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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:58 AM

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

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Brian Rolston

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:56 AM

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

Melrose Mathup: Predators at Blackhawks

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:55 AM

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

Senators back to work after long layoff

PHILADELPHIA -- For the Ottawa Senators' first game since Monday, coach Paul MacLean said he plans on using the same lineup that took the ice March 26 in Winnipeg.

MacLean said he wasn't sure how his team would react coming off a long layoff, telling reporters, "The biggest concern is we come out flat."

He said that the way he feels his team handled the long week had him feeling cautiously optimistic.

"Nothing is ever easy, but the way we've handled the week looks good," MacLean said. "We'll know (Saturday) at 1:08 when the face off hits."

Here's the lineup they'll like put on the ice here at Wells Fargo Center:

Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins - Zack Smith - Erik Condra
Rob Klinkhammer - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:30 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 31st

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 78 86 4 90 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 78 89 4 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Los Angeles Kings move to third from eighth in the Western Conference on Friday night with a win over Edmonton. The Stars fell to seventh from third with a loss to the Canucks and the Coyotes without playing dropped a spot to eighth.

There will be more jockeying on Saturday in the West, and the minimum projected playoff point total remains at 94. San Jose is out of a playoff spot but the Sharks have full control over their playoff aspirations. They have four games remaining -- two with Dallas and two with Los Angeles. It says here that three regulation wins in those four games will see them in the postseason.

The same can be said for the Dallas Stars who can put three points between them and ninth-pace San Jose with a regulation win Saturday. Regardless, two points will go to the victor and inch them closer to the playoffs. Los Angeles visits Minnesota and a win gets the Kings to 92 points and needing one win in their reaming three games to 'hit' the magic number. With a visit from the Oilers on Tuesday, the Kings could be in a position to punch their ticket to the postseason.

The Coyotes entertain the Ducks and after beating the Sharks on Thursday, and they need a win to keep their trek towards the playoffs on the rails. A loss and then they are looking at needing five points in their remaining three games to reach 94 and that includes a game against the dominant Blues in St. Louis. They will get a little help because of the schedule with the Kings, Stars and Sharks playing against one another but there is nothing better than helping yourself.

The East has now become a heated race for the seventh and eighth spots. Ottawa, Buffalo and Washington are battling it out and it looks to be 90 points to qualify, but I'm beginning to think that 90 may not be enough. Finishing third in this race will get you a seat in front of your TV to watch the playoffs.

Ottawa has five games remaining and visit the streaking Flyers on Saturday. It is no easy task for the Senators but a win gets them to 90 with four games remaining. The Sabres visit the Leafs, who have not won a game at home since Feb. 6th. Buffalo doesn't have an advantage with the non-shootout wins tiebreaker, so that is why I think Buffalo may need 91 points to make the cut. The Sabres could finish with 90 points and be tied with either Ottawa or Washington, but that won't be enough.

The Caps entertain the Canadiens and when you are playing the Conference's weakest team at home, anything less than a win is a blow to your playoff hopes. Washington holds the tiebreaker, but getting a sole point takes away that advantage to a certain extent. You don't want to be losing any advantages at this time of the year. There is a scenario where after the games Saturday, there could be a three-way log jam in the standings with the Sens, Caps and Sabres all at 88 points with seven days left in the regular season.

For the teams chasing down a playoff spot, nothing else matters but winning today because a loss potentially means 'no tomorrow.'
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 10:27 AM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Backstrom returns to help Caps' playoff push

ARLINGTON, Va. – Nicklas Backstrom confirmed after a morning skate Saturday for the Washington Capitals that he will play against the Montreal Canadiens.

Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, but the Caps No. 1 center was medically cleared this week to return to the lineup after passing a baseline neuropsychological test.

“I'm really excited,” Backstrom said. “It's going to be fun to play again. It's a big game for us and we need all those points. I'm excited to be back in such an important game.

“It feels like I'm ready. I've been practicing hard and stuff and I've been battling with a couple of guys on the team and I've been taking a couple hits. It feels like I'm ready, so I'm excited to be back.”

On Saturday morning the 24-year-old Swede took line rushes alongside Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson on the Caps’ No.1 unit.

“He’s been missed in all areas,” Johansson said. “He’s such an all-around player, he plays penalty kill, power play, and he plays at the end of games whether we’re up or down, so that was all missed and it’s good to have him back.” 

The Capitals have won 18 of 40 games without Backstrom in the lineup and he remains fifth on the team in scoring with 42 points (13 goals and 29 assists) in 38 games.

The team is hopeful that Backstrom’s return can spark a power play that has gone 15-for-102 (14.7 percent) during his 40-game absence.

“He’s a natural on the half-board, he sees the ice well,” said coach Dale Hunter. “You see him working today; he’s got one of those gifts where he doesn’t have to look at the guy to pass it -- he just knows where he is.”

In the 38 games prior to his injury, Backstrom had a point on 72 percent of Washington’s power play goals (three goals, 15 assists on 25 power play goals).

With four games to play in the regular season, this contest Saturday against Montreal marks just the second time that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green will have all played in the same game since Hunter was hired Nov. 28.

“He’s one of the best at seeing the ice and seeing plays before they even happen and getting pucks in guys hands so that they can score,” Green said. “When I say that I honestly mean that he’s one of the best and so in that aspect he’s going to help out our team big time. We’re very thankful that he’s back before the end of the regular season.”

Washington is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, two points behind the seventh place Ottawa Senators and four points behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.

“It's been frustrating,” Backstrom said of having to watch his team battle for a playoff position. “I think you're more nervous sitting up top in the press box than playing. It's been really tough, but the good thing is I'm back now and I'm just looking forward to it.”

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Saturday night against the Canadiens:

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromMarcus Johansson
Jason ChimeraMathieu PerreaultAlexander Semin
Keith AucoinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Matt HendricksJay BeagleMike Knuble

Karl AlznerDennis Wideman
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Dmitry OrlovJohn Carlson

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

NOTES:
Since the Canadiens beat the Capitals in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Washington has gone 6-0-1 against Montreal with four shutouts from four different goalies.
 
The Caps have won all three meetings this season, outscoring Montreal 10-1. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 against Montreal with a shutout, a 1.82 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Forward Joel Ward will miss his fifth straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Former Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 12 games overall. 

Bourque served a five-game suspension for his elbow against Backstrom, and he has since been traded to the Canadiens. Asked about playing against Bourque in his first game back, Backstrom downplayed the irony.

“You know what? I don't really care about that," Backstrom said. "It happened, and I'm not going to waste any energy on it."

The Canadiens did not have a morning skate Saturday, but backup Peter Budaj is expected to be in net for Montreal.



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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:47 AM

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

NHL Central Scouting begins final discussions ...


11:40 a.m. (ET) - The scouts have completed the ranking of players from the WHL. Quite an undertaking, but the boys broke it down extremely well and have left the meeting room for lunch. The Ontario Hockey League and U.S.-West skaters are up for discussion following the one-hour break.

11:00 a.m. (ET) -
Some great debate on Saskatoon's Dalton Thrower and Lukas Sutter and Regina's Chandler Stephenson, who played center/left wing.

10:40 a.m. (ET) - The Western Hockey League is now up for discussion. Of course, the league is stocked with defenseman. Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Mathew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart and Derrick Pouliot were among the top 10 blue liners regarded highly at the midterm rankings in January.

Fantastic discussion on whether or not Dumba has accelerated his play over the second half of the season to make a jump in the final WHL ranks.

While defenders are dominating the talks, center Colton Sissons of the Kelowna Rockets is certainly a player that isn't overlooked here.

Scouts now viewing a fight that took place at Top Prospects Game between Dumba and Raphael Bussieres. You have to be here to hear the banter that takes place as they view a fight. It's like kids in a candy store.

And, yes, Ryan Murray, as you might expect, is regarded highly by every scout.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:05 AM

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

NHL Central Scouting ready to debate 2012 draft class

NHL Central Scouting is ready to rock here in Ontario this week to determine its final rankings of the top draft-eligible players on the board this June at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On Saturday, the pro scouts will have a go at it to determine this year's final list of the top 210 draft-eligible skaters and 30 goalies from North America for the 2012 NHL Draft.

NHL.com will also be present for the opening three days of the meetings, providing exclusive coverage. The scouts will no doubt be in heated debate, unveiling the pros and cons of every player from all the major junior leagues throughout North America.

Discussions will heat up almost immediately on Saturday morning as the scouts debate over who should receive the No. 1 overall placement among North American skaters. The four candidates expected to vie for that position will be Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko, Everett's Ryan Murray and Red Deer's Mathew Dumba.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 7:10 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks need to shut down Stars' stars

With the Vancouver Canucks preparing for the playoffs, it's no surprise they've built a shutdown line around new checking center Samuel Pahlsson. With the Dallas Stars in a battle to make the playoffs, it's no surprise they're leaning on a sizzling top line anchored by skilled center Mike Ribeiro.

When the two lines go head-to-head Friday night, however, it may surprise some to learn it will also be a battle of the team's top two lines overall of late.

In addition to seeing more pure matchups against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson's line has been producing offensively, with Chris Higgins scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Colorado last week -- and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Wednesday. Pahlsson, who had two goals and nine assists in 61 games with Columbus before being acquired at the trade deadline, already has a goal and four assists in just 14 games with the Canucks.

That may not sound like much, but with Vancouver struggling to score it's more than Ryan Kesler (three goals, one assist) over the same stretch, and not far behind former Hart and Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik Sedin (seven assists).

"It took a couple games for us to find each other and mesh," said Higgins of a trio rounded out by Jannik Hansen. "Now I kind of know where [Pahlsson] is going to be and that's why we're having success. All three of us know where we are going to be on the ice and that's an underrated element of a line. [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] don't even look for each other, they just know where each other are and it's not as difficult when you don't need to take that extra half a second just to know where your teammate is going to be."

That sounds a lot like the chemistry enjoyed by Ribeiro with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder on a top line that combined for all three goals and eight points in Dallas' 3-1 win in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The trio has five goals and 12 points in the last three games, as well as six goals in three games against Vancouver this season.

"Ribeiro is really tricky to play against," Pahlsson said. "He can really make a fool out of you and make you look stupid, so you've got to be ready for him."

Playing against that line is perfect playoff preparation, said Higgins.

"We're playing some tough minutes against some of the players we'll play in the playoffs, some of the other team's best players, but it's good practice," he said.

"Ribeiro is one of the best passers in the game and sees the ice like few players in the game can, Ryder is having a great year, has an unbelievable shot, and Eriksson is great around the net. So it will be a tough match up for us tonight but I think we enjoy the challenge of playing against those guys."

The results have played a role in the Canucks' success against Dallas. After the Stars' top trio combined for 12 points while winning the first two meetings - and before the Canucks put their current shutdown line together - Vancouver held all three off the scoresheet in a tight-checking 2-1 win March 22. Ribeiro expects the matchup, and welcomes the challenges, knowing it frees up others.

"They've had a few shutouts. It's just up to us to be ready tonight," Ribeiro said. "We'll see probably a few more checking lines, and that's fine too, it gives [Jamie] Benn's line a chance to create more chances and score for us too. It's hard for other teams to match up against two or three lines that can score."

As for tendencies, Higgins may have a slight advantage having played on the same line with Ryder for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.

"Yeah I may know a couple things," Higgins said with a smile.

Of course, in a battle of the two top lines, that may work both ways.

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 5:32 PM

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

Bryzgalov questionable for weekend games

Ilya Bryzgalov practiced Friday on the ice, but the chip fracture in his right foot, suffered in warm-ups Monday, could keep the Philadelphia Flyers goalie off the ice this weekend.

According to CSNPhilly.com, Bryzgalov will not play Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, and while there's a chance he plays Sunday in Pittsburgh (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), the best chance for his return could be Tuesday's home game against the New York Rangers.

While the Flyers want to do everything possible to clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference -- they enter the weekend two points behind the fourth-place Penguins -- they won't gamble their franchise's goalie's future health in the process.

"We're not going to put a goaltender in a situation where he goes out there and risks injury," said coach Peter Laviolette

"You have to be ready and 100 percent to move and stop and react," Bryzgalov told reporters. "If you are not 100 percent, you can't play that game. You're going to be half a second late every time and it's going to be huge consequences -- the puck behind the goal line."

Bryzgalov was injured when he was hit in the foot by a Jakub Voracek shot in pre-game warm-ups prior to Monday's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. X-rays before and after the game didn't show a break, but Bryzgalov said he felt pain the entire game. An MRI Tuesday showed the chip fracture.

"I felt pain," he said of playing the entire game against the Lightning. "In the morning it was the same thing. Not any better. I felt something was wrong and that's why we got the MRI and found the fracture in my foot, unfortunately.
 
"I was lucky because it was not that bad, because I'm tough and Russian."
 
Bryzgalov said he had less pain Friday.
 
"We've already had progress -- you see me on the ice today," he said.

It remains unknown if the Flyers will see him on the ice at all this weekend.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bieksa given another 'maintenance day' vs. Stars

VANCOUVER -- Kevin Bieksa's maintenance day is turning into a maintenance week.

The Vancouver Canucks' top-four defenseman will miss a second-straight game Friday night against Dallas and is unlikely to play Saturday against Calgary, but is still expected back before the playoffs start in less than two weeks.

"We all know Kevin is one of the fiercest competitors in the League," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Friday's morning skate. "He battles hard every shift, so to give him a few maintenance days is the proper thing to do."

Asked if the necessary maintenance was upper or lower body-related, Bowness said: "We'll just go with the whole body. And mind. Give him a mental break, too."

There is less uncertainty about what's keeping Daniel Sedin out of the lineup, but even more about when he might return. Vancouver's top goal scorer will miss his fifth straight game since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, and despite a report in the Vancouver Sun in which general manager Mike Gillis said he was "hopeful" Sedin would be back by the start of the playoffs, there was no update from Bowness or teammates Friday.

Without Sedin, who leads the team with 30 goals and is second to twin brother Henrik with 67 points, the Canucks have struggled to score, winning their last two games 1-0 and compiling a 4-0-1 run despite only scoring eight goals. All of which prompted another shakeup of the forward lines going into Friday's game against a Dallas team fighting desperately to stay in the playoff picture.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups as the 47-21-9 Canucks try for their first five-game win streak since late November against a 42-30-5 Stars squad that leads the Pacific Division, but has Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose all within a single point after alternating losses and wins for the last six games:

CANUCKS

Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Manny Malhotra - Zack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Alexander Edler
Andrew Alberts - Sami Salo

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Luongo takes his turn in the Canucks' new back-and-forth goaltending rotation, and will try and build off a 38-save 1-0 shutout of Los Angeles on Monday, while Schneider, who made 43 saves in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday, is expected to play Saturday night against Calgary.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the second of consecutive 1-0 victories was that they came without regular defensemen Bieksa (maintenance), Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion). All but Ballard are expected back for the playoffs, and Ballard has also resumed practicing with the team.

Up front, Lapierre's move from fourth-line agitator to first-line winger with Sedin out is the biggest surprise, with a struggling Kassian going the other way. Lapierre has shown offensive flashes in the past, but knows that's not his main job playing alongside former scoring champion Henrik Sedin.

"Today is a fun day and good opportunity for me, but at the end of the day I know my role is to bring some energy, be physical," Lapierre said. "Try to create some room for these two guys. They have unreal skills and I will be in front of the net. I can make some plays with the puck. But we don't want me ruining every play."

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Tomas Vincour
Brenden Morrow - Vernon Fiddler - Adam Burish
Reilly Smith - Jake Dowell - Ryan Garbutt

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
Adam Pardy - Trevor Daley

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

The biggest change from the Stars last visit to Vancouver in early March is between the pipes, with the workhorse Lehtonen expected to play in Vancouver on Friday night and again in San Jose on Saturday night. There was some thought of Bachman, who won here 5-2 back on March 6, but with so much on the line Dallas decided to stick with their unquestioned No. 1 despite the fact Lehtonen is 2-6-0 with a .881 career save percentage against the Canucks.

The Stars are still missing significant players in forwards Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (skate cut on leg), and defenseman Mark Fistric (abdominal strain). But Dvorak and Fistric are skating at least and could return in San Jose Saturday -- the first part of a crucial home-and-home series with the Sharks.

Fourth line center Tom Wandell goes from being a healthy scratch the last game to being out sick.
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