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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:10 PM

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

Kings focused on regaining playoff seed with win

CALGARY -- The Los Angeles Kings are well aware of their position in the Western Conference playoff race.
 
But they're not willing to look behind them when they face the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome -- a team the Kings hold a one-point advantage over with a game at hand in the wild West.
 
"We're fully aware of that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're not too worried about where they are. We just have to worry about ourselves. No matter who we're playing, we have to win every night at this point of the season. Tonight's pretty much a four-point game. It's a must-win game."
 
Anze Kopitar couldn't disagree with Doughty.
 
"It's not just the damage we can do, it can set ourselves up for a good finish," he said. "It's obviously a big game for both clubs. It's going to be an emotional, high intensity game."
 
Coach Darryl Sutter isn't worried so much about the team across the ice as earning the victory and the two points that come with it.
 
"It's two points," Sutter said. "Again, it's really important for everybody. There's the top teams, then there's the teams that have a chance of winning a division, then there's a bunch of guys fighting for seventh and eighth place. Either you're seventh or eighth, or you're not. It's pretty simple."
 
Though the Flames are nipping at their heels, Kopitar said there is no extra motivation to all but bury the Flames by handing them a loss this late in the season.
 
"This time of the year, you really don't need it," he said. "Every game is like a playoff game. It's obviously really nice if you can separate yourself from the other teams, and that's what we're trying to do tonight."
 
Doughty hopes the Kings can show a little more.
 
"There's no doubt in our minds that we're a better team than them and we just have to show that," he said. "We have to come out hard in the first period, take it to them and let them know we're going to be the hardest-working team out there."
 
And if they're successful, the ninth-place Kings will find themselves back in a playoff position.

Here's the projected lineup for the Kings:
 
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
 
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
 
Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Blackhawks' Shaw offers insight and evaluations

To those prospects passed over in previous drafts -- listen up!

There is hope. Just ask Chicago rookie forward Andrew Shaw, who was passed over in the 2009 and 2010 NHL drafts before the Blackhawks finally tabbed him in the fifth round (No. 139) last June.

He's currently playing big minutes in many situations alongside David Bolland and Bryan Bickell and has quietly become one of the most liked players in the Blackhawks locker room.

"It was a little disappointing not being drafted those first two years, but I had no pressure on me after that and went out there and had fun and stuck with my game," Shaw told NHL.com. "Chicago liked what they saw and decided to draft me. At prospect camp, I had everything to prove so I just went out there and gave it my all and they came back with an AHL contract. I didn't want to play in the Ontario Hockey League anymore and knew, if I did my best, there may be a shot."

The Blackhawks signed Shaw to a three-year contract on Jan. 3. At the time, his 12 goals and 21 points ranked third for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. His 80 penalty minutes ranked second.

"He's been good for us in a lot of ways; we appreciate the way he competes," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Offensively, he's got a nice set of hands and he gets rewarded for going into the high traffic areas. He finds ways to get around the puck through positioning or with his hands. He's getting some assignments against top lines and his line (with center Dave Bolland and left wing Bryan Bickell) has been effective."

Shaw posted a career-high 54 points, including 22 goals, in 66 games last season for the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Owen Sound Attack. He ranked 11th in the league with 135 penalty minutes and was honored at the end of the season as the OHL's Hardest Working Player.

NHL.com recently asked Shaw to evaluate two former teammates in Owen Sound considered to be top prospects for the 2012 Draft -- forwards Gemel Smith and Jarrod Maidens.

"Gemel is a great prospect; he has a lot of skill and he's quick," Shaw said. "He plays with a lot of energy and he plays tough … he plays big and is tough. I actually looked up to him and he was always all over me about how he got more points than me last year."

And Maidens:

"He knows the game, has great vision and is always finding the puck," Shaw said. "He has great dishes and he can find the back of the net, like he did in Game 7 [against Mississauga] last year."

Maidens led Owen Sound in rookie scoring with 21 points in 2010-11. He also recorded 6 goals and 10 points in the 2011 playoffs, helping lead the Attack to the OHL championship. He scored the overtime game-winner against Mississauga in Game 7 of the championship round.

Shaw also had some advice for those players who are draft eligible, but who might not be selected come June.

"Just have fun and keep playing the game and don't let it get you down," Shaw said. "My buddy Mike Halmo [from Owen Sound] never got much publicity last year, but it was great to see him sign a contract with the New York Islanders. I called him the day I found out. I think it made it easier for him knowing I was playing in the NHL because it made him realize there was a spot for players like me and him."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 2:50 PM

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

Flames sticking to motto: 'Every game matters'

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames have preached their season-long motto, "Every game matters."
 
With five games remaining, the anthem has never held truer for the 11th-place Flames. Calgary currently sits two points behind the Phoenix Coyotes, the current residents of the eighth and final berth in the Western Conference's playoff picture.
 
But Calgary isn't looking at the big picture when it comes down to their final five games. With the Los Angeles Kings in town -- another team they're trying to chase down -- the Flames are taking a day-by-day approach to extend their season.
 
"You just have to take it one day at a time," Matt Stajan said. "Today's the game we're focused on. This is fun. We've got to win today to keep this going. We know where we're at. We put ourselves in this position."
 
Forgive the Flames if they sound like a broken record. The club has been preaching the motto for the last half-dozen games. It's been true throughout.
 
"The schedule is winding down and these games are massive with the standings situation," coach Brent Sutter said. "Tonight now becomes the biggest game of the season. When it's over, the next one will."
 
Which makes every game a must, according to captain Jarome Iginla.
 
"For us, we need to have this one," Iginla said. "We needed our last one. We go in with the same mindset. We play, we play hard, and we play confident.
 
"A lot of people have written us off, but from our point of view it's just about this game. If we get this one, a lot of pressure shifts to other teams and we just try to claw back in and keep going."
 
Winning Monday over the Dallas Stars -- another opponent in reach -- to snap a five-game losing streak, Calgary hopes to build on a newfound momentum.
 
"You try to get your emotional level there every night," Stajan said. "It doesn't matter what point of the year you're at. You can't lose. You have to be ready to go this time of year."
 
Because if they're not, the Flames will find themselves further on the outs when it comes to the chase in the wild West.
 
Here's the projected lineup 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 - Clay Wilson
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 2:26 PM

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

Pens' Letang to miss at least two more games

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins star defenseman Kris Letang will miss at least two more games with a lower-body injury that occurred when he was tripped by Devils forward Ryan Carter during Sunday's game.
 
Letang was held out of the Penguins' 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday and did not practice with the team Wednesday. He also did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip that sends them to Long Island for a rematch with the Islanders on Thursday and to Buffalo on Friday.
 
The earliest Letang could play would be Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m., NBC).
 
"Kris Letang was not on the ice," coach Dan Bylsma said following practice. "(He) is still day-to-day with a lower-body injury."
 
Letang absorbed a pair of hard hits during Sunday's game. He was checked by a doctor and was cleared to return after he and Dainius Zubrus collided head-to-head during the second period, but after he returned, he fell feet-first into the endboards after being tripped by Carter 5:30 into the third period.
 
The Penguins are overly cautious about any possible head injury to Letang because he was out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with the first concussion of his career -- one that interrupted what until then was the best offensive season of his career.
 
Letang began producing again after he returned -- he had 6 goals and 6 assists in 18 games -- only to be sidelined again for five games following a collision with Stars forward Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang experienced headaches after that hit, but was not diagnosed with a concussion.
 
Letang, a point man on the power play and one of the NHL's top puck-moving defensemen, has 9 goals, 27 assists and a plus-16 rating in 47 games this season.
 
With Letang, Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy (knee) out against the Islanders, AHL call-ups Simon Despres and Brian Strait took regular shifts in Tuesday's game. Strait also earned his first NHL point by assisting on Tyler Kennedy's goal early in the second period.
 
"Brian Strait and Simon have proven that they can come in, play the right way for us and defend and limit other teams' opportunities in the time they've played," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins forward Joe Vitale, out for five games with an upper-body injury, is on the road trip, although Bylsma did not say if he would play in either game. Niskanen, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, stayed back in Pittsburgh.
 
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he is fine despite being rammed hard by teammate Paul Martin on Frans Nielsen's second goal of the game late in the second period Tuesday. Fleury sat out the third period.
 
"We're lucky we play with good helmets, compared to back in the day," Fleury said. "It's good. There's no injury, so there are no lingering effects. Just a tough game."
 
By losing to the Islanders -- a team they had beaten four straight times this season -- the Penguins fell three points behind the Rangers in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division. The Penguins have six games remaining.
 
"There have certainly been words spoken about where we're at and the situation we're in and how we're playing right now and our mindset in terms of where we're at in relation to the end of the season," Bylsma said.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:42 PM

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

Ehrhoff will 'miss some time' with knee injury

The Buffalo Sabres announced Wednesday that defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will "miss some time" with a knee injury he suffered in Tuesday night's 5-1 win against the Washington Capitals.

Coach Lindy Ruff said the news was more encouraging than he had expected.

"He’ll miss some time," said Ruff, who declined to elaborate whether it was day-to-day or week-to-week, to reporters in Buffalo. "It’ll be a period of time.

"Christian has been logging a lot of minutes and been playing well for us, but every team has to deal with it. We have to deal with it. We have to face a little bit of adversity, and we need players to step up, and I thought last night we did. Some guys played some big minutes and played well for us."

The Sabres are 19-5-5 since Ehrhoff and fellow blueliner Robyn Regehr returned from injury Jan. 24.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:34 PM

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

Jackets ink Michigan goalie Hunwick to amateur deal

Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason took a puck to the mask during practice Wednesday morning, forcing the team to sign University of Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick to an amateur tryout contract.

The 5-foot-7 Hunwick, who will back up Allen York against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, saw his collegiate career come to an end Friday when his Wolverines were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Cornell.

"We had to get somebody in tonight," Columbus GM Scott Howson told reporters. "(Hunwick) was available, but we would consider signing him for rest of year, too."

An amateur tryout contract is a one-day contract that cannot be signed by any player with professional experience and does not count against the salary cap. It's typically the deal given to players when a team loses a goaltender to injury on the day of a game.

During his final two seasons at Michigan, Hunwick went 46-21-7 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, an amazing accomplishment for a player who joined the Wolverines as a walk-on in 2007-08 and was red-shirted the following season.

Hunwick took over the starting job at the end of the 2009-10 season and reached the NCAA championship game in 2011, losing to Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in overtime.

"He's had to fight for everything he's gotten and had to overcome a lot of things," Howson said.

Hunwick, who is the younger brother of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick, is driving to Columbus from Ann Arbor, Mich., today. Wolverines teammate Lee Moffie (@ljmoffie) offered some words of encouragement via Twitter: "I wouldn't get too excited about @shawn_hunwick dressing in Columbus tonight, the chances of his '86 Ranger making it there are slim to none."

The team said Mason will be evaluated, and his health will determine if the Blue Jackets sign Hunwick or another goalie for the rest of the season.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rangers look to sweep Jets, increase lead in East

WINNIPEG -- The New York Rangers have another opportunity to put further distance between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

The Rangers (48-21-7) will meet the Winnipeg Jets after taking a 3-2 road decision against the Minnesota Wild. The win and a Pittsburgh home loss to the New York Islanders moved the Rangers three points ahead of the Penguins for the Eastern Conference lead. Both clubs have played 76 games, but the Penguins are idle tonight.

All three of the Rangers' meetings with Winnipeg this season have been wins, and the Rangers have allowed only one goal in the season series.

The Rangers did not hold a morning skate at the MTS Centre. But it is expected that Henrik Lundqvist will start again for the Rangers, with Martin Biron backing up. Lundqvist shut out the Jets when the clubs last met at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 24.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Rangers:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Brandon Prust - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Michael Del Zotto
Anton Stralman - Stu Bickel
 
Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets determined to play hard for home crowd

WINNIPEG -- The process of beginning to wind down the season begins tonight for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets (35-33-8) will host the New York Rangers at the MTS Centre in their second-to-last home date. A 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators two nights ago effectively ended the Jets' already-thin Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations. They face a four-game road trip that will begin against the Carolina Hurricanes and continue against Tampa Bay, Florida, and the New York Islanders.

"It will be a good test for us against the Rangers," Jets coach Claude Noel said of a season series in which the Jets have gone winless and have managed only one goal in the clubs' three meetings. "They don't give you very much. The games are usually very heavy. Their battle level is high."

Facing the Rangers in front of another sold-out crowd in Winnipeg should prevent any letdowns for the Jets now, Noel believes.

"Out of respect for what they have given us, how could we come up with anything less?" Noel asked. "The fans here in Winnipeg have been a big factor for us having success here and have been like an extra player, so how could we disrespect the fans by not giving all that we have got?"
   
Grant Clitsome will replace Randy Jones on the Jets' third defensive pairing and partner with Mark Stuart. Nik Antropov and Chris Thorburn remain sidelined with injuries, but they will make the upcoming road trip. Dustin Byfuglien is battling a nagging bone bruise, but he will dress against the Rangers.

Ondrej Pavelec will make his 13th consecutive start, with Chris Mason backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

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

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

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 1:00 PM

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

NHL Central Scouting prepares for final meetings

NHL Central Scouting is ready to roll in Toronto this weekend 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 Entry 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 top four candidates expected to vie for that position will be Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko, Everett's Ryan Murray and Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk, who just recently returned to the lineup after undergoing knee surgery in October.

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 12:55 PM

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

Backstrom traveling with Caps, won't play Thursday

One day after one of their tougher losses of the season, the Washington Capitals got some good news Wednesday when the team announced center Nicklas Backstrom will travel with the team when it leaves a game Thursday in Boston (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

However, Backstrom and coach Dale Hunter confirmed the top-line center will not play Thursday.

"No. Not (Thursday)," Backstrom told reporters Wednesday. "We'll see. We take it day-by-day and see how it goes."

Backstrom has been practicing with the team since March 24, and passed a neuropsychological test Tuesday, which was required before he returned to the lineup.

The next step for Backstrom is for him to continue working toward a return to game shape. He hasn't played since Jan. 3, when he was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque.

"I'm close to playing, I think," Backstrom said. "Obviously it takes a while to get back in normal shape. But we don't have too much time, either. I'm feeling good, I've been practicing good the last couple days; been pushing it a little bit, too."

Hunter said the reason he wants Backstrom on the trip is so he continue pushing with the full team.

"We just want him with the team so he can practice," said Hunter. "You see the drills that they're doing with him, all battle drills, that if he gets in, that's how he has to play. They're hard drills out there and every day he's been fine, so it's good news for him."

The Capitals suffered a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday which dropped them to ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Caps held an optional practice Wednesday, with Backstrom, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern and goalie Tomas Vokoun the only players on the ice with three assistant coaches.

Washington certainly could use Backstrom back in the lineup. In the 39 games he's missed, the Caps are 17-16-6. He was the Caps' leading scorer with 42 points in 38 games at the time he was hurt.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential