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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 10:28 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 22nd

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
8th 73 80 9 89 5

9th 74 80 8 88 5
10th 73 76 9 84 7
11th 74 75 8 81 8
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 84 9 93 5

9th 74 84 8 92 5
10th 73 82 9 91 6
11th 74 82 8 89 6
The skinny: What a Thursday night in the NHL as the drama-filled race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues.

Washington takes center stage as it finishes a long road trip with a visit to Philadelphia. The Capitals are trying to hold off the fast-charging Sabres, who won again Wednesday night to enter a dead-heat with the Caps at 80 points, while the Winnipeg Jets await in Washington D.C. for a Friday night date with the Caps. Buffalo, however, has played one more game than both the Capitals and the Jets, who have 76 points.

With back-to-back wins against Philadelphia and the Jets, Washington could go a long way toward solidifying a spot in the postseason, not to mention the fact that taking four points would certainly keep the pressure on Florida for first in the Southeast Division. A Washington win against Philadelphia moves the Caps six points up on the Jets and sets up a potential knockout blow for the Jets on Friday. A loss to the Flyers, though, would give a boost to the playoff hopes of the Jets, who could close the gap to two points with a win against Washington Friday night.

Winnipeg fans, not to mention the team, will be cheering hard for the Flyers.

Turning attention to the wild, wild West, the schedule Thursday has five games with significant playoff implications.

First in the Pacific, Dallas can keep its hold on first in the division with a win against Vancouver, but could fall out of the playoff picture entirely with a loss.

The Stars have 85 points, but could be passed by both Phoenix and Los Angeles, division rivals, with wins in their respective games Thursday night. Phoenix, currently No. 9 Because of tiebreakers, plays No. 7 Colorado, which has 85 points.  Los Angeles, which has 84 points and a game in hand on Phoenix, plays St. Louis, which sits atop the League standings.

Colorado has played more games than all the other Western contenders, so a win against the Coyotes keeps them on pace for the playoffs and leaves them controlling their own destiny. A loss, however, has Colorado moving into that dreaded territory of relying upon the vagaries of hope and luck.

Calgary, which has gone gone 0-1-2 in its past three games, faces the Wild on Thursday night needing to make up three points and climb above three teams to find the safety zone. That process has to begin with a win Thursday night against a Wild time out of the playoff equation. That is unless the Flames want to face the almost impossible task of winning six of their seven remaining games to reach 94 points, which appears will be the demarcation line when the season ends.

While the Blues pose a significant challenge to the Kings, Los Angeles is playing extremely well and is on a five-game winning streak, picking a perfect time to get hot.

Up the coast in San Jose, the Sharks have been hot and cold and can't afford to get into an extended cold streak or they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. It's best now that they help themselves and that starts by not losing Thursday night against a Boston team showing signs of once again finding its way. A loss puts San Jose in a position where it would have to 12 of 16 points to get to 94 points.

There will be a sense of satisfaction for the teams in the West that win the games Thursday, but they won't be able to relax for long. That's why I love the schedule and the drama of the season's final few weeks.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 8:27 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

FLA @ CAR - 10:24 of the Second Period

At 10:24 of the second period in the Panthers/Hurricanes game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Brandon Sutter's shot never crossed the Florida goal line. No goal Carolina.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 7:04 PM

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

Hawks, Toews taking 'wait-and-see' approach

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews went through a second straight day of on-ice work at the United Center on Wednesday morning, but the waiting game for the Chicago Blackhawks captain's return from suspected concussion symptoms is still status quo.

It's still a "wait-and-see" process the Hawks are going through with Toews, who will miss his 15th straight game on Wednesday night when Chicago hosts the rival Vancouver Canucks. The good news is that Toews is back on skates after needing a few days off following four-straight days doing on-ice work.

"Kind of the same," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, when asked to assess Toews' current health status. "Your body tells you what it's able to do. That's all part of the process. Hopefully you get consecutive days and you just keep on pressing – get a little more every day – that's kind of where we're at."

Toews has not been cleared for contact, which is logically the next -- and maybe final -- step that he'll need to take before being cleared to return for game action. Following the game against the Canucks, the Hawks will have just seven games left in the regular season.

Toews' situation is comparable to one that kept center Dave Bolland off the ice a year ago at this time of year. Bolland didn't return until the fourth game of a first-round playoff series against Vancouver that wound up going seven games with the Hawks losing the deciding game in overtime.

"You look at Bolly last year, he got back and was playing Game 4 against Vancouver," Quenneville said. "He was up to speed pretty quick. There's a process when you know you're ready, you're ready. I don't know how long it takes before you’re ready for contact, ready for pace, ready for making a contribution – it's tough to say when and tough to say how long it's going to take."

Quenneville was also asked whether he thought Toews might have pushed himself too hard the first time he returned to the ice with the injury, which spanned four days in a row of hard skating. Toews spoke to reporters after the workouts and even said he was hoping to play in a March 13 home game against the St. Louis Blues.

He needed to halt his on-ice and then off-ice workouts for about 10 days not long after stating that as a potential return date.

"I just think that every day you're trying different things," Quenneville said. "You push your body in different ways, testing it and see what you’re able to handle – on or off the ice."

Chicago defenseman Steve Montador, who will miss his 21st game in a row with what's believed to be a similar injury to Toews, also skated on Wednesday morning and continues to show signs of progress according to Quenneville.

The Hawks got other positive news on the injury front, as well, as defenseman Nick Leddy will play against the Canucks despite not finishing Tuesday night's 5-1 win at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Leddy was illegally checked from behind early in the third period by Darryl Boyce, who was assessed a boarding minor, and only played one more shift before sitting out the rest of the game.

Quenneville also said that Corey Crawford will start against the Canucks, which will be his fourth straight start and fifth straight appearance. He's won four games in a row and has allowed just four goals in the four previous appearances.

"Corey at this time last year had the ball and he was running with it and we played him [27] games in a row?" Quenneville said. "And he handled back-to back games ... we don't usually do that during the course of a season. This is a big game. The fact that we're coming back to him is a good sign for him to get some confidence going that we're relying on him at an important time of the year."

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 6:18 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Anisimov back in the lineup for Rangers

NEW YORK -- Artem Anisimov, who took a hit Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins that was so hard he said he couldn't feel his arm afterward, is back in the New York Rangers' lineup Wednesday night after missing two games with an injured right shoulder.

Anisimov will replace Ruslan Fedotenko, who was injured and played just 8:13 against the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings will start Ty Conklin in net after the veteran goaltender cleared re-entry waivers. Rookie Jordan Pearce will serve as his backup, with starter Jimmy Howard (groin) and regular backup Joey MacDonald (back) out of commission.

Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom skated at Madison Square Garden this morning, but he will not play against the Rangers. Also out of the lineup for the banged-up Red Wings: center Darren Helm (knee), right wing Johan Franzen (back), defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and defenseman Jakub Kindl (upper body).

Henrik Lundqvist will make his third straight start in net for the Rangers.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 5:50 PM

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

Melrose Place: Handicapping the West Races

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 5:25 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

Kings have gotten it together while Flames sink

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

We're looking at the playoff race out west this week and focusing on two teams trending in opposite directions:

What's clicking?

The Los Angeles Kings are a team that put itself in the position to have to play well late in the season, and to their credit they've won five games in a row.

Darryl Sutter has come in and instilled a positive system to get his team going. Whether it was tough love or just good structure, the Kings are playing more as a team, together, with unity. The players have bought into the system, and that's always so important, especially for a new coach coming into a playoff race.

The Kings have found a way to start scoring goals. They are still one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, but now, in push-comes-to-shove time, down to the last three weeks of the season, they are finding their offense.

It was nice to see Mike Richards get on the board Tuesday night against San Jose. He played a real solid game, and L.A. scored five goals in a win. It's proof that the Kings need Richards a lot.

He can bring it. He's just a solid, solid hockey player. For some reason he has lost his goal-scoring touch, but hopefully the game against the Sharks gives him more confidence because he can be the difference maker for this hockey club. He plays physical, very strong defensively, he's a good teammate, and he can make players around him better. That's why he was the captain in Philadelphia.

I'm also proud of Anze Kopitar, one of my favorite guys in the League. He has picked up his game. He's starting to skate. He's starting to shoot. He's starting to be that dominant forward that everyone expected him to be in the beginning of the season.

Can you say anything more about Jonathan Quick? He's out in L.A., doesn't get as much publicity as he should, and he continues to be one of the best goaltenders in the NHL while playing for a team that just didn't score enough goals for 90 percent of the season.

If you ask me, Quick has to be on the final ballot for the Vezina Trophy along with Henrik Lundqvist and probably one of Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury or either of the guys in St. Louis. If Quick is left off the Vezina ballot, shame on the voters.

The Sharks have opened the door. The Coyotes have opened the door. The Flames kept the door open. The Kings are storming right through it.

What's missing?


The title question here, at least as it pertains to the Calgary Flames, is almost impossible to answer. The Flames are one of those teams that you just can't figure out.

Seriously, why can't they win games when it matters? They have talent, a top-end goaltender, one of the best scorers in the history of the game in Jarome Iginla, but for some reason they let up inopportune goals or they don't get enough secondary scoring in order to find ways to win critical hockey games.

The other night in Colorado was a perfect example. There are the Flames in the playoff race, playing a team that is hot, but also a young team that they could have and probably should have beaten. But they only score the one goal and lose in overtime.

You can't help but think that the Flames are going to miss the playoffs for a third straight season. This is one of the reasons why I thought it might be time for Jarome Iginla to move and find a chance to play on a championship-quality team.

It would be a shame if Iginla doesn't win the Stanley Cup with the career that he's had. He has been a model of consistency, the ultimate professional, a great poster boy for the National Hockey League.

There are a lot of people in this game that hope Jarome gets a Cup, but I just don't see it happening with Calgary, at least not with this team. And, worse yet, the Flames didn't make any moves in the offseason to help themselves.

They're paying for it right now.

They have a great coach in Brent Sutter, but Alex Tanguay is not carrying his weight and neither is Olli Jokinen. Even Miikka Kiprusoff, for as good as he is and has been in his NHL career, just hasn't been the same goalie this season. He's letting in some soft goals, and Calgary doesn't have enough goal scorers on its roster to compensate for that.

Look, when you're in a playoff race you can't go into a set of games against the 29th- and 30th-ranked teams in the NHL and get only one point. Playoff teams get three or four.

Calgary is a great city, a hockey-loving city, but it certainly looks like it will be without playoff hockey for a third straight spring.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:38 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Boudreau still angry at Halak

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is all too familiar with Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, who beat Boudreau's Washington team in the first round of the 2010 playoffs when Halak was in Montreal.

Asked if he has seen a better performance than that, Boudreau playfully replied, "Nope, and I’m still pissed at him for that.

"He got in that zone and he was incredible. Even the last game in St. Louis, I thought he was incredible. His leg save on (Saku) Koivu in the first period -- he kept it 0-0 -- had our guys shaking their heads."
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:35 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ducks' Lydman questionable, Smith-Pelley on top line

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman will be a game-time decision because of an upper-body injury that has kept him out of the past two games, said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau.

Lydman fought through the end of last season with a shoulder injury that needed surgery. He said, "I wasn't feeling that great" from the surgery at the beginning of the season, and now it appears he will have to work through an injury again to finish this season.

"Everything kind of piles up during the year," Lydman said. "I want it to be a little better. It's nothing new."

If Lydman can't play, Nate Guenin likely will take his spot.

Boudreau said there was a "good chance" that veterans Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman will return to the lineup. He scratched both Monday, citing their fatigue in back-to-back games this season.

At the morning skate Blake, 38, played on a line with Saku Koivu, 37, and 41-year-old Teemu Selanne, in perhaps the oldest line in the NHL.

Another Ducks line will feature rookie Devante Smith-Pelly playing on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

It's a vote of confidence from Boudreau to give Smith-Pelly, 19, a look there after he has played mostly on the third line since being returning from an injury suffered at the 2012 World Junior Championship in December. It's also an adjustment playing the left side given that Smith-Pelly played right wing his whole junior career.

"I felt Bruce has been pretty confident in me since I came over," Smith-Pelly said. "My role is slowly increasing and I'm happy about it. I think I've been playing pretty well since I came back from injury. I'm just happy the coaching staff has confidence in me."

Here's the rest of the lineup the Ducks likely will use Wednesday:

Devante Smith-Pelly - Ryan-Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Jason Blake - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Bobby Ryan - Nick Bonino - Kyle Palmieri
Matt Beleskey - Andrew Cogliano - Niklas Hagman

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Nate Guenin
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller will be in goal, with Jeff Deslauriers the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues getting healthy for Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A healthy and rested St. Louis Blues team probably is not what the Anaheim Ducks want to face, but that's exactly what they’ll get Wednesday.

Jason Arnott will return from an undisclosed injury. David Backes did not skate Wednesday but appears to be fine after he took a shot in the foot last Saturday. Defenseman Kris Russell (concussion) did not skate Wednesday but coach Ken Hitchcock said he is getting closer.

This is a precarious time for Hitchcock, who must balance keeping his foot on the gas pedal while allowing his players to get some rest. He's opting for the former.

"I've said this before: Whatever you are in March … if you think you can dial it up in April when it counts, you're wrong, because you got holes in March and you got holes in April," Hitchcock said. 

"I think we're a little bit afraid that if we stop this cycle, can we get it started again? … We've played good defensive hockey all year by managing the game, managing the puck properly. I think we've gotten away from managing the puck properly and played too much east-west, and that's hurt us. I think the last couple of games we got back playing the right way and it's really helped our game again. That's our focus: Just playing the game the right way."

Here's the lineup the Blues likely will put on the ice Wednesday:

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Chris Porter

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal, with Brian Elliott the backup.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Pearce NHL opportunity is "gravy"

NEW YORK -- Jordan Pearce took shots Wednesday morning at Madison Square Garden from the Red Wings' injured defensemen, including Nicklas Lidstrom. He still didn't know if he was going to be making his NHL debut against the Rangers, or backing up Ty Conklin.

"I prepare the same either way," Pearce said. "If you've been around this game long enough you know crazy things happen and you have to be ready to go in at a moment's notice. It's better to just prepare like you're playing and go from there."

Pearce learned about an hour after addressing the media that he will in fact be the backup Wednesday night. Conklin cleared re-entry waivers at noon ET and will start at the Garden against the Rangers, but Pearce didn't make it sound like he would let that bother him one bit.

"It's very exciting just to be up here," Pearce said. "Being around these professional athletes it's amazing to watch them play. Some of the best players in the world are in this locker room. It's a great experience to be here."

It's an experience Pearce said he never dreamed about.

He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska watching the University of Alaska's men's team and dreaming of one day playing college hockey. That dream came true in 2005 when he went to Notre Dame. He was the starter for the Irish his last two seasons before signing a two-year entry level contract with the Red Wings.

Pearce has played mostly in the ECHL and the past two seasons with Grand Rapids in the AHL. He is 3-7-1 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .874 save percentage for the Griffins this season.

"This is all just gravy," Pearce said. "Being up here and pursuing professional hockey was beyond my dreams."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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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