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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:50 PM

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

Gill set to return for Predators

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nashville defenseman Hal Gill, who missed the entire first round with a lower-body injury, has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Friday when the Predators open their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gill hasn’t played since blocking a shot from Sheldon Souray of the Dallas Stars on Apr. 5, but was back to blocking shots in practice this week and will be paired with Francis Bouillon, putting the Predators at full strength.
 
“I’m good to go,” Gill said. “I appreciated the boys giving me the rest and now it’s my turn to get in there.”

Gill said he tossed a turned a bit Thursday night and will have to get the playoff tension out early to catch up with everyone else.

“Sleep was tough last night. You get excited, you get geared up,” he said. “But it’s a good feeling. If you go to a horror movie, you want to be scared. If you’re in the playoffs you want to be excited and I’m definitely there.”

Gill is the latest of a handful of Predators who have added a new twist to the playoff beard tradition – sporting a playoff Mohawk on Friday. It was started by defenseman Kevin Klein during the playoff drive and several teammates have joined in.
 
Nashville center Mike Fisher said he won’t be joining the crowd on that one.

“Having a good look at these guys … I’ll stick with the beard,” he said.

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:25 PM

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

Bergeron admits he had oblique injury

BOSTON – Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron told reporters Friday that he played most of the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with a strained or torn oblique muscle.

There has been no MRI yet and Bergeron probably will not require surgery.

The veteran said the injury occurred in Game 3 and a twist he made in the second period of Game 5 made it worse. Although his ice time didn't decrease in Games 6 and 7, Bergeron was limited in what he could do to try to prevent the Bruins from losing to Washington.

"Obviously faceoffs. I've done two of them and it was because I had no other choice, they were big faceoffs and we had no other centers on the ice," Bergeron, who won both of those late-game draws, said. "But I really couldn't do it, honestly. It was really painful. I couldn't reach out. Everything you do with reaching out, try to battle with being strong on the stick, I couldn't really do that. I couldn't get full speed. It's your core, so it's pretty much everything, so everything was affected by it."

The Bruins were not done with all their medical examinations as of Friday afternoon. Bruins forward Tyler Seguin might require surgery on a knuckle on his left hand. Forward Nathan Horton and defenseman Adam McQuaid, both of whom are dealing with concussions, are expected to make full recoveries, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli.
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Hart not the trophy Giroux is concerned about

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Claude Giroux cracked a smile as a reporter asked how he felt about not being one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy.

"The Hart Trophy?" Giroux said. "Which one is that?"

MVP, of course.

"Kidding, kidding," Giroux said, smiling bigger now.

So, how does he feel about not being a finalist despite finishing third in the League with 93 points and second with 65 assists?

"I didn't see the news, but at the end of the day that's not the trophy I want," he said. "It's done. It's something I don't really control."

Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos were named the finalists Friday. The Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on the award.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was in no mood to deal with a question pertaining to the regular season. Like Giroux, he said he hadn't seen the list of finalists, either.

"If you're asking me what I think of Claude Giroux, I think he's a terrific player in this League," he said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:37 PM

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

Projected lineups for Game 1

The Coyotes have only one question mark in the lineup. Defenseman David Schlemko started over veteran Adrian Aucoin in the series-clinching win over Chicago after Aucoin had played in the first five games.

Here is what the lineups for both Phoenix and the Nashville Predators could look like for Game 1 of this Western Conference Semifinals series:

Predators

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Alexander Rudlov
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Brandon Yip - Jordan Tootoo - Craig Smith

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Hal Gill

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Coyotes

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
KyleChipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - David Schlemko
Rostisalv Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:51 PM

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

Ward receives standing ovation at Caps practice

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward took the ice at practice Friday morning and was met with a standing ovation from about 100 fans in attendance, as well stick-taps from his teammates.

Ward’s game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 Wednesday against the Boston Bruins sent the Caps to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they will face the New York Rangers beginning Saturday (3:00 p.m., ET, NBC).

The biggest goal of Ward’s career, however, was partially overshadowed by racial slurs that were posted Wednesday night on social networking websites including Twitter.

Ward told a Washington radio station Friday that “words don’t hurt me,” and said he was disappointed that the online comments have kept his teammates from receiving attention for the series. Ward singled out goalie Braden Holtby, who was brilliant throughout the series and became just the third rookie goalie in the history of the League to eliminate the defending champions.

"There's been a lot of support from everybody, especially my teammates and then the whole organization and even the opposition and the Bruins and some of their fans," Ward said after practice. "It's been overwhelming. A lot's been going on. I'm just trying to embrace it as best I can."

Ward also said Friday morning that he received a congratulatory and supportive text message from Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley.
 
NOTES: The Capitals practiced Friday with the lines and defensive pairings listed below.

Alex OvechkinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Matt HendricksJay BeagleJason Chimera
Mike KnubleKeith AucoinJoel Ward
Mattias SjogrenJeff HalpernMathieu Perreault
 
Karl AlznerJohn Carlson
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Jeff SchultzDennis Wideman
John Erskine - Dmitry Orlov
 
Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:49 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Grossmann's status for Game 1 still unknown

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Despite practicing the last two days in a regular, contact jersey, Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann has not been cleared by team doctors to play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Devils.

Grossman, who sustained an upper-body injury that at least one teammate called a concussion in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Penguins, still hopes he gets his clearance prior to the series opener on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

"We'll see (Saturday)," Grossmann told NHL.com following practice Friday. "I still have to talk to the doctors and all that. Everything is up in the air, so I don't even know."

Grossmann added that for now he's just happy to be back on the ice with the team. As for his odds of playing in Game 1, he wasn't saying.
 
"It's tough to say how I feel. I don't even know what is normal," Grossmann said. "It's just nice to be on the ice and skate. That's a good feeling. I just take it a day at a time, try to stay positive and go from there."

Fellow defenseman Andrej Meszaros continues to skate and work his way back from mid-March back surgery, but he doesn't appear close to playing yet.

Forward Maxime Talbot, who took a puck to the face in practice Thursday, said he is fine. He has a chipped tooth and a swollen and cut lip, but he participated in the full practice Friday.

"Matty Carle shot it; good thing it was him -- a muffin," Talbot joked. "Actually, Eric Wellwood tipped it, so that's his fault. He's a rookie. I'm going to get him back."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:53 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Flyers vs. Devils series blog

Devils enjoy first series win since 2007

Five years without winning a playoff series is a long time for a franchise that's as accustomed to success as the New Jersey Devils. That's why they hope ending their postseason drought with a first-round win against Florida is a harbinger of good things to come.

The Devils got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007 by outlasting Florida 3-2 in double overtime on Thursday night to win Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Now it's on to Philadelphia and a rematch with the team that wiped them out in five games in the opening round two years ago.

"Winning a playoff series goes a long way," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 43 saves and is now 6-4 in 10 career Game 7 starts. "I think for people it's just a confidence and sometimes you need adversity. …The first round, I think when you haven't been in the playoffs, especially the year before and it's been struggling getting out of the first round, when you get through that it feels good for a day and then after that we've got to face the Flyers."

By the time the game ended at 12:17 a.m. ET, Thursday night had turned into Friday morning -- marking the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first NHL playoff game, on April 27, 1992 against the Rangers.

The win means that the NHL's winningest regular-season goaltender will get to spend his 40th birthday doing what he does best -- the Devils will host Philadelphia in Game 4 a week from Sunday.

With 43 saves, including a handful of series-savers, Brodeur looked as sharp as ever.

"He was outstanding, especially in the first overtime and late in the third period," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "He was our best player tonight and he had to be or we don't win."

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:58 AM

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

No place like home for Rangers

If the New York Rangers have to play a Game 7, there's nowhere else they'd rather play it than Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers rode the benefits of playing in front of their home fans to a 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Playing the deciding game at MSG was their reward for finishing first in the Eastern Conference -- and they'll have the same reward for as far as they go in the playoffs.

The Rangers are now 4-5 all-time in Game 7s -- 4-0 at the Garden and 0-5 on the road. The victory against the Senators was their first in a Game 7 since they held off Vancouver to win the 1994 Final. The other two Game 7 wins both came against New Jersey -- they won 8-4 in the opening round in 1992 and 2-1 in double overtime in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final.

Ottawa has yet to find a way to win Game 7. The Senators have gone to a seventh game five times but have yet to win one -- in fact, they've scored just six goals in the five games.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 4-2-0
GAA: 2.06 | SVP: 0.922
Marty comes through -- Playoff overtime has never been Martin Brodeur's strong suit, but he came through in back-to-back games when the New Jersey Devils needed him most.

Brodeur made 43 saves before Adam Henrique's goal 3:47 into the second overtime gave New Jersey a 3-2 win at Florida in Game 7 on Thursday night. Brodeur and the Devils also won Game 6 in OT, giving him overtime wins in back-to-back games for the first time beating Toronto in Games 2 and 3 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Despite the two wins against Florida, Brodeur is still just 14-21 in overtime during the playoffs.

The winningest regular-season goaltender in NHL history now has won six of his 10 decisions in Game 7 -- he's 3-2 on the road and at home. Brodeur has split the two Game 7s that went into overtime; he lost to the New York Rangers in double overtime in the Eastern Conference Finals 18 years ago.

The Game 7 win against Florida came about 20 minutes after Thursday night turned into Friday morning -- and April 27 is the 20th anniversary of Brodeur's first Stanley Cup Playoff game, an 8-5 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their first-round series in 1992.

Fitting conclusion
-- It was appropriate that the first round of the playoffs ended with the longest game of the record 16 contests to go into overtime.

Adam Henrique
Center - NJD
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 10 | +/-: 1
Henrique's goal at 23:47 of overtime concluded an opening round that saw exactly one-third of the 48 games played go past regulation. It's the most OT games ever in the opening round -- and puts the NHL on track to break the record of 28 overtime games in a single playoff year, set in 1993.

Of the eight series in the conference quarterfinals, only one -- Detroit-Nashville -- didn't have at least one overtime game. Phoenix and Chicago tied a record when they went to extra time in each of the first five games, and the Washington-Boston series had four OT contests.

That the visiting Devils won Thursday night shouldn't have come as a surprise. Road teams won 12 of the 16 overtime games -- and all three that went into a second extra period.

20 and counting -- The departure of the Senators means that the Stanley Cup will be staying south of the 49th parallel again. Not since the Montreal Canadiens beat Los Angeles in 1993 has a Canadian-based team taken home the Cup. This is the first year since 1996 that the final eight in the playoffs don't include a Canadian team.

Ottawa's loss also kept another streak intact. Since the current playoff format was adopted for the 1993-94 season, we haven't had both No. 8 seeds win. Los Angeles became the 12th No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed by eliminating Vancouver, but the Senators came up a goal short in their effort to oust the Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

First-round review -- No sweeps. Three seven-game series. Domination by visiting teams. Such was the first round of this year's playoffs.

For the second time in three years, all eight conference quarterfinals went more than four games. Three -- all in the West -- were decided in five games. Two others went six games and three Eastern Conference series went to the limit, the second time that's happened in as many years.

The Vancouver Canucks became the 10th top seed in a conference to fail to get out of the first round when Los Angeles beat them in five games. Boston became the second straight defending champ to be knocked out in the first round when it lost to Washington.

The trend of road teams dominating the opening round continued -- the guys in the white sweaters won 30 of the 48 games, the third year in a row visiting teams have won more than they've lost in the first round. None of the eight winning teams was perfect at home.
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 12:40 AM

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

Rangers and Caps to renew playoff rivalry

NEW YORK -- For the third time in four years, the Rangers will face the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Things have not gone well for the Rangers in those matchups, both of which occurred in the first round. In 2009, the seventh-seeded Rangers let a 3-1 series lead slip away and lost in seven games. Last year, the eighth-seeded Rangers lost in five games to the top-seeded Caps.

The shoe is on the other foot this time around -- the Rangers enter the series as the No. 1 team in the East with the seventh-seeded Capitals as the underdogs.

None of that matters to Henrik Lundqvist, the losing goalie in those previous two encounters.

"The past is the past," Lundqvist said after the Rangers won Game 7 by beating Ottawa 2-1 on Thursday. "I don't think about what happened last year or whatever. It's different teams. We're in a different place and they're in a different place. I'm going to approach it the same way I approached this one, not overthink it or try to do too much. Their top guys are really talented and can make some big plays out of nothing, so we have to be ready."

The Caps have won four of the previous six postseason meetings between the teams. But both of the Rangers' wins have come in this round -- New York upset Washington in 1986 and beat the Caps in five in 1994 on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The teams split four games during the regular season, with team earning a victory in the other's building.

"I don't know honestly how much is going to change game-wise," Lundqvist said. "It's the playoffs. It's more physical. It might be similar, maybe not, who knows, but for me personally it doesn't really change. I'm going to approach it the same way and I have to play my game the same way. So, yeah, it doesn't change for me."

Both teams are coming off seven-game series and won't have much rest entering the conference semifinals.

"They went seven games as well and have very confident players," Rangers forward Marian Gaborik said. "We have to get ready for those guys and play our game. It's going to be another tough series."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter; @DaveLozo

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 10:26 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes will be rested for Game 1

Not only did the Phoenix Coyotes win their first playoff series since 1987 when they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they earned themselves some much-needed rest.

After beating the Hawks in a grueling six-game series that saw the first five go into overtime, Phoenix got a welcome three-day break before the Nashville Predators come to the desert to open their Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.

Instead of practicing on Wednesday, the Coyotes held a team meeting instead. A few players took the ice while others received treatment or worked out. Coach Dave Tippett put his team through a practice on Thursday in preparation for the series opener on Friday night. He anticipates having everyone available for Game 1 except suspended forward Raffi Torres.

The four remaining teams in the West have a combined total of four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final -- three by St. Louis from 1968-70 and one by Los Angeles in 1993. Neither the Coyotes nor the Predators have gotten past the second round.

But both Phoenix and Nashville are here after eliminating Original Six teams -- Chicago and Detroit. The Predators have been off since beating the Wings in five games last Friday.

"It helps the grassroots. You get excitement," Tippett said of the turnover on top of the conference. "New blood in there, the more teams we can get to that element, I think that's great for the League."

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Quote of the Day

It's always a little bit weird, but it moves on. They've got a good team, and they played well tonight. I think that's just part of it.

— Peter Laviolette on facing his former team (Flyers) for the first time since his departure