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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:49 PM

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

Lundqvist back in net again vs. Canadiens

NEW YORK -- In terms of workload, Henrik Lundqvist is enjoying his lightest season since he was a rookie in 2005-06.

As the New York Rangers head down the home stretch, that seems to be changing.

Lundqvist will make his season-high eighth-straight start when the Rangers host the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) at Madison Square Garden on Friday. The Rangers hold a five-point edge on the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference, with each team having five games remaining.

Coach John Tortorella has given varying answers this season about his goaltending situation, saying at times he doesn't have a No. 1 goaltender, that he has two goaltenders who he doesn't mind playing, and that he doesn't chart out a schedule for when his goaltenders are going to start.

If Lundqvist starts the Rangers' final five games, he'll finish the season with 63 starts, the fewest since he became the full-time starter in 2006-07.

But with home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs within reach, Lundqvist suddenly has become a very busy man.

"I think it's mentally and physically, you have to adjust a little bit," Lundqvist said about returning to his usual routine. "It's what I'm used to in the past. I play a lot, I feel good. You get a little more relaxed in between games because you're playing all the time, you're in it. Sometimes when you sit out, you might overthink it and come back a little tense. But now I just know I'm going out there to play.

"Right now, it's an exciting time. I love being out there."

As the regular season winds down and the playoffs begin, off-day practices become less frequent, so it's far easier to be at full capacity for a game now than it is earlier in the season, according to Lundqvist.

That perhaps was a problem earlier in the month, when Lundqvist was struggling. He spoke at length about wanting to improve his game and become sharper for the postseason. With fewer chances to work out the problems in practice, he's been doing it in games and said he is starting to feel better about his overall play.

"The last few games, I've played pretty good," said Lundqvist, who is coming off a 3-0-0 road trip and has won five of his last six starts. "I've played the way I want to play. When you're winning, you always feel a lot better. Technically, the last two have been pretty good, so I try to go from that."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames will have Sarich for must-win against Avs

CALGARY -- In what Brent Sutter called the Calgary Flames' most important game of the season to date, the coach will have one of his most veteran defenders back in the lineup Friday night.
 
Cory Sarich, who missed four games with an upper-body injury after a collision with David Jones of the Colorado Avalanche, will return to the lineup against the same team he last played against.
 
"I'm feeling really good," Sarich said. "The last three days I've felt like myself. I've felt normal. Skates have been normal. I'm excited to go out there and play."
 
With the Flames currently sitting 11th in a wild Western Conference race and their season hanging in the balance, Sutter is happy to have Sarich at his disposal.
 
"It's huge," Sutter said. "The way Cory had been playing, taking a presence like that out of your back end has definitely affected us in certain areas, so it's nice to have him back in our lineup."
 
The magnitude of the game isn't lost on Sarich, who watched his team win just one game in his absence, pushing Calgary's season to the brink.
 
"They've all been important here the last who knows how long," he said. "It makes it easy for myself to get up for this game, and you just try to go out there and fit right in."
 
In order to accommodate Sarich, the club had to return defenseman Clay Wilson to the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. Wilson was up on an emergency basis to fill in for Sarich.
 
Here's the projected lineup tonight for the Flames:

Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Lee Stempniak - Matt Stajan - Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos - Blair Jones - Tim Jackman
 
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Anton Babchuk - Cory Sarich
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
 
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:24 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canadiens, Rangers

NEW YORK -- Montreal Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said there will be no lineup changes for their matchup against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Cunneyworth said defenseman Tomas Kaberle still isn't ready to play and that forward Scott Gomez, who skated Wednesday, could get into a game before the end of the season but it won't be against the Rangers.

The Rangers will also ice the same lineup as they did in Winnipeg on Wednesday, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist making his season-high eighth consecutive start. He will be opposed by Carey Price.

Here are the projected lines for each club:

CANADIENS
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Louis Leblanc
Ryan White - Lars Eller - Mike Blunden
Aaron Palushaj - Petteri Nokelainen - Brad Staubitz

Josh Gorges - PK Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Chris Campoli - Frederic St. Denis

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

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

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 Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:22 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Carter sidelined at least one game with ankle injury

The Kings' push to the postseason will have to go on without Jeff Carter for at least one game.

Carter suffered an ankle injury in Wednesday's win at Calgary and likely will not play Friday in Edmonton, according to the L.A. Kings Insider blog on the team's website.

Carter has 6 goals and 3 assists in 16 games since arriving in Los Angeles in the Feb. 24 trade. He has been a regular on the second line with Mike Richards and the Kings are 11-5 with Carter in the lineup.

If Carter can't go, it is possible that Brad Richardson takes his place on the second line with Richards and either Dwight King or Jordan Nolan. Richardson has 3 goals and 2 assists in 54 games this season. He has been a healthy scratch 23 times.

"I haven't decided yet," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Lots of guys can play different positions. We'll see what the Oilers are doing first."
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:15 PM

By Pete Jensen -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Fantasy Spin Blog

Fantasy Spin: Isles second line warrants a look



While the New York Islanders' secondary scoring spike over the past few games is likely "too little, too late" for the team's playoff hopes, it could be just what the doctor ordered for any fantasy team in the midst of a championship run.

Every point is crucial this time of year as the vast majority of fantasy leagues have reached their final playoff round, so the play of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo should not be overlooked. The Isles' current secondary line -- comprised of three forwards owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues -- has kicked it into high gear over the last week and a half.

Josh Bailey
Center - NYI
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 31
SOG: 99 | +/-: -8
New York remains mathematically alive in the playoff race entering Friday's action after sweeping a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- who endured a major setback in their pursuit of the East's top seed. Despite facing Marc-Andre Fleury twice this week, the Isles managed to post 10 goals in two games en route to a pair of 5-3 wins over their Atlantic Division foes.

Bailey (LW - 2 percent) put forth a 5-point game in Thursday's win over the Pens and has accumulated 3 goals, 9 assists and a plus-8 rating over his last six games. The ninth pick in the 2008 NHL Draft is only 22 years old and has looked confident moving the puck over the past few games. His linemate, Nielsen (C - 5 percent), has centered the secondary unit for most of the season, but has recently seen a major spike in his production as well with 4 goals and 5 helpers over the six-game stretch.

Flanking Nielsen on the right wing is Okposo (RW - 9 percent), who has taken his goal-scoring to new heights with 5 goals over his last four games, adding an assist in Tuesday's road win in the Steel City. The story for Okposo, 23, has been his ability to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career despite failing to register a goal in his first 15 games this season. Okposo has accomplished that feat by scoring 14 goals since the turn of the calendar year.

Kyle Okposo
Right Wing - NYI
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 41
SOG: 143 | +/-: -14
The inconsistency of these three players is still a glaring concern in the long-term, as the Islanders have sought a lift from their depth lines all season long -- to the point where the team's top line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau has accounted for 42.6 percent of the team's goal-scoring. But as the team finally seems to be reaping the benefits of its young core players late in the season, fantasy owners would be wise to take notice.

Over the last two games, though, the team's primary unit has gone pointless -- despite the team sweeping a home-and-home with the star-studded Pens. The secondary unit has shouldered the load and has been extremely promising from a fantasy standpoint. For any injury-plagued or underperforming fantasy roster during championship week, any of these three offensive players could provide a boost.

The Islanders have a pair of home games this weekend against the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, and still have five remaining regular season contests overall. Therefore, time is of the essence for fantasy owners to catch on to this potentially rewarding trend.

To submit a question for NHL.com's weekly Fantasy Mailbag, contact PJensen@NHL.com.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Jets, Hurricanes

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena:

JETS

Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Antti Miettinen
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Wellwood - Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Spencer Machacek

Zach Bogosian - Ron Hainsey
Dustin Byfuglien - Tobias Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
 
HURRICANES
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Tim Gleason - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
 
Cam Ward
Brian Boucher

Antropov returns to the lineup for the Jets after missing the past five games with a lower-body injury. Mason will get the start in goal for Winnipeg, his fifth in six games against the Hurricanes this season. Ward will make his sixth consecutive start for Carolina.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 10:24 AM

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

Barry's Best: Miller, Shattenkirk, Thornton

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:21 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 30th

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 77 88 5 93 2
8th 77 86 5 91 3

9th 78 86 4 90 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 78 95 4 99
7th 78 89 4 93 3
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Western Conference is essentially about four Pacific Division teams -- Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose -- chasing three playoff spots.

Like musical chairs, when the music stops April 7, one team will be left without a 'chair' when the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The top point-getter among those four teams will win the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West, opening its playoff campaign with home-ice advantage. Two other teams will claim the consolation prizes of the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. One will rue what could have been.

The Sharks were in the No. 3 spot in the West standings when play began Wednesday. But, after two consecutive losses -- including a 2-0 shutout loss to Phoenix -- they find themselves out of a playoff spot. Wins on Friday night by Dallas (against Vancouver) and Los Angeles (against Edmonton) would put San Jose in a deeper hole.

San Jose and Dallas begin a home-and-home series Saturday with their respective playoff destinies in their own hands.

Meanwhile, the win Thursday by Phoenix was a huge boost for its playoff hopes because the victory moved the Coyotes ahead of the Sharks in the standings and with the Sharks and Stars playing one another, only one of the two teams closest to Phoenix can take the two points each time. The Coyotes probably won't care who wins those games, but they will be rooting for them to end in regulation.

The Kings, who have seven wins in their past nine games, can continue to help their playoff cause with another win, this time against an Edmonton team already eliminated from the postseason.

The key factor to remember as we approach what should be a breathtaking final week of the season is that 94 points is the projection for the final playoff spot in the West, so every game these four teams play has significant implications for other three.

The Avalanche meet the Flames in Calgary on Friday night with both having 'mathematical life,' but little realistic hope for the playoffs because the projected point total being beyond their capability. But, the loser of this game will see all hope die. Neither team has helped its cause down the stretch. The Flames went 1-3-3 in their past seven games and the Avalanche went 0-3-1 in their past four games.

An interesting game takes place Friday in Detroit. The Red Wings play host to Nashville in a game that has home-ice implications in the first round as Detroit tries to remain in the top half of the Western Conference bracket. Both teams have already clinched berths, but the Wings have just a one-point lead on Nashville for the No. 4 spot. Idle Chicago is just two points behind Detroit.

Detroit, which has an astounding 30-5-2 record at home, would love to claim home-ice advantage for what will be a massively difficult first-round series against either Nashville or Chicago.

In the East, the Sabres play host to the Penguins. The Caps kept the pressure on -- not to mention their playoff hopes alive -- with a win Thursday in Boston. With 92 points being the projection in the East, Buffalo (86 points) can move closer to that cutoff with a victory. A regulation loss and the idle Caps (also on 86 points) will move back into the No. 8 spot in the East, thanks to the tiebreaker.

The East race is another case of musical chairs, as the Senators, Sabres and Capitals vie for two spots. The math says the Sabres need to win three of their final five games to hit the magic mark in the East, A loss Friday and then the equation becomes three wins in four games. That's a big difference at this point of the season, especially because Buffalo does not currently own the tiebreaker on the Caps, which have five more regulation and OT wins.

As for the Florida Panthers, they are putting their fans through a bit of agony as they try to end their 12-year playoff drought. They have lost to the Oilers, Islanders and Wild in the past week. They are in Columbus on Friday and, with a win, they can essentially 'let the joy' begin in South Florida. Another loss and they won't be doing themselves any favors.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:10 AM

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

Remembering the 'Life As A Scout'

Back in November, NHL.com had an opportunity to join NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards on a trip through Western Canada not only to view a few of the top prospects eligible for the 2012 Draft but gain exclusive access to "Life as a Scout."

"We're getting paid to watch hockey. Does it get any better?" Edwards told NHL.com.

In a span of 72 hours, and beginning in Regina, Sask., NHL.com accompanied Edwards to gain an exclusive first-hand look at the process of scouting and what it entails.

Edwards will be one of the several full-time scouts at the final meetings offering his assessment of those players he has witnessed over the course of the 2012 season.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 5:16 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes back in action to begin final stretch run

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an anxious three days for the Phoenix Coyotes as they could do nothing but watch the standings as their Western Conference foes attempted to compile points and leave them behind.

Now the Coyotes enter their final five games of the season with a clear mission -- and in control of their own fate. Win four of five and they are likely headed to a third straight NHL playoff berth. Stumble more than once along the way, beginning with tonight's huge game against the San Jose Sharks at Jobing.com Arena, and things get much more uncertain and gloomy.

"You look at the standings, and if we win our games we're fine," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who returns from a three-game suspension tonight. "You'd rather be sitting where Nashville is or Vancouver is, but we're not, so we have to find way to win our way in and earn it. But we control our own destiny and that's all you can ask. It's right there for us."

In addition to Doan, the Coyotes were able to heal over the three-day break. With the exception of winger Taylor Pyatt, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said everyone else on the roster is available for duty, meaning leading scorer Radim Vrbata and defensemen Adrian Aucoin and David Schlemko are prepared to play. Tippett has a lot of different ways he can go lineup-wise and wasn't tipping his hand at the pregame skate.

The Coyotes finish the season against three teams out of the playoff race -- Anaheim, Columbus and Minnesota -- as well as Western Conference-leading St. Louis. So the chance to improve their position and have a direct effect on a competitor ends tonight.

The Sharks lost 3-1 in Anaheim on Wednesday, making this game incredibly crucial for them as well. San Jose finishes its season with two games each against Los Angeles and Dallas -- the other two Pacific Division teams fighting for three playoff spots along with Colorado and Calgary. Not everyone will survive.

"Our players know exactly where we are and what the scenarios are … but this is the last game that we have that we can have an effect on the one of these teams we are battling," Tippett said. "So that makes it of the utmost importance. After that we have to take care of ourselves, but this is a huge game."

The Sharks will be without defenseman Douglas Murray, who suffered a lower-body injury early against the Ducks. Veteran Colin White will replace him in the lineup.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Colin White - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin
Michal Roszival - Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
 

 
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Quote of the Day

Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season