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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 11:59 PM

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

Plenty of overtime again this spring

If playoff overtime is your thing, this year's opening round has been a moveable feast.

New Jersey's 3-2 victory against Florida on Tuesday marked the 14th time in 45 games so far during this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs that the teams were unable to decide matters in the regulation 60 minutes. That equals the number of first-round overtime games a year ago, which ended with 22 of the 89 games being decided in OT. It's also the same number of first-round overtimes as 1993, which ended with a record 28 games going into OT.

Extra time has not been kind to home teams this spring. The Devils became only the fourth home team in the 14 OT games to win when Travis Zajac scored at 5:39 of the first overtime. 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 5:33 PM

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

Hunter enjoys 'one game takes all' situation

ARLINGTON, Va. -- It has been 24 years since Dale Hunter scored one of the biggest goals in Washington Capitals history -- a Game 7 overtime winner against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals.

The win against the Flyers came in the first of four Game 7s Hunter would play for the Caps, but the only one in which he left a winner.

Wednesday at TD Garden, Hunter will seek his second career Game 7 win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his first as an NHL coach, when the Caps meet the Boston Bruins in the deciding game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"As a player, I enjoyed them. It was fun. One game takes all," Hunter said. "As a player, you prepare yourself the same way, get ready for the game. And as a coach, you can't get too hyper. You've got to know who's on the ice and who's not. It changes from coach to player, but it’s exciting to be in a Game 7 like this and playing the Boston Bruins."

Hunter coached in five Game 7s with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights (posting a 2-3 record), but his coaching counterpart for Boston, Claude Julien, has been behind an NHL bench for seven Game 7s (4-3 record).

"As a coach, you've got to prepare the guys and then they have to go out and execute," he said. "As a player, you've got to prepare yourself to be ready to play and do the right things. Don't get too high, don't get too low. Just go out and keep it the same."

Like their coach, five current Capitals have also played in four Game 7s with Washington only to come up short three times.

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and Mike Green will all be appearing in their fifth Game 7 in as many years. This will be their first Game 7 on the road and their first without former coach Bruce Boudreau.

"The only difference is I think we play better defensively this year than previous years," Backstrom said. "It's a good challenge for us to be going to Boston and playing a Game 7 there against the Stanley Cup champions. I think everybody's prepared and we know what's coming."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 5:26 PM

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

Michalek will not face supplemental discipline

Ottawa forward Milan Michalek will not face supplemental discipline for using his skate to shove Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi during a pile-up of players in the crease late in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Monday night at Scotiabank Place.

Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan issued a warning that similar behavior will not be tolerated from Michalek in a phone call to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray on Tuesday afternoon.

The Rangers won the game, 3-2, to even the series at three games each. Game 7 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:49 PM

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

Capitals rested, ready for Game 7

ARLINGTON, Va. – After winning Game 4 of their 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Montreal’s Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals boarded the team’s charter flight for what was supposed to be a routine trip back to Washington’s Dulles Airport. 

But as the fate of the Presidents’ Trophy winners was about to grow cloudy against Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens, the sky before them grew increasingly foggy.

The fog forced the Caps’ flight to detour twice before eventually landing in Baltimore. By the time customs officials processed the team, it was nearing four in the morning. Some players wouldn’t arrive home until close to 6 a.m.

It turned out the Capitals themselves would become a little foggy in the days ahead -- a tired bunch left scratching their heads, wondering how they could beat Halak and the Canadiens.

One day after their early morning landing, the Caps lost 2-1 in Game 5 on home ice. Captain Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for both goals, and both came from an area of the ice he is expected to defend.

Five days later, the Caps became the first No. 1 seed to blow a 3-1 first-round series lead as the Canadiens beat Washington 2-1 in Game 7.

Two years later, things seemed a whole lot clearer for the Capitals as they prepared Tuesday morning for their first Game 7 since that loss to Montreal.

As the Caps flew to Boston on Tuesday – on a sunny afternoon -- they did so as a rested (two days between Games 6 and 7) and energized group with the experience of multiple Game 7 disappointments and a better understanding of what it takes to win.

“I think it’s a lot different,” said Jason Chimera, who was also part of the 2010 team. “I think it’s a different team. We’re playing the way you have to play in the playoffs and that makes this year different. In other series the past few years we were trading chances, but this year we’ve kept them in check pretty good.”

The Capitals are preparing for their fifth Game 7 in as many years, having gone 1-3 in the previous four. But this is the first Game 7 with Dale Hunter as coach, and he has the Capitals buying into his system and playing a responsible brand of hockey that could be better suited for the postseason.

“When it comes playoff time, you've got to play playoff style hockey,” Hunter said. “That's hard hockey, grinding it out. Limit your turnovers and you've got to go to the net hard. Goals are scored around the blue paint, and that's where you want to score.”

Added Mike Knuble: “In the past when our offense went away or it was a struggle to score goals it was like ‘Now what?’ You’re thinking a little bit ‘Now what are we going to do?’… But this year has just been a little more conservative and a defense-first approach. In the past it was always that we were the team that was going to try and out-score you. We’ve tried to change it around.”
 
Seven current Caps have been with the team for each of Washington’s last four Game 7s, including Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, John Erskine and Jeff Schultz.
The Caps beat the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but lost in Game 7 one round later against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps also lost in Game 7 of the first round in 2008 against the Philadelphia Flyers and again in 2010 against Montreal.

“Mentally, right now, we are getting better and better all the time. This is the most important thing,” said captain Alex Ovechkin who has two goals and four points in four career Game 7s. “When you play against a Stanley Cup champion in Game 7, you have to [be] clear mentally and you have to be fresh… I think everybody right now is focusing, and everybody knows what exactly they have to do.”

For the Capitals that means sticking to a simple game plan and limiting mistakes. In a Game 6 loss Sunday to Boston, Washington turnovers led to the Bruins’ third and fourth goals in their 4-3 overtime win.

“We definitely don't want to be in a track meet with these guys,” Laich said. “We want to keep the game tight and keep pucks to the outside and chip and chase. It makes their D-men go back and get it… It almost becomes just a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least is probably going to win.”

The Capitals may not have as much playoff experience as the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins, but they don’t seem overwhelmed by the moment either. The Caps have embraced the role of the road underdog- a recent development for a team that hosted its last four Game 7s- and have bought into a system that could be the difference between a Game 7 win or another playoff disappointment.

“Guys are comfortable and confident and that’s what you want going into Game 7,” Knuble said. “You look around the room and know that everybody’s going to be in this game and everybody’s going to show up."


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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:28 PM

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

GM of the Year finalist Armstrong rebuilt Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Doug Armstrong was on a mission to get the St. Louis Blues back on track.

It was a bit of a rocky start at the outset, but ultimately with a few changes and some tweaks to a roster chalk full of younger talent, the Blues were able to persevere.

And on Tuesday, the NHL announced that Armstrong, along with Florida's Dale Tallon and Nashville's David Poile are the finalists for the 2012 General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong became the 11th GM in Blues history on July 1, 2010, and is in his second full season.

Since taking the reins in 2010-11, Armstrong has orchestrated several additions to the club, including trading for Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell and Chris Stewart while also signing veteran free agents Jason Arnott, Brian Elliott, Kent Huskins, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol to mix in with that youth core.

The moves helped the Blues go from ninth to second in the Western Conference this season.

"It's certainly a great honor to be in there with David Poile and Dale Tallon, two guys who have done a tremendous job this season," Armstrong said. "It's certainly something that we cherish here as an organization.

"I sort of look at the Jennings Trophy as accepted by the goaltenders, but it's a team award. I think the manager of the year is really the ultimate team award from the work that the players and the scouts and coaches do. It's verification almost of an organizational award."

This season, the Blues posted their first 100-point campaign (49-22-11, 109 points) since 2001 and their first playoff series win since 2002 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The club broke or tied 13 franchise records in 2011-12, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins overall, which is a franchise record. Overall, the Blues have gone 87-55-22 in the last two seasons, tying for 11th best in the NHL under Armstrong, who now becomes the team's biggest fan since the GMs can't make any more deals or transactions.

"You're here to lend support to the training staff, the coaching staff and the players," Armstrong said. "Really after the trade deadline, the job is done and as we say, you hope you haven't messed up things too much. You just move forward and you support the guys. Ultimately, the players have done a tremendous job right from training camp on. We got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but they were able to right that ship. I enjoy watching them go through this."

That rocky start included a 6-7 run that saw Armstrong make arguably his boldest move when he fired Davis Payne and brought in Ken Hitchcock to get back on track.

"Doug's a smart hockey guy," Hitchcock said. "I think his strength for me is, he trusts his people but he asks for information and really listens. He has a core group of guys, Army asks a lot of questions, he doesn't do anything without being very thorough and he's been that way since he worked in Dallas. That's his real strength, he's not afraid to ask questions, and if he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent, he's going to ask a lot of questions to get the right answers. He's very, very thorough. And he understands from the Dallas days what a good team feels like. The balance between veterans and young people, the necessary element to have on your team to demand the young players play accordingly."

Before joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years with the Dallas Stars organization and his final six seasons as the club's GM. He was a part of the Stars’ organization since the club moved to Dallas in 1993 and helped lead the franchise to two Presidents' Trophies, two Western Conference titles and the 1999 Stanley Cup.

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:19 PM

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

Flyers focus on staying sharp

VOORHEES, N.J. -- For their first practice after eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers spent Tuesday skating.

Lots and lots of skating.

Coach Peter Laviolette put his players through a number of drills during the 60-minute session that focused on moving up and down the ice, transition play and puck movement. 

"I think it's real important to keep the guys out there and moving," Laviolette said. "It was really good. We didn't want them to think too much about systems today or what we may or may not be looking at or what we may or may not be doing. Just getting them up and down the ice. I thought it was a really good clip, 30 minutes up and down, was a great pace."

With the Flyers off for at least another few days while awaiting the start of the second round, Laviolette said he's going to use this time to let some players rest while keeping the group moving.

"I don't know the schedule, but we're looking somewhere on the weekend [to start the second round]," Laviolette said. "We still have time to prepare and go over things. I think an important thing right now is to keep moving. Keep breaking a sweat and move up and down the ice. These guys want to work, they want to run. I thought today was good."

The only healthy regulars missing from the workout were forward Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who received treatment and worked out off the ice. Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, skated earlier in the morning with the extra players.

Of the players who did skate with the main group, one noticeable participant was defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who is recovering from back surgery performed last month. He wore a gray, non-contact jersey, and likely is at least another two weeks away from returning. However Laviolette said it was nice to see the big blueliner back with the main group.

"Really encouraged," Laviolette said when asked what he saw from Meszaros. "He's a big part of our team. Any time you get a player back, that starts practicing, that's a positive."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:18 PM

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

Similarities between Kings, Blues are hard to ignore

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Judging by how most observers project the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues to unfold, they might as well go straight to overtime.

The similarities are a big talking point leading up to the start of the series: two low-scoring teams that are designed by defense and goaltending to grind opponents down.

"Mirror image," Kings forward Dustin Penner said. "What were we, one and two in goals against [average] this year? The games are always close -- low-scoring, big forwards, tough team, great goaltending. For both teams you don't know who you're talking about."

Yes, St. Louis was first in the League with 1.89 GAA in the regular season to L.A.'s 2.07. The Kings won three of four regular season meetings, but the teams split the final two games, each by 1-0 scores.

Brian Elliott had a 0.71 GAA in two appearances against L.A. Jonathan Quick had a 0.33 GAA with 94 saves on 95 shots against the Blues. The Kings enter the series on a scoreless stretch of 130 minutes, 49 seconds against St. Louis, while the Blues have gone 96:22 without scoring against L.A. 

L.A. regards St. Louis as a much more physical, hard-nosed team. The teams combined for 86 hits in the March 22 game, a 1-0 shootout win by Los Angeles.

"They all play a heavy game and they all forecheck and hit and they're all hard on you," Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. "I think we've got to bring that to our game and push them back."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said that the teams are similar statistically, but he again brought out the underdog card when asked if the Blues were a mirror image of the Kings.

"We didn't have as many wins as they did," Sutter said. "They won 30 games at home."

The Kings' quarterfinal victory against top-seeded Vancouver threw all conventional thinking out the window. So did the elimination of typical Western powers the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
L.A. was also the team that pulled out two shorthanded goals in one game against Vancouver and outscored it, 7-5, overall in even-strength play.

"Everybody's asking me about how low-scoring it's going to be," Quick said. "But I think I'm sure if you looked back at postseason history and teams that matched up like this, I'm sure there's been quite a few games that have gone the other way, and games that people didn't really expect, 3-4, 4-5 games. When you get out there you can expect anything. You got to be ready for anything. It's all about who comes and competes the hardest."

Penner on the second line: Penner skated on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in practice Tuesday, while Dwight King was dropped to the third line with Lewis and Jarret Stoll.

That's a significant change for a Sutter team that has used the same lines since the acquisition of Jeff Carter in February.

"We got to continue to move around," Sutter said. "We're lucky we've got guys that can play everywhere, so it's not like our left wing hasn't excelled five-on-five. We're trying to find stuff that works."

Kyle Clifford skated at the end of practice, an encouraging sign for the fourth-line winger who is trying to recover from a probable concussion.

Lewis a hero, too: While Stoll joined Adam Deadmarsh and Mike Krushelnyski as players to score series-clinching overtime goals in Kings history, Lewis made the play happen when he got the puck away from Dan Hamhuis.

A typical Sutter third-line grinder, Lewis has become a valuable role player and even contributed a goal in the Vancouver series. He said he received some attention after his play.

"I had a few more text messages after the game than normal and talked to a lot of people that I hadn't talked to in a while about it, so it was pretty cool," Lewis said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 4:00 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

No qualms from Sens' stars about benching

OTTAWA -- The Senators held an optional practice Tuesday afternoon, but the rink remained dark as players milled in the hallways, kicking soccer balls and getting some rest before Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the New York Rangers on Thursday.

More fallout from the benching of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson at the beginning of the third period was the hot topic on Tuesday. Both Spezza and Alfredsson (who lost his temper on the bench) had discussions with coach Paul MacLean after the game.

"I think the conversations a lot of the times [with Spezza] are 'skate through the middle of the rink and shoot the puck,'" MacLean said. "We're not disappointed in any way with the way that Jason has played. This is a playoff series where every night the other team makes it hard for you to do things. You've got to stick to it. Those are the conversations that we have."

Added Spezza: "There's no issue between [MacLean and myself] whatsoever. I really like how he coaches the game. That's not saying that I disagree sometimes with how he does things. I want to be on the ice at all times. At times, emotions can come out. But I really enjoy Paul as a coach. I think he's done a phenomenal job."

When asked about his lack of ice time in the third, Spezza's response was short and to the point.

"If there was a message sent, it was received," he said.

After saying Monday night that he would discuss Alfredsson's behavior on the bench with his captain -- the Swede was seen smashing his stick and stomping on water bottles after coming off the ice from a shift -- the coach admitted he had indeed spoken to the team leader about his outburst.

"[Alfredsson and I] had a good conversation about it -- about frustration and how it limits your focus," MacLean said. "He's frustrated. He got hit -- a little quasi-from-the-backside when he's killing the penalty, and I think coming off the injury that he had was part of the frustration he had. You get hit in that vulnerable position after coming back (from a concussion). That kind of led to it."

"[Monday] was frustrating," Alfredsson added. "I thought I had control of it, then I went out on the penalty kill and [John Mitchell] made a pretty good lick on me. I [didn't] see him at all until the last second. Then I [lost] it pretty much. I was mad at myself for not being able to see him. I felt pretty bad for a bit. I know I have to refocus. I don't send a good message to the team by doing that."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 3:25 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Senators series blog

Alfredsson 'honored and humbled' by Masterton nod

OTTAWA -- After coming off back surgery at the end of a disappointing 2010-11 season, the future of Daniel Alfredsson’s NHL career was left in doubt.

However, the Ottawa Senators captain battled back with a renaissance year, and on Tuesday was announced as a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, along with Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Max Pacioretty of Montreal Canadiens. The Trophy is awarded to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

"I'm honored and humbled," Alfredsson said. "It feels really good to come back and play, especially after a frustrating couple of years. The doctors did a great job with my surgery. I got much better this year and I'm having more fun playing. I put a lot of work in, rehabbing and getting ready, and I'm so happy with the success we've had this year. It's been a great group to be a part of and a lot of fun."

Alfredsson's surgery gave him a new lease on life in the League, and the captain has taken advantage. He had 27 goals -- including the 400th of his career -- 59 points and a plus-16 rating, recorded his 1,000th point and was named an All-Star captain.

"Once I had the surgery [in June], even the same day I felt better," Alfredsson said. "That was really encouraging. It was fun to work out again, instead of being limited to what you can do in the gym. It's been hard, but it's been good."

The revitalized leader lit a fire under his team, and for the Sens -- who were not expected to make waves this season -- their captain's perseverance provided a great amount of motivation.

"[Alfredsson's] a class act," goalie Craig Anderson said. "He's our captain, he's our leader. He's very emotional about the team; very emotional about himself. He wants to perform at his best at all times and we want to stand alongside him. His passion for the game is second to none."

Added Jason Spezza: "Coming off back surgery at that age is an accomplishment, and he's had a great year while staying relatively healthy. We were encouraged -- we didn't know how healthy he'd be for the season. We were happy to see him have the success he's had this year, and it's really nice to see him get recognition like that."

The 39-year-old Alfredsson has yet to decide whether he will come back for a 17th season. For now, his mind is focused on chasing the Stanley Cup.

"I'm still taking things day by day," Alfredsson said. "I'll think about it in the offseason, whenever that may be. Right now I'm thinking about Game 7 (against the New York Rangers)."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.24.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Meszaros, Grossmann on the ice for Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Nicklas Grossmann were on the ice briefly Tuesday as they attempt to recover from their injuries.

Grossmann is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury that kept him out of the final two games of the Flyers' first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He skated with the team's extra players prior to the start of regular practice.

Meszaros is recovering from back surgery performed March 21. He skated with the extra players and also was on the ice briefly with the main group wearing a gray, non-contact jersey. It's the first time he's skated with the team since leaving the lineup March 1. The original prognosis was for him to miss 6-8 weeks.

All but two of the healthy players were on the ice for Tuesday's practice. Center Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen were absent from the workout, which was heavy on conditioning.

In Briere's absence, the Flyers shuffled two of their four lines, with the top trio of Claude Giroux with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell staying intact, along with the line of Sean Couturier between Maxime Talbot and Eric Wellwood. The other lines saw Matt Read centering James van Riemsdyk and Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn between Zac Rinaldo and Jakub Voracek.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK






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Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins