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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Penguins, Rangers

NEW YORK -- The Rangers will be a bit shorthanded while the Penguins will be at full strength for their matchup at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang are back for the Penguins, while Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto won't dress for the Rangers.

The Rangers called up goaltender Chad Johnson for the second straight game to serve as Martin Biron's backup. Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the Penguins.

Here are the line combinations from this morning's practices.

PENGUINS

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham

Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Deryk Engelland - Matt Niskanen

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen

RANGERS
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Artem Anisimov
Mats Zuccarello - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel
Anton Stralman - Steve Eminger

Martin Biron
Chad Johnson

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Magnitude of game still the focus for Pens, Rangers

NEW YORK -- Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the return of Sidney Crosby is the fact there's a pretty big hockey game taking place at Madison Square Garden, too.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be at full strength -- defenseman Kris Letang is back, too -- as they look for their 10th straight victory when they face the New York Rangers in a battle of the Eastern Conference's top two teams.

The Rangers hold a six-point edge on their Atlantic Division rivals, who hold a game in hand. While the Penguins have been surging, the Rangers have been scuffling -- they have won two straight to start a seven-game homestand, but are just 4-3-1 in March and haven't been playing their best of late.

While the Penguins are getting healthy, the Rangers are going in the opposite direction. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will miss his second straight game due to the flu; Ryan Callahan is out for a third straight game with a foot ailment, and defenseman Michael Del Zotto will miss his fourth consecutive game with a sore hip.

There are enough storylines in this matchup to keep writers at their keyboards for days, but for both teams, the game is all that matters.

"This game is a lot more than about Sidney Crosby coming back to our game and a comeback game for Sid," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We know that if we want to catch the Rangers and first in our division and hopefully first in the conference, we have to beat them. We're coming in here to win the two points. I don't think we can give them one point and realistically think we have a chance to get them. That's what this game is for us."

Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn't care who is in the lineup for the Penguins.

"We're worried about our club," Tortorella said. "That's all we're concerned about -- the New York Rangers."

Tortorella's players aren't looking at it as just another game, but they aren't concerning themselves with any of the hype surrounding Crosby.

"Doesn't matter," Rangers forward Brian Boyle. "They're a good team that's coming on strong. He's a good player, obviously, but it's a big divisional game. That's the biggest thing. Games get magnified toward the end of the season. That's the biggest thing."

Goaltender Martin Biron will make his second straight start -- the Rangers called up Chad Johnson from Connecticut of the AHL to serve as the backup -- and said it won't be hard to focus on the task at hand.

"We had our morning skate, and we'll leave here this morning game-ready," Biron said. "It's the same as it's always been. When we play Pittsburgh, it's always a very important matchup. It's very exciting, very emotional. With Sidney in the lineup, it adds a different dimension, but I think they've got a lot of weapons on the other side that keeps us on top of our game. It's always a special game when we play them."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues to rest Arnott; projected Hurricanes lineup

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock is giving forward Jason Arnott the next two games off to overcome a variety of recent injuries. With 16 goals and 32 points, Arnott is a key figure as the Blues prepare for the playoffs.

"We'll bit the bullet," said Hitchcock. "That allows him to have a full week off before he plays again. Arnie was in a situation where he was trying to play through injuries and it wasn't fair to him. I think he was 50 percent of the player we had before. He was a really good player for us three weeks ago. Then he got banged up and tried to play through it, but it doesn't work that way."

After a lengthy practice in Raleigh on Wednesday, St. Louis had a light turnout for an optional skate Thursday morning.

Brian Elliott, with an NHL-best 1.61 goals against average, will get the start against the Hurricanes.

Meanwhile, this is the projected lineup for the Hurricanes based off their morning skate:

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Andreas Nodl - Jussi Jokinen - Chad LaRose
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Bobby Sanguinetti - Bryan Allen
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
 
Cam Ward
Brian Boucher



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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 12:45 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Letang also returning to Penguins' lineup



NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby isn't the only star returning to the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Defenseman Kris Letang, who was out of the lineup for five games due to headaches stemming from a hit to the head Feb. 29, has been cleared to play against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Letang said he's a little surprised to be back so quickly.

"I was scared a little bit during that game," said Letang, who suffered the injury on a hit by Stars forward Eric Nystrom. "Looking back at it, the symptoms were not that bad. I was able to rehabilitate easier."

Letang was never diagnosed with a concussion this time around, but he missed nearly two months with a concussion suffered in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 26. In a strange coincidence, Letang also returned from that injury to face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. In that contest, he had an assist and was plus-2 in 24:17.

Coach Dan Bylsma said he doesn't expect to give Letang a full workload, but he said the same thing before that Jan. 19 game as well. Letang hasn't had the same layoff this time around, and said the symptoms from the Nystrom hit weren't as severe as the ones he felt after the hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

"The first time I got dizzy and I got sick," Letang said. "It was just a question of headaches (this time). It wasn't that bad."

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek said the importance of having Letang back can't be underestimated.

"It's huge," Michalek said. "He's been such a great player for us. He's having a good season and playing so many big minutes against other teams' top lines. He might be one of the top d-men in the League. He maybe doesn't get the credit he deserves in the League and it's great to have him back. I'm glad he's healthy again."

The Penguins have won nine straight games and have climbed to within six points of the Rangers in the chase for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have played most of the season without their big guns, and Thursday's game will be the fifth this season that the Penguins will have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the lineup.

The best may have yet to come for the now-healthy Penguins.

"Everybody looks at our lineup right and everyone's healthy, but you never know," Letang said. "The chemistry we had before…I think we have a pretty tight group and I think we can do a lot of great stuff. But we have to get everybody going at the same time."

"We are not worrying about who's in the lineup or who's not, we're just playing our game and we've done a pretty good job of it so far this season," Michalek said. "Obviously it's a great boost for our team to have some of the top players in the world back in our lineup. In the long run, it will definitely be a boost for our team. It's exciting, just the way we are playing right now. Having these guys back, we know we have the potential."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:54 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Zajac able to 'amp up' skating, joins Devils at practice

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac was a welcomed addition to the team's morning skate at Prudential Center on Thursday.
 
Zajac, who has been out of the lineup since Jan. 4 with an injured left Achilles tendon, will miss his 32nd straight game on Thursday when the Devils host the Colorado Avalanche. The fact he was on the ice with the team was certainly a positive step in the latter stages of his rehibilatation.
 
Zajac told The (Bergen) Record on Wednesday that he received medical clearance to "amp up" his skating.
 
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello confirmed that statement, but said there is still no set date for his return to the lineup.
 
"We're not going to have any conversation (with the media) about when he's ready and when he's not ready," Lamoriello told The Record. "When that time comes, you'll know the day when he plays. The coach will say when he's playing. It is not going to happen immediately. It's going to take a while and there is no time frame, but he has been given the OK to practice and have contact."
 
Zajac has missed the last 32 games for the Devils and has played in just eight contests this season -- he has 1 goal and 3 points.

Devils captain Zach Parise was certainly glad to see his former centerman back in the lineup.
 
"He seems real excited," Parise told The Star-Ledger. "He looks like he's walking better. I think he feels more confident skating now."
 
Zajac would like to return before the end of the regular season.
 
"We’ll talk with the doctors every week and go from there," Zajac told reporters after the team's practice on Thursday. "There's no set date. We'll take it a day at a time here. The key for me is getting in good practices when the team does practice and trying to get in some game-like situations."
 
Probable lineup for the Devils:
 

Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky
 
Martin Brodeur is the likely starter with Johan Hedberg serving as backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:44 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lundqvist not yet recovered from flu; Biron to start



NEW YORK -- For the second straight game, the New York Rangers won't be anywhere near full-strength.

Goaltender and Vezina Trophy favorite Henrik Lundqvist said Thursday morning that the flu bug that sidelined him for Tuesday's game is gone, but he's still not recovered to the point where he's ready to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in an Eastern Conference showdown on Thursday night.

"I was hoping to play tonight, but being off the ice for three days, I had a feeling it might be tough to be game-ready right away," said Lundqvist, who took part in the team's morning practice but won't dress for the game. "There's no health issue. It's just sitting at home doing nothing. Just laying in bed for two days doesn't really help."

Backup Martin Biron will make his second consecutive start after making 27 saves in the Rangers' 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. For the year, the 34-year-old Biron is 12-4-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Chad Johnson was again recalled from Connecticut of the AHL to serve as Biron's backup.

With the Penguins on a nine-game winning streak and now six points back of the Rangers for the top spot in the East, Biron has been thrust into his team's biggest game of the season. He sees it more as big opportunity for the club, not just himself.

"It's big for everybody here to keep going and building our game," Biron said. "I think the last few games have been good games for us in the team game and some individual games too. It's a big stage and a big opportunity for this club to keep going."

The news was equally discouraging on captain Ryan Callahan (foot) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip). Callahan will miss his third straight game and sixth game in the last nine with his injury, while Del Zotto will sit for the fourth consecutive game.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:12 AM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ovechkin leaves practice after collision (UPDATED)

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin left practice early after an open-ice collision, according to multiple reports.

Ovechkin collided with Mike Knuble, and Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington wrote the two-time MVP was on the ice for about two minutes before sitting on the bench for three more minutes holding his head. He then left the bench and went to the dressing room.

“I can just speak from my situation and I’m worried, too,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who hasn't played since Jan. 3 because of a concussion, told Gormley. “We’ll see what happens.”

The Capitals begin a critical four-game road trip Friday in Winnipeg. Gormley wrote the team's chartered flight is expected to leave Thursday at 1 p.m.

Washington is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points in front of Buffalo and four clear of the Jets. Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 29 goals and 53 points.

UPDATE:
Washington coach Dale Hunter said Ovechkin is "fine." Hunter said Ovechkin just had the wind knocked out of him, and he will travel with the team to Winnipeg.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 11:02 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Duchene could be set for early return to Avs' lineup

NEWARK, N.J. -- There's a good chance the Colorado Avalanche will welcome forward Matt Duchene back to the lineup on Thursday when they visit the Prudential Center to face the New Jersey Devils.
 
Duchene, who suffered a right ankle injury on March 6 against the Minnesota Wild, was originally thought to be sidelined three to four weeks. The third-year forward, who has missed four games, skated on his own Tuesday and felt good.

The Avalanche, winners of three straight, enter their showdown with the Devils in eighth place in the Western Conference with 80 points through 72 games. They lead San Jose, which has played three fewer games, by only two points.
 
The Avalanche didn't skate Thursday in Newark after scoring a 5-4 shootout decision over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Wednesday.
 
"His ankle was feeling better, so he skated (Tuesday) for about 40 minutes on his own," Avs coach Joe Sacco told Adrian Dater of The Denver Post. "The plan is to play him (Thursday) if all goes accordingly."
 
If Duchene returns, he would likely center Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk.
 
Sacco didn't reveal his starter in goal against the Devils following Wednesday's victory over Buffalo. There's a good chance Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the nod, however, after Semyon Varlamov stopped 20 of 24 shots through regulation and overtime in the victory over the Sabres. The shootout win over the Sabres gives the Avalanche a 12-4-0 record against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
 
Colorado wing Chuck Kobasew did skate Wednesday morning in Buffalo, but remains out with a back injury.
 
Here are the probable line combinations for the Avalanche:
 
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Steve Downie
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Peter Mueller - Mark Olver/Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Kevin Porter
 
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Matt Hunwick - Ryan Wilson
 
Giguere is the probable starter with Varlamov serving as backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 9:41 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 15th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 70 78 12 90 7

9th 71 75 11 85 9
10th 70 74 12 85 9
11th 69 71 13 83 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 72 80 10 91 7

9th 69 78 13 91 8
10th 70 78 12 89 8
11th 70 78 12 89 8

The skinny: On the marquis Thursday night in New York City, the Pittsburgh Penguins invade Gotham with Sidney Crosby in tow and their sights set on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have a game in hand on the Rangers and play them one more time this season.

A win tonight against New York and Pittsburgh can continue their quest for first. A loss and it almost certainly becomes a scramble for home ice with the Flyers and Devils.

Colorado, after a last-second goal Wednesday to force overtime in a shootout win at Buffalo, faces the New Jersey Devils in Newark. The Avalanche are in a playoff spot entering play Thursday, but have played more games than their counterparts in the Western Conference. After this game, Colorado will have nine remaining and while they play Calgary two more times and Phoenix once, a win gives them a little breathing room -- but not enough to feel safe.

Speaking of the Flames and Coyotes, they match up in Calgary for a pivotal game. Phoenix won Wednesday in Vancouver, and the Coyotes are chasing the Dallas Stars for first in the Pacific while trying to hold down a playoff position.

It is incredible to think the Coyotes are chasing first (and a top-three seed, while still trying to hold on to a playoff spot. That is the definition of tight right there.

The Flames continue to roll with four straight victories. Their downfall last season was not winning against teams competing for one of the final spots (like the Coyotes) down the stretch. They want to build on the momentum of their win Tuesday against the Sharks and climb back into a playoff spot.

Down in the Sunshine State, there has been plenty to shine about in South Florida this season for the Panthers. The Boston Bruins make a visit there Thursday, and they are only four points ahead of the Panthers. Florida can think about second in the conference with a win.

George McPhee, general manager of the Washington Capitals said he can't watch his team on TV because it is too hard for him. Does he watch other teams, and how do those games feel? If he doesn't watch, he'll be logging on to NHL.com to follow all the action and get updates on the games in progress. You should too.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 8:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Alex Galchenyuk's season debut impresses scout

One of the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, returned to the lineup for the first time in 66 games on Wednesday to the delight of the hometown faithful at RBC Centre in Sarnia.

Galchenyuk, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Sept. 16 preseason game and underwent surgery in October, said he felt no pain following the game. The only pain felt was the postgame sting that accompanied a 7-1 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.

Ho totaled approximately 10 minutes of ice time and played on a line with Brett Thompson and Charles Sarault.

Despite the long absence, there's a strong possibility Galchenyuk still could be drafted among the top 10 players in the first round of this year's draft. He's ranked as a "limited viewing" player on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, but was No. 2 among OHL skaters in Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.

Playing alongside top North American draft prospect, Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Galchenyuk produced 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games last season. It was enough to make believers out of any scout who had the opportunity to watch him play. Yakupov is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.

On Wednesday, NHL.com caught up with Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who provided immediate reaction to Galchenyuk's anticipated debut this season.
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