canucks. I actually think L.A.'s goaltending is better than Vancouver's and don't forget, Chicago almost beat Vancouver in the first round last year.

I think L.A. is a much better team now than they were a month ago, I think they're playing better offensively than they have all season and I think Jonathan Quick is good enough to stand on his head and steal a series if he has to. I also think the Kings will remember how the Bruins beat the Canucks a year ago and they'll get in Vancouver's face and play physically, which we've seen them do before. Every year we see a big upset, and something tells me the ingredients are there to make this the one.

Pick: Kings in seven.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks


Before this season started we might have seen this matchup going the other way, but not now. I really think St. Louis is playing so well that at the moment they just don't have a weakness. The defense is big, young and mobile. Their goaltending tandem is great, and they're just playing great hockey. The Blues never stumbled down the stretch and I just think they've been a great team ever since Ken Hitchcock took over. He brought in accountability and a defensive mindset that really fits the players on the roster, and he also got to take over a team with talent. This is a team that has gotten to draft high picks for several years.

Ken was the right man in the right place at the right time for this team. I do think San Jose will play them well. With the experience and talent the Sharks have they can't be counted out lightly, but I just think St. Louis is too deep and they're playing too well right now.

Pick: Blues in six.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (7) Chicago Blackhawks


I think Phoenix has had a great season. Mike Smith is probably the comeback play of the year, the team is playing great hockey right now going into the playoffs, they finished the season strong and they're just a good team all around. But all that said, I just like Chicago. I like the way the Blackhawks play, I like their speed, and everyone seems to think they'll finally have Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland back so they'll have the full team healthy for the first time in a long time.

The Blackhawks are just a team that knows how to win. They won a Cup a few years ago with this core group, they've added some guys to give them that grit factor and I also like the addition of Johnny Oduya on the blue line. Phoenix has really impressed, no matter what happens, coach Dave Tippett always has the Coyotes competing. But I just like the Blackhawks.

Pick: Blackhawks in seven.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings


I think this is going to be awesome. This is going to be a very tough series for both of these teams, but a few things stand out. I'm not a big believer in home ice in the playoffs, but Detroit is definitely a different team this season on the road than at home. Nashville is good everywhere. I think the Predators' defense matches up well with the Red Wings' forwards, they're big and tough, I think Alexander Radulov has changed their offense and I think Pekka Rinne is as good a goaltender as there is in hockey.

Nashville's size will definitely be a factor. If you look at that defense with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Hal Gill, that's a big defense and then add in that they've got Paul Gaustad now and some other big forwards that will grind you. Also, the Predators have played Detroit a lot so they know how to play the Wings. I think Jimmy Howard will be good, but I don't think he'll be as good as Rinne. This will be a great series, but it could also be Nashville's years. They're a team to be reckoned with and if a few things go their way, they could be the team to come out of the West.

Pick: Predators in seven.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:47 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

Sens pose major threat to Rangers

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and normally includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with the playoffs set to get under way Wednesday night, JR switched his format for this week. Read on to find out more:
 
It's hard to talk about what is clicking for a team right now because the puck hasn't yet dropped in the playoffs. Similarly, how can I possibly get on a team for what they're missing before they even play a game? So, as my own little playoff preview, I've instead decided to blog about the first-round series that I think is easiest to pick and the one I think that can be the upset special.
 
My predictions are at the bottom of the blog…
 
If you're looking for an easy pick, it's the Boston-Washington series.
 
I think Boston is starting to play at that high level again and the Capitals have a young goaltender in Braden Holtby, who they're going to have to hope finds a hot streak in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs.
 
There are just far too many questions with Washington.
 
Is Alexander Semin going to show up? Is Nicklas Backstrom going to be ready for playoff hockey? Is Mike Green going to find a way to score a point?
 
These are all issues that they'll have to deal with. They're all issues the Bruins don't currently have.
 
I love the way Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand are playing. They're young guys that are flying high and playing some really great hockey. Tim Thomas is heating up at the right time, and he always gets extra jacked up for the playoffs. Chris Kelly and Danny Paille are playing well.
 
I like the Bruins' overall grit. I like the whole team. And, they're getting down to the grind now and playing with the substance that Boston is known for.
 
The Capitals won't be able to avoid the physical game; the question is can they play it? I'm not so sure.
 
You can push Semin right out of the game or even the series by intimidating him. Backstrom might be tentative after missing so much time with a concussion. He might have a little bit of the nerves going.
 
It's going to be up to Washington's tough guys. Brooks Laich has to be solid and strong. Troy Brouwer has to be the same way. I think Jason Chimera is a guy that people overlook, but he can be a very physical presence that can score goals. He has to.
 
Bruins in five.
 
Now, if you're looking for an upset…
 
It's kind of weird because I think the biggest upset that could happen is Ottawa beating the New York Rangers, and if you read below I have the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup.
 
Yes, I know that sounds crazy and maybe it is, but a lot of the reason why I think the Rangers might win the Cup is because if they beat a very tough opponent in Ottawa in the first round, it could really give them a lot of momentum and confidence.
 
The Rangers have not played well against Ottawa. They lost three out of four games to the Senators this season.
 
The Rangers don't match up very well with Ottawa in terms of styles. The Senators' high-powered offense can be a problem depending on how the Rangers perform offensively. They have to score goals, but they can't get into a run and gun, trading chances, horse race style of game and series. They have to play stringy defense, get timely goals and they have to make sure they get their power play going.
 
They have worked hard at trying to fix their power play and they need to get it going now.
 
The Senators, meanwhile, don't really have much pressure on them, and yet they're here in the playoffs because their top guys got them here.
 
Jason Spezza is having a career year. Milan Michalek is having a career year. Daniel Alfredsson is playing very well still. And, having Erik Karlsson, who has shattered all the defensemen in the League in the points race, is huge and really dangerous for the Rangers.
 
The key to success for the Senators is in goaltending. Can Craig Anderson hold down the fort?
 
When Ottawa doesn't win, it's because its goaltender gives up some very shady goals. Anderson has got to find a way to shut the door.
 
If he is good, this might be one of the toughest opponents the Rangers will face. So, even though it's kind of weird for me to pick the Rangers to win the Cup and then look at them as a possible first-round bust, this could happen.
 
I still think the Rangers win this series, but it'll take seven games and it won't be easy.
 
JR's PREDICTIONS
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE
 
Quarterfinals

 
Rangers over Senators
Bruins over Capitals
Devils over Panthers
Flyers over Penguins
 
Semifinals
 
Rangers over Devils
Flyers over Bruins
 
Finals
 
Rangers over Flyers
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
 
Quarterfinals
 
Canucks over Kings
Blues over Sharks
Coyotes over Blackhawks
Predators over Red Wings
 
Semifinals
 
Canucks over Predators
Blues over Coyotes
 
Finals
 
Canucks over Blues
 
CUP FINAL
 
Rangers over Canucks
 
Conn Smythe Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:17 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks know special teams will be crucial

SAN JOSE – It should come as no surprise that the San Jose Sharks are spending plenty of time working on their penalty kill and power play as they prepare to face the St. Louis Blues in a first-round playoff series that begins Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

San Jose's special teams were a disaster zone during the regular series against the Blues, who won all four games by a combined score of 11-3.

The Sharks went 1-for-15 on the power play. The lowlight came during a 1-0 loss on Dec. 10 in St. Louis, when the Sharks went 0-for-6.

San Jose's penalty kill, which ranked 29th this season, was equally bad. The Sharks killed just 14 of 19 power plays against St. Louis. Five of the Blues' 11 goals in the series came on the power play. In the Blues two most recent wins over San Jose, they scored two of their three goals via the man advantage.

"You definitely can build momentum or lose it at times through special teams," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said Tuesday after a long practice. "We haven't really had a great special teams season against these guys. We're going over a few things, seeing where we can attack them, where they've been really good against us. It's still going to come down to that moment, winning the one-on-one battles, making a play, hitting a shot, all those things that come down to it.  But many series, special teams are pretty important. It's definitely going to go a long ways in this series."

Three of the Blues' power-play goals came when they had two-man advantages.

"We gave them too many 5-on-3s," Pavelski said. "That's never easy. So stay sharp there. Get one early. We don't want to be a couple games behind then find our power play. We need to find it early and put them on their heels."

The Sharks' power play ranked second overall in the regular season, and the Blues' penalty kill ranked No. 7. San Jose knows it will be a challenge to convert when the opportunity arises.

"Their penalty kill is exceptional," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's been the best for the last two months, the best in the League. It starts with their two goaltenders and the way they play. They're aggressive. They have a confidence level that's very high in there. It will be a very big challenge for our power play and we've spent a lot of time in those situations the past two days."

St. Louis scored the first goal in all four of the regular-season meetings, and the Sharks enjoyed a lead for just one brief stint during a 4-2 loss on Oct. 15 at HP Pavilion. Defenseman Brent Burns put San Jose ahead 2-1 at 11:18 of the second period. Kent Huskins tied it with a goal at 4:33 of the third, and the Blues scored two more unanswered goals en route to victory.

Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said the defensive-minded Blues "clamp down" even harder when they get the lead.

"We have to try to get to a lead, play with the lead and force them to maybe try some different things or do some different things that way, but I'm suspecting they're going to play the same way whether they're up or down," Marleau said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:06 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks preparing for both Halak, Elliott

SAN JOSE – One of the biggest first-round playoff mysteries for the San Jose Sharks – which St. Louis Blues goaltender they'll face in the opener on Thursday night – cleared up a bit  Tuesday.

Throughout the season, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott formed a two-headed goaltending monster for the Blues, but Elliott missed the second of two practices Tuesday with a upper-body injury he suffered late in the regular season and, according to St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, is day-to-day.

Although Hitchcock downplayed the injury and said Elliott is healthy enough to play, the Blues called up goaltender Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League.

"We'll prepare for both," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We all know what the injury thing is like at this time of the year with coaching staffs and teams. So we'll prepare for both."

On Monday, Hitchcock said he wouldn't reveal his starting goaltender until Thursday. On Tuesday, however, he said he'd announce his starter on Wednesday.

The Sharks lost twice to Halak and twice to Elliott. Each goaltender had one shutout against San Jose.
Does it matter which Blues goaltender the Sharks face?

"I don't think it really does because they're fairly {much} the same goalie, it seems like it," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "They have similar numbers. From there you just got to play. When you get your chance, you're not really caring if it's Elliott or Halak because there's not too big of a difference between them."

McLellan was asked if the Blues are a different team depending on which goalie starts.

"Their team doesn't play any different. Their goalies are a little bit different size-wise and the ability to play the puck and that type of stuff," McLellan said. "That's a situation that we're aware of, that they have the two, that they're capable of playing two – a little bit like the [Mark] Sanchez-[Tim] Tebow situation in New York, two very good quarterbacks that both want to play.

"I guess the trick there is figuring out who the team is comfortable playing in front of and playing that guy. Sometimes it's a hard thing for a coach to do. There's no doubt that I know in our group we feel more comfortable in front of one than the other, not that the other isn't capable, but there's a security blanket there. Which one is it there?"

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi started the final 21 games. Backup Thomas Greiss hasn't started since Feb. 26.

On the Sharks' injury front, defenseman Brent Burns returned to practice Tuesday after missing Monday's workout, when he took what McLellan called a "maintenance day."

Forward Ryane Clowe, however, missed a second straight day for an undisclosed injury.

"I'm assuming he's playing," McLellan said of Clowe. "He's had a couple maintenance days. I think when we put the gear on, you'll see Ryane Clowe out there."

McLellan said he expects Clowe to practice before the Sharks open the series Thursday night.

"I believe he will. That will be up to him and how he's feeling," McLellan said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:05 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens' Lovejoy could return for Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy could return for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Philadelphia on Wednesday, two weeks after having arthroscopic right knee surgery.
 
Lovejoy was expected to be out for 3-4 weeks after getting injured March 25 against New Jersey. But he resumed skating last week and returned to practice on Monday.
 
With Matt Niskanen (lower-body injury) unlikely to be ready for Game 1, the only other healthy defenseman available on the Penguins' roster is rookie Brian Strait. He was a minus-2 in season-ending games against the Rangers and Flyers last week.

Niskanen was held out of practice Tuesday, although he skated beforehand. He missed the final two games of the regular season.
 
Lovejoy has been limited to 34 games because of injuries and the depth the Penguins possess on the blue line when Niskanen is healthy. He has one goal and four assists and is a plus-3.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma seemed to suggest following practice Tuesday that Lovejoy could be ready to go.
 
"Ben Lovejoy is a guy who three times this year has played after long absences and has played really well after he's stepped back in," Bylsma said. "He's played in the postseason and has that experience there. He's been a guy who's stepped in for us this year when we've had injuries. When and if Ben gets healthy, he's going to be a guy we're comfortable putting in situations."
 
Lovejoy had two assists while playing in all seven games of the Penguins' conference quarterfinal round series loss to Tampa Bay last season.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 5:02 PM

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

Blackhawks not overlooking Coyotes' skill

CHICAGO -- The easy thing to do with this series is simply line up all the stars the Chicago Blackhawks have, put them next to the numerous "lunch box" types the Phoenix Coyotes utilize and favor the guys from the Windy City.

However, the Blackhawks are not on board with that kind of logic.

Not only did they beat Phoenix just one time in four games played this season, but the Hawks also found out too many times for their liking what can happen when the defensively-sound Coyotes are allowed to build an early lead.

"It's the same old answers you'll hear from now until the Stanley Cup is raised," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp told NHL.com this week. "You want to score first. You want to play with a lead in games. You want to play with a lead in the series. You want to try and steal a win in their building. That's all very important, especially when you're talking about a team like Phoenix, that's so well-coached and so well-disciplined."

Yet, the thing that often gets overlooked is the fact the Coyotes can score goals too. Ray Whitney finished with 24 goals and 53 assists to lead the team in scoring with 77 points, while Radim Vrbata led the way in scoring goals with 35 markers to go with 27 assists for a 62-point season.

Shane Doan also scored more than 20 goals (22 to be exact) and seven other 'Yotes put up double figures in that category.

"They know how to shut games down and just play that patient style, but they also have the ability to put the puck in the net," Sharp said. "We've got a big task ahead of us. You think of their team as a well-coached, patient, defensive-minded team, but they've got some players over there who have the ability to put up big numbers. [Vrbata] had one of the most underrated seasons I've seen in a while. Keith Yandle on the back end has had a couple of good seasons in a row. You can name a number of guys who are good. You can go in there thinking it's going to be a slow game, but they can put the puck in with the best of them."

Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, whose job on the third line will be to disrupt the Phoenix scorers, agreed with Sharp's assessment.

"We've got to be ready for them," Bolland said. "They've kind of had our number this year and we've got to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

Along those same lines, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is already cautioning his team not to let up just because it looks as if star captain and top center Jonathan Toews might return for this series from a concussion that kept him out the final 22 games of the regular season.

"I don't think we have the luxury to say, 'Oh, Johnny's back ... we can rely [on him] and relax and Johnny's going to take over here,'" Quenneville said. "I don't think we're that kind of team anyways. I just think that everybody's got to continue [doing] what got us through the end of the year and turn it up a bit."

If Toews does play, he will center a line with Patrick Kane at left wing and Marian Hossa on the right side -- which has the potential to be a threat to score each time they go over the boards. Still, the second line of Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg was the top group down the final stretch of the regular season and Bolland's third line was almost as effective.

Quenneville said his team needs to keep all of its lines rolling, especially now.

"[It's] playoff hockey," he said. "The intensity's going to get ratcheted up a bit and I think we've all got to bring it. [Toews] has got to be excited as well, but don't feel comfortable knowing that Johnny's going to return. There's going to be that much more demand on everybody that we're expecting more come playoff time."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:53 PM

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

Surprising rookie season complete, Shaw excited for playoffs

CHICAGO -- When practice is held away from United Center at the facility located just down West Madison St., Chicago Blackhawks rookie Andrew Shaw doesn't have a stall inside the dressing room.

So, he sits on a folding chair in the middle of the room to get undressed and do interviews. In several ways, it's perfect for Shaw -- who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft and scrapped his way into the League basically by putting himself squarely in the middle of everything on the ice.

Shaw scored 12 goals and added 11 assists in 37 games as a rookie by mainly hanging around the "dirty" areas of the ice in the offensive zone and by finding a home defensively on Chicago's third line -- which is the Hawks' main checking line assigned to pester opposing stars.

Now, Shaw can't wait to get into the action in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.

"I'm so excited," the 5-foot-10, 180 pound Shaw said Tuesday. "They say it's a lot more energetic game and that's my game -- hard hitting. I just can't wait to get out there in front of their crowd and our crowd and get some wins. Hopefully I'm not as nervous as I was my first [NHL] game, but I'm pretty excited and can't wait to get started."

He doesn't plan on changing his approach, either. Despite the intensity of playoff games often meaning even harder whacks in the back for "net-front presence" forwards like Shaw, the diminutive-but-hard-nosed rookie said he's ready for it.

"They'll hurt, but I'll grind it out," he said of the crosschecks likely coming his way. "Hopefully standing there rewards me."

Standing in front of the net, however, won't help him grow a better playoff beard. The 20-year old Shaw's reportedly been working on his playoff beard for a couple of weeks already and barely has a whisker showing on his face.

"I haven't been able to grow a playoff beard yet," Shaw said, laughing. "It's kind of embarrassing when you're playing juniors and you're 19 or 20 years old and 16-year olds are growing bigger beards than you, but I'll see what I can get going. I don't know what it is. My brothers both have big beards. My younger brother has a bigger beard than me. It just hasn't hit me yet."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 4:42 PM

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

Carter 'doing pretty good' expects to be a go

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter all but pronounced himself ready to play in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Vancouver on Wednesday.

Carter is recovering from a bone bruise in his right foot. He has taken turns skating with usual linemate Mike Richards the past two days.

"It felt better today," Carter said. "I think it takes a little bit to kind of warm up, but once I get going it's doing pretty good."

In a bit of playoff posturing, L.A. coach Darryl Sutter was coy Monday and said Carter has "a ways to go," but Carter said Tuesday he doesn't think he has to sell Sutter on returning.

"It doesn't seem like it," Carter said. "I feel like I'm getting better and I feel like I can contribute."

Carter had said last week he expected to be ready for the postseason.

Sutter joked about the secretive nature of injury updates from teams at this time of year. Told that Daniel Sedin of Vancouver didn't skate Tuesday, Sutter said, "Well, them guys are playing games with us, right? We shouldn't have had Carter practice and I could say, 'He's not traveling.'"

Sutter is preparing for a Vancouver team with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

"Absolutely," he said. "Sedin, Sedin, [Alexandre] Burrows."

Kopitar and Williams healthy:
This was not the best time of year last season for Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Kopitar had a season-ending leg injury March 27 and Williams dislocated his shoulder March 21.
Williams opted to rehabilitate it rather than have surgery, and he came back for the opening round wearing a protective harness.

In contrast, Kopitar and Williams have been two of the Kings' most productive forwards late this season. Kopitar had eight goals and 17 assists in his final 20 games. Williams had only 10 goals in his first 51 games, but 10 goals and nine assists over his final 21 games.

"Later in the season, you're more comfortable, you're in better shape," Williams said. "Especially playing all the games this year -- that was extremely helpful not having a break, being able to continue to get better and I think your speed picks up.

"When you're able to play all the games and you're able to try and get better every time, it's certainly a lot easier, whereas if you have an injury, you got to come back and you're constantly fighting ups and downs."

Kopitar watched last season's quarterfinal loss from the press box and didn't spend much time around the team. It's been two years since he last played a playoff game.

"It's just as exciting," Kopitar said. "I've been ready for it."

Dustin Brown's line with Kopitar and Williams is expected to be back together, and it has been by far the Kings' best lately.

"We just found our stride and caught fire at the right time," Kopitar said. "Mid-March and all the way through it was a must-win for us every game, so that's probably a good thing going into the playoffs right now because a seven-game series can be over pretty quick."

Sutter on pre-game anthems:
Sutter was asked if he will get nervous behind the bench during the national anthems before Game 1, and he referenced the singers at Staples Center that are known for their long renditions.

"They sing both them songs, so they're both good," Sutter said. "You get an extra minute-and-a-half. The only difference in Los Angeles is sometimes when they sing the song, they take three-and-a-half minutes."
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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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