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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:09 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers can create separation in Southeast

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kevin Dineen had his game face on when he addressed the media following his Florida Panthers’ morning skate Friday.

Dineen really didn’t seem to be in the mood to do a lot of talking. He looked as though he was ready for their showdown Friday night against the Washington Capitals to get here already.

It’s a huge game for the Panthers, who will go in with a four-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division and with a chance to create some space.

Everybody knows what’s at stake. Dineen doesn’t need to say a whole lot to his players.

“There’s no message,” he said. “I don’t have to say anything. It’s there for the taking. We understand what the situation is right now. The game is sitting there for you and it’s very clear what the picture is. Now we’ll see what the response is.”

It’s the next-to-last meeting of the season between the teams, with each side winning twice at home.

The final meeting will take place on April 5 in Washington in the next-to-last game of the regular season for both teams.

“The mood is good,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “It’s the same as usual really. The key is try not to change anything. You just want to go through your normal routine and prepare the same way, but in the back of your mind you know it’s a little bit more important than usual.”

The Panthers have lost in regulation at home only six times all season, but they’re coming off their most lopsided loss at the BankAtlantic Center — a 6-2 pounding at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night that snapped their three-game winning streak.

The Capitals, meanwhile, come into the game having won only three of their last 11 (3-5-3) and facing a crucial stretch that could go a long way toward determining their playoff fate.

Beginning with the game at Florida, Washington will play six games in nine days, with five of them on the road. Included in the stretch are two back-to-back sets, the first one being Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay.
 
“We should look at it game-by-game starting tonight and go from there,” veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “We know the schedule is not easy and it won’t be any easier. For everybody, it’s the same. We just have to start focusing on the game we have tonight and these two points. It’s huge. We have to start playing like a playoff game with a little bit more enthusiasm and energy in the game and start winning on the road. Hopefully we get two points tonight.”

That the Panthers and Capitals would find themselves in a game of this magnitude at this juncture comes as a surprise to most observers.

Washington was expected by many to cruise to a fifth consecutive division title this season, and if any team was going to challenge the Capitals, it was supposed to be Tampa Bay, not Florida.

“That’s sports,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who joined the Capitals as a free agent last summer after spending four years in Florida. “If we knew how things would turn out, it wouldn’t be interesting. It’s a huge game for us. Obviously we need to win. That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t really matter to me who the team opponent is today, but we need to win. We’re in desperate mode.

“Everybody who’s in this dressing room has played hockey for a pretty long time. They know what we’re up against. They’re not for the first time in this situation. It’s not like a game we need to win or it’s over. We’re not in a good present situation. We’re chasing them, but saying that, you’re never going to help your cause if you’re feeling sorry for yourself or if you feel you’re so nervous you can’t even play. It’s another hockey game, you have to leave everything out there you have. That’s what all the focus should be on and not what’s going to happen a month from now or the standings or anything like that.”

There indeed is a lot of hockey left after Friday night. Both teams will have 25 games remaining.

But not many will be as important as this one.

“I wish that was the trick that you wouldn’t make too much of it, but obviously the game has a large dose of importance,” Dineen said. “We were brutal in our last game. We didn’t play well. And we’ll see what our response is tonight. But there’s no masking it or pretending that this game doesn’t have a high level of importance for both teams.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:58 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Vokoun, Theodore may finally get chance to face off

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun finally will get the chance to play in his former home building Friday night, and in front of his wife and two daughters on top of that.

Jose Theodore, meanwhile, looks like he’ll be getting his first shot, period, at his former team.

While Florida coach Kevin Dineen wouldn’t confirm Theodore would be in the nets for a Friday night Southeast Division showdown against Washington, all indications are that for the first time in five meetings this season we’ll get the much-anticipated Theodore-Vokoun battle.

Theodore was signed by the Panthers last summer to replace Vokoun, who had been with the team since 2007-08, but the two didn’t face each other in the first four meetings.

Vokoun did face Florida twice and shut them out both times — 3-0 on Oct. 18 and 4-0 on Feb. 7 — but both games were at the Verizon Center.

When the Capitals played at Florida on Dec. 5 and on Feb. 1, Coach Dale Hunter went with Michal Neuvirth and Washington lost both times, 5-4 and 4-2.

“Those are coach’s decisions,” Vokoun said. “For me, when they tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. Sometimes you like the decision, sometimes you don’t. It’s a big game and you hope they have confidence in you to start you in a situation like that. That’s pretty much as far as I take it.”

As he’s done previously this season, Vokoun stayed at his house in the Fort Lauderdale area Thursday night after the Capitals flew in from Washington.

Vokoun battled the flu early in the week, but said Friday morning he felt fine after three days of practice.

He’s been hot of late, giving up only nine goals in his last five starts, with a 1.76 GAA and a .943 save percentage during that time. He’s been perfect against the Panthers, making 20 saves in the October meeting and a season-high 42 in the Feb. 7 game.

“He’s played really well against us the two games he’s played ... obviously, he hasn’t let a goal in,” said Florida center Shawn Matthias. “We’ve just got to get more pucks at him and just stand around. It’s probably not going to be a pretty one the first one, we’ll just try to get gritty and get under their skin a little bit and throw everything at them.”

On the other side, Theodore has yet to face the Capitals, for whom he played in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The Panthers went with Jacob Markstrom in the first meeting this season, and Theodore missed the other three games with injuries. While with Minnesota last year, Theodore was the backup when the Wild beat the Capitals early in the season.

“Theo is not the biggest guy, but he’s going to try and come out a little bit and play the angle a little bit more,” said veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “He’s pretty acrobatic, but a big guy can sit more in his net. A smaller guy has to come out and cut the angles a little bit more. Try and get as many pucks as we can, and certainly the most important thing is get traffic and try and make a smaller, shorter goalie battle through traffic.”

Given the significance of the game, the Vokoun-Theodore matchup won’t draw as much attention as it might have earlier in the season.

“That’s not my concern who’s the other goalie,” Vokoun said. “I’ve got my job. I’ve got to go focus on my job and we as a team have to focus on what we need to do to beat them. Whoever they play, they play. Just like I’m sure they’re not really worried who we’re playing.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:19 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Madden out with lower-body injury

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Veteran center John Madden will miss the next couple of weeks because of a lower-body injury.

The 38-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner played 10 minutes in Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Ottawa and was a minus-2.

Madden has yet to register a point in 15 games with the Panthers since being signed Jan. 4.

For Friday's game against Washington, Mike Santorelli will move from right wing on the third line to take Madden's spot centering the fourth line, and Krys Barch will return to action after being a healthy scratch the last two games.

Jack Skille will move up to the third line alongside center Shawn Matthias and left wing Tomas Kopecky.

Madden is one of six players who will miss the Washington game, along with defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison, and forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm.

Here is Florida’s projected lineup for the game against the Caps:

Tomas Fleischmann- Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:14 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Green could return for Caps in limited role

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Mike Green was among the last players on the ice during Washington’s optional morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter didn’t dismiss the possibility Green could make his return against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

“We’re working him right now,” Hunter said while Green was still on the ice. “We’re going to see how it is. Still it’s game time. We could play him on the power play – game-time decision.”

Hunter said the Capitals would dress seven defensemen if Green does play.

Green, who underwent sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17, has appeared in only three games since he had two goals and two assists Oct. 22 in a 7-1 victory over Detroit that gave Washington a 7-0 start on the season.

Alex Ovechkin skipped the optional skate, but Hunter was quick to say there was nothing wrong with his star forward and he would be in the lineup Friday.

Veteran Mike Knuble was among the first group of players off the ice, an indication he could be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Friday night against Florida:

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Mike Knuble
Jay Beagle - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:56 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hennessy in lineup as Bruins continue road trip

WINNIPEG -- The Boston Bruins continue their season-high six-game road trip tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.

After taking a 4-3 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens to open the trip, the Bruins (35-18-2) sit second in the Eastern Conference standings, but are trying to fend off the Ottawa Senators, who are four points behind Boston.

Boston will be without forward Rich Peverely, who will miss four-to-six weeks with a sprained right-knee ligament that he suffered in Montreal. The Bruins recalled Josh Hennessey from Providence of the AHL to replace Peverley, who joins Nathan Horton (concussion) as injured Bruins forwards.

"That's two guys that play a lot of minutes for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien told Boston reporters. "That's just part of the game."

But Julien is taking Peverley's loss in stride and choosing to lean on his club's adherence to strong systems play against Winnipeg, who beat the Bruins, 2-1, when the clubs met at the MTS Centre on Dec. 6.

"We always believe that when we respect our game plan and our system, we're usually successful," Julien said.

Tuukka Rask, 0-3-1 in his last four decisions, will take his turn in the Boston net. The start will be Rask's 100th NHL appearance.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Bruins:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Benoit Pouliot
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille - Chris Kelly - Jordan Caron
Gregory Campbell - Josh Hennessy - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Zach Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Adam McQuaid - Andrew Ference

Tuukka Rask
Tim Thomas
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:48 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential make-or-break homestand starts for Jets

WINNIPEG -- A season-high eight-game homestand stretching over three weeks will likely determine whether or not the Winnipeg Jets are a playoff team this season.

After taking a 4-3 shootout win on the road over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, the Jets (27-26-6) returned home and will meet the Boston Bruins tonight at the MTS Centre. The first step in this eight-game stretch will involve the Jets confronting two of the demons that have tormented this season -- games on consecutive nights and an inability to hold leads against the Bruins.

Winnipeg sits five points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the eighth-place slot in the Eastern Conference. The ninth-place Washington Capitals sit between the Jets and both the Panthers and the Maple Leafs. Tonight's Washington-Florida game will ensure that at least one of the Capitals or Panthers will earn points tonight, making this game all the more critical for Winnipeg.

The Jets are 0-9-0 this season in back-to-back games, and coach Claude Noel turned tense when asked about his club's struggles.

"We'd like to change that if we could," Noel replied. "That's about all I have to say."

As well, the Jets have surrendered leads in both of their visits this year to Boston, including a third-period lead on Jan. 10 in which the Bruins scorched the Jets for three goals in a 6:41 third-period span.

"They're a really good third-period team," Noel said of the Bruins, "and we witnessed that first-hand when they took over a game in Boston. We have a lot of respect for what they do and what they're about."

Zach Bogosian, who missed Thursday's game due to injury, is not expected to return to the Winnipeg blue line tonight. Randy Jones will again play in place of Bogosian.

Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Johnny Oduya - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:44 PM

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

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Evgeni Malkin

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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:43 PM

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

Melrose Matchup: Flames at Kings

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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:32 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars' Benn out for weekend games

The Dallas Stars will be without All-Star forward Jamie Benn for weekend games against the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators due to a cut on his leg suffered during Thursday's game against the Calgary Flames.

Benn was tangled in the corner with the Flames' Mark Giordano and suffered a skate cut to his left knee that required 13 stitches to close.

"We're hoping on Tuesday (at Montreal)," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan told the Dallas Morning News. "He's got a significant cut on his leg, Thank goodness nothing else was involved, just a very deep, significant, painful cut, and we're glad that nothing else happened. So he'll be a day-to-day guy."

The Stars certainly hope it won't be too many days. Benn leads the Stars with 32 assists and 48 points. The third-year left wing also has 17 goals and a team-high plus-13 rating. The Stars enter the weekend 10th in the Western Conference, but just four points out of seventh and six points out of sixth place.

The team recalled forward Ryan Garbutt from their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, and he could make his NHL debut Saturday in Phoenix. Garbutt was second on the AHL team with 16 goals and fourth with 33 points in 50 games.

"I was pretty excited," Garbutt told the Morning News. "It was tough to fall asleep. It's been a long journey and a lot of work, but it went by pretty fast for me. I'll play both sides of the rink, two-way forward. I'll just do whatever I'm asked to do."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 1:58 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Red Wings hope to extend streak without Zetterberg

DETROIT – The last three games here at Joe Louis Arena, the Detroit Red Wings have played increasingly like a playoff team facing elimination.

The desperation they’ve played with of late had more to do with an impressive home winning streak they didn’t want to end shy of becoming the NHL standard. That goal was accomplished on Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars, whom Detroit beat 3-1 for its 21st straight victory on home ice.

Now, the Wings host the Nashville Predators on Friday night in a bid to extend the mark – and doing so without injured star forward Henrik Zetterberg, veteran forward Danny Cleary and starting goalie Jimmy Howard.

Are they concerned the same level of desperation might not be there as it was before they set the home-winning streak record?

“I think we’re going to be just business as usual,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said following Friday’s morning skate. “We’re trying to get two points. We’re facing a [Central Division] rival, as well, that’s looking to gain points and move up in the standings. I think that’s the approach we’re going to have for tonight’s game.”

That’s a little different than the approach they took prior to the game Tuesday against the Stars, when for the first time during the streak some Wings players talked openly about going for the win to set themselves apart from the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers – who each won 20 straight home games respectively.

The Wings then backed it up by jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against Dallas in a dominating first period before making it stand up with a strong, passionate defensive effort during the final two periods for the win.

Detroit’s also been without Howard for the last four games in the streak, which means journeyman backup Joey MacDonald has been center stage to help the Wings cap it off. MacDonald’s been outstanding – posting a 1.72 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in six appearances since Howard left the lineup starting Feb. 4 in Edmonton – but there’s no denying the defensive effort in front of him has been playoff-quality.

Will the Predators see that same kind of intensity on Friday night?

“I think you look at the standings and you see how tight it is,” Wings forward Drew Miller said. “We’re fighting for points to stay at the top. We want to stay up there and making this place, Joe Louis, a hard place to play. I don’t think it’s as much about continuing the record as it is about continuing to play well at home.”

According to the Predators, that goal has already been accomplished.
Nashville has watched its division rival string so many home victories together during this streak – including a 4-1 Wings win against them on Nov. 26 – that they can’t help but be impressed by it.

“We talked about it the other day, about them playing great at home so just respect that,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “You just respect the streak, but we’ve come in here and played well and gotten games here. To us, it’s a divisional foe. Let’s get after them and see what happens.”

Trotz, however, is quite impressed by the Wings’ record home streak.

“I think it’s one of the great records in the game,” he said. “There isn’t a team in this League where you can just say, ‘Just play [and you’ll win].’ There’s so many good goaltenders who can steal games and so many things that can happen. Then you’ve got travel and we’re in the Western Conference. People can say what they want, but travel beats you up and they’ve [still] done it. More credit to them.”

Speaking of being beat up, the Wings are going through a tough stretch with injuries right now – with Zetterberg’s undisclosed lower-body ailment being the latest hurdle. He participated in Detroit’s optional skate, but wasn’t good enough to play.

Whether he plays on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks is also up in the air.

“It felt a little better,” said Zetterberg, who got hurt on the first shift of the game against Dallas but finished the game and scored the Wings’ first goal. “[It was the] first time I skated since the game. [It’s] still day to day. “I’ll probably practice [Saturday] if it doesn't get any worse tonight. We're just going to wait and see [about playing Sunday). We're doing everything we can with treatment.''

Detroit called up Tomas Tatar from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to take Zetterberg’s spot on the active roster, while Justin Abdelkader will likely move to Zetterberg’s position on the ice at center of the second line.

Forwards Patric Hornqvist and Brian McGrattan will also miss the game with upper-body injuries and didn’t make the trip.

Here is a look at how the Predators and Red Wings could line up Friday night:

PREDATORS

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Nick Spaling - Brandon Yip
Matt Halischuk - Jerred Smithson - Jordin Tootoo

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Justin Abdelkader - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Tomas Holmstrom
Tomas Tatar - Cory Emmerton - Jan Mursak

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Joey MacDonald
Ty Conklin
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