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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 11:42 AM

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

DeBoer: Kovy return could be 'sooner than later'

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils were back at the friendly confines of Prudential Center on Wednesday less than 24 hours after unleashing an all-out offensive assault on Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal.
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer gave his players a day off the ice and while talk of the big win to even this best-of-seven series 1-1 was fresh on everyone's mind, there was also concern regarding the status of forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
 
Kovalchuk missed Game 2 with what general manager Lou Lamoriello termed a "lower-body injury." Prior to faceoff on Tuesday, Rich Chere of the The (Newark) Star-Ledger reported that two anonymous sources told him Kovalchuk "has been icing a back injury, which got progressively worse in the last few days."
 
Devils coach Pete DeBoer told radio station WFAN 660 AM on Wednesday morning that he doesn't know if Kovalchuk will suit up for Game 3. Kovalchuk is scheduled to meet with doctors today and a decision will be made at some point on Thursday prior to puck drop.
 
"I'm sure you're going to see him again in the series," DeBoer told the station. "It could be sooner than later."
 
Lamoriello told the media on Tuesday morning that Kovalchuk was injured at some point during the middle of their seven-game series win over the Florida Panthers in the conference quarterfinals. He said it got to a point where if he couldn't play at 100 percent, it wouldn't benefit either the player or team for him to be on the ice.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale


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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 10:17 AM

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

Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited on Caps' top line

ARLINGTON, Va. -- For the better part of the Bruce Boudreau era, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin were fixtures on the Washington Capitals' No. 1 line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through nine playoff games under coach Dale Hunter, Ovechkin and Backstrom have yet to start a game on the same unit, and their shifts together have been limited primarily to the power play.

But based on line rushes at the Caps’ morning skate Wednesday, it appears a reunion could be in store on Washington's No. 1 trio.

In preparation for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC), Backstrom skated with the No. 1 line Wednesday morning, flanked by Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.

"We haven't [played together] much at all," Backstrom said of skating alongside Ovechkin since returning from a concussion March 31. "But we should know each other because we've played with each other for a long time [in previous seasons]. We've got to go out and do our job out there and make sure we get some chances and stuff, work hard and do all those little things right, too."

Ovechkin has two goals in his last five games, with Backstrom assisting on both -- the result of Backstrom winning a faceoff directly back to Ovechkin, who was able to beat Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist with shots from just inside the blue line.

Hunter said before Washington's first-round series against the Boston Bruins that he wanted more size alongside Ovechkin to help create space against Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

Brooks Laich fit the bill in Round 1, but against the smaller and more mobile Rangers defense, Backstrom provides Hunter with a different look. Backstrom will be counted on to generate speed with the puck through the neutral zone and find Ovechkin for open looks.

"I think we have good chemistry," Ovechkin said, "but when I played with [Brooks Laich] it was a good time for me and for him, too, I think. But right now I'll start playing with [Backstrom] -- I don't know how it will go, if we're going to play a whole game or maybe just one period or maybe one shift, we'll see."

Backstrom (16:18) and Ovechkin (13:36) saw career-lows in playoff ice-time in Monday's 3-2 Game 2 win in New York, but both are likely to play more in Game 3. Hunter has made it a point to match lines, and will have the home-ice advantage of the last change in Games 3 and 4.

"I'm just going to try to get the puck to [Ovechkin]," Backstrom said. "Me and Marcus are passers on that line, we know he has a good shot and we've just got to make sure he's open and then we'll try to find him. We'll all three go hard to the net and try to get goals."

Added Ovechkin: "I think we have chemistry, it's not a secret. He can control the puck in the neutral zone and skate and find me in open spots. He's a top center in the League, I've played with him and it's nice."

Regardless of history, ice time or matchups, the Capitals need more from their skilled forwards. Four of Washington's last five even-strength goals have come from their third and fourth lines, while top-six forwards Laich, Backstrom, Johansson and Alexander Semin have all gone at least five games without a goal.

Still, Hunter downplayed the significance of the line changes during practice.

"I don't know if they're playing together," Hunter said. "It's one of those things where they do know each other, but [Laich] has been here a long time, too, so it's just one of those things -- I thought I'd try it in practice."

The Caps' third and fourth lines remain unchanged, as do all three defensive pairings.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer
Mike Knuble - Keith Aucoin - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 10:55 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers defy 'score first and win' trend

Scoring first is usually the best way to win an NHL game. Someone has failed to get the message to the Philadelphia Flyers and their opponents during this year's playoffs.

For the seventh time in the Flyers' eight games, the team that scored first lost. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they opened the scoring against New Jersey on Tuesday, but went home with a 4-1 loss in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

The team that scored first lost all five games in the Flyers' first-round series against Pittsburgh before Philadelphia closed out the Penguins after scoring the first two goals of Game 6. The Devils scored first in the series-opener on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime loss, but dominated the Flyers in Game 2 after rookie Matt Read's early goal put the Flyers ahead.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:24 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Kings series blog

Kings aim for 60-minute effort in Game 3

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Little has gone wrong for the Los Angeles Kings thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there was one teachable aspect that they brought back home after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Kings jumped on the St. Louis Blues for a four-goal opening period, but they were outshot 24-5 the rest of the way as St. Louis got reorganized, although it was too little, too late to prevent a 5-2 loss.

L.A. reconvened at its home facility Tuesday feeling good about owning a 2-0 series lead. But the Kings know the last 40 minutes weren't the ideal way they would have liked to take to victory. 
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 7:21 PM

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

Report: Kovalchuk may have back injury

Ilya Kovalchuk
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 6
SOG: 25 | +/-: -5
PHILADELPHIA -- It's quite possible New Jersey Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk may be suffering from a back injury that will sideline him for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.
 
According to Rich Chere of the The (Newark) Star-Ledger, two anonymous sources told the paper that Kovalchuk "has been icing a back injury, which got progressively worse in the last few days."
 
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told the media on Tuesday morning that Kovalchuk is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Kovalchuk's status for Game 3 will likely be updated on Wednesday when the team returns to New Jersey.
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 4:12 PM

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

Del Zotto becoming bigger factor from blue line

NEW YORK -- Before the Rangers fell to the Capitals 3-2 on Monday night in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series that is tied at 1-1, they erased a 2-0 deficit and were a bounce away from forcing overtime.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was a factor in all of it, picking up a secondary assist on Brad Richards' goal late in the first period and firing a shot in the third period that deflected off the leg of Ryan Callahan and became a game-tying power-play goal.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin put his team in front with 7:27 left in the third period, but Del Zotto nearly tied the score in the final minute when his long blast rang off the post and deflected away from the net.

It was Del Zotto's second shot of the period that hit the post.

"He played very well," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday.

Del Zotto, 21, played 25:08 in Game 2, by far his biggest workload of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a sign he's earning more trust from Tortorella.

"Whatever minutes I get out there, I'm going to play my best," Del Zotto said. "I had some good chances and unfortunately I hit two posts there."

Del Zotto said he's grown more comfortable in his first postseason experience. In his first five games, he had just one assist but has three assists in his last four games.

"It's been fun. I've enjoyed every game," Del Zotto said. "I was happy with my game yesterday. It was a good confidence boost. But getting one late would've nice. But as it goes on, you get more and more comfortable and having more games under your belt definitely helps too. I'm just trying to be better every single day."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Boyle feels fine, wants to improve upon return effort

NEW YORK -- The good news for Brian Boyle after Game 2 against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is that he felt no ill effects from a concussion that cost him the previous three games.

The bad news for Boyle was that he didn't exactly play his best game in the Rangers' 3-2 loss Monday. Boyle had one shot in 15:20 of ice time in his usual spot centering the Rangers' third line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, but he was beaten cleanly on a faceoff by Nicklas Backstrom and didn't get to the point in time to block Alex Ovechkin's shot that became the game-winning power-play goal late in the third period.

"I stunk. I have to be better," Boyle said. "I'm not going to accept that, and coaches won't either."

Boyle had three goals in five games during the Rangers' first-round series with the Ottawa Senators, but none of that matters in the second round with the Rangers and Capitals tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven series.

"That's a long time ago," Boyle said. "That's a different series against a different team. If I want to be a big part of it, like I want to be, I have to play better."

The positive for Boyle was he felt fine physically and the concussion was in the rear-view mirror. He tested himself right away during Game 2 and finished the game with six hits.

"Physically, I'm good," Boyle said. "After I got banged around, we had some physical battles, I wasn't thinking about it too much. It was good. No ill effects."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:50 PM

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

Capitals say winning, not ice time, the main concern

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Karl Alzner and his teammates were sitting in the players' lounge at the Washington Capitals' practice facility Tuesday morning watching the highlights and analysis on NHL Network.

When the subject turned to Alex Ovechkin's ice time during Washington's 3-2 Game 2 win Monday against the New York Rangers, Alzner and his teammates shook their heads.

"To be honest, it's not even something that we notice," Alzner said of individual playing times. "We don't go down the sheet at the end of the game and say, 'How much did Ovi play?' That's just not something that we do. Talking to some of the guys, we all keep saying the same thing: 'It's too bad that that's the topic of conversation after we just won a big game.'"

Ovechkin skated a career-playoff-low 13:36 as the Caps evened their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at a game apiece thanks in part to Ovechkin's third-period game-winning-goal. Nicklas Backstrom (16:18) and Alexander Semin (12:27) also saw career-lows in playoff ice-time.

"The reason why their ice time is down is because we were up," Troy Brouwer said of the Caps playing much of Game 2 with the lead. "If we were down a goal, their ice time would be way up. … We've got guys like [Jay] Beagle, [Jason] Chimera and [Matt Hendricks] that are looked at when we're leading in a game to maintain that lead, and Alex knows that and he has to accept that."

In 37 career playoff games under Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin never played less than 19:42, but in nine playoff games under Dale Hunter, Ovechkin has skated 17:34 or less five times.

"If guys are getting upset about ice time and that's all you're worrying about, then you're off," Alzner said. "I've seen that happen to a lot of guys in the last seven years that I've been playing. It's pretty obvious. Everybody right now just doesn't care. Just go out there and play, work hard. Dale's going to reward you."

Hunter has made it a point to reward players regardless of name, salary or experience. Beagle has become the poster boy for Hunter's reward system and has emerged as Washington's shutdown third-line center.

The 26-year-old Beagle had never made an NHL roster out of training camp until this season, but in Game 2 Monday, he led all Washington forwards with 19:58 of ice-time.

"I think you, as a coach, you get more respect that way," Alzner said of Hunter's rewarding players. "You get people, overall, having a better attitude towards it all. … Sometimes the guys that are working extremely hard and aren't getting the minutes that they hope they're getting, they would get frustrated. I think when you reward whoever's going at that time or keeping it more even, collectively everybody's a little bit more happy."
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:42 PM

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

Girardi sees own minutes drop with Ovi's reduced role

NEW YORK -- Ask a member of the New York Rangers about the opposition, and the answer is always the same: "We're focused on what we can do, not on the other team."

But when defenseman Dan Girardi was asked if his 20:35 of ice time -- about six minutes fewer than his regular season average and fewest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals had to do with Alex Ovechkin playing a postseason career-low 13:36, the answer was a resounding yes.

"I think that's a good explanation," Girardi said Tuesday after an optional practice at Madison Square Garden. "He didn't play a lot. I think that's the matchup we're trying to get. It's just how it worked out. That's how their coach wants him to play. You have to ask (Capitals coach) Dale Hunter."

Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been the Rangers' shut-down defense pair all season, but with Ovechkin not on the ice to be shut down, it resulted in Girardi watching more than playing. The only other game this season in which Girardi played fewer minutes was in Chicago on Feb. 16. Girardi played just 18:55 as a tired Rangers team let a third-period lead slip away in a 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks.

Against the Capitals, Girardi played well and finished plus-1. Ovechkin's game-winning goal came on the power play after center Brad Richards took a penalty.

Despite Hunter's plan of attack, Girardi said he has to continue to play his game.

"I think I just got to not change anything, no matter how much he plays," Girardi said. "I think I just have to be ready on the ice no matter who's out there. When he's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him. Whoever's out there, I'll try to do a good job on him."

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal held Girardi's role in the previous two seasons as the team's No. 1 defenseman, but that changed when Staal missed the half of this season due to a concussion. During his comeback, Staal said the biggest adjustment was playing fewer minutes and having more time to think about his next shift, whenever it may be.

For Girardi, playing one game in that situation didn't change his approach.

"I just play my shift, go to the bench, and watch how the game's going and when I'm told to go again, I play," Girardi said. "It's nothing special for me."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.01.2012 / 3:00 PM

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

Capitals want to match strong road play at Verizon

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Of the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, none had fewer regular-season road wins than the Washington Capitals (16-21-4).

But in winning Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night against the New York Rangers and evening the best-of-seven series at a game apiece, the Caps improved to 4-2 on the road this postseason.

As the series now shifts to Verizon Center for Games 3 and 4, the Caps will look to match that road success on their own sheet of ice, where they went 1-2 in Round 1.

"If you look at a lot of series, the road teams are winning a lot of games," Jason Chimera said. "You've got to take that road mentality and play simple. You can't be out there to impress fans. This is not the time of year to impress fans. It's the time of year to win games."

Road teams went 31-17 in Round 1 and are 3-4 so far in Round 2. The common theme when it comes to road succees, according to the Capitals, is sticking with a simple game plan. The challenge now is to bring that same mentality to Verizon Center.

"I know we're in front of the home crowd and they may want to see some flash and some dazzle," Troy Brouwer said, "but we have to keep our game the same as we were playing on the road because that’s what’s been successful for us -- be patient, defense first, capitalize on our opportunities and just play a solid game.”

Added Chimera: "For whatever reason, at home, you maybe over-extend yourself a little bit, try to do a little too much, and it leads to their chances. So we've got to take that road mentality at home and I think that'll help us."

Playoff success at Verizon Center has been hard to come by for the Capitals who have gone 11-13 since 2008 despite owning one of the best regular-season home records over that same stretch (133-48-24).

"It's really hard to put a finger on it," Mike Knuble said. "I don't know if home teams feel more pressure like we've got to perform -- I don't think we feel that, and I don't think our fans are expecting that from us."

Knuble also noted that with Capitals coach Dale Hunter constantly monitoring the on-ice matchups, and trying to keep Alex Ovechkin away from New York's defensive tandem of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, the home-ice advantage of having the last change could also be a boost.

"It should be even more beneficial because Dale can get the exact matchup that he wants when he feels necessary," Knuble said. "It's early enough in the whole playoff thing we can right the ship here at home and be a strong home team and match the strong play we've had on the road."

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Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday