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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:30 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Preds getting good production from their blue line

DETROIT -- Coming into this Western Conference Quarterfinal series, one of the key areas between the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators was on the back end.

Both teams tout active, productive two-way defense corps led by stars in the top pairing. So far, though, it's been the Predators receiving the bigger edge from their blue line. Nashville has gotten three goals and two assists from its defense, led by captain Shea Weber's two goals, while Detroit has gotten just one goal, by Ian White, and three assists.

It hasn't just been offensively, however. Weber and Ryan Suter are logging a lot of minutes without injured veteran Hal Gill playing, and the second two pairings also have contributed big plays and points.

"We try and chip in whenever we can," said Kevin Klein, who had a goal and an assist in Game 3, and also saved a sure game-tying goal by deflecting a shot with the shaft of his stick. "Obviously [Suter and Weber] carry most of the load offensively. They create so many opportunities while playing solid defense. They're two of the best defensemen in the world and we're lucky to have them."

Not just for the obvious reasons, either.

"It's nice for the next four or five guys to just fly under the radar and do our thing and let them get all the praise," Klein said. "It's good. It keeps the pressure off the young guys, too."

Star goalie Pekka Rinne helps the Predators' defense as well, but said Monday that it's a two-way street -- especially in Nashville's defense-oriented system.

"They've been our backbone for a long, long time and they're always there for us," Rinne said of his defensemen. "They're creating offense as well as making a lot of great defensive plays and blocking shots and giving our forwards pucks at full speed for good breakouts and all that stuff. It's a really big part of our team."
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:26 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill skates with Preds, still day-to-day

DETROIT -- Hal Gill skated in a full team practice Monday, the first time the Nashville Predators defenseman has done that since sustaining a lower-body injury blocking a shot in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

The 6-foot-7, 241-pound Gill -- who was acquired in February for his postseason experience and penalty-killing ability -- skated for about 30 minutes before leaving the ice at Joe Louis Arena prior to drills that involved more contact.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Gill is feeling better, but didn't shed much light on whether Gill will play in Game 4 of the Predators' Western Conference Quarterfinals series with the Detroit red Wings on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, CBC).

"He'll be just day-to-day and we'll see where he is [Tuesday]," Trotz said. "He said he felt a lot better. I said, 'Don't push it too hard.' He was fine. He actually stayed out there for quite a while."

Gill has missed the first three playoff games, plus the last game of the regular season, with the injury. Gill didn't speak with reporters following practice, but his teammates said they were hoping to get him back in the lineup for a pivotal game in the series, which Nashville leads 2-1.

"Hopefully he's feeling pretty good and he can get back in there and play for us soon," Predators center Mike Fisher said. "We're hoping."

When Gill was on the ice he was paired with Jack Hillen, while Francis Bouillon was teamed with rookie Ryan Ellis, who filled in for Gill in Game 3 Sunday. Kevin Klein and rookie Roman Josi worked Monday as Nashville's second pairing, behind the top duo of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:25 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

DeBoer expects Devils' special teams will improve

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer isn't too concerned over the fact his team is losing the special teams battle through two games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers.
 
Still, he expects the penalty-killing and power-play units to be running full throttle on Tuesday in front of the hometown faithful for Game 3 at Prudential Center.
 
The Devils established a post-expansion NHL record with an 89.6 percent penalty-killing efficiency during the regular season, but suddenly find themselves struggling to contain the Panthers' power-play.
 
Through two games, the Panthers have gone 3-for-7 (42.9 percent), including 2-for-4 in Sunday's series-tying triumph. The Devils' power play, meanwhile, is 1-for-8 in the series, finishing 0-for-2 on Sunday while generating just a single shot with the man advantage.
 
DeBoer was asked if he is disheartened knowing the club is losing the special teams battle at this stage.
 
"I anticipate a turnaround [at home], but you have to give [Florida] some credit," DeBoer said. "They've done a good job in both those areas. I think if you look around the League, there are battles in every round across the board. We didn't expect anything less, so I don't think disheartened is the right word for it. We expected it would be tough, and this is going to be a good, long series."
 
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur knows one or two games doesn't make a series.
 
"We're not looking at playoff games, we're looking at a playoff series," he said. "Three of the next four games will be in our building, so we're in a good position and we just have to take advantage of that."
 
Brodeur feels that the veterans on the team, including Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora and Ilya Kovalchuk, must show the younger players the way.
 
"When you've been through the battles, you understand the ups and downs," Brodeur said. "I think we've accomplished what we wanted to do in Florida [with the split]. We have to build on that, especially on our third period [in Game 2], and take that momentum we had there into Tuesday's home game."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:09 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Parise creating chances, still searching for first goal

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise said he is feeling fine after taking a shot from defenseman Bryce Salvador in his team's Game 2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
 
"My back was a little sore after that one," Parise said while laughing. "But I'm fine."
 
The only thing that discouraged Parise on Sunday was the fact he couldn't find a way to put the puck in the net despite the numerous chances he created and had on Florida veteran keeper Jose Theodore.
 
Parise logged 21:49 of ice time on Sunday and generated a team-high six shots while delivering five hits.
 
"I've had some great opportunities and it's frustrating, but other than that, I like the way I've been playing," Parise told reporters on Monday. "As long as [the chances] keep coming, eventually they'll start going in."
 
Parise said that while it would have been nice to take both games in Florida, earning a split was the next best thing. The Devils and the Panthers will play Game 3 on Tuesday at Prudential Center.
 
"We'd love to be up 2-0 right now, but that's not the case," he said. "I'm not going to say it's a blown opportunity. I've had some good opportunities and they'll go in, but it is frustrating when they're not going in."
 
It doesn't surprise Devils coach Pete DeBoer that Parise would put that type of pressure on himself to contribute on the offensive end.
 
"He wants to be a difference maker, but he knows it'll come," DeBoer said. "He's been through these situations before and, for me, it's about the chances he's creating. If he wasn't creating chances, then we might worry, but he's created a handful and it's just a matter of time."
 
Parise said that the Panthers generate plenty of momentum off their power-play and that the Devils just need to remain disciplined.
 
"That's something we have to be better at," Parise said. "I think they get a lot of momentum off their power play. I feel 5-on-5, we've done a great job."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Stewart back in lineup, hears message 'loud and clear'

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock sent an unmistakable message when he pulled third-line forward Chris Stewart from the lineup Saturday night for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose.

Hitchcock sent another clear message Monday morning when he announced that Stewart would be back in the lineup for Game 3 at HP Pavilion.

"He's going to play today," Hitchcock said. "Need him. Need his 'A' game. When he's playing, he's a hard guy to play against. He can play physical. He plays a lot like Milan [Lucic] does in Boston. So we need him in. He's got good hands and can score from the inside. He's a guy that gives us a chance to get way more five-on-five scoring chances, which we're going to need on the road. We're not getting enough of those. So he's going to help us there hopefully."

When he made Stewart a healthy scratch in Game 2, Hitchcock said he needed "more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort from that position."

Stewart said that after the Blues beat San Jose 3-0 in Game 2, knotting the series at 1-1, he didn't expect the lineup to change. He welcomed the chance to redeem himself.

"The message was sent. It was received loud and clear," Stewart said. "I'm going to go out there and I'm going to work my [tail] off. You see the last game. Those are the games you dream about. End of the game you win and there's line brawls and stuff like that. That's stuff you want to be a part of. I'm obviously disappointed I didn't get to experience that, but that's the good thing about this game, you get a chance right now tonight to redeem yourself. It's, 'What have you done for me lately?' I'm going to go out there and show 'em."

Hitchcock said he hadn't decided which forward Stewart would replace, but during line rushes in the morning skate, Matt D'Agostini appeared to be the odd man out. Stewart skated with center Jason Arnott and wing Vladimir Sobotka. Fourth-line center Scott Nichol skated with Jamie Langenbrunner and B.J. Crombeen.

Hitchcock was asked how much Stewart could elevate his game, just two days after being scratched.

"A lot," Hitchcock answered. "I think we'll get a good player tonight."

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:01 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Devils aiming for return to home playoff success

NEWARK, N.J. -- Now that the Florida Panthers have earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff victory in more than a decade, the New Jersey Devils believe it's time to hold serve and notch their first home postseason triumph in two years.
 
The Devils will host the Panthers on Tuesday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series here at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN). Florida evened the series Sunday with a 4-2 victory at BankAtlantic Center. It was the team's first playoff win since beating the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals April 17, 1997.
 
"We're all looking forward to playing at home," Devils captain Zach Parise said via a conference call Monday. "Playing in front of our fans … we know it'll be a great atmosphere. To be honest, though, none of us really minded starting on the road and we got a split. Now we will have the excitement of playing in our building."
 
The Devils on Tuesday will be looking for their first postseason victory at Prudential Center since April 16, 2010, when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals.
 
"All the good teams play well on home ice," forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. "They use their home-ice advantage. If you want to be considered one of the elite teams in the NHL, you have to play better on home ice. In the playoffs, it's important to play better on home ice, that's for sure."
 
The Devils did not practice Monday after flying north from Florida in the morning. Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday that rest is invaluable for his team, which has the oldest average age in the NHL at 30.3 years.
 
DeBoer, who said there will be no lineup changes for Tuesday, was asked how he might be able to bottle that energy the team exhibited in the final period of Game 2 for a full 60 minutes.
 
"That's the waves of momentum that you ride in the playoffs … you see it everywhere," DeBoer said. "I don't know why. When we had the 3-0 lead in Game 1, we couldn't come back with another period like that and I'm sure [Florida coach] Kevin Dineen would say the same thing about their third period on Sunday but that's playoff hockey.
 
"Overall, I like our game, I like where we're at. We made mistakes on Sunday and they made us pay, but we feel confident moving forward."
 
Here is the Devils' projected lineup for Game 3:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 3:52 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bruins find offense stymied by Holtby, Capitals

WASHINGTON -- The NHL's second-highest scoring team during the regular season is finding out that scoring against the Washington Capitals is not as easy as it used to be.

As the Capitals and Boston Bruins prepare for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC), the Caps are a confident bunch embracing coach Dale Hunter's system.

The Bruins are searching for ways not only to beat goalie Braden Holtby, but also to get pucks past any Washington players throwing their bodies in front of oncoming rubber.

Holtby has turned aside 72 of 74 shots for a .973 save percentage, while his teammates have combined to block 49 others.

"Every team in the playoffs comes out of their comfort zone and they know what they have to do extra," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It's not surprising. It's just that the commitment is there and they've got a good commitment as far as [shot blocking] is concerned right now. [The] New York [Rangers are] probably the team that we can identify as the team blocking the most shots [in the regular season], but now everyone is jumping on board with that."

Washington's commitment to defense has the Bruins on the verge of their lowest three-game offensive output of the year. Only once during the regular season did the Bruins score fewer than five goals combined in any three-game stretch (Boston was held to four goals in three games from Dec. 5-8).

Through two games against the Capitals, the Bruins have been held to just two goals. None of Boston's top-six forwards have found the back of the net.

"They definitely surprised us," said Boston's No. 1 center, David Krejci. "We all know that they're a great team offensively, but they showed us in the last two games that they can also play really good hockey defensively. So we were looking at those last two games, working on a few things, and we hope that it works tonight."
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 3:16 PM

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

Hartnell got a kick out of seeing Timonen mix it up

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Scott Hartnell added some humor Monday into what really is a nasty series between two of the fiercest in-state rivals.

Hartnell drew more than a few laughs from the large media contingent when he talked about Kimmo Timonen fighting Kris Letang in the first period. Hartnell has been with Timonen since their days together in Nashville, and they both came to the Flyers before the 2007-08 season in the same trade for Peter Forsberg.

"In 12 years I haven't seen that guy with his heartbeat over 140, and the guy is over there scrapping with a tough guy like Letang," Hartnell said. "It's great to see."

He was asked about his orange and black necklace, which got yanked off by either Craig Adams or Sidney Crosby late in the third period.

"It's a Phiten bracelet that pitchers use in baseball," said Hartnell, who was wearing it Monday. "I don't know much about it, but it makes me feel good. I've been wearing it for half the year now. Obviously I didn't know it came off there, but when you're attacked from behind like that by a scrappy animal, something is going to go."

As for his hair getting pulled in that same sequence, Hartnell said, "I don't know what the rule is in the NHL rulebook about hair pulling, but maybe you should look into that. Letang has some nice hair over there on the other team and I'm sure he wouldn't like it if someone pulled his hair either. I'm definitely going to have to call Shanny about that."

He also offered a slight dig at Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has allowed 17 goals on 84 shots in the series.

"Obviously eight goals a night is usually going to get you a win," Hartnell said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl



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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 3:08 PM

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

Crosby comments met by smiles, silence from Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Sidney Crosby made a point of saying after the game Sunday that he does not like anybody on the Flyers. A smiling Claude Giroux responded in kind Monday.

"I guess we've got to be doing something right if he hates us, right?" Giroux said.

Giroux was also asked if the feeling is mutual from the Flyers to the Penguins.

"Well, with the first three games it's gotta be hard to like them," he said. "Obviously we're not big fans of them and that's why this series is so entertaining for the fans."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette predictably did not take the bait when he was asked for his thoughts on Crosby's comments.

"We're just trying to focus on the next game," he said. "I haven't thought much about it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 1:48 PM

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

Melrose: It's been a wild first week of the playoffs

It's only been five days since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs began and already we've seen an unbelievable amount of great hockey. All of the series have had their own drama -- seven of the first 15 games went into overtime -- and Sunday we saw an action-packed quadruple-header in which two games were decided by one goal, a third nearly featured a three-goal comeback, and a fourth featured enough drama to keep us talking for days.

And on top of it all, the Los Angeles Kings might be on the brink of one of the biggest upsets we've seen in years. Here is what has been on my mind so far during the first round of the playoffs.

The Intensity -- This is the craziest, meanest, toughest, most intense first round I can remember in a long, long time. The hitting, the fighting -- we used to go through whole postseasons and not see two guys drop the gloves, and it just shows how amped up the intensity level is. Even more amazing is that the parity level has caused these series to be mostly completely even, and the ones that aren't, aren't the ones you expected. Right know we've got an eighth seed in the West in Los Angeles that's a game away from sweeping the Presidents' Trophy winners, and in the East we've got an eighth seed in Ottawa that managed a split at the home of the best team in the conference all season. I'm just marveling at how hard the guys are playing, how tough the games are, how physical the games are and how tight each game has been. The product on the ice is just superb.

I've been very impressed with the physical play of San Jose. Two games in a row the Sharks have gone toe to toe with St. Louis and St. Louis is a very tough team physically. Nashville and Detroit have played an intense series just like we thought with two teams that are basically even. I can't believe that one won't go seven games. Los Angeles and Vancouver has been a dirty, nasty series, Ottawa against New York has been a nasty series, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have played a nasty series and Boston and Washington have been toughing it out, too. After watching Game 1, I didn't know if Alex Ovechkin would be able to play four games with the way he's been hit by the Bruins. The intensity level all around has really amazed me.

Home Sweet Huh? -- Need an indication of how hard the teams are playing? Only two teams managed to sweep the first two games of their series, and each one did it on the road. Every other series has closed out the first two games with a split, and it just goes to show how level our playing field is and how little home ice means because of it. Anybody in the NHL can win in anybody else's building. Home ice, when the buildings used to be different, meant a lot. When Boston was a small rink or Buffalo was a small rink or Chicago was a small rink -- when the ice surfaces were different, home ice meant something. Now that all the rinks are the same and they all look the same and they all seat roughly the same amount of people, home ice isn't a big thing and our athletes don't really care where they play. They're going to play as hard on the road as they do at home. Hockey's always been that way. So now home ice is not a big advantage and what we're seeing is the difference between No. 1 and No. 16 in the NHL is not that great. If the NHL ever winds up changing the playoff format to a 16-team seeded tournament, it's not inconceivable that a No. 16 could beat a No. 1. Look no further than Vancouver and Los Angeles for proof.

Holtby humming along -- I think the greatest story so far has been Washington goalie Braden Holtby. We're talking about a No. 7-seed that's 1-1 against the second-seeded defending Stanley Cup champions with their third goaltender starting and he's given up just one goal in regulation through two games. This kid has been unbelievable. If you look at Game 1, he was basically on his own. Washington was totally outplayed by the Bruins in that game. In Game 2, Washington played better, but Holtby still had to be great and he was. He's been the best story so far, and with the possible exception of L.A.'s Jonathan Quick, he's been the best goalie in the entire field.

The Blues' two-headed monster -- There might be some concern in St. Louis with Jaroslav Halak being out for Game 3, but we've all seen what Brian Elliott did splitting the job with him in the regular season and I think he'll be just fine in the playoffs. He came in Saturday and looked great, and his numbers are just as good as Halak's this season. He may not have Halak's history, but you don't win a Cup with history. Elliott has been every bit as good and I expect him to continue to be Monday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN). Typically having two No. 1 goaltenders doesn't work. As the saying goes, when you have two No. 1 goalies you really have none, but I think this could be an exception to the rule. This season, St. Louis might be a new case of Johnny Bower getting hurt and Terry Sawchuk coming in.

Which Blackhawks team is it? -- We all know what Chicago has done, tying each of the first two games of its series with Phoenix in the final 20 seconds of regulation. Those are some impressive late-game heroics, but the problem for me is I don't know if I love their character because they've played so hard and so smart in the last minute, or if I hate their character because they didn't for the first 59 minutes. In most of the third periods there hasn't been a lot of urgency from Chicago. What is also odd is compared to the other series being played, this one has been a walk in the park. With the exception of Andrew Shaw's collision with Mike Smith, there's been no hitting, no stuff after the whistles, no fighting. The hardest hit has been on a goalie. It's almost like these two teams don't even hate each other. It's been a strange series and I haven't liked how the Blackhawks have played for most of it, but they're 1-1 going back to Chicago, and at this point, I don't really think the Coyotes can play any better than they have.

Is it the New Jersey of old? Or just old New Jersey? -- I think New Jersey and Florida are pretty evenly matched, but I thought the Devils were going to score 10 goals in the first period of Game 1 with how they were playing. They looked unbelievable and Florida looked like it didn't deserve to be there. The Panthers had some early jitters and you can't have that in the playoffs. Patrik Elias' first-period goal went in so easy, and he toasted everyone so badly, that everyone on the Florida bench must have looked at each other and said, "Wow, this isn't what I signed up for." Most guys would have fired that puck right away, and it might have gone under the bar, but Elias had the patience to wait, wait, wait some more and then throw it in when Jose Theodore blinked. Martin Brodeur also looked like his old self, assisting on one goal by throwing the puck up to the blue line for a breakaway. It was deja vu for Devils fans, like everyone went back in time 10 years. After that, though, the Panthers made the first game close and came out strong in Game 2 Sunday to even the series. I'd like to get a copy of Kevin Dineen's speech after the first period of Game 1, because it must have been a beauty. It will be interesting to see which teams show up Tuesday in New Jersey (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).

The Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series has been crazy
-- But you all knew that already didn't you? If you had told me Pittsburgh would score as many goals in this series as they have or that Ilya Bryzgalov would have given up as many as he had and Philadelphia would be up 3-0, I'd have said you were crazy. This series is totally bonkers and it's a mystery as to what's happened to the Penguins. They can't check, they can't hold a lead, their power play looks lost, Evgeni Malkin has been nonexistent -- it's just nuts. This whole series is crazy. Even with the series at 3-0, this has still been the most entertaining series, and the best series, but it has been totally bonkers.
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