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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Predators looking like Cup contenders

We're getting close to the end of the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there is still plenty to be decided, and there are still plenty of storylines coming out of what has been an entertaining tournament so far. For my money, however, one of the biggest stories is the way Nashville knocked out the mighty Detroit Red Wings in just five games, and it raises a pretty real question:

Are the Predators the team to beat?

When the playoffs began two weeks ago, I think if you weren't one of the people that thought this team had a chance to win, then you didn't know much about hockey. This is a heck of a hockey team, plain and simple, and its win over Detroit shows it. The interesting thing about this matchup was that it was something of a changing of the guard in the West. The Predators will tell you that their model for this team is Detroit. They want to build their team like Detroit, build their organization like Detroit -- they even throw fish on the ice like Detroit fans throw octopi. They want a tradition just like the Red Wings have.

If you look at how they're built, the Predators have great goaltending and maybe the best goaltender playing in the playoffs right now. Brian Elliot has been good for St. Louis, but he hasn't faced the shots that Pekka Rinne has, and Jonathan Quick has been good for Los Angeles, but other than those two, I can't think of a goalie who has played as well as Rinne.

Then you look at Nashville's defense, which has two studs on the top pair with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but it's also got this kid Kevin Klein, who had two goals in the series and played great defense. And this is all without Hal Gill, who hasn't been in the lineup. If you look at their forwards, they have four lines that can all play, their special teams are very good and they have a very good defensive system to go along with a great goaltender. This team is for real.

I think the last piece to the puzzle was getting Alexander Radulov, because they didn't have that one pure goal scorer. They had a lot of guys who can score like Mike Fisher or Martin Erat, but the one pure goal scorer that only needs one chance -- Radulov is that goal scorer now, and we saw that in that last game against Detroit.

I picked Nashville to beat Detroit, so I thought they were ready to come out of their shell and go to the prom, but I didn't think it would be five games -- and I didn't think the Predators would beat the Red Wings in Game 5 giving up just 22 shots. When you can do that to a team like Detroit, with the talent level and history Detroit has, it sends messages to the rest of the League.

Beating Detroit in five games was impressive, but how they did it, with tight checking, great defense, controlling Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for the most part, making Detroit's defense look average at times -- it all adds up to a pretty dominant win. Any series that ends in five games is a dominant win, but things like only giving up 22 shots in the last game, that's a message sender. That makes teams look at the tape and think, "Wow, how are we going to get through the neutral zone and get our chances?"

They're just solid from top to bottom.

Of course, we're only through one round right now. If Nashville is going to win the Cup they've got three more rounds to get through, but I like the way the draw shapes up for them. With St. Louis locked into facing Los Angeles in the second round, the Preds are going to face whoever wins between the Coyotes or the Blackhawks.

If you watch the way Phoenix and Chicago play, both have some question marks. Phoenix is up in the series, but they're giving up a bunch of shots and they were basically outshot 2-to-1 for a while in Game 5 Saturday night. It's not a case of Phoenix dominating Chicago. Mike Smith has been unbelievable and Corey Crawford can't stop the puck in overtime. That's the only reason this series has gone this far. Phoenix is a team that stresses defense and goaltending, very much like Nashville. Chicago will give the Predators a lot of offensive weapons to deal with, but if Marian Hossa's still out, that's a big weapon gone.

The Preds have two different matchups waiting for them, each with its own share of problems, but I think with the Predators' system, goaltending and depth, they match up well against both of them.

If Nashville gets through the second round it might very well face its division rival St. Louis. To me these are the two best teams playing in the West right now, and that would be a very difficult series for each -- and a very difficult one in which to see goals. Both of them look good, but Nashville's first-round win against Detroit has shown me something. When the playoffs began, I had Chicago coming out of the West, but with the way the field is shaping up and the way the Predators are playing, seeing them facing off in the Stanley Cup Final wouldn't surprise me one bit.
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 4:08 PM

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

Last year's Game 7 success no guarantee for Bruins

BOSTON -- With a roster made up of mostly players who went 3-0 in Game 7 situations en route to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship, the Boston Bruins should be teeming with confidence heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington Wednesday.

"Last year's last year. I think we quickly realized that in October, when we went 3-7," center Chris Kelly said Monday. "In the same breath, it's nice to have played in Game 7s before to have that to reflect upon and look back on, but this is a whole new year and a whole new challenge, and one of those things that we're all looking forward to."

The Bruins did not skate Monday at TD Garden on the first of two off days before the series finale. The time off should give the Bruins opportunity to rest, especially center Patrice Bergeron, who's battling an upper-body injury that prevented him from taking more than one faceoff in Boston’s season-saving Game 6 victory Sunday.

The time off could also be an opportunity to drum up a whole bunch of emotions. But center Gregory Campbell says that last season taught him the correct approach to take when it comes to Game 7.

"I think for Game 7s, what I've learned so far in my short playoff career, is that it's got to be a balance," Campbell said. "You've got to be ready. Game 7s are usually most intense games because everything's on the line. But I think you've got to control your emotions and you have to walk that line where you're ready to go, your energy and enthusiasm is high, but you can make plays under pressure. Obviously it's a pressure-packed situation and it's usually the team that can make those plays and perform under pressure is the team that wins."


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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 3:39 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Coyotes' sacrifice blocking shots paying off

CHICAGO -- Shane Doan grabbed a scoresheet following Game 4 of a Western Conference Quarterfinal series and smiled.

After looking at the 'blocked shot' category for his Phoenix Coyotes, he held up a hand for a high five from defenseman Keith Yandle -- after informing his teammate they'd combined to stop 10 Chicago Blackhawks shots from even getting to goalie Mike Smith.

It was a good snapshot of the Coyotes' entire series against the Hawks, who've outshot them by a wide margin and still trail 3-2 after the previous five games were all decided in overtime.

"We talk all the time about [how] we have to do whatever it takes to win," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "And [we say] if the other team is shooting the puck a lot, we'd better be in the lanes as much as we can."

Mission accomplished on that front, so far.

Heading into Monday night's Game 6 at United Center, Phoenix has blocked 109 of Chicago's shots -- which ranks fourth most in the playoffs and is the most of any Western Conference team so far. Conversely, the Blackhawks have blocked just 53 shots -- but also faced far fewer pucks shot toward them.

Chicago is second overall in shots and first in the West with 202, while the Coyotes have launched just 139 shots at Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford -- the second-lowest amount among Western Conference teams, ahead of just Nashville.

That includes just 19 shots total in each of the past two games -- an overtime win in Game 4 followed by an OT loss in Game 5 at home Saturday night. The Coyotes might look to pick up the tempo at least a little bit for Game 6, as their offensive numbers in those last two games were even difficult for them to see.

"I think the whole game we played too conservatively," Yandle said of the Game 5 loss. "I don't know if we expected them to give us a win or it just to be handed to us, but I think the whole game we were a little behind the eight ball and I think tonight we've just got to push the pace a little more and forget about last game."

As long as they don't forget about getting in the shooting lanes defensively and sacrificing their bodies to stop shots, Tippett will be OK with that rationale.

"[Coyotes development coach] Dave King has a great saying and it's, 'Loose pucks and ice bags,' and if we didn't have ice bags on after the game we didn't play hard enough," Tippett said after the Coyotes morning skate. "That includes blocking shots."
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 3:10 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Hossa visit provides Hawks with extra motivation

CHICAGO -- There is no shortage of motivations to pick from in this Western Conference Quarterfinal series for the Chicago Blackhawks.

There's the spot they put themselves, getting down 3-1 in the series and trying to overcome the odds of being eliminated when they face the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday in Game 6 (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN).

There's last season's first-round exit in overtime of Game 7 in Vancouver that's still a bitter memory. And then there's star teammate Marian Hossa, who will miss his third straight game with an upper-body injury.

Hossa, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher in Game 3 after an illegal hit by now-suspended Phoenix forward Raffi Torres, visited his teammates Monday for the first time since the incident happened.

Apparently, just seeing Hossa's face was all the motivation some players needed.

"He's our teammate and me ... I'm close with him," forward Michael Frolik said. "He's from Slovakia, so we are close friends. When it happened, we said in the room, 'We have to play for him,' and you don't want to see things like that. It maybe gets us closer and ... for sure, we're trying to win for him."

Viktor Stalberg took it a step further by saying the Hawks also want to win the series just to extend the playoffs and see if Hossa possibly could return from his injury to play again.

"You never want to see a guy go down like that," Stalberg said. "We'd certainly like to have him in the lineup. He's been our best player all season long. It definitely hurts us, but hopefully he's getting better and you never know, we might get him back at some point if we keep progressing. I think that's the ultimate goal ... to get him a chance to get back here."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said there is no news to report as far as Hossa's injury condition, but believed just getting back around the team was a positive for all parties.

While Hossa won't be returning anytime soon, Chicago will get rookie forward Andrew Shaw back for Game 6 after he served a three-game suspension for running into Phoenix goalie Mike Smith behind the net in Game 2.

Shaw said he doesn't think the incident will change the intensity that allows him to overcome a perceived size disadvantage to be a pest for opponents at both ends of the ice.

"I'm just going to play my game and not change a thing," Shaw said. "Those things happen once in a while. Accidents do happen, but I'm just going to stick to my game and do the best that I can do."

He's also thrilled to get what he called a "second chance at the playoffs" after watching the Hawks win Game 5 in Phoenix in overtime -- which gave him the opportunity to get back in his first postseason series.

"I'm so excited," Shaw said. "When [Toews] scored there in overtime, I was hooting and hollering all around the [locker room], just excited to get another chance to play in the playoffs."
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Projected Game 6 lineups

CHICAGO -- Here is a look at how the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks might line up on Monday night at United Center for Game 6 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.

Chicago will get rookie Andrew Shaw back from a three-game suspension and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he will draw into the lineup somewhere. However, at the morning skate Shaw wasn't among the top four lines and skated instead with Brandon Bollig and Jamal Mayers -- who are expected to be healthy scratches again.

Phoenix center Martin Hanzal, who's missed the last three games of the series with a lower-body injury, skated in the morning and will be a game-time decision for Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. Phoenix leads the series 3-2 and is looking to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup Playoffs series since 1987.

COYOTES

Ray Whitney - Daymond Langkow - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Marc-Antoine Pouliot - Kyle Chipchura - Gilbert Brule
Mikkel Boedker - Boyd Gordon - Taylor Pyatt

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

BLACKHAWKS

Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Viktor Stalberg
Patrick Sharp - Patrick Kane - Andrew Shaw
Brendan Morrison - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Andrew Brunette - Marcus Kruger - Jimmy Hayes

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Sean O'Donnell

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 2:14 PM

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

Julien explains decision to sit Thornton in Game 6

BOSTON -- Prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday, Bruins coach Claude Julien had to make a difficult decision about his lineup.

He hadn't changed any of his forwards through the first five games, but for Game 6 against Washington he opted to insert rookie Jordan Caron and sit out veteran Shawn Thornton.

"Well, it certainly wasn't related to play. It was related to a decision I had to make just before the game," Julien said Monday during his team's first off day prior to Game 7 on Wednesday. "Those are -- [it's] hard for me to give you that reason right now because it would probably open up a can of worms, so I'm going to leave it at that. It's certainly not because of Thornton's play; it's because of necessity."

It's assumed that Julien's "can of worms" refers to the injury Patrice Bergeron played through. The Bruins veteran center was second in the NHL in faceoff percentage during the regular season, but he only took one draw in Game 6. It's assumed Bergeron is battling through an upper-body injury from Game 6.

Based on the nature of the injury, Julien probably didn't know how much Bergeron would be able to give the Bruins in Game 6 and needed someone of Caron's skill set in the lineup instead of Thornton.

"He's a competitor and he's a really valuable player to our team. I know he handled the situation well, but I'm sure it's killing him to not be able to play," said Gregory Campbell, Thornton's frequent linemate. "We'll see what happens Wednesday. He's always ready."



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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 2:11 PM

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

Report: Silfverberg in Game 6 lineup

According to an article by Henrik Sjoberg on Expressen.se, Ottawa Senators forward Jakob Silfverberg will make his NHL debut in Game 6 against the New York Rangers on Monday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). Ottawa has a 3-2 lead in the series and can close the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with a win against the top-seeded Rangers.

"I'm playing," Silfverberg says in the article.

Silfverberg is fresh from helping Brynas capture the Swedish Elite League championship April 19. The 21-year-old led Brynas players in postseason scoring with 20 points, including a new league-high of 13 goals (surpassing Daniel Alfredsson's 2005 record of 12).

Alfredsson, who has missed the past three games with a concussion, also is in the Game 6 lineup for the Senators.

Silfverberg took part in the morning skate Monday, seeing time on the top line with Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza. After the skate, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said he still was considering the possibility of playing Silfverberg.

The player, though, said the decision already has been made.

"I'm slated to play with Spezza and Michalek but I'm pretty sure they'll shuffle the lines quite a bit so we'll just see," Silfverberg said in the Expressen.se article.
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:28 PM

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

Brodeur: 'Scoring first would help' Devils in Game 6

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur feels getting that first goal of the game in a must-win situation might help alleviate some pressure.
 
Add in the fact the Devils were shut out in Game 5 on Saturday by the Florida Panthers, working for that opening goal could instill some needed confidence.
 
"Scoring first would help," Brodeur said. "I think just for the psyche of players and especially coming from a game where we didn't score. You just don't want to get their goalie in a rhythm again, so you try to get goals on him as quick as possible.
 
"But sometimes it might not happen and you just work through that."
 
The team scoring first in this best-of-seven series has gone on to win four of the five games so far. The only time the team scoring first couldn't hold the lead was Game 3 in Newark, when the Devils opened a 3-0 lead and ultimately lost, 4-3.
 
"It would be nice [scoring first], but I don't think we'll get off the ice and leave if we don't," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We'd love to get the crowd into the game early and make it a tough atmosphere for Florida to play in. If the game is zeroes, we're going to keep playing the same way, whether we're up or down two goals because, in this series, you have seen three-goal leads disappear quickly. If it doesn't happen, that's alright."
 
DeBoer said it certainly wouldn't create a sense of chaos on the bench if the Panthers struck first on Tuesday in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. The Panthers hold a 3-2 series edge.
 
"It's not necessarily important that we score first," DeBoer said. "We just have to play a solid game, that's what we have to do. If we're playing well, and they end up with the first goal, I'm not concerned about the outcome."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:17 PM

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

Devils' Sykora has hit a wall

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils left wing Petr Sykora was certainly one of the surprise additions to the roster out of training camp this season.
 
He turned out to be a key cog in New Jersey's regular-season turnaround, connecting for 21 goals, 44 points and a plus-4 rating in 82 games. But Sykora has hit the proverbial wall through five playoff games as the only forward on the team not to produce a single point in his team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Florida Panthers.
 
"Right now, I'm not really scoring but hopefully that will turn around and I'll put some points on the board," Sykora told NHL.com. "I just want to finish strong and go as far as possible and who knows, we may get pretty far."
 
The Devils will host the Panthers at Prudential Center Tuesday in Game 6 of a best-of-seven series they now trail, 3-2.
 
The 35-year-old Sykora split the entire 2010-11 campaign between HC Plzen in his native Czech Republic and Dynamo Minsk in the KHL before entering training camp with the Devils on a tryout basis last summer. He'd ultimately sign and earn a spot as third-line center, but his solid play would soon have him playing second-line wing with Dainius Zubrus and his old pal, Patrik Elias.
 
It was really the one line coach Pete DeBoer kept intact the entire regular season. Following Monday's practice, DeBoer was asked if he has expected more out of the Elias line in this series.
 
"No, I've been satisfied," he said. "It's gone in spurts and waves, and different guys have stepped up at different times. I think from an offensive point of view, we've gotten contributions from just about everyone up front at different points and that's all you could ask for."
 
Sykora has been grateful to be given another chance with the Devils.
 
"It's been a blast ... it's been a long time coming but you play with good players and you earn your ice time and everything kind of falls in place," Sykora said. "I'm fortunate to be playing with great players this year, mostly with Patty [Elias] and Zubby [Zurbus]. We've been clicking throughout the whole season and now we're in the playoffs, so it's been good."
 
Still, one could sense a bit of disappointment in Sykora's voice over his lack of production on offense in the opening-round series. After all, Sykora has reached the 20-goal mark in 11 of his 15 NHL seasons. He is seeking his first postseason goal since 2008, when he struck for six goals and nine points in 20 playoff games as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
Sykora would gladly trade goals for wins at this stage in the season, though. He feels the team just needs to get back to the determined effort it put forth in Game 4, when it scored a 4-0 victory.
 
"When the team is clicking and going the way you want to go, it's always easier to play," Sykora said. "I think it's way tougher when it's not going well. In Game 4, everything kind of clicked, the penalty-kill, power-play and five-on-five play. You can feel it on the bench when everything is clicking, the energy is better and everything kind of falls in place."
 
DeBoer knows it takes more than one player or one line to be successful this time in the season.
 
"We haven't been a one line team and have had different contributions from different guys at different points," DeBoer said. "I think the key over the last two games is to get multiple lines going on the same night, that's the key."
 
The Devils will need to be clicking on all cylinders Tuesday if they have any intention of extending their season.
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Monday, 04.23.2012 / 1:12 PM

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

DeBoer expects Devils' best in must-win situation

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils hit the ice on Monday for the first time since their loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, skating hard and with a purpose at AmeriHealth Pavilion.
 
All the players were on the ice, including rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, who has been a healthy scratch for 10 of the team's last 11 games, including the regular season. Coach Pete DeBoer had the usual line combinations intact as his team went through a brisk, businesslike, 40-minute workout in preparation for the Panthers. The coach also told the media not to expect any line adjustments for Game 6 on Tuesday, in which the Devils are facing elimination, down 3-2 in the series.
 
"I think we needed to ramp up our intensity [at practice]," DeBoer said. "It was one area we felt wasn't high enough last game, and that was part of the focus [Monday]. It was short and was a hard practice, and that's how we have to play [Tuesday] night."

Goalie Martin Brodeur, who will likely make his 176th straight playoff start on Tuesday, doesn't believe the extra day off will effect either team at this point in the series.
 
"If we don't win, we're not playing anymore," Brodeur said. "It's a tough situation to be in, but we have to embrace it."
 
DeBoer anticipates his team to be playing their best in a must-win situation.
 
"I expect we'll be very good," he said. "When our backs have been up against the wall at different points or the pressure has been on this season, we've responded in a positive fashion every time. That's what I expect.
 
"Pressure comes with playoffs. I don't think you have to say anything about it. The guys understand the situation they're in. They can count, and they know we've got to win."
 
Devils captain Zach Parise said there's pressure on everyone to contribute in a game of this magnitude, and he expects that to happen.
 
"We had a good skate, up-tempo practice," Parise said. "We did some things we needed to work on, and hopefully we'll be better. There's pressure on everyone … everyone has to have their best game. This isn't an individual sport and it never will be."
 
If the Devils are eliminated in either six or seven games, would Brodeur consider it one of his most disappointing playoff setbacks?
 
"I'll be honest, losing in the Stanley Cup Final [in 2001] was probably the hardest thing I ever went through and, then, losing to the Rangers in the conference final [in 1994] was probably the second hardest," Brodeur said. "When you're so far from the goal and you lose, it's hard at the moment, but I think you go over it but look at the team that had success and played you and realize what they were able to do. But when you're so close, and go through adversity and success, you're like one of the other 29 teams … you're not going to win the Stanley Cup. But it's worth giving it a shot. I was lucky to win three of them, and the upside is a lot better than the downside."
 
Here are the projected lineups for the Devils in Game 6:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
 
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Quote of the Day

We've got a team filled with captains, that's what I think. With these first two games we got in, we're really dominating and moving the puck really fast, and it's worked out really good.

— U.S. goalie Brandon Halverson after a 6-0 win against Germany in the World Junior Championship on Sunday