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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:46 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Red Wings trying to get back into pre-injury rhythm

ST. LOUIS -- The Detroit Red Wings, who are 0-5-2 in their last seven road games, will play away from the confines of Joe Louis Arena in the regular season for the final time tonight.

And much like their counterparts tonight in the St. Louis Blues, the Red Wings are getting healthy and looking to gear their game towards an NHL-best 21st straight playoff run.

"Going through that injury stretch messed with the rhythm and timing of things, but now that we've got our full lineup back minus (Darren Helm) and (Patrick Eaves), it should give us a good chance the last three games getting our game just right heading into the playoffs," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who has had three stretches this season out with injuries.

The Wings have missed at one time or another guys like Helm, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Danny Cleary, Ian White, Todd Bertuzzi and Jonathan Ericsson. They have managed to stay up to speed, just like the Blues. Depth has been key.

"I think it's good for us in the long run," center Justin Abdelkader said of the team's depth. "Guys have played more expanded roles and gotten more minutes. When everyone's healthy, hopefully it's helped taken us in the right direction and our depth has come through. Hopefully we're ready to make a run here in the playoffs."

------------

The Wings, with 99 points and a record of 47-27-5, can reach the 100-point mark tonight for an NHL-record 12th consecutive season with at least an overtime/shootout loss.

It's quite a feat, especially since there is so much parity in the NHL these days and the man-power teams deal with, particularly with so many injuries.

"That is pretty impressive since the last month and a half here hasn't been too kind to us with the injury bug," Howard said. "The guys stepped up and we got ourselves a chance to do it again.

"It just shows you do a lot of winning throughout the years. ... It's difficult. It's not easy by any means, especially with the parity throughout the League. Anyone can beat anyone now on any given night. To be able to hit 100 points here again tonight if we get the opportunity, it would be pretty sweet."

Abdelkader, a part of two of those 100-point seasons and looking for his third, said there were difficult times for the team when it went through a 1-6-2 stretch before winning three of five.

"We tried to sustain what we had going, but it was tough," Abdelkader said. "Our play kind of declined there for a while. When you have so many injuries like that, it's tough to maintain it, but now's the time to get everyone healthy and everyone's been coming around. That's good for us.

"It is an accomplishment (reaching 100 points) and it's a tribute to the owners, the management, the scouts that do all the work. Bringing the teams together each year, I think they've done a tremendous job."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues looking to play up to poential entering playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- Instead of solely focusing on finishing in a particular position as the season winds down, the Blues are more geared towards getting their game in order and playing their best hockey when all is said and done by the end of the night Saturday.

From then on, let the chips fall where they may.

"I think that's what we're thinking now, just get back to how we play," center Patrik Berglund said before the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. "I think everybody's been talking about that stuff (top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy) for so long and we've come off it for a little bit. That's why we're focused on that team game and play solid hockey overall."

Added winger Chris Stewart: "We can't worry about anyone else right now. It's all about the St. Louis Blues. We control our own fate. We're going to take it one game at a time and we've got three tune-up games before the big dance. We've got a big opponent tonight in Detroit, then Phoenix and Dallas. Those are all teams fighting for their lives. Those will be good tests for us."

For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the task is keeping his lineup focused while evaluating who plays more when the playoffs roll around.

With the Blues an injury-free team, the bodies are plenty but only so many spots in the lineup.

"This is the deepest we've been. This is the most potential," Hitchcock said of his 48-21-10 team. "This is a chance to get to another level than where we're at, but there is going to be some short-term pain going through this trying to see if we can get these guys up to speed. This lineup that's playing tonight, this is the highest skill level we've been able to put on the ice since I've been here. This is it.

"That's our big focus right now: to get our game in order defensively and puck management-wise ... puck management more than anything. can we get on the same page again. The second thing is where are these guys up to that are coming back? Can we play them where they were up high in the lineup, are they good enough to play there, do they have the energy, do they have the moxie to go there again or do we need to scale them back. We're trying to evaluate that right now."

------------

One of the players being evaluated is winger Matt D'Agostini, who will play his second game since returning from a concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. D'Agostini, who played on a fourth line with Stewart and Scott Nichol on Saturday, will be elevated to play with Berglund and Andy McDonald against the Red Wings (47-27-5).

"I'm just going to try to go out there and skate," D'Agostini said. "I think my game goes right when I'm moving my feet and getting to the places I need to be. Those guys will put in the work. If we play hard and we move our feet, as a line we're pretty quick and can protect the puck and have some success.

"Both their styles, they're easy to play with. Bergy's good at holding onto the puck and using his big body down low. Mac's just good with his speed and he's a smart player all over the ice. Both guys complement my game well. ... They have that they-can-draw-guys-to-them-thing, get defenses on the wrong side. Whenever there's space opened up for me, it's always a better thing and more room for me to handle the puck and move my feet."

Hitchcock said D'Agostini is effective on the go.

"I think just awareness and playing give-and-go ... this is Game 2 for him, let's see how much further he's up to speed so we can evaluate him," Hitchcock said of D'Agostini. "I think the right side makes him more comfortable. He uses his speed more. He sees the ice better."

D'Agostini is still getting his game in gear after missing so much time. He feels he's getting up to speed.

"We've had a lot of practices to kind of get back into the swing of things," D'Agostini said. "I've been feeling better day in, day out. With the game shape thing, it takes a while to play a couple games to get into the mix. Hopefully I can get into one tonight."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:27 PM

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

Canucks quietly becoming West's best as Stars fade

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

Last week I made some points on teams in the Eastern Conference, specifically the Buffalo Sabres and the Winnipeg Jets. This week, with the races still white-hot, I'm moving back out west to focus on two teams going in completely opposite directions with the end of the regular season only four days away:

What's clicking?

The Vancouver Canucks are the one team that everybody has not been watching or paying attention to. Especially in the U.S., with the Rangers, Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Sabres, the Capitals, the Kings and everybody in the Pacific Division, it seems like no one has noticed that the Vancouver Canucks have won seven in a row and quietly have found themselves right near the top of the National Hockey League again.

It doesn't surprise me. This team has been remolded, readjusted. They have built a tougher team, and that was one of the knocks against Vancouver last season. People were saying the Canucks weren't tough enough in the playoffs, especially in the Stanley Cup Final, when they got pushed around by the Bruins.

Cory Schneider
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 20-7-1
GAA: 1.93 | SVP: 0.938
This season they're tougher physically, tougher mentally, and they're a better all-round team despite the fact that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are below their average in production for a season.

The big positive for the Canucks has been the emergence of backup goalie Cory Schneider. He really has put the pressure on Roberto Luongo to perform at a higher rate.

Schneider is one of the best young goalies in the NHL and will be a starter if not next season, then very soon. He has done everything a backup goaltender is supposed to do.

He's won four in a row, allowing less than one goal per game with a save percentage of .972. He has Luongo looking over his shoulder and everyone questioning whether Luongo should or will be in net for the playoffs.

A friendly rivalry like that is great for goaltenders. You see what it has done in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Look at how well that team has done with their goals-against.

It may sound absurd, but I'm calling the Canucks a sleeper in the Western Conference even though they are right at the top because nobody has been talking about them. That is always a dangerous situation. The Canucks could quietly get up there, pounce, kick some teams in the butt and find themselves right back in the Stanley Cup Final.

It wouldn't shock me at all.

What's missing?

I hate to say it, because he was one of their best players, but it appears that Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has hit the skids and so has his team.

Lehtonen has looked tired lately. He certainly isn't moving the way he had been for the previous couple of months. And when your goaltender gets tired, it's very difficult for a team to maintain a high level of play, especially when the teams you're playing also are in playoff mode.

Kari Lehtonen
Goalie - DAL
RECORD: 32-21-4
GAA: 2.34 | SVP: 0.922
I give Lehtonen a huge amount of respect for the level he's played at for most of the season, but unfortunately when you come down to the nitty-gritty, when the races are going on and you're playing as much as Lehtonen has lately, and you get as much action as he gets, something is going to give.

The Stars are letting in too many goals and they haven't found a way to put the puck in the back of the net. Loui Eriksson, the Stars' leading scorer, has only three goals in his last 13 games and none in the past seven.

It's no surprise the Stars have lost three in a row at the most crucial time of the season.

The Stars had a fantastic run, especially from late February to the middle of March, when they went 10-0-1 in a span of 11 games, but nobody expected them to make the playoffs earlier in the season and now it looks like those predictions are going to come true.

It's simple math, really. When you're battling for those final precious few playoff spots with three or four teams, you can't afford to lose three games in a row. The parity is too great right now, teams are nipping at your heals every single day, every single game. With as many points that are being distributed because of the system there are too many teams in the run for the playoffs that you can't afford to lose three straight.

I feel bad for the Stars. I feel bad for Jamie Benn and Brenden Morrow. But, it looks like they're going to have to get ready to play some golf.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Puck to face sends Zidlicky to hospital for stitches

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky had to receive stitches in his lip Wednesday after blocking a pass that caused the puck to deflect into his face.

Zidlicky was defending against Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus during practice when the puck ricocheted into his face. Zidlicky was taken to a nearby hospital for the stitches.

The Devils' next game is Thursday in Detroit against the Red Wings.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:03 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Concussion ends Price's season

The Montreal Canadiens announced Wednesday that goalie Carey Price will miss the final three games of the season with a concussion.

In a statement issued by the team, the Canadiens said Price was examined by Dr. David Mulder, who diagnosed a mild concussion.

Price was hit on the head during practice last Thursday when teammate David Desharnais landed on him during a drill. Price started Friday's game against the New York Rangers, but sat out Saturday's game against the Washington Capitals.

Price told the team Monday he was suffering from headaches.

Peter Budaj will start Wednesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Robert Mayer called up from Hamilton of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup.

Price finishes the season 26-28-11 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 65 games.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 12:45 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Red Wings

ST. LOUIS -- Probable lineups for Wednesday night's Central Division battle between the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings from Scottrade Center.

BLUES
David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Vladimir Sobotka - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jaroslav Halak

It will be Elliott's first action since the third of three straight shutouts recorded. Elliott comes in with a franchise- and personal-best streak of shutout minutes at 186 minutes 33 seconds; Halak, who started the last two games, is the backup.

The Blues' scratches include forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen and Chris Porter as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

RED WINGS

Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Pavel Datsyuk - Johan Franzen
Danny Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jakub Kindl - Ian White

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

Red Wings D Kyle Quincey will serve his one-game suspension tonight after being disciplined following an elbow to Florida's Tomas Kopecky Sunday in Detroit. LW Jan Mursak is a healthy scratch. C Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) is on injured reserve, as is RW Darren Helm (MCL sprain) and G Joey MacDonald (bulging disk).
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 12:02 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Clarkson back on ice, expected to play Thursday

NEWARK, N.J. -- David Clarkson was back at Devils practice Wednesday after missing Tuesday's game against the New York Islanders.

The 30-goal scorer was skating on a line with Adam Henrique and Alexei Ponikarovsky and showed no visible signs of the lower-body injury that sidelined him. Coach Peter DeBoer said afterward that he expects to have Clarkson back in the lineup Thursday night against the Red Wings.

The Devils have two games remaining -- in Detroit on Thursday night and home against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday -- and still have a chance to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference by winning those games and having the Philadelphia Flyers lose their final two games in regulation.

DeBoer simply wants to avoid injury and keep the Devils, who have won four straight, on the right track with the playoffs a week away.

"The priorities are play well, keep the confidence level high, and stay healthy," DeBoer said. "Obviously winning games is important. It'd be nice to be the fourth team in the division with 100 points. But those are secondary motivators. For me, those are the three main things -- keeping our structure, playing well and staying healthy.

"I don't have any plans on resting anybody right now."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo






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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 9:36 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: April 4th

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

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

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

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
7th 80 92 2 94
8th 80 88 2 90 2

9th 80 88 2 90 2
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 80 93 2 95 1
8th 80 92 2 94 2

9th 80 89 2 91 2
The skinny: Tuesday night in the NHL brought some wild games as teams continued their quest for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Wednesday dawns now with just four nights remaining in the 2011-12 regular season and the playoff picture still remains muddled as four spots, one conference crown and two division titles still up for grabs.

The picture looks different for each of the surviving teams, however.

Losing two consecutive games at this time of the season is never recommended, but Dallas has done just that with Tuesday's loss to San Jose. For the Stars, the misery is compounded by the fact they lost these two games to another team battling with them for one of the spots in the Western conference.

Both teams enetered the home-and-home series with control of their playoff destinies. Now, the Stars don't have any control. A fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs looks to be the reality for Dallas.

Colorado, which has been idle since Friday, has been watching and hoping for the right outcomes, looking at each night's schedule and determining what team or teams should be supported. The Avalanche didn't get the help they needed. With the eighth spot as their only possibility now, they must hope the Los Angeles Kings sweep the San Jose Sharks -- in regulation to boot -- and the Avs win out to qualify.

Phoenix, fresh off a record-setting 52-save shutout by Mike Smith, needs but one point in its remaining two games or the loss of a point by the Stars to qualify.

What can one say about the East?

The Buffalo Sabres took the Stanley Cup Playoff suspense and excitement to new heights Tuesday. Falling three goals behind the Maple Leafs, they somehow mustered up enough 'playoff magic' to escape with a OT victory and keep their hopes alive. A loss Tuesday and the sabres would have been on the precipice with little help in sight.

You can bet the Washington Capitals, currently in the No. 8 spot, had the gamut of emotions watching that game.

In the Sunshine State, the Panthers continue to find ways to dampen the playoff mood. This has got to be the longest clinching process in recent history. With one win in its past eight games, Florida has stumbled mightily in its quest to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It doesn't get any easier for them as they visit the Caps on Thursday. Florida has a cushion, but they don't have to use it all!

With only two games on the schedule -- and only one with playoff implications -- Wednesday provides a bit of time for reflection. For some teams, it is a time to ponder what could be and for other teams, sadly, it will be about what could have been.

There is still work to be done, but the Stanley Cup Playoff picture is finally becoming clearer.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 9:35 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

TOR @ BUF - 14:57 of the Third Period

At 14:57 of the third period in the Sabres/Maple Leafs, video review conclusively determined that Alexander Sulzer's shot crossed the goal line. Good Goal Buffalo.

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 9:19 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

MIN @ NSH - 3:05 of the Second Period

At 3:05 of the second period in the Wild/Predators game, the Toronto situation room initiated a video review because the puck appeared to go into the Wild net following a scrum. The referee determined that he had blown the whistle to declare play dead prior to the puck crossing the goal line.  No Goal Nashville.

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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres