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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 11:57 AM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

JR: Why I'm picking home teams to win Game 7s

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and normally includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League. However, with three Game 7s upcoming in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, JR switched his format for this week to analyze the games: Washington at Boston; Ottawa at New York; and New Jersey at Florida.

The road teams have dominated in these playoffs so far, but I've got the home teams winning these upcoming Game 7s. Here's why:

Washington at Boston

First off, I think this will be a very low-scoring game. However, I like the Bruins to squeak it out.

They're not going to be nervous. They are coming off a Stanley Cup win and three Game 7s, one of those being in the Stanley Cup Final. They're going to come out flying and feeling good that they got to Game 7 after winning Game 6. And if you want a goalie in the net for a Game 7, you want Tim Thomas.

Thomas is a guy who lives for games like these with the way he plays, his aggression, his style. He likes to be the center of attention, so I think Boston is going to take this just because Thomas is going to try to take over this game himself.

Tyler Seguin getting on the board scoring that overtime goal in Game 6 could spur him as well. He's going to be flying because whenever you're a top guy and you start getting points, score a goal, whatever, that pressure comes off of you and you really start moving better, skating better, making better decisions.

I must admit that I've been impressed with the way Washington has flipped the switch.

The Caps were so back and forth throughout the season with two good games, three bad games, one good game, two bad games. Alex Ovechkin was under scrutiny and Alexander Semin was always under fire and then Nicklas Backstrom was hurt. But all of a sudden, here in the playoffs, they are playing a total team game, which is why they are still in this series and have a chance to win this series.

When you have a guy like Braden Holtby playing so well it sends confidence throughout the team. I think they are playing harder for the kid in net, and that's what Dale Hunter has been trying to get across to this team.

But I just think all that Game 7 experience on Boston's side, especially from the last year, will push them over the top.

Ottawa at New York

I really thought the Senators would win Game 6, but their undisciplined penalties could end up losing the series for them.

When you're on the power play and you take two bad penalties, then you go down 5-on-3, and you let up power-play goals, that is going to kill you every time. As an eighth seed, you can't have an opportunity to close out the No. 1 seed in your own building and then blow a lead to lose it. Ottawa has lost their chance to win this one.

You've got to go with the goaltender, and Henrik Lundqvist has been the best goalie all year and I think he will be the best goaltender in Game 7.

I've also been impressed with the kid, Chris Kreider. He played his best game Monday since he came in in Game 3.

Kreider finally moved his feet, got into the play, used his speed and size, and showed his talent. The kid has good hands for a big guy. He was involved. He wasn't standing on the outside waiting for something to happen. He made things happen and then scored a big goal. I would expect him to be just as good with having a big game under his belt.

But I like the Rangers because of Lundqvist.

New Jersey at Florida

I have no problem saying that this is probably the least intriguing series of the playoffs, and probably the least exciting in terms of the fighting, the physicality and the speed.

However, it is exciting that Florida keeps battling back from deficits. The Panthers go down 3-0 and battle back to win Game 3. They're down 2-0 in Game 6 and battle back to tie it only to lose in overtime.

I just think it's the Panthers' turn. It's their year. They haven't won a series since 1996 and this team is resilient. But they have to play more intense and be more aggressive than they were in Game 6. They sat back. They tried to not make mistakes and it ended up burning them in the end.

Home-ice advantage will be huge for them and getting Jose Theodore back in net, if his injury is healed, is also big.

Scott Clemmensen played well in Game 6, but he wasn't tested much. A lot of the shots were from the outside, from the corner, pucks just thrown at the net. I don't think he was tested all but two or three times, and he let up a weak goal to Steve Bernier and probably could have had the winning goal by Travis Zajac. I guess all in all he played pretty sound, but if Jose can go, he should be in the net.

Dale Tallon has put together a team that might be able to get this done. It's a 51-49 shot for me and I'm going to the home ice.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 10:52 AM

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

Projected Game 7 lineup for Bruins

BOSTON -- Bruins center Patrice Bergeron took the morning skate with his teammates Wednesday and skated in his usual lineup spot between wingers Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley, as the team prepared for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Capitals at TD Garden.

Bergeron did not practice Tuesday due to an undisclosed injury he's been battling through since the second period of Game 5 last Saturday. He played in the Bruins' win in Game 6 Sunday, but was off with the rest of his team Monday and then didn't hit the ice Tuesday. After practice Tuesday, Bruins coach Claude Julien said he had no concerns about Bergeron missing a game.

When asked if Bergeron would play in Game 7, Julien said: "Yes, I think so."

It's believed Bergeron's injury is of an upper-body nature because he was only able to take one faceoff in Game 6.

The rest of the Bruins' lines were the same as well. Julien will make a game-time decision between veteran Shawn Thornton and rookie Jordan Caron for the 12th forward position. Caron skated in Thornton's place in Game 6.

Here's the Bruins' projected lineup:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton/Jordan Caron

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon - Mike Mottau

Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:02 AM

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

Game 7 could be last for Caps' Knuble

ARLINGTON, Va. – It remains to be seen whether Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble will return to the NHL for a 17th season of professional hockey. Knuble becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1- three days before he turns 40 -- and he's coming off his least productive season since the 2001-02 campaign.

Mike Knuble
Right Wing - WSH
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 1 | +/-: 1
After eight straight 20-goal seasons, Knuble was held to six goals and 18 points in 72 games this season. He also missed 10 games as a healthy scratch and finished with a career-worst minus-15 rating.

Knuble is expected to skate on Washington's fourth line Wednesday when the Capitals face the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Game 7 will in fact be Game 1,098 in Knuble's career (regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoffs combined). Should the Bruins win, it may also be his last.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 12:25 AM

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

Brodeur fights through downtime

NEWARK, N.J. -- Martin Brodeur was ice cold and even admitted he had to fight his mind from wandering.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 3-2-0
GAA: 2.22 | SVP: 0.911
It's a good thing he won that fight, because the Devils' season might be over had he not.

Despite facing only four shots in the second period and just three in the third, Brodeur had to come up with a season-saving save on Mikael Samuelsson with 2:31 left in regulation Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Mark Fayne whiffed on a clearing attempt, turning the puck over inside the defensive zone. Samuelsson got the puck, cut across the slot and tried to beat Brodeur at the right post. However, Brodeur came out well past the elbow of the blue paint, made himself big, and gobbled up the shot.
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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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Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday