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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:44 PM

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

Game against Senators represents last stand for Jets

WINNIPEG -- The end is not yet here for the Winnipeg Jets, but it certainly looms near.

A 1-2-0 road trip last week through Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville dented the Jets' Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations severely. A loss tonight against the Ottawa Senators at the MTS Centre would spell near-certain doom for the Jets (35-32-8), who have seven games left in the regular season entering tonight's game. Sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the Jets trail the eighth-place Washington Capitals by six points.

"For us, you can say all the clichés, but we have to win the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "That's clear for us."

The Jets' fourth line featuring recent AHL recalls Spencer Machacek and Ben Maxwell, plus Tim Stapleton, carried them on the road trip. Stapleton holds a three-game goal streak, Machacek has 1 goal and 6 points in four games since his recall, and Maxwell has 1 goal and 4 points in his past three games. However, captain Andrew Ladd, leading goal-scorer Evander Kane, and Blake Wheeler all failed to produce a goal during the road swing, and Noel expects to his use his fourth line more.

"They've been really good, given minimal minutes," Noel said of his fourth line. "I don't know if they continue at that rate, but there is no reason why I can't play them more in games, especially if things don't go the same with other lines, because you can't be a one-line team.

"You've got to give [the fourth line] full marks," Noel said. "My hat goes off to those guys."

Nik Antropov and Chris Thorburn remain sidelined with injuries.

Ondrej Pavelec will make his 12th consecutive start for the Jets.

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
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:36 PM

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

Lecavalier's 'best day' puts him closer to returning

PHILADELPHIA -- Vincent Lecavalier skated with his teammates Monday morning, but said he won't be playing when his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates take the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2).

Lecavalier hasn't played since Feb. 18 when he broke his right hand during a game against the Washington Capitals.

"It was definitely my best day today, by far," Lecavalier said after this morning's practice. "I felt really good. Obviously I'm not going to play tonight (but) it's progressing really well."

Lecavalier said the power is returning to his shots, and that he hopes to get into a game at some point during the team's three-game road trip; after tonight's game in Philadelphia, they'll play in Boston and New Jersey.

"That's why I'm here," he said. "I want to play, (but) we'll see. It all depends on how it reacts. Today was probably the best day, but see how it feels tomorrow."

Lecavalier said he's anxious to jump back in the lineup.

"It's not really fun," he said of rehabilitating. "The first four weeks I was skating alone, no pucks. It wasn't a lot of fun. It'll be nice to get back to your teammates. Today just practicing with my teammates was a lot of fun."

With all the injuries the Lightning have suffered this season, coach Guy Boucher said he's happy to know that any of his veteran forwards are close to returning.

"It'll mean a lot for us," Boucher said. "Half the team is from the American league. Any guys we can get back makes a big, big difference. Our guys from the American league have done everything they could for us to stay in games and battle, and we have. Guys are playing real well. But like I've said before, we can't expect or put pressure on guys coming up and replacing Vinny. Power play, 5-on-5, and same thing with (Nate) Thompson, they're such important players for our team. (Adam) Hall's not there, (Ryan) Shannon's not there. More than half our forwards are guys that didn't start the year with us. It's important those guys understand we're asking them to do things they can do and when Vinny's back, we'll ask Vinny to do things he can do."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:32 PM

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

Mason gets immediate opportunity to redeem himself

DETROIT -- Despite getting pulled after a five-goal second period on Sunday in a 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason will start on Monday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

"He's our No. 1 goalie right now, so he's playing," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said after Monday's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "It was a 3 o'clock game (Sunday). Took him out for the third period thinking that we'll get him a little bit more rest and get him ready for (Monday night)."

Richards said he hadn't had a discussion with Mason after the outing and hopes the goalie will be able to erase it and look ahead to the Red Wings -- who've struggled with injuries, but stormed back from a 4-1 deficit to beat Carolina 5-4 on Saturday night at the "Joe."

"I didn't have a conversation (with Mason)," Richards said. "There may be different times when I'll have conversations with either him or another player in regards to whether it was a tough outing or my decision ... a decision I made maybe, but I didn't talk to him last night and I didn't talk to him today, but I did let him know that he was going to play."

Despite Detroit's multitude of injured regulars, the Wings still have enough left to be dangerous to face, according to Richards. Like they did on Saturday night to the Hurricanes, the Red Wings are capable of putting up goals in bunches -- which is nothing new to the Blue Jackets when facing Detroit.

"That's what good teams can do," Richards said. "This team knows how to win. They have a skill set up front and they can burn you if you aren't ready to play. It's blood in the water. I've felt it in this building before and I've seen it before, whether we're playing at home or on the road. So, it's going to be how we manage it."

Along those lines, how will the Jackets finish out the last seven games of an otherwise dreadful season?

"The goals are the same,'" Richards said. "I think we all knew that's where we were going to be. We had all accepted that and again, our focus was going to be on how we played the last 19 games. We've have some good games. We've had some disappointing games. We've had some games where we've played well for the majority of the game, but we lost our game and it ended up costing us games."

Richards said he believed the Jackets are still in it to win games, but admitted it gets tougher for players to stay motivated over the last few games of a disappointing season. Still, Monday night's game is against a team trying to clinch its 21st straight post-season appearance in a row with a victory.

"I don't think there should be a lot of motivation from me getting ready for this game and even the next game at home, playing these guys back to back for six periods," Richards said. "These guys can embarrass you quick. They're trying to elevate their game. They're gearing up for the playoffs. They're using this game and the next game to get ready for the big games for them coming up."
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:24 PM

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

Roloson back in net for Lightning

PHILADELPHIA -- With Dwayne Roloson winning the last two games, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has elected to stick with the hot hand and start the veteran in net Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).

Roloson has made 34 saves in back-to-back wins; it's the first time he's won consecutive games since a three-game streak Nov. 4-9.

In 34 games, this season, the 42-year-old goalie is 10-14-2, with a 3.67 goals-against average and .884 save percentage.

"It's been a tough year for him," said Boucher. "We're all feeling for him the entire year. He's had some tough moments and we wanted to help him, he wanted to help himself. He's done everything he could, it just was tough. Lately he's been very calm in the net and he's played well the last two games. I want to give him the net. During the year there were lots of times I wanted to give him the net but it was tougher than we expected. Now if we can give him those games back, I'm happy for him."

We had the Flyers lineup here earlier
. Here's the rest of the lineup the Lightning potentially will use tonight:

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Brandon Segal

Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brian Lee - Brett Clark
Mike Commodore - Brendan Mikkelson
Keith Aulie

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:14 PM

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

Amidst injuries, kids showing they're alright in Detroit

DETROIT -- If there is a silver lining to the multitude of injuries the Detroit Red Wings have been saddled with this season, it's that several young players have gotten a chance to show what they can do in the NHL.

Cory Emmerton has basically taken on the fourth-line center's role, Jan Mursak is finally back up to speed after a broken leg in training camp set him back, and defenseman Brendan Smith and forward Gustav Nyquist both made their presence felt.

Smith was sent back to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League on Saturday night, after Nicklas Lidstrom returned, while Nyquist is still with the Wings likely until Johan Franzen returns. Both left impressions on their teammates and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

"I thought (Smith) was really good," Babcock said. "We just sent him down because we need to play the players that are here, but we also need to play him. I thought he played great for us. Smitty did a real good job. He's just got to continue to grow with his maturity, his decisions with and without the puck, but I think he's an NHL player for sure.''

And the 22-year old Nyquist?

"As far as Gus, I just noticed he's got 5 points in (his last) six games, so by accident he gets points," Babcock said. "It's a good opportunity. He's a real smart player. He's good without the puck. He's got a lot to learn, but it looks like he's a legitimate NHL player.''

Nyquist, who's playing left wing on the second line with center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Todd Bertuzzi, doesn't have any goals yet -- but Swedish star center Henrik Zetterberg isn't worried.

"He has everything," said Zetterberg, whose own line with Valterri Filppula and Jiri Hudler is scorching hot right now. "He's fast. He's good with the puck and he sees the ice very well. He's just got to commit to the shot a little bit more, but that's ... everyone who comes over here from Sweden, that's a tough thing to do. But he will learn soon."

Lidstrom had some high praise for Smith, as well.

"He's a very good skater," Lidstrom said. "He brings the puck up the ice real well and he's really good at reading plays, when to get up in the play. I think it's just a matter of getting used to playing up here at this level of hockey and the tempo and keeping it simple. He did that, too. When he was in trouble, he got rid of the puck or got the puck out of our own zone -- which is something you want to do. He adjusted real well to that."
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Key Wings getting closer, not ready to return yet

DETROIT -- They're getting closer, but several key contributors to the Detroit Red Wings aren't quite there yet in their recovery from various injuries.

The Red Wings will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m.) without starting goalie Jimmy Howard (groin), forward Johan Franzen (back) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) -- who all still hope to return to the lineup sometime this week.

Howard took shots again in Detroit's morning skate, while Ericsson and Franzen participated fully in the session.

"We'd like to get healthy, like to get playing going into the playoffs," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who sported a red McGill University cap to celebrate his alma mater's Canadian university hockey national championship won on Sunday night. "I thought our club played well the other night (against Carolina). You want to be confident going into the playoffs. In order to do that you need wins.''

You also need as many top players in the lineup as possible. On that front, Babcock can at least pencil in legendary defenseman and Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom to his top pairing for a second straight game. Lidstrom is back after missing a career-high 11 straight games with a deep bruise in his ankle.

He returned to the ice for the first time in Saturday night's stirring 5-4 comeback win against the Hurricanes and went through the morning skate on Monday. While he's still not 100 percent, the good news is the ankle didn't regress in the two days since playing last.

"It felt good (Sunday), no real setbacks or any more soreness than I anticipated," said Lidstrom, who'd been having some trouble turning on the ice a little more than a week ago. "(My mobility) is a lot better. Before I had more of a sharp pain, which I don't have anymore. It's going to be sore for some time, but it is a lot better."

Babcock was just happy to see No. 5 back in the active lineup, regardless of the 41-year old star's limitations.

“He was a long way from being what he's capable of being the other night," Babcock said. "I don't know if it's so much what he did in the game as what he just brings with his presence and who he is and his calmness. We really moved the puck well, spent a lot of time in the offensive zone the other night. Anytime you have quality D, that allows that to happen."

Detroit is also missing speedy center Darren Helm (knee sprain) for at least a couple more weeks and probably won't get forward Patrick Eaves (concussion symptoms) back this season. As for the three Wings who are getting closer to returning, Howard is targeting Friday, Franzen hopes to get a couple of full practices in and go Wednesday or Friday, and Ericsson hopes to be cleared by Wednesday's game in Columbus.

"It feels better and better every day," said Ericsson, a big defenseman who's missed 12 straight games since his wrist was fractured by a shot. "Everything's going forward.''

Babcock sounded like he wanted to play Ericsson on Monday night, but won't have him as an option despite the big Swedish blueliner's slap shot rounding back into form.

“I know. I hear him every day," Ericsson said of Babcock. "It's getting really close. I think we want to be more careful now, so it doesn't get worse before the playoffs. Try to be smart about it. Shooting is fine. It's more battling stuff. I haven't really tried pushing people around in the corners. It's going to be a test. I'm going to have someone like maybe [Franzen] to push around the corner."

Howard's issue is strengthening the groin muscle that's giving him an issue.

"Right now it's more about getting healthy, getting out there and not thinking about groins, and just playing," said Howard, who will miss his third straight game on Monday because of the issue -- which also cost him three games earlier in March. "We're taking a little bit different route this time around, trying to strengthen it a little more."

Howard said the injury isn't about his flexibility, though.

"It wasn't really stretching it or anything like that sort of motion that was bothering me," he said. "It was more getting tired and feeling weak, so strengthening it is the key now.''

As for Franzen, his back spasms have subsided and conditioning is the biggest hurdle left before he gets back in a live game.

"Now it's more about getting back in shape and getting skating," said Franzen, Detroit's leading goal scorer who's skated for five straight days. "You lose more than you think being out for a week. You're off one week and it goes straight downhill.''

Franzen said a magnetic reasonance imaging test was run on his back and got relatively good news.

“We did an MRI ... looking good," the 32-year old Swedish power forward said. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Just looked like an old hockey player's back. Nothing extreme.''

An old hockey player's back?

“Yeah," Franzen said. "A 32-year-old hockey player's back."

Steve Mason will start in goal for Columbus, which lost 6-3 to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday afternoon. Here's a look at how the Blue Jackets and Red Wings might line up on Monday night:

RJ Umberger - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Vinny Prospal - Mark Letestu - Rick Nash
Ryan Russell - Ryan Johansen - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Darryl Boyce - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard
John Moore - Brett Lebda
Nikita Nikitin - Aaron Johnson

Steve Mason
Allen York

Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Danny Cleary
Tomas Holmstrom - Cory Emmerton - Jan Mursak

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Jakub Kindl

Ty Conklin
Jordan Pearce
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Sarich remains out for back end of home-and-home

CALGARY -- In a game that will rival playoff intensity, the Calgary Flames will be missing one of their most battle-tested blueliners.
The Flames will not have veteran defenseman Cory Sarich in the lineup for the game. He has missed the last two games after suffering an upper-body injury in a big collision with David Jones of the Colorado Avalanche.
"He's not available for us tonight," coach Brent Sutter confirmed after Calgary's morning skate.
Tim Jackman on the other hand, is.
Jackman, a healthy scratch for Calgary's Saturday afternoon tilt against the Stars, is ready to go in what is certain to be a playoff atmosphere with the Flames clinging to their playoff hopes.

"I'm not 100 percent sure yet," Jackman said. "We'll wait and see."
The rugged winger is hoping to be a part of the festivities after missing the first half of the home-and-home series.
"Obviously I wanted to be in there in that game," Jackman said. "You can tell it was going to be an intense game. Tonight will be the same way."
The Flames do expect Olli Jokinen to be in the lineup tonight. Jokinen was noticeably absent from the team's morning skate.
"It's a maintenance morning for him," Sutter said. "We just wanted him to be ready for tonight."
Jokinen is second on the Flames in scoring with 58 points, but has been held scoreless in his last seven games.
Here is the projected lineup for the Flames:

Alex Tanguay - Michael Cammalleri - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Blake Comeau - Matt Stajan - Lee Stempniak
Tim Jackman - Blair Jones - Tom Kostopoulos
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Clay Wilson - Anton Babchuk
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Steve Webb and Pat LaFontaine -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Making of a Royal

Discussing Ward's perseverance and determination

In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the perseverance and determination of center Matthew Ward (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) of East Islip, N.Y. Despite the fact he has missed most of the season due to injury or illness, Ward continues to exhibit tremendous support and leadership. When he is on the ice, he remains one of the team's most talented players.

Pat LaFontaine

Matty plays center and right wing and he was our leading scorer last year. He's very talented and has tremendous speed -- he's got three or four gears. He's faced a lot of adversity this year.

While we try to accentuate the positive, sometimes you get thrown curveballs and through all of this, players have had to deal with the ups and the downs. It has been tough on Matt because it seems like he's had one thing after the other.

He started out by having some strange groin issues over a period of a time and then we found out he needed a double hernia operation. So he was working himself back and was finally getting some strength back and went through physical therapy. But during our tournament in Chicago, he was hit along the boards and suffered a bruised kidney in November; so after finally coming back from a double hernia operation, he gets hit and is now out six weeks. And you have to be very careful with a bruised kidney -- you can't take part in much contact. Then, after he finally started coming back from that, he developed some tendinitis in his knee and once that sets in, it's another process of getting that inflammation out. The tendon area takes a while to settle down and heal. He's probably played in about 20 percent of our games this year and, at times, it's no fun. It can be very frustrating.

I know what that is like; going through major knee construction, tendinitis and shoulder injuries. It comes with the territory. Not only does the body have to heal, but the mind and confidence and everything else, because it is a setback.

But through it all, Matt's father has been amazing. Matt's had to keep a good attitude but that's hard. Each game you want to be out there and he faced a lot of adversity. I'm so excited for him to get back into the lineup recently. He's currently dealing with slight whiplash, but we need his speed in the upcoming tournament.

When Matty is in the lineup, we'll go four lines, short shifts. He has a set line that he plays with. He's had to battle with not being out there and being frustrated, but around the players and guys, he's been great. Matty has been part of our success, and whether you're a pro, amateur or playing youth hockey, your team should always make you feel like you are a part of it. I remember going through my injuries … it sure is a good feeling when your team reaches out to you and makes you feel a part of it because they wish you were out there. A lot of it is dealing with that -- not having that sport you love to play so there's a mental aspect and a physical aspect.

Steve Webb

Matt is a very unique athlete. He's missed time due to injuries and it's been a really trying year for a 16-year-old, especially when all the hype is around the team. This is a big year for him and then all this stuff happens -- that's a tough time for any athlete to handle. How do you keep your focus? How do you keep your dreams in front of you when you feel as though you're stale and stagnant due to some unfortunate circumstances?

But here's the best part about Matty Ward -- he's playing games right now and is still one of the more dominant skaters on the ice. Even though he's missed all this time, he's an extraordinarily talented player. Even though he hasn't been at every practice, he has pure natural ability and remains a dominant factor. He's still on the radar and that's unbelievable for a guy who's missed as much time as he has. He's going to be a player who demonstrates his flair down the road. When people see him, they add him to the list right away.

His hands and skating ability are unreal. Even on a bad leg, he's still one of the fastest skaters on the ice, which is scary to think what he'll be like when healthy. He still has a lot of years to develop and heal and be prepared. He's willing to do anything he can to help team out. He's always a factor on the penalty-kill and will get you a shorthanded goal. He's fun to watch.
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:36 PM

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

Briere hoping new line provides past results

PHILADELPHIA -- With a pair of goals Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, Danny Briere shook a giant monkey off his back. The goals were the first he had scored against a goalie in 29 games (he had an empty-net goal March 13 against New Jersey).

"I think anybody that goes through this kind of stretch at some point, any offensive player, at some point you can definitely feel that (pressure to score)," Briere told NHL.com. "It definitely feels like it's starting to come back. … The last three weeks I really felt like my game was better. I was there for a lot of chances, it just wasn't going in."

Part of his success can be attributed to a line change that has seen him center rookie Brayden Schenn on the left and Wayne Simmonds on the right. 

"I think I'm probably in a better place with my game to start with," said Briere. "Brayden, too, with a little bit more experience than earlier in the year. I've had the chance to play with many guys on the team, so that can change in a hurry, too. I'm ready for anything that happens."

This new line for Briere is similar to the one formed during the 2010 postseason, when Briere was placed between Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, and that trio carried the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We were like the three leftovers that were going nowhere at that time," Briere said. "All of a sudden things just started clicking. Hopefully that happens again."

Coach Peter Laviolette said he sees a few similarities, but isn't ready to predict the same kind of future.

"I think a little bit," he told NHL.com. "(Simmonds and Hartnell), they both do the same thing, they're big and strong and go to the hard areas. I think Brayden and Ville, maybe two entities that we're not sure of -- we never had Ville, we never had Brayden, he's been hurt a lot and he's trying to find a line, find where he fits in. We moved him over to left wing and with Danny, so we're hoping. … Certainly they've had a couple good games."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Flyers riding hot hand as Bryzgalov starts again

PHILADELPHIA -- Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in the net for the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), making it his 19th start in the last 20 games.

And with the way he's played in March -- 10-1-1, 1.22 goals-against average, .956 save percentage, four shutouts -- there's no reason not to keep riding the sizzling-hot hand.

"He's played extremely well this month," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a big reason why we've been able to push up the standings. Our team needs that. … Teams at the top of the conference are usually led by their goaltender and he's been excellent this month."

Here's the rest of the lineup the Flyers likely will put on the ice Monday:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Zac Rinaldo - Eric Wellwood - Matt Read

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Matt Carle - Kimmo Timonen
Pavel Kubina - Erik Gustafsson

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Defenseman Andreas Lilja is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but was a full participant in the morning skate and could replace Gustafsson in the lineup.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers