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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 3:02 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Smith, Tootoo appear likely to join Predators lineup


NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz wouldn't say who will replace suspended forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, but during the team's morning skate Wednesday before a critical Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series it looked like Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo will be in the lineup as the team tries to avoid falling behind 3-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Radulov and Kostitsyn are suspended for this game because of a violation of team rules. Smith has played two postseason games for the Predators -- Game 5 against Detroit in the first-round clincher and Game 1 of this series. Tootoo played once, in Game 3 against the Red Wings.

"I'm not going to say I'm going to be a savior. This is a team effort," Tootoo said. "Part of my game is bringing the physicality and the energy. Maybe that is what we need this time, is a little spark. I know whoever is in the lineup is going to get the job done, and that is part of being a team. You rely on each other."

Added Trotz: "We just have to get back to our game tonight. The guys who are out -- Andrei and [Radulov] -- they weren't with us for 65 games or so. Guys that are going in have been together, so guys have been, be it a Craig Smith, has been on the power play. We've had other guys do it, like [Colin] Wilson, Smith, [Brandon] Yip. ... I think the depth makes it a little easier to recover. In the past, we've had some injuries that really threw us off and we couldn't recover from them."

Matt Halischuk, who hasn't played in three games, would also be an option for the Predators. The team has been carrying several extra forwards since trading for Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad before the trade deadline, and Radulov's late-season return from Russia crowded the mix even more.

Smith played 72 games during the season, finishing with 14 goals and 36 points. Wilson played 68 contests and had 35 points, but he was scratched for the first six games of this postseason.

"It makes it tough, but it is pretty competitive," Smith said. "The guys are coming in and if you've been here the whole year it was tough to keep your spot, but in the end it is what's best for the team. The 20 guys that they pick is what you have to feel is right, and you just have to go with it."

Patric Hornqvist will move up into the top six to replace Radulov, while Smith or Wilson could end up on the third line in Kostitsyn's spot.

Trotz said the team did not find out about Radulov's and Kostitsyn's rule violations until after Game 2.

"We did not know before Game 2," Trotz said. "We found out after Game 2. Hell would have had to freeze over for them to play in Game 2 if we knew before."

Radulov is the team's leading scorer in this postseason with six points, and Kostitsyn is tied for the team lead with three goals. Still, Trotz said their absences from the lineup could extend beyond the suspension.

"Tonight, if we get it done, I would expect that I will probably go back with the same group," Trotz said. "They'd be the group that gets it done."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 2:54 PM

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

Devils' task figuring out how to sustain momentum

NEWARK, N.J. -- How difficult is it sustaining momentum from game to game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
 
It's not easy, but something the New Jersey Devils will try to continue on Thursday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers at Prudential Center.
 
"It can be hard, and that was a little bit of a challenge for us in the first series [against Florida]," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We'd have one great game and one game where we didn't follow it up. We talked about that [on Wednesday] and we have to try to be even better than we were last game because we have to expect them to have a great game, too."
 
The Flyers will no doubt be seething after being totally outplayed in their own building on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss in Game 2.
 
"We know Philly is going to come out ready to play, and, listening to their comments, they intend to fix issues they felt they didn't do a good enough job in for some areas," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "For us, we not only have to match our level from Tuesday, but find a way to raise it because they'll raise theirs. I know this will get a lot tougher and we'll have to be ready for it."
 
Speaking of preparation and getting ready, DeBoer admitted on Wednesday that he rarely has "fun" as a head coach in the thick of a playoff series.
 
"It's definitely stressful," DeBoer said. "I don't think you enjoy this when you're in the middle of it. You're getting ready for the next game, looking at film, trying to see what areas worked and what didn't. Where you need to improve … my history with any kind of good runs is you don't look back with any kind of enjoyment or appreciation until long after they're done."
 
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was asked if his team entered this best-of-seven series with the Flyers as the underdog.
 
"Games are played on the ice and not in the media or how people perceive the series to be," Brodeur said. "You have to go perform those 60 minutes, maybe more. So regardless what people are saying, we just have to put our head down and keep doing what we're told to do."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 2:27 PM

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

Projected Game 3 lineups

NASHVILLE -- Here's how the lineups project for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semfinal series between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators set for Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN) at Bridgestone Arena:

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Kyle Chipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule
 
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rostislav Klesla
David Schlemko - Adrian Aucoin
 
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
 
PREDATORS
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist

With forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn being held out of Game 3 due to disciplinary reasons, the Predators' third and fourth lines have some question marks. Nick Spaling centers the third line, flanked by Brandon Yip and either Colin Wilson or Craig Smith, depending on if the latter is in the lineup. Paul Gaustad centers the fourth line, with Jordin Tootoo on right wing and either Wilson or Matt Halischuk, the other possible lineup addition, on the left.
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
Kevin Klein - Francis Bouillon
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 1:18 PM

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

Capitals dealing with relentless Rangers forecheck

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the first two games of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, the Washington Capitals were quickly introduced to the New York Rangers' relentless forecheck.

"They buzzed us real good at the beginning of [Game 2]," Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said.

The consensus among Washington defensemen is that the Rangers are providing them with far less time and space than the Boston Bruins did in Round 1.

The Rangers are sending pucks deep, gaining the Washington blue line, and finishing their checks on whichever Capitals defenseman is first to retrieve the disc.

"I think that if we can get them slowed up through the neutral zone a little bit, and not let them come through with so much speed, that will give us a little bit more time," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "Then we've just got to go back a little bit harder. When they're coming hard on you like that, you've got to move the puck quick. They're coming. That's the way it is in the playoffs."

The Rangers had 45 hits in Game 2, with 37 of them coming from forwards. Ryan Callahan (eight), Chris Kreider (seven) and Brian Boyle (six) led New York in hits, marking a significant change for the Capitals, who dealt with defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as the heavy hitters in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"Sometimes you have to maybe cheat a little bit to get back or find a different way to get to that puck first because they come with so much speed and they always finish that first check that you're going to get hit no matter what," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "I think you've got to make sure that you're not getting thrown off by those hits and you just absorb it and get back into the play. It's a good forechecking team. There's not a whole lot you can do."

Far too often in Games 1 and 2, the Capitals were pinned in their own zone for long stretches, unable to overcome New York's forecheck and their pinching defensemen. Caps coach Dale Hunter says that more is needed from his backchecking forwards.

"They're a forechecking team and their D pinch," Hunter said, "so we just have to move the puck quickly. The key to everything is their wingers being good on the boards and chipping pucks out."

Added Wideman: "You can move the puck real quick, or get it off the glass, you might be able to catch them in the middle sometimes. But they come back extremely hard as well. … As hard as they come, we know we can't really make that pass to the winger because their Ds are pinching a lot, so we've got to just get it out, get it on the neutral zone and just try to get it on the forecheck."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:46 PM

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

Projected Game 3 lineup for Rangers

WASHINGTON -- The Rangers will likely roll out the same lineup they used against the Capitals in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Monday night when they take the ice for Game 3 on Wednesday.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also made it known he has zero interest in discussing the ice time of Caps star Alex Ovechkin.

"No, I don't really care either, honestly," Lundqvist said when asked if he noticed Ovechkin's 13:36 of ice time in Game 2. "I focus on my game and what we have to do and if he plays 20 or 10 or 5 or 30, I don't really care."

Rangers coach John Tortorella said forward Brandon Dubinsky, out with a lower-body injury, made the trip to Washington. He also said defenseman Stu Bickel, who hasn't played more than five minutes in the past six games and committed a turnover that led to a goal in Game 2, needs to be sharper or he'll find himself playing even fewer minutes.

"He'll be fine. He has to be," Tortorella said. "If he isn't, he'll play less."

With no changes expected, here's what the Rangers' lines and d-pairs will likely be at Verizon Center for Game 3 with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 12:32 PM

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

Rangers bring road show to Washington

WASHINGTON -- The New York Rangers were one of the NHL's best road teams during the regular season, going 24-12-5 away from Madison Square Garden for a League-best 53 points.

That success has spilled into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers went 2-1 at Scotiabank Place during the first round against Ottawa Senators and will look to keep it rolling at Verizon Center for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals.

"I think our game is not a game that's relying on a lot of pretty, wide-open plays," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "When you play a certain style like that, there's a lot of things that can go wrong."

The Rangers can be described in a lot of ways, but pretty and wide-open will rarely be among them. They allowed 96 goals in 41 road games in the regular season, third-fewest in the League, and held the Senators to five goals in three road games during the first round.

"We have a foundation that is about the will and paying the price and playing a sound game we want to play," Rupp said. "I don't want to say that's easy, it's a mindset you have to have every night. It's much easier to resort to that than it is to making pretty plays all night."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 11:42 AM

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

DeBoer: Kovy return could be 'sooner than later'

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils were back at the friendly confines of Prudential Center on Wednesday less than 24 hours after unleashing an all-out offensive assault on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal.
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer gave his players a day off the ice and while talk of the big win to even this best-of-seven series 1-1 was fresh on everyone's mind, there was also concern regarding the status of forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
 
Kovalchuk missed Game 2 with what general manager Lou Lamoriello termed a "lower-body injury." Prior to faceoff on Tuesday, Rich Chere of the The (Newark) Star-Ledger reported that two anonymous sources told him Kovalchuk "has been icing a back injury, which got progressively worse in the last few days."
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer told radio station WFAN 660 AM on Wednesday morning that he doesn't know if Kovalchuk will suit up for Game 3. Kovalchuk is scheduled to meet with doctors today and a decision will be made at some point on Thursday prior to puck drop.
 
"I'm sure you're going to see him again in the series," DeBoer told the station. "It could be sooner than later."
 
Lamoriello told the media on Tuesday morning that Kovalchuk was injured at some point during the middle of their seven-game series win over the Florida Panthers in the conference quarterfinals. He said it got to a point where if he couldn't play at 100 percent, it wouldn't benefit either the player or team for him to be on the ice.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 10:17 AM

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

Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited on Caps' top line

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For the better part of the Bruce Boudreau era, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were fixtures on the Washington Capitals' No. 1 line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through nine playoff games under coach Dale Hunter, Ovechkin and Backstrom have yet to start a game on the same unit, and their shifts together have been limited primarily to the power play.

But based on line rushes at the Caps’ morning skate Wednesday, it appears a reunion could be in store on Washington's No. 1 trio.

In preparation for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC), Backstrom skated with the No. 1 line Wednesday morning, flanked by Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.

"We haven't [played together] much at all," Backstrom said of skating alongside Ovechkin since returning from a concussion March 31. "But we should know each other because we've played with each other for a long time [in previous seasons]. We've got to go out and do our job out there and make sure we get some chances and stuff, work hard and do all those little things right, too."

Ovechkin has two goals in his last five games, with Backstrom assisting on both -- the result of Backstrom winning a faceoff directly back to Ovechkin, who was able to beat Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist with shots from just inside the blue line.

Hunter said before Washington's first-round series against the Boston Bruins that he wanted more size alongside Ovechkin to help create space against Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

Brooks Laich fit the bill in Round 1, but against the smaller and more mobile Rangers defense, Backstrom provides Hunter with a different look. Backstrom will be counted on to generate speed with the puck through the neutral zone and find Ovechkin for open looks.

"I think we have good chemistry," Ovechkin said, "but when I played with [Brooks Laich] it was a good time for me and for him, too, I think. But right now I'll start playing with [Backstrom] -- I don't know how it will go, if we're going to play a whole game or maybe just one period or maybe one shift, we'll see."

Backstrom (16:18) and Ovechkin (13:36) saw career-lows in playoff ice-time in Monday's 3-2 Game 2 win in New York, but both are likely to play more in Game 3. Hunter has made it a point to match lines, and will have the home-ice advantage of the last change in Games 3 and 4.

"I'm just going to try to get the puck to [Ovechkin]," Backstrom said. "Me and Marcus are passers on that line, we know he has a good shot and we've just got to make sure he's open and then we'll try to find him. We'll all three go hard to the net and try to get goals."

Added Ovechkin: "I think we have chemistry, it's not a secret. He can control the puck in the neutral zone and skate and find me in open spots. He's a top center in the League, I've played with him and it's nice."

Regardless of history, ice time or matchups, the Capitals need more from their skilled forwards. Four of Washington's last five even-strength goals have come from their third and fourth lines, while top-six forwards Laich, Backstrom, Johansson and Alexander Semin have all gone at least five games without a goal.

Still, Hunter downplayed the significance of the line changes during practice.

"I don't know if they're playing together," Hunter said. "It's one of those things where they do know each other, but [Laich] has been here a long time, too, so it's just one of those things -- I thought I'd try it in practice."

The Caps' third and fourth lines remain unchanged, as do all three defensive pairings.

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

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 10:55 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers defy 'score first and win' trend

Scoring first is usually the best way to win an NHL game. Someone has failed to get the message to the Philadelphia Flyers and their opponents during this year's playoffs.

For the seventh time in the Flyers' eight games, the team that scored first lost. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they opened the scoring against New Jersey on Tuesday, but went home with a 4-1 loss in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

The team that scored first lost all five games in the Flyers' first-round series against Pittsburgh before Philadelphia closed out the Penguins after scoring the first two goals of Game 6. The Devils scored first in the series-opener on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime loss, but dominated the Flyers in Game 2 after rookie Matt Read's early goal put the Flyers ahead.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:24 PM

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

Kings aim for 60-minute effort in Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Little has gone wrong for the Los Angeles Kings thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there was one teachable aspect that they brought back home after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Kings jumped on the St. Louis Blues for a four-goal opening period, but they were outshot 24-5 the rest of the way as St. Louis got reorganized, although it was too little, too late to prevent a 5-2 loss.

L.A. reconvened at its home facility Tuesday feeling good about owning a 2-0 series lead. But the Kings know the last 40 minutes weren't the ideal way they would have liked to take to victory. 
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