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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 12:46 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bruins optimistic on Boychuk's Game 1 availability

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins' defense corps might be close to whole when they host Washington Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) at TD Garden for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Johnny Boychuk practiced Wednesday for the third straight day in his attempt to return from a knee injury that occurred April 3 in a collision with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham. Boychuk missed Boston's last two regular-season games.

"Obviously, we have an opportunity maybe to make a decision [Thursday]," Bruins coach Claude Julien said following the workout here at Ristuccia Arena. "Again, specifying opportunity, not a 100-percenter. But he's feeling fairly good, so we want to remain optimistic with him."

Boychuk started the week a bit ahead of schedule, as he wasn't supposed to take part in battle drills on his first day on the ice Monday. However, he competed in those drills and emerged unscathed.

The news wasn't as positive for fellow defenseman Adam McQuaid, who left Boston's April 5 game with an upper-body injury and then missed the regular-season finale. He has yet to skate since then and Julien said McQuaid would be out for Game 1.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has been out since March 3 with an abdominal/groin injury, practiced for a third straight day Wednesday. He started taking shots Monday. Julien said that as of Wednesday afternoon he didn't expect to have Rask dress against the Capitals, but that could change Thursday.

If Rask can't back up Tim Thomas, Anton Khudobin will be the Bruins' No. 2 goaltender.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 12:13 PM

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

Cooke wary of Flyers' skill more than braun

PITTSBURGH — Matt Cooke wants to make something clear now that the long-awaited Flyers-Penguins playoff series is finally here.
 
The Penguins are not – with the emphasis on "not" – playing the Broad Street Bullies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
The Flyers-Penguins regular season game April 1 was intense and physical and wound down with two coaches screaming at each other as all 10 skaters on the ice skirmished briefly. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was incensed by a clean but hard hit by center Joe Vitale on Flyers forward Danny Briere and was highly critical of the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma.
 
After the teams met again this past Sunday in a far-less-emotional game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said he expected this series to be a "bloodbath."
 
However, the Penguins believe the Flyers teams they defeated in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs better fit the Broad Street Bullies stereotype. To them, these Flyers are built around elements other than tough guys and a push-it-to-the-limits mentality.
 
"I mean they're not a bruiser team. They don't physically punish you, I wouldn't say, any more than the way we want to play,” Cooke said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "They have that persona from the 1970s and that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers are about. They have a lot of skill over there. They play a skill game and they look for turnovers. Those are the things that are going to win them games, not physical play."
 
Not that the Flyers don’t have agitator-type players that try to disrupt and distract a team. After that April 1 game, Penguins star Sidney Crosby acknowledged he gave more retaliatory hits than in any recent game he can remember.
 
The Flyers also are expected to try to provoke Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin into taking a retaliatory penalty – he can be prone to doing that – that not only puts Philadelphia on the power play but takes one of the NHL’s most creative offensive players off the ice. Malkin had 70 penalty minutes this season – 26 more than long-reputed agitator Cooke, for example.
 
“They’ve got certain players that are willing to irritate guys," Cooke said. "I think that's a situation where playing three games against them late in the season are fresh in our memories and make us understand and realize how we have to defend against that."
 
While the Flyers may not try to beat up an opponent at the same time it is trying to defeat it, Bylsma said the Penguins must be prepared for the offensive pace Philadelphia will attempt to mount with all four lines.
 
“This is a team that keeps coming at you," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is expected to play only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery; he was expected to be out for three-to-four weeks. Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t take part in the morning skate and is all but certain to miss a third consecutive game.
 
One change: Deryk Engelland, usually on the right side when he is paired with Niskanen, will be on the left side with Lovejoy playing the right side.
 
The only other defenseman in uniform is rookie Brian Strait, who was a minus-two in the final two regular season games.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 10:53 AM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bruins' Horton shut down for postseason

Boston forward Nathan Horton will not make a dramatic comeback in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins announced Wednesday that Horton will miss the entire postseason as he deals with a concussion suffered Jan. 22.

Horton has not played since that game against the Flyers and has missed 36 games.

He played in a career-low 46 games this season and registered 32 points and 54 penalty minutes.

During last year's Stanley Cup Playoff run, he tallied three game-winning goals, including the winners in the Game 7 victories against Montreal on April 27, 2011 and Tampa Bay on May 27, 2011. He finished the postseason appearing in 21 of the team's 25 playoff games with eight goals, nine assists and 35 penalty minutes. He missed the final four games of the Stanley Cup Final due to a severe concussion sustained in Game 3.

He was acquired by the Bruins along with Gregory Campbell from the Florida Panthers on June 22, 2010 in exchange for defenseman Dennis Wideman and two draft picks (first round 2010, third round 2011).

In 548 career NHL games with Boston and Florida, Horton has 185 goals, 195 assists for 380 points and 521 penalty minutes.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 10:41 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Likely lineup for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins are on the ice for their morning skate in advance of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Flyers (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN). Here are their expected lines and defense pairs:

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Brian Strait/Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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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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