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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 2:38 PM

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

Hawks face important game against desperate Leafs

CHICAGO -- Time keeps ticking away on the regular season and no team is more aware of it running out than the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Hawks have slipped from the top of the heap in the Western Conference into a fight to hold onto a playoff spot with just 18 games remaining. They're currently sitting sixth in the West with 73 points heading into Wednesday night's Original Six matchup against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs at the United Center -- but are just three points ahead of the eighth, ninth and 10th place teams.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are having their own issues -- just one win in the past 10 games -- so it's logical to look at this game as one of those "must-wins" for the Blackhawks (33-24-7), who hit the road again this coming weekend for games in Ottawa and Detroit.

"You look at our schedule and it's a pretty tough schedule," Hawks forward Patrick Kane said after Chicago's morning skate on Wednesday. "We've got to take advantage of the home games. It's a fun game for us to play against Toronto, a team you don't see very often. It's a fun Eastern Conference team to play against with the Original Six, Chicago-Toronto all-time series ... but the most important thing is focusing on winning the game and that's it."

Hawks teammate Patrick Sharp said the Hawks started doing the math a while ago, when they went through an ugly nine-game winless skid that stretched into most of a grueling nine-game road trip to start the month of February.

"It's not anything new to me," Sharp said of the Hawks' playoff push. "I saw the standings during that nine-game road trip and knew it was going to be tight right down the stretch. That's the nature of our conference. It's not like we're waking up today concerned about it. It's been an issue for a long time now."

Have the Hawks also begun to peek ahead at what kind of record they might need to wind up with to secure a playoff spot?

"Not really," Kane said. "I think you can get a little bit ahead of yourself if you start doing that. For us, just take it one game at a time here and try to win every game. We know we have 18 left and our main goal is to get in the playoffs, because we feel we have a team that can do well in a playoff situation. We've kind of proven that in the last three years. That's the main goal, to get in the playoffs."

They'll have to start that quest on Wednesday night without their captain for the fifth straight game -- as center Jonathan Toews will miss another game with an undisclosed upper-body injury that's thought to be a concussion. Toews also missed a Jan. 24 game against the Nashville Predators, a 3-1 loss at the United Center, and the Hawks are just 1-4-0 in the five games he's missed so far this season.

"It's tough," said Kane, who will likely start Wednesday's game centering the top line between Andrew Brunette and Marian Hossa. "He's a great player and big part of our team. Everyone knows that, but you're going to have injuries throughout the season. You can never replace a guy like Johnny, but at the same time, if you're winning without him I'm sure it makes [him] feel a little bit more at ease and our team feel more at ease. Important game tonight, for sure."

The game will also be the Blackhawks debut for puck-moving defenseman Johnny Oduya, who was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets prior to Monday's trade deadline, but Chicago will be without defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador, who remain out with upper-body injuries also believed to be concussion-related.

On the other side of the rink, the game is just as important to the struggling Leafs (29-27-7), who've dropped three straight games and came out flat at home on Tuesday night against the Panthers despite a pep talk by coach Ron Wilson -- whose name fans started calling for to be fired.

"You get frustrated [about the firing chants], but at the same time, sometimes I think if I was working a 9-to-5 job and I paid that much money to come to the game, I'd be upset, too," Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur said on Wednesday in Chicago. "They have all the right to do that. They pay for their seat and it's our job to come out and have a better performance than that."

Florida had two goals on the board against Toronto before many inside Air Canada Centre could even get settled in their seats, which led to the firing chants.

"As much as that reflects on him, that's our [poor] playing that's really being said out there," MacArthur said. "It's just something where we're getting down early in games and we're allowing the other teams to play exactly the kind of games they want to play."

Sharp said the Blackhawks know what happened and said the Leafs will probably be even more fired up than usual to start Wednesday night's game at the Madhouse on Madison.

"They've been on a tough stretch," Sharp said. "I watched their game last night and they're going to be a hungry team coming into our building, and that's always dangerous. No game's an easy one on the schedule. We've learned that. It's going to be a fun one."
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 2:38 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kennedy, Crosby skate with team, but out tonight

DALLAS -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy skated with his teammates Wednesday morning, as did Sidney Crosby, but neither of them figure to play tonight.

"Tyler Kennedy was back on the ice with the team for the first time in a morning skate," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "Lineup will be game-time at this point in time and Marc-Andre Fleury will start in the net. Sidney skated with the team because he likes skating with people on the ice. He skated today because Tyler was going to be back on the ice with the team."
   
Kennedy hasn't played since Feb. 5 due to a high ankle sprain that was expected to sideline him from 4-6 weeks.

Forward Arron Asham, who missed Sunday's win against Columbus with an upper-body injury, will be a game-time decision. Bylsma said the decision will be made after Asham skates in pre-game warm-ups.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 2:34 PM

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

Projected lineups for Maple Leafs, Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Here's a look at how the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks might line up on Wednesday night:

MAPLE LEAFS
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connelly - Matt Frattin
Colby Armstrong - Dave Steckel - Mike Brown

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Jimmy Hayes - Jamal Mayers - Brandon Bollig

Duncan Keith - Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya - Brent Seabrook
Sami Lepisto - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stars get Benn back, go for fifth straight win

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars have been riding high lately. A four-game winning streak will do that and tonight at American Airlines Center the Stars (33-26-4, 70 points), who currently sit eighth in the Western Conference standings and five points out of the lead in the Pacific Division, will look to equal their season-long winning streak of five games, set back in October 2011 as part of an 11-4-0 start.

These teams have already met once this season, back on Nov. 11 in Pittsburgh, and it was Dan Bylsma's Penguins who came away with a 3-1 win. Several things about that game continue to stick in the mind of Stars first-year  coach Glen Gulutzan.

"I thought they were a well-oiled machine," Gulutzan said. "I thought we played them well through the first half of that game. Then, they got a power-play goal and it was tied at 1-1 going into the third. They know their jobs, they work real hard and they play their systems to a tee."

Tonight's contest will mark the return of Stars All-Star center Jamie Benn to the ice after missing the last six games with a leg injury. Benn will return to his customary spot centering the second line alongside Steve Ott and Adam Burish, but will play less than 20 minutes in his first game since Feb. 16 against Calgary.

"I feel good," Benn said. "Excited for tonight, it's a big game for our team. It should be an exciting one. You want to get back in there and help your team out to try and make a strong push for the playoffs. There's two big points on the line tonight and we need them."

Even after missing much of February, Benn is still second on the Stars in points with 49, and his 32 assists are third-most on the club.

Dallas is 8-6-2 against the Eastern Conference this year and during their current four-game winning streak, the Stars have outscored their last four foes (Montreal, Chicago, Minnesota and Vancouver) by a combined 13-4.

Gulutzan's club is just 1-5-1 in its last seven against the Pens -- but that one win came in Dallas on Nov. 3, 2010, a 5-2 victory.

"They're a good team. They are all definitely on the same page and they play for each other. That combined with skill is a dangerous mix," Stars winger Eric Nystrom said. "We've got the same type of team in here. We're going to work as hard as we possibly can tonight, play our game plan and if we do that, the result should be good."

Dallas' top line of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder has combined for 40 points in the 15 games since the NHL All-Star break. That matchup between the Stars' top group and the Pens' first line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and ex-Star James Neal figures to be one to watch, but the man behind the Dallas bench chooses to put his focus elsewhere.

"We'll be more interested in our defensive matchups against them. Obviously, they have an elite, elite player over there [in Malkin] and we're going to have to be mindful of that tonight," Gulutzan said. "To our guys, it's our game that's our focal point, for sure."
   
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 12:32 PM

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

Callahan day-to-day with bruised foot

New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan could miss Thursday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes with a bruised foot. The team is listing him as day-to-day.

Callahan will travel with the team to Raleigh, N.C., but coach John Tortorella said he's not sure if he'll be able to play.

Callahan is second on the team with 25 goals and hasn't missed a game this season. He was forced to sit out the Rangers first-round playoff series last year with a broken suffered from blocking a shot by Boston's Zdeno Chara in the 80th game of the regular season.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.29.2012 / 9:38 AM

By Steve Hunt -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Penguins, Stars

DALLAS -- Here are the projected lineups for today’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

PENGUINS

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Richard Park
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Dustin Jeffrey

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

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen

Injuries: Arron Asham (upper body), Sidney Crosby (concussion), Brent Johnson (undisclosed), Tyler Kennedy (ankle)

Scratches:  Ben Lovejoy

Notes: Tonight will mark the first game in Dallas for Neal since the Stars traded him to the Steel City last February along with Niskanen for fellow blueliner Alex Goligoski. Neal was a second-round pick of the Stars in 2005 and played in 224 games for them, registering 72 goals and 131 points during his two-plus seasons in Big D. Niskanen was a first-round pick of Dallas in 2005 and skated in 277 games for the Stars with 16 goals and 76 points during his three and a half seasons in the Lone Star State. These teams met in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, 2011 with the Pens prevailing 3-1.

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Adam Burish
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley - Mark Fistric
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Scratches: Adam Pardy, Toby Petersen

Injuries: Jake Dowell (finger), Brenden Morrow (upper body)

Notes: Dallas is currently on a four-game winning streak and hasn't lost since Feb. 19 against Nashville. One more victory and the Stars will equal their season-winning streak of five games, which was set back in Oct. 2011 as part of an 11-4-0 start. The Stars last played on Sunday, when they beat the Canucks in overtime, 3-2 to end a six-game losing streak against Vancouver. Tonight's game will mark the return of Benn, their All-Star center who has missed the last six games with a leg injury. Benn suffered a cut to the back of his leg in an overtime win over the Flames on Feb. 16. He will center Dallas' second line alongside Ott and Burish. First-line center Ribeiro is currently on a seven-game points streak, the longest by any Stars player this season.

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Posted On Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 9:04 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYI @ WSH - 2:16 of the Third Period

At 2:16 of the third period in the Islanders/Capitals game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Steve Staios' point shot went into the net in a legal fashion.  Good goal New York.
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 8:20 PM

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

Melrose Blog: My take on the 2012 Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is always one of the most dramatic days of the season, with teams scrambling to make the right moves that will get them a Stanley Cup. This season's was no different, but there were some clear winners and clear things to take away from it in my mind.

Here are my thoughts on the biggest stories of deadline day.

Why did St. Louis stand pat?

A lot of people thought the Blues might have been left behind after each of their division rivals made moves to solidify their rosters before the playoffs, but I just think St. Louis likes its team a lot. The Blues don't really have any extra guys to trade, and they're mostly young aside from Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, both of whom have been playing great (though Langenbrunner is hurt right now). Sometimes it's better not to tinker. Sometimes you know you've got a good thing going in your locker room and the window for the Blues is big because so much of the team is young and in its prime. They didn't want to give up draft picks or young players in older to bring an older player back, so I just think it was a case of Doug Armstrong liking his team and not wanting to shake it up.

The Rick Nash situation

I'm not surprised Nash stayed put in Columbus. I'm glad that it came out that he asked for the trade and I think Scott Howson and the Blue Jackets handled it perfectly. They asked for a big price -- if they got it they got a home run and if they didn't they don't trade him. People need to remember that Nash has several years left on his contract. They don't have to trade him. He tried to back them into a corner to make them deal him, but he also said he only wants to go to four or five teams. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Columbus held firm, and that was the right thing to do. Come this summer if the Jackets can get the group of guys they want for him then make the move, but if not then keep him. If you play it right at that point, maybe you can convince him to be a part of the rebuilding process. If you don't get what you want during the summer then he'll be a Columbus Blue Jacket next season if he wants to get paid.

Some might say Columbus was asking for too much and that's why it didn't get done -- at least with the Rangers that appeared to be the case -- but it didn't have to get done. Nash isn't a free agent and Columbus holds all the cards. And they have to hit a home run. They can't look like the losers in this to their fans. They can't look inept. They have to make it look like they did a great job and got maximum value for their top asset. They can wait until someone blinks and I think they're handling it the right way. Demand the Moon and if you get the Moon great. If not, Rick Nash is going to be a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Looking forward, who's the best?

Right now I rate the top contenders for the Stanley Cup in 2012 as Vancouver, the New York Rangers, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston. Of course, if Sidney Crosby comes back that changes things dramatically, because it adds the greatest player in the game to the team that has the greatest player playing right now in Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh would be right there with New York if he comes back. I don't think Dan Bylsma can count on that, I think he has to count on not having him, but they've done a masterful job of handling that all year long, which is why they're still in the thick of the hunt.

If I had to pick a team to win it all at this point though, I'd probably take New York because of its goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. I'm a big believer in goaltending and Roberto Luongo struggled last year in the playoffs for the Canucks. I know Vancouver has Schneider backing him up, but once you get to the late rounds of the playoffs, I think whomever Vancouver plays will have better goaltending.

It's possible we might have a rematch of the last time New York won the Cup in 1994, but despite the fact that Vancouver made several moves to improve and the Rangers didn't make many, I still think Lundqvist gives the Rangers the edge -- and it also makes them the team to beat from here on out.

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Posted On Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 8:15 PM

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

Melrose Blog: My winners at the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is always one of the most dramatic days of the season, with teams scrambling to make the right moves that will get them a Stanley Cup. This season's was no different, but there were some clear winners and clear things to take away from it in my mind.

Here are my thoughts on the biggest stories of deadline day.

The Winners

Nashville Predators -- I like what Nashville did for several reasons. First of all, it was great to see the Predators be buyers at the deadline. For so many years Nashville always had to sell players. They've always had to get rid of free agents because they knew they couldn't sign them. We've seen so many great players leave Nashville so it was nice to see them change their philosophy and take a run at winning. I think everyone that follows hockey is a Nashville fan. They know what Nashville's been through financially, and I think everybody deep down would love to see Nashville have a deep playoff run.

As for what the Predators did in the days leading up to the deadline, I love the Hal Gill deal, because Hal Gill plays his best hockey in the playoffs. Come playoff time he always plays against the other team's top forwards and he shuts down everyone he plays. As for Monday, I liked the move to get Paul Gaustad. I know the price is high -- a first-round pick -- but Gaustad is something they don't have. They don't have a big, physical forward -- a guy that can win draws, a guy that can check the other team's top player, a guy that can kill penalties, and a guy that has a physical edge to him. I thought that was a need that Nashville had and I thought they went out and filled that need.

I like the move to bring in Andrei Kostitsyn as well. I know he's an underachiever. You look at him and his points never add up to what his talent level is, but hopefully he'll get caught up in what Nashville's doing and get fired up about playing with his brother again. That is something, a little added spice, that other teams couldn't offer Kostitsyn. Hopefully the chance to play with his brother again will invigorate him and get him fired up for the stretch run. Nashville is a very defensive team -- they win by bottling you up -- and doesn't have a lot of offense, which is why Kostitsyn is such a good addition. He's a pure scorer, someone who doesn't need 10 or 12 chances to put the puck in the net.

The Predators have risen up a level with these moves and they're with the big boys in West now. Their goaltender gives them a chance to win every night -- an argument could be made for Pekka Rinne to be in the discussion for the Hart Trophy, not just the Vezina -- and now all of their players in their prime. They've also got to have a deep playoff run to take a run at keeping Ryan Suter and Shea Weber over the next two offseasons. That makes this a paramount time in the history of the Predators franchise. These moves have set them in the right direction at this important moment for that team, and I think they were the clear winner at the deadline this year.

San Jose Sharks -- I thought San Jose had to do something. They were in a free fall after going 2-6-1 on their recent road trip -- and coach Todd McLellan is out with a concussion, which doesn't help. Things seem bleak for them and they're dropping like a rock, so it was important that they did something to send a message to the team. They added two forwards who will be third- and fourth-line guys, but they're going to give them depth. Daniel Winnik is a big body who gives them a kind of physical presence they don't have enough of, and T.J. Galiardi is a guy I loved as a rookie. He can fly and he'll fit in well with San Jose's style and maybe he can recapture how he played in his rookie year. I thought it was a good move, they needed to do it, they sent a message to the team that they weren't going to stand pat and that they were going to try to jumpstart the team.

You could say they didn't add an impact player, but sometimes just the message you're sending is more important than what you actually do. I think this was a good message from the San Jose Sharks and don't forget they've still got Martin Havlat coming back, too. He's a top-six forward who will make their power play better, and while I think he's a bit of an underachiever, he's still one of the biggest pure talents the NHL has when he's healthy.

Vancouver Canucks -- I like what Vancouver did. A lot of fans might be upset that they traded Cody Hodgson to Buffalo, but I have no problem with that. He was only playing 12 minutes a game or so, and he wasn't seeing time on the power play behind Kesler and Sedin so where would he go. The Canucks felt they weren't tough enough last year against Boston, but going to get a guy like John Scott from Chicago wouldn't have been the move they needed. They needed a Milan Lucic-type player, someone with skill and toughness. I'm not saying Zack Kassian already is that kind of player, but you can see him becoming that type of player. He's skilled enough, he's a good skater, he's mean, he's big at 230 pounds, he's physical. Having him on the bench and the ice will make them a tougher team mentally -- and certainly give them more toughness physically. You could say that they overpaid for him, but unless you've been pushed around and you know your team's not tough enough you don't value toughness. You don't value toughness until you don't have it. I think Vancouver realized that was what they didn't have last year against Boston.

The Canucks' pickup of Sammy Pahlsson is also interesting because he had such a good playoff for Anaheim back in 2007. He scored some big goals, he was big on draws, and you can never have enough guys that score and can win draws come playoff time. Getting him was a good deal because of his playoff experience, and if you can get him to play well for three months, that's all you're looking for. Vancouver now has two solid centermen in Manny Malhotra and Pahlsson who can play on the third or fourth line. It also gives you the ability to put two centermen on one line if you need to have a second option on the ice for a key draw. Getting Pahlsson was a good, cheap pickup for Vancouver.

Boston Bruins -- In the East, Philadelphia made deals to add Pavel Kubina and Niklas Grossman a week before the deadline, but on the deadline day itself, the East was much quieter than the West. The West was much more aggressive. Boston cheaply added Brian Rolston, and people might wonder why, but the Bruins know Rolston. Claude Julien probably figures he can come in and play on the third or second line and play a little on the power play. I like Greg Zanon, too. He's a Boston-type defenseman -- very physical and he blocks a lot of shots. Mike Mottau is a veteran who doesn't beat himself. That's what Boston wants on its defense -- guys who don't beat themselves. They need to know what they're getting every shift and Mottau and Zanon are those types of defensemen. Boston got better.

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Posted On Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 7:50 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

FLA @ TOR - 19:35 of the First Period

At 19:35 of the first period in the Panthers/Maple Leafs game, video review determined that Joffrey Lupul kicked the puck into the net with his left skate. According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net.". No Goal Toronto.
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