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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 2:01 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers-Red Wings projected lineups

DETROIT -- The regular season is winding to a close this week and as it does, there are some in the Motor City who are starting to look at possible first-round matchups and hoping for the most favorable opponent for the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings, however, are not among those sizing up the opposition in the Western Conference. They know whichever team they face first will pose a tough challenge, which means the only thing they care about now is trying to secure at least one round of home-ice advantage.

Some fans have even hoped the Wings -- currently fifth in the West -- would slip into the sixth seed to avoid playing the well-balanced, defense-oriented Nashville Predators first.

"You know what, with that you're flirting with danger there when you're trying to pick your matchups," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said after Saturday's practice at Joe Jouis Arena. "You want to be playing your best and you want to go in there feeling like no matter who you're playing, you'll beat. You don't want to be flirting with disaster there by trying to pick your opponent."

The Red Wings host the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon at the "Joe" in a big game for both teams in terms of the postseason. Florida is trying to hang onto first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference that comes with it, while Detroit will try to surpass the West's fourth-place Predators and surging Chicago Blackhawks.

Nashville lost at home on Saturday night to the Blackhawks, which pulled Chicago even in points (97) with the Red Wings. Detroit is technically ahead because of tie-breakers, but Chicago could pass both the Wings and Preds with a Panthers win on Sunday in the Motor City and a Blackhawks win on Sunday night in the Windy City.

Why are the remaining games and the points at stake still more important to all three Central Division rivals than who they face in the quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

"Because home ice advantage, even if it's only for one round ... can be vital in the playoffs in a series," Howard said. "By no means can we just coast in there. We've got to be playing and all be on our game."

Neither Florida nor Detroit skated on Sunday morning, but here is a look at how both teams could line up when the puck is dropped:

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Scottie Upshall
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Krys Barch - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Eric Gudbranson

Scott Clemmensen
Jose Theodore


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
Kyle Quincey - Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 1:17 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Letang makes surprise return to the lineup

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made a surprise return to the lineup for a key Atlantic Division game Sunday against Philadelphia.

Letang missed three consecutive games with a lower body injury that resulted from him slamming feet first into the boards after he was tripped last Sunday against New Jersey. Letang did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip in which they played the Islanders Thursday and the Sabres Friday.

The Penguins also did not practice Saturday -- coach Dan Bylsma called off a scheduled practice -- but Letang returned to play Sunday despite not being on the ice with the team for a week.

Letang, one of the NHL's premier two-way defensemen, has nine goals and 27 assists in 47 games, missing nearly two months with a concussion earlier in the season.

Letang has 20 points, including three goals, in 26 games against the Flyers, who went into the game trailing Pittsburgh by three points in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division standings.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 11:40 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: April 1st

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 78 90 4 94 1
8th 79 88 3 91 2

9th 79 86 3 89 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 79 97 3 100
7th 79 91 3 94 2
8th 79 90 3 93 2

9th 79 89 3 92 3
The skinny: On the first day of April, the main focus returns to the Eastern Conference, and with just six days remaining in the regular season, so much is still left to be decided.

With just seven days remaining in the season, six playoff berths are still up for grabs. Four division titles, both conference titles and the Presidents' Trophy also are still to be decided.

One of those spots can be clinched Sunday if the Ottawa Senatrors can beat the New York Islanders in an afternoon affair at Nassau Coliseum. While the Buffalo Sabres, who suffered a blow to their hopes with a loss to Toronto Saturday night, could still catch the Senators at 92 points, Ottawa would win based on having more regulation and OT wins (ROW) than the Sabres, which is the first tiebreaker.

It's been a turnaround season for the Sens and qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a great feat for head coach Paul MacLean and his players.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers visit the Motor City to meet the Red Wings with lots on the line for both teams. Florida can move to 92 points and ever closer to their first visit to the postseason since 2000. The Sabres can still catch the Panthers, if they cough up the Southeast Division lead to the Washington Capitals, at 92 points and would win the ROW tiebreaker. So, you can bet the Sabres will be cheering for a Wings victory as Buffalo has been reduced to looking for some help from others after not helping itself this past weekend. Buffalo lost at home to the Penguins Friday and were then upset by the Leafs Saturday.

As for the Red Wings, they find themselves tied with Chicago and one point behind Nashville in the race for fourth in the Western Conference. The fourth-place team at the end of the season will get home ice in what will likely be one of the toughest series of the first round. With a great home record that features just six losses in regulation, home ice in the first round should be incentive enough for Detroit in this game. This is Detroit's game in hand on Nashville. The Wings will still hold a game in hand on the Blackhawks, who play Minnesota Sunday night, less than 24 hours after clinching a playoff berth with a wild win against Nashville

In a likely first-round playoff matchup preview, the Flyers visit Pittsburgh in a nationally televised matinee (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) to take on the Penguins in a game that has home-ice implications as well. A Pittsburgh win and the Penguins move five points ahead of Philadelphia and almost certainly assure themselves of the fourth seed and home ice. The teams meet one more time this season so a Flyers' win Sunday can make that last meeting, on the final day of the regular season, one of major significance.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Fleury, Bobrovsky get the start Sunday

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a key Atlantic Division game Sunday that could help decide home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
 
Fleury gave up nine goals combined in his previous two starts, home-and-home losses to the New York Islanders Tuesday and Thursday. Brent Johnson, returning from a 17-game layoff with an injury, started and beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 Friday for his first win since Feb. 12.
 
Fleury is 21-12-2 in his career against Philadelphia, which will be coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa Saturday.
 
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang could play after missing three games with a lower-body injury caused when he was tripped and went feet-first into the end boards March 25 against the Devils. Coach Dan Bylsma said he will be a game-time decision.
 
As expected, Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Flyers -- just as he was for each of Philadelphia's four victories in Consol Energy Center since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Flyers have not lost in Consol, where they play twice this week. The Flyers and Penguins wrap up the regular season there Saturday afternoon.
 
The Penguins, currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, go into Sunday's game with a three-point lead over the Flyers, 102-99.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 9:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

NHL Central Scouting league lists

It's early Sunday morning and the men of NHL Central Scouting have returned to the hotel conference room here in Vaughan, Ont., to continue ranking the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.

The scouts currently are 50 players deep and into the heart of the second round. We're at a point now where it could be time to find those diamonds in the rough. That's precisely what Central Scouting is paid to do.

As promised, here are the top 10 players Central Scouting ranked in each league. In order to maintain some level of confidentiality, the players are listed in alphabetical order.

Keep in mind, this is the closest thing you'll get to a finalized list until the actual release of the "Big Chart", tentatively scheduled for April 9. The number beside each league represents the projected amount of first-round picks from that league's top 10.

Can you predict what the actual top 10 for each league might look like?

Western Hockey League (7)
Mathew Dumba, D, Red Deer
Ryan Murray, D, Everett
Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland
Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton
Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw
Colton Sissons, C, Kelowna
Chandler Stephenson, C/LW, Regina
Lukas Sutter, C, Saskatoon
Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon
Mike Winther, C, Prince Albert

Ontario Hockey League (10)
Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa
Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener
Matthew Finn, D, Guelph
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia
Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville
Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough
Scott Kosmachuk, RW, Guelph
Olli Maatta, D, London
Thomas Wilson, RW, Plymouth
Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (2)
Francis Beauvillier, C/LW, Rimouski
Matej Beran, C, Prince Edward Island
Ryan Culkin, D, Quebec
Martin Frk, RW, Halifax
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Quebec
Charles Hudon, LW, Chicoutimi
Tomas Hyka, RW, Gatineau
Christophe Lalancette, RW, Acadie-Bathurst
James Melindy, D, Moncton
Andrew Ryan, LW, Halifax

USA East (0)
Chris Calnan, RW, Nobles
Adam Gilmour, RW, Nobels
Brian Hart, RW, Exeter
Mark Jankowski, C, Stanstead High School
Samuel Kurker, RW, St. John's Prep
Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves, C, Kent School
Daniel O'Regan, C, St. Sebastian School
Doyle Somerby, D, Kimball Union
Devin Tringale, LW, Lawrence
Jimmy Vesey, LW, South Shore

USA West (5)
Phillip DiGiuseppe, LW, University of Michigan
Zemgus Girgensons, C, Dubuque
Nicolas Kerdiles, LW, USNTDP
Michael Matheson, D, Dubuque
Stefan Matteau, C, USNTDP
Jake McCabe, D, University of Wisconsin
Jordan Schmaltz, D, Green Bay
Patrick Sieloff, D, USNTDP
Brady Skjei, D, USNTDP
Jacob Trouba, D, USNTDP

Canadian Juniors (0)
Matthew Benning, D, Spruce Grove
Paul Dejersey, RW, Prince George
Rhett Holland, D, Okotoks
Alexander Kerfoot, C, Coquitlam
Jujhar Khara, LW, Prince George
Wade Murphy, RW, Penticton
Peter Quenneville, C, Sherwood
Devin Shore, C, Whitby
Reece Willcox, D, Merritt
Morgan Zulinick, C, Salmon Arm

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 10:19 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

LA @ MIN - 10:57 of the Third Period



At 10:57 of the third period in the Kings/Wild game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Jason Zucker's shot deflected off Erik Christensen's left skate and into the net.  According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Minnesota.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 9:39 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CLB @ STL - 14:52 of the Second Period



At 14:52 of the second period in the Blues/Blue Jackets game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Alex Pietrangelo's shot hit the post and never crossed the goal line. No Goal St Louis.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:48 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BUF @ TOR - 19:59 of the Second Period



At 19:59 of the second period in the Sabres/Maple Leafs game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off John Michael Liles' right skate and into the net.  According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  The official timekeeper ruled that there was 0.7 seconds left on the clock when the puck crossed the goal line. Good Goal Toronto.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:25 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CLB @ STL - 6:16 of the First Period



At 6:16 of the first period in the Blues/Blue Jackets game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Jared Boll's right skate and into the net. According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Columbus.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 6:18 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

NHL Central Scouting completes Day 1

So NHL Central Scouting has wrapped up Day 1 of its final meetings of the top 2012 draft eligible North American players.

The group will do it all over again at 9 a.m. on Sunday, continuing where they left off on Saturday. The votes will continue to be tabulated to determine the top 210 North American skaters. The scouts will submit their votes via 'Meeting Manager' and, if needed, incorporate some hand votes if needed to break a tie.

On Monday, head goalie scout Al Jensen will offer his analysis of the top 30 goalies in North America.

On Sunday morning, the 'Prospecting with Central Scouting' blog will post the exclusive top 10 list of players selected from each league. The only catch is, players will be listed alphabetically, so you'll have to try and guess the order.

Check back on Sunday for more reports from the final Central Scouting meetings. In case you missed Saturday's feature on what the scouts think of prospect comparisons to NHL players, check it out.
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Quote of the Day

Great players need great players to play with. That's why we'll have a training camp and we'll find who the best two guys are suited to play with Stamkos.

— Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness on Steven Stamkos' potential linemates for the 2014-15 season