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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 10:44 AM

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

NHL players offer advice for top 2012 draft prospects

There are sure to be several top prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft seeking advice from players who went through the wars and are now reaping the benefits.

Forwards Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers, Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers and Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche are three such players.

All three recently spoke to NHL.com and provided a few words of wisdom for those players hoping to hear their names at this year's draft to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Couturier, who was selected eighth overall by the Flyers last June, recommends that players just continue doing what they do best.   

"I think they just need to remain who they are, not try and do anything extra special and just play the game the right way," Couturier told NHL.com. "Scouts have been following you for a while, so there's no need to change. Just be yourself."

Couturier is a solid example in perseverance. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound forward dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings in April, 2011, and then was chosen No. 8 by the Flyers. Hard work and solid two-way play, a quality that was certainly evident in his game for Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, have enabled him to become a key cog for this year's team in Philadelphia.

With regard to the NHL Combine, Couturier smiled before issuing the following:

"Be in shape … be ready."

Stepan was drafted in the second round (No. 51) by the Rangers in 2008.

"The best advice that I got from people around me was going into the draft in a positive frame of mind," Stepan told NHL.com. "Don't expect anything. It's a big deal to get drafted, but once you get drafted that's when the work begins. You never really know what's going to happen at the draft so don't really expect anything.

"Other than the first round, it's kind of a scramble. I was projected to go third, fourth or fifth round and then went in the second, so just go with the flow and enjoy it."

While Stepan did conduct 26 interviews in the opening few days of the Combine, he never underwent the physical portion of the week-long event since he wanted to attend graduation ceremonies at Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep in Minnesota.

"I lucked out big time," Stepan said.

O'Reilly, drafted in the second round (No. 33) by the Avalanche in 2009, recalls his draft year as if it were yesterday.

"I think when you look at it, kids maybe focus too much on the off-ice perspective and while it is an important thing, if you care about the on-ice enough, those things off the ice will come naturally," O'Reilly told NHL.com.

He laughed when reminded of the impressive showing he had at the 2009 Combine -- his 18 reps at 150 pounds on the bench press tied for the most among the 94 players who tested.

"You want to do that extra stuff but need to remember you've never really arrived … you're always trying to get somewhere better and always have to keep a beginner's mind. No matter what the situation, go out and do it and learn and get better and never be satisfied," O'Reilly said.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 9:33 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 21st

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 73 78 9 86 6
10th 73 76 9 84 7
11th 73 73 9 80 9
 
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: The Buffalo Sabres play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. For Buffalo, it is what I call a "mandatory" win.

Why?

Because, if you can't beat the Eastern Conference's weakest team, then you are playing with playoff fire and it will most likely come back to burn you. Yes, a 7-3 win Monday against Tampa Bay was a good first step, but Buffalo needs to keep piling up the victories.

Not only are the Sabres two points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot in the East, but they are in a bad way when it comes to the first tie-breaker, non-shootout victories. Washington has 32 regulation and overtime wins (ROW) and Buffalo has just 27. So, it is a foregone conclusion that Buffalo must make up three points on Washington, not two for the tie.

A loss Wednesday night to the Habs not only leaves Buffalo looking at the likelihood of winning six of its final eight games to reach the 90-point plateau -- which is the current projection for the No. 8 spot -- but actually needing seven wins to make sure they get past a tie for that threshold.

Plus, Buffalo's remaining schedule is a mixed bag. Yes, they face playoff also-rans Minnesota and Toronto (twice), but they also have to play road games against the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Boston, all teams in the top half of the Eastern Conference bracket. Plus, games against red-hot Pittsburgh (at home) and the Caps (on the road) are also on the docket.

Now, do you see why the game Wednesday against last-place Montreal is so important?

I will say it one more time, but not for the last time: "If you don't beat the teams below you in the standings and those you are competing with for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, you are destined to be watching when the playoffs begin."

It's a different story in Florida.

Coming off a huge Tuesday night victory on the road against Philadelphia, the Panthers move on to Raleigh, N.C., and face the Hurricanes -- another team out of the playoff picture in the East. It is an opportunity for Florida to tighten its grip on a both a playoff spot and the division title in the Southeast Division.

The Panthers have 10 games remaining and need just six of 20 points to get past the projected cut-off of 90 points and end the League's longest playoff absence at a dozen years. More importantly, a win Tuesday can up the Panthers' division lead to a whopping seven points on the idle Capitals, who have just nine games remaining.

The Hurricanes are a tough opponent, though, as witnessed by the victory Sunday in Winnipeg, which dealt the Jets a serious blow in their playoff quest.

In the Western Conference, the Red Wings attempt to end a five-game winless streak and focus on getting the coveted fourth spot in the conference and ultra-important home ice in the first round.

Detroit and Nashville are tied at 92 points, but the Predators -- who were dealt an unsightly loss by Edmonton on Tuesday -- hold the tiebreaker and sit in the No. 4 seed. That could change Wednesday if the banged-up Red Wings can find a way to beat the Rangers, who are in a fight for the top spot in the East and have a ton for which to play.

Chicago, who took care of business in Columbus on Tuesday night with a 5-1 win, is also in the mix for the No. 4 spot. They have 90 points, but have played one more game. Detroit has one game remaining against Nashville and plays Chicago on the season's final day. Chicago and Nashville meet twice in the next week.

This three-team derby is another race that has significant playoff implications. Actually, I would argue the race for fourth in the West has Stanley Cup implications because I don't believe a team can best compete for the Cup from a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 8:48 AM

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

Hawks focused on themselves, not Canucks

The Chicago Blackhawks don't really care about the recent struggles of the Vancouver Canucks, who were in Chicago on Tuesday awaiting a game on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TSN) at the United Center.

The Canucks likely still will win the Northwest Division, but they've dropped five of their last seven games and appear to be staggering to the finish line of the regular season. However, after going through their own trying period following the All-Star break, when they went winless for nine straight games and plummeted to sixth in the Western Conference, the Hawks know first-hand how dangerous a struggling-but-talented team can be.

"We've gone through a lot this year," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who had 4 assists in a 5-1 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday. "There's been a lot of ups and downs and we've learned how we need to play. At the same time, we're not going to take anything for granted, knowing that we can't deviate from our system and play our team game. That's how we win games."

It's pretty similar to how Vancouver eventually shook off its early-season "hangover" and how the Canucks probably will get themselves back on track after this malaise ends. First they'll have to deal with the Hawks, who are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and are 9-4-1 in the last 14 games played without injured star captain Jonathan Toews (upper body).

Neither team held a full morning skate at United Center on Wednesday, but both know there's a little more than just two points at stake. Bragging rights always are a bonus in this feud, but this time it's about both teams measuring up late in the season.

Chicago has discovered a formula that seems to work even without Toews, and lately it's all keyed by having quick starts that turn into comfortable wins. Now it's time to see if the Hawks can zoom out to a quick lead against the Canucks, who are expected to start Roberto Luongo in goal. Luongo hasn't played in two games and is 0-3-0 with a 5.30 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Luongo's struggles, however, are irrelevant to the Hawks. They're too focused on the numbers that determine the conference standings -- which find them just two points behind fourth-place Nashville in the West.

"They obviously have a great team and they're right at the top of the conference," Keith said of the second-place Canucks. "We know it's going to be a tough game. It always is against them. We've seen a lot of them. It's another big game ... another big two points that are on the line."

There's also that little rivalry between the two, which just never seems to burn out. But even that's being downplayed -- at least by the Hawks.

"There's a little bit more chippiness and that sort of stuff," said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who is expected to start after winning four straight games. "I don't know what it's going to be like. We just want to get the two points and I think that's our main focus."

The Blackhawks may be without defenseman Nick Leddy, who was injured early in the third period of Tuesday's game.

Here's a look at how the Canucks and Blackhawks might line up Wednesday:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Zack Kassian - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Wiese

Alexander Edler - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Aaron Rome - Chris Tanev

Roberto Luongo likely will be in net, with Cory Schneider the backup.

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford likely will be in net, with Ray Emery the backup.

Jimmy Hayes could replace Frolik on the right side of the fourth line.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 9:12 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX @ DAL - 4:27 of the Second Period

At 4:27 of the second period in the Stars/Coyotes game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Loui Eriksson's shot was stopped by Mike Smith and never crossed the goal line. No Goal Dallas.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 8:48 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

EDM @ NSH - 16:22 of the First Period

At 16:22 of the first period in the Oilers/Predators game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Ales Hemsky's shot crossed the goal line with the goal frame in its proper position. According to rule 78.4 "The goal frame shall be considered in its proper position when at least a portion of the flexible pegs are still inside both the goal post and the hole in the ice". Good Goal Edmonton.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 7:28 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYI @ TOR - 10:27 of the First Period

At 10:27 of the first period in the Islanders/Leafs game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Phil Kessel's shot went into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Toronto.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 7:25 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CHI @ CLB - 4:12 of the First Period

At 4:12 of the first period in the Blackhawks/Blue Jackets game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Bryan Bickell's shot went into the Columbus net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Chicago.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 7:19 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

WPG @ PIT - 3:35 of the First Period

At 3:35 of the first period in the Jets/Penguins game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Jim Slater's skate and into the Penguins net.  According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Winnipeg.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 5:40 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Leafs try to bounce back vs. Islanders

TORONTO -- Less than 24 hours after an 8-0 loss at Boston completed the Bruins' sweep of the six-game season series against Toronto, the Maple Leafs have the opportunity to sweep a series of their own tonight against the New York Islanders.

"Just from last night, I think it's huge to get a bounce back here," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "It's always good to get back home after being on the road for 10 days. In all ways for everyone, I think it's good to be back home again."

The Maple Leafs finished their five-game road trip with 2-3-0 record.

Despite the fact that they have beaten the Islanders on three occasions this season by a combined score of 12-6 and can go a perfect 4-0 on the season against a conference foe, Gunnarsson and his mates are still focusing on the bigger picture.

"Looking at the standings, it doesn't matter what team we play, what we've done before against that team, we just want to win every game," he said. "If we sweep the Islanders and not make the playoffs, it doesn't mean anything."

The Maple Leafs are eight points out of eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race with nine games remaining. Despite the almost insurmountable task, defenseman John Michael-Liles feels that the only way for the club to look is forward.

"Unfortunately games like that are going to happen and you move on from it. (We have to )go into every game and try and get two points, that's all we can focus on is going out and try and win every game and giving ourselves the best opportunity to get two points each and every night."

Liles and Gunnarsson ended up with a combined minus-5 rating in Boston. They were hardly alone in that department -- only three Leafs finished without a minus rating. Jay Rosehill and Colby Armstrong both ended up even at TD Garden, as did Matthew Lombardi who will play in his 500th career game tonight.

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 5:22 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avalanche, Flames relishing the playoff atmosphere

DENVER -- Despite the intense pressure of having to win on a nightly basis as the regular season winds down in the wild, wild Western Conference, coaches and players involved in the tightly-bunched playoff race insist they are enjoying the ride.

"It is fun," Calgary Flames left wing Alex Tanguay said this morning at the Pepsi Center, where his team will face the Colorado Avalanche tonight in a game with significant postseason implications. "As a player, as a competitor, you always want to play in games like this and in a fun atmosphere. That's going to be the case tonight."

The Flames are in 11th place with 81 points in 73 games, just two points behind the Avalanche, who sit in the eighth and final playoff position with 83 points in 74 games. Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose are also in the mix for a playoff berth, all with 83 or 82 points, and they all play tonight.

"It sure makes for an interesting finish," Tanguay said. "It almost feels like, with the five or six teams battling, that we've already entered the playoffs, just three weeks early. It's certainly going to be fun, and hopefully we can get some big wins."

Everybody "is scoreboard watching on a nightly basis," he said.

That includes the coaches.

"It's a great time of year," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "I tell the players, this is why you play. You play to be in situations like this. Right now we're in the playoff picture, but every day it changes. This is the biggest game to date, the last game was the biggest game and the one after this one will be the biggest game."

The Flames have beaten the Avalanche nine consecutive times, four times this season with one more meeting in Calgary on March 30 after tonight. The clubs haven't met since a 3-2 Flames win in Calgary on Dec. 8 when both were hovering around .500.

"I'm not even worrying about what's transpired in the past against them," Sacco said. "I feel we're a different team right now. We're certainly playing a lot better."

The Avalanche are coming off a three-game swing through the East in which they posted a 2-0-1 record. Colorado has gone 4-0-1 in the past five games and 10-3-1 since Feb. 22. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has won four in a row, six of seven and gone 9-2 in his past 11 starts while registering a 1.53 goals-against average with two shutouts and a .949 save percentage.

"It's not like we beat them nine times in a row back-to-back-to-back-to-back," Tanguay said. "Every game is different. I don't think it will make any difference in the outcomes of the last two games of our series."

Avalanche forward Peter Mueller was recovering from post-concussion symptoms and didn't play in the previous four games against Calgary, but he knows all about the nine-game streak.

"They've had our number," he said. "Hopefully it doesn't repeat. We're concentrating on this game and we're not looking to the past. We're just trying to figure out what can be successful against this team, and hopefully we'll find it tonight."

The Flames have gone 10-4-7 since Feb. 3 and won five games in a row before stubbing their toes in the past two games, losing 3-1 in Edmonton and dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to Columbus. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has gone 6-1-3 in his past 10 starts, is tied for third in the NHL with 33 wins, and he owns a 26-14-5 career record against the Avalanche with a 2.50 GAA and four shutouts.

"We've been in playoff mode for a long time," Tanguay said. "We kind of shot ourselves in the foot the last two games. Edmonton and Columbus are at the bottom of the pack, and we came out of those two games with one point. But there's so much parity. We just played those two teams and we didn't play our best game and we didn't win. That's the way it should be."

The Avalanche have played one more game than the Flames, but would move four points ahead of them with a regulation win if they can find a way to solve Kiprusoff and put an end to that nine-game drought.

"We have to do what we've been doing for the past couple of weeks," Mueller said. "It's going to be a dogfight tonight. We've been in playoff mode for the last two months. We're happy coming to the rink and it's an exciting time of the year. It's going to be exciting coming down to the wire."

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Quote of the Day

I'm hoping Bob [Murray] didn't go out and get Dany Heatley just to get someone. I'm sure he's excited and motivated.

— Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on general manager Bob Murray's decision to sign Dany Heatley