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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues' Stewart understands reasons for benching

ST. LOUIS -- The biggest surprise may have been for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to finally pull the trigger on forward Chris Stewart, who has had an off-year by his standards.

Stewart will be a healthy scratch Saturday when the Blues play host to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

After dropping to 15 goals following back-to-back 28-goal seasons, Hitchcock feels there's more that could be had from the Toronto native.

"We need more from him," Hitchcock said. "This is certainly not based on one hockey game. We just need more.

"From that position on our hockey club, that third line role, we need more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort on the puck. We need all of that from that position. I think the opposition got in from their positioning and we need to get it from ours if we expect to change the outcome."

Stewart, who dressed in Game 1 and played on the team's third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka, was visibly disappointed after the morning skate.

"My number wasn't on the board. My play wasn't good enough last game," Stewart said. "We're fighting for our lives every day. I had the opportunity to step up and didn't get the job done. At the end of the day, it is what it is. This isn't the time of the year to pout or get down on yourself. We're a team, we've got to stick together and they're going to need me eventually in this series, and when I get the chance again, I'll be ready."

Teammates are on full alert: don't produce and your name could also be missing from the lineup card.

"I think it's a little bit of a message, but I think [Hitchcock] also has his game plan and the way he wants us to play," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think he's going to try to implement players in here, whether we're at home or on the road from a game to game basis and see what he can change up.
"That's another reason why they're in the lineup. You look at the guys coming in, there's some energy players there that can skate, hit, keep us on track as far as the way we can play and keep us sticking to our game plan."

It's a position Stewart's not familiar with, though.

"No. But you can understand," Stewart said. "I understand the game well, so I do get where [Hitchcock's] coming from. I do hope I get a chance to get back in there and show him that I can play. Now, I'll just wait for the time.

"There's obviously more to give. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game [15:22], but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."

"It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself," Stewart added. "We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time."


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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

van Riemsdyk practices, not quite ready for return

VOORHEES, N.J. -- James van Riemsdyk was on the ice early for extra skating and for all of practice Saturday in his recovery from a broken left foot, but the Flyers' forward said it was highly unlikely he would return in time for Game 3 of the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN).
 
"I don't think I'm going to do that," van Riemsdyk said after the workout at Virtua Flyers Skate Zone. "We're taking it day by day and we'll go from there."
 
Van Riemsdyk last played March 1, and has been skating for about a week. He said watching games -- especially games as exciting as the first two in this series -- has been difficult, but he's trying to be patient and let things heal.
 
"It's pretty brutal when you're sitting at home by yourself without the guys, and they're on the road, they're playing in these exciting games, and big games, and you want to do anything to be out there with them," he said. "It's a good step in the right direction, being on the ice with the guys today. Have to keep building off that and go from there."
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK






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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Hitchcock makes three lineup changes after loss

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock said to expect changes for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

He wasn't kidding around.

The St. Louis Blues will make three lineup changes when they play host to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday after losing 3-2 in double overtime Thursday night.

Carlo Colaiacovo will replace Kent Huskins on defense and be paired with Alex Pietrangelo, while forwards Matt D'Agostini and B.J. Crombeen are in and Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves come out for a pivotal game in which the Blues need if they want to avoid what is staring at Pittsburgh and Vancouver: heading on the road down two games in a series.

"When you lose in a hockey game, whether you’ve lost by one goal, whether you’ve lost in overtime or whatever, if you go into the next competition thinking that everything should the same and expect a different outcome, I think that’s a huge mistake," Hitchcock said. "I don’t believe in that statement, 'Keep doing it over and over again and don’t change anything.' I think we're obligated to change. And I don’t mean dramatic changes, but there are things that as a series moves on, whether you’re having success or not, you have to look in the mirror and do better. There are things that we did very well, and there are things that we have to do better so we addressed both yesterday and today and just emphasizing the things that we did well.

"There are obvious things in our eyes just from our own game standpoint that you need to do better. I think as any series goes on, it really just becomes about you and your game and not so much the opposition. They are what they are and they play the way they play. I think everybody in the National Hockey League knew that when push came to shove, a team like San Jose would turn up the temperature when it was time because of their experience and their expectations. We knew that. We expect them to play well tonight, we just need to play a little better."

Colaiacovo missed the last game of the regular season in Dallas and Thursday night. He wasn't thrilled to be on the sidelines but was supportive of a team deep in the talent pool, as the Blues must sit six players each night with a healthy unit.

"At this time of year, you never want to be a spectator, especially with so much on the line," Colaiacovo said. "It's unfortunate with the results of the last game. I think we deserved a better fate, but that's going to make us hungrier for tonight. We're in a hole right now against a really good team and we're in a place where we've been really good all year -- at home. We need to get that hunger and that energy back and find a way to win tonight because we don't want to put ourselves down going into their building. I don't expect anything different from our team. We've been good at responding all year.

"The decision obviously didn't sit well with me, but I'm getting the opportunity tonight to get back in there. The biggest thing is when you're part of a team like this, it's a right feeling to be pissed off and to be upset about not playing but you're still here for the team. You're still part of a team of 26, cheering the guys on and doing whatever you can to help us get a win. That's been my motivation. My motivation's been to continue to work hard, not be happy with the decision but be ready when my chance comes."

Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo: "He wasn’t healthy at the end of the year. He’s healthy now so, just get back to the game he can play. They’re a good tandem. They play well together. He’s healthy now. He’s a good puck mover. They move the puck around with each other well. He’s good on transition, he’s a good first outlet player, passes it well. By getting healthy and getting rested, I think we’ll get a good player."

Crombeen replaces Reaves, who in only 8 minutes, 1 second gave the Blues plenty of life, energy and tremendous grit. But Hitchcock has a plan in mind.

"We consider [Crombeen]  and [Reaves] to be the same type of player, both high-energy guys," Hitchcock said. "One guy's got a little bit more experience and can play up the lineup a little bit higher if we need it."

Crombeen was scratched for nine of the last 10 regular season games as well as Game 1 on Thursday. He said when you get the chance, players better make it stick.

"I think everyone knows with the depth we have on our team, there's some guys that are sitting out that don't want to be," Crombeen said. "I don't think anyone ever wants to sit out, especially with this team. When you get the chance, you're definitely looking to take advantage of it. I've got to go out and let my play do the talking and make sure that he can't take me out.

"Obviously no one's happy sitting out. Everyone's pissed off, but you can't bring that to the rink. You can't bring that around the guys. You've got to be encouraging the guys and just working your hardest to make sure that you're ready when you do get the chance. ... I'm not going in trying to reinvent the wheel. Just go in and try to play my game and do what I do."

Hitchcock called D'Agostini "the wildcard."

The Blues are still trying to find out just how much D'Agostini can give them. He missed 25 games late in the season with a concussion. He played in a couple games down the stretch.

"I'm just excited to get out there and do my part and try to contribute to what we've got going on here," D'Agostini said. "You're obviously going to be a little upset when you're not playing. You try not to be too much of a downer around the guys. It does take a little bit of a toll on you, but at the same time, we've got one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. You've got to go with the flow when you're not in. Hopefully I just get out there and play my game and stick in the lineup."

"D'Agostini for me is a real wildcard," Hitchcock said. "He's a player that, when healthy, is a very effective player. He's got speed, he's got a great shot and again, he's another player when push comes to shove, can play higher up the lineup, too."





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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Vrbata will play for Coyotes in Game 2

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Radim Vrbata, Phoenix’s leader this season with 35 goals, took part in the morning skate Saturday and will play against Chicago in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
 
“He’s going to play,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.

 Vrbata was injured Thursday in the first shift of a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 when he took a hard hit along the boards from Chicago’s Andrew Shaw. Vrbata went down hard and skated off the ice in a crouch.

But the man who was responsible for one out of every six Phoenix goals this season took part in the morning skate at Jobing.com Arena and is ready to go as the Coyotes seek to take a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time since moving to Arizona in 1996.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:19 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins Niskanen Could Return Sunday

PITTSBURGH--Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, out for four games with an upper-body injury, could return for Game 3 against Philadelphia on Sunday.
 
Niskanen, who had been skating on his own, returned to practice Saturday at the team's suburban ice rink.
 
"Everybody plays through pain," he said. "That's not going to be an issue. It's going to be a functional thing, if I can play the way I need to play without anything holding me back."
 
Niskanen hasn't played since apparently injuring a shoulder on a hit by Daniel Paille of Boston on April 3. He sat out the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and 8-5 decision in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
 
"It's just killing me being in the press box. It really hurts to watch," Niskanen said. "But I've got to get back when I can, and I have confidence in the guys that we're going to turn it around."
 
Niskanen is coming off a strong season in which he was a plus-9 in 75 games, with four goals and 17 assists.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said the defensive pairings will be a game-time decision. Niskanen's status will be determined by whether he has enough strength in the affected area to play effectively.
 
If Niskanen returns, Ben Lovejoy probably would be scratched. Lovejoy returned for the series only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
 
Lovejoy made an ill-advised pass early in the third period of Game 3, mere seconds after Tyler Kennedy's go-ahead goal, that resulted in a steal and a pivotal goal by Flyers rookie Sean Couturier.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:50 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Sens need better game from Karlsson

NEW YORK -- The Stanley Cup Playoffs have no bearing on whether Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson wins the Norris Trophy this season, but the 21-year-old looked like anything but one of the NHL's best blueliners Thursday night.

Karlsson was on the ice for two of the New York Rangers' first three goals, including Brian Boyle's game-winner in the second period. Karlsson was beaten to a loose puck by forward Artem Anisimov and was unable to block Boyle's shot from the slot.

With the Senators down 1-0 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Karlsson knows he and his teammates have to be better in Game 2 on Saturday.

"We have to step it up a bit here if we want to be a contender to win this series," Karlsson said. "We didn't skate enough. We didn't compete enough. They out-battled us in a lot of areas. We have to be a lot tougher going into their net and making it hard for Rangers goaltender (Henrik Lundqvist) to make saves. It's one of those games where it didn't click for us and hopefully we can play better tonight."

Senators coach Paul MacLean said Karlsson can be better with and without the puck.

"He needs to skate. When Erik skates, he's a dominant player," MacLean said. "That's his No. 1 strength. We need to make sure he's skating."

In Game 1, Karlsson had zero points, three shots and was minus-1 in 24:23 of ice time. It was just the 11th time this season he was held scoreless and finished the game as a minus player; Rangers All-Star defenseman Dan Girardi accomplished that 17 times.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Five reasons the Penguins are in trouble

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins can only hope they have five more games remaining to get this right.
 
The Penguins, a popular pick to raise the Stanley Cup only a few days ago, suddenly find themselves in a two-game hole after being swept at home by the Philadelphia Flyers to begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
 
What's remarkable is how they're losing: By opening up substantial early leads in both Game 1 and Game 2, only to have the Flyers dominate play the rest of the way. Pittsburgh owns a 6-1 scoring advantage in the first period; Philadelphia has an 11-2 edge in the second and third periods and overtime.
 
The only time in franchise history the Penguins dropped the first two games at home and recovered to win a series was against Washington in the conference quarterfinals in 1996, even though Boston pulled off just such a comeback last year against Montreal and went on to lift the Stanley Cup. And at least there's this: The Penguins have been swept in a four-game playoff series only once, by Boston in 1979.
 
But as they try to figure out how to extend this series for five more games, here are five reasons why the Penguins are in trouble:
 
1) THEIR STARS AREN'T STARRING. Unlike last season's first-round ouster by Tampa Bay, the Penguins appear to be relatively healthy, with both Sidney Crosby and NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Only they're not being stars. Malkin looks frustrated as the Flyers keep targeting him for contact on almost every shift. Crosby scored early goals in each of the first two games, but couldn't find the net when the games were being decided. The Penguins are built to have No. 87 and No. 71 win games for them, especially in the playoffs, but, so far, it's not happening; Malkin is a minus-5. And James Neal, who is coming off a 40-goal season? He has one goal in nine career playoff games. Malkin's other linemate, Chris Kunitz, scored two goals in Game 2 yet, remarkably, was a minus-5.
 
2) THEY'RE OUT OF THEIR LEAD. The Penguins led 3-0 in the first period of Game 1, 3-1 in the first period of Game 2. And they lost both times. An anomaly? Hardly. Four times since March 18, the Penguins have built multi-goal leads against the Flyers, and they've lost each time. The Flyers keep rallying by staying patient and waiting for the free-wheeling Penguins to start making mistakes -- risky cross-ice passes, questionable decisions while in defensive zone coverage, a stubborn refusal to avoid  carrying the puck into traffic in the neutral zone (Malkin is a prime offender). The Flyers simply aren't worried when the Penguins get ahead, and it shows. And here's another worry for Pittsburgh: Philadelphia is 17-0 when it leads 2-0 in a series.
 
"We've got to find a way to do better with a lead, no doubt," Crosby said. "We know they're going to keep going. We know that."
 
3) THEY'RE NOT GETTING SEPARATION. Even while owning the final line change at home, the Penguins are constantly contending with Malkin's line being shadowed by Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier -- a younger version of the Penguins' own Jordan Staal. The 19-year-old Couturier not only is controlling Malkin, he is only the second teenager in Stanley Cup history to score three goals in a game. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma must be more creative to find ways to get Malkin on the ice when Couturier isn't.
 
"I don't know if I know any words to describe his game," 40-year-old Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr said of Couturier, who is less than half his age. "Awesome, maybe -- something like that?"
 
4) THERE'S NO DEFENSE FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING. For most of the season, the Penguins were a solid, stay-within-the-Bylsma system team defensively -- a prime reason why they accumulated 108 points despite not having Crosby for three-quarters of the season. During their 11-game winning streak from Feb. 21-March 17, they allowed only 17 goals. Over their last 11, they've given up 48. With opponents getting so many scoring chances, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury simply has had no chance at times, and he appears to be losing confidence. If the Penguins don't start playing with some pride and a purpose on defense, it won't matter how many goals Crosby and Malkin score.
 
"We've got to tighten up and try to play in their end," center Jordan Staal said.
 
5) THEIR SPECIAL TEAMS ARE ESPECIALLY BAD. As Bylsma desperately tries to find a workable power-play unit -- Crosby began the first couple of Game 2 power plays on the bench -- the Flyers keep turning games around with their special teams play. They scored on their first two power plays of the series, including Brayden Schenn's all-important tying goal in the third period of Game 2. And they struck for shorthanded goals by Maxime Talbot and Claude Giroux in Game 2. Whether it's personnel, or mindset or coaching, the Flyers are dominating the game-within-a-game special teams contest -- and, while they're doing it, the series, too.
 

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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Caps need more from Ovechkin, linemates

BOSTON – After he was limited to just one shot on goal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Boston on Thursday, Washington star forward Alexander Ovechkin’s task in the second game is to find more room to work against the Bruins’ defense pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
               
If Ovechkin is looking for a little relief from his coach manipulating the matchups, Dale Hunter doesn’t sound like a man who plans to back away from allowing that marquee showdown to continue through Game 2 on Saturday and beyond.
               
“You can mix around lines, but pretty much even strength it was an even battle both ways through the whole thing,” Hunter said in reference to the Bruins’ 1-0 win in Game 1. “Until an overtime goal, it was pretty much even at even strength. Power-play time, they did have some more scoring chances because they had more power -play time. But as far as even strength, it was pretty even out there.”
               
The Capitals know that Ovechkin can’t beat the Bruins on his own, so his linemates are going to try to find way to aid the sniper’s cause.
               
“There’s things we can do. We know that he’s going to be keyed on, especially [by] Chara. He’s going to try to come across the ice a lot and pinch Alex,” center Brooks Laich said. “We can try to talk to him, we can try and get our bodies in the way. But when we get the puck, we have to skate. If we move the puck quick before they’re able to adjust their defense, whether it’s from the wing to the middle to the other wing or diagonal all the way, there’s some things we’re going to have to try to do.”
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Bruins look to improve power play in Game 2

BOSTON – An ineffective power play was maybe the only thing standing between the Boston Bruins and an easier road to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
               
Boston improved against Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Final, but still finished the 2011 postseason just 10-for-88. Against Washington in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Thursday, the Bruins’ power play was 0-for-4, a reminder of the 0-for-21 Boston compiled in last year’s first round against Montreal.
               
Rich Peverley had maybe the best two scoring chances during the Bruins’ man-advantages, and they both came on the same sequence. He sees room for improvement heading into Game 2 at TD Garden on Saturday.
               
“We definitely had chances, but I think quality chances, Grade-A chances, we definitely have to improve on,” Peverley said a couple hours before puck drop. “We’ve got to have a net-front presence, and if he’s [goaltender Braden Holtby] coming out and challenging, we’ve got to have a guy in his face.”
               
The Bruins re-aligned their power-play units just before the start of the playoffs, with Peverley being paired at the points with Dennis Seidenberg in one group, and Zdeno Chara and Joe Corvo on the other group’s points. Brian Rolston, who spent a lot of time on the point after he was acquired from the New York Islanders, moved up front with David Krejci and Brian Rolston, while the line of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand stayed together as a power-play group.
               
Chara thinks Boston’s problems stem from a tendency to be too picky about their plays.
               
“I think that a lot of times we try to always make an extra play, an extra pass. Sometimes we overlook those simple shots. So maybe simplify a little bit,” the Bruins captain said.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:21 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Little-used Carter haunts former team

SUNRISE, Fla. — Only one player had less ice time than Ryan Carter in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between New Jersey and Florida.

But Carter skated long enough for some serious payback.

The little-used 28-year-old center ended up with the game-winning goal against his former team when he scored with 5:04 left in the first period to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

Carter started the season with Florida and played seven games before he was waived with the idea of reassigning him to San Antonio of the AHL. Needing depth at center, the Devils claimed him off waivers.

Little did the Panthers know he would come back to haunt them in their first playoff game since 2000.

Carter, who played 6:56 in his third game at the BankAtlantic Center since joining the Devils, focused more on the significance of his goal than the opponent.

“Yeah, I am past that,” said Carter, who topped only teammate Stephen Gionta in ice time Friday. “The first couple of games back here maybe there were some extra feelings like that. Now, Jersey is my team and I just want to find a way to help them win. And that’s really what it’s about. It’s not about sticking it to somebody else, it’s about helping our team.”

Carter, who went pointless for Florida before recording four goals and four assists in 65 games with New Jersey, wasn’t among the forwards the Panthers figured they had to stop coming into the series.

But less than a minute after Dainius Zubrus scored to make it 2-0 for New Jersey, Carter stole the puck from Sean Bergenheim in the neutral zone and then took advantage of a flat-footed Ed Jovanovski at the  blue line.

Carter chipped the puck off the boards, skated around Jovanovski to retrieve it and skated in alone on the right side. He beat Jose Theodore with a quick wrist shot to the far side.

“It was a controlled forecheck,” Carter said. “They had two guys swinging to that left wall, so that made it easy to check both of them. I think they had a misread on who was going where, so that exposed the puck a little bit. I chipped it by one guy and found myself in a two-on-one and just shot it.”

The goal came on a shift that lasted exactly 13 seconds for Carter.

In fact, through the first two periods, Carter got only 3:37 of ice time. He got almost twice that much in the third period as coach Peter DeBoer turned to his fourth line — Carter, Gionta and Steve Bernier, another former Panther — to help protect the 3-2 lead.

“The fourth line was big for us,” DeBoer said. “The game-winning goal and five or six critical shifts in the third period when our guys were starting to get fatigued. We talked between the second and third about the importance of those guys giving us some quality shifts and I thought they were great.”

Carter’s goal was his third in 21 career playoff games. The other two came with Anaheim in 2009.

“To get a chance to get a goal and chip in, it’s definitely huge,” Carter said. “Tonight it turned out to be the difference-maker. Anytime you can contribute that’s big. That’s your job.”
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