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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 5:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Steen activated, will play against Coyotes

The St. Louis Blues received a big boost to their lineup, announcing that winger Alex Steen has been activated from injured reserve and will be in the lineup Sunday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Steen, who has missed the last 39 games due to a concussion, has not played since Dec. 27 at Detroit.
 
"Anytime you get a good player back in your lineup, it's a positive," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We want to be cautious when (Steen) comes back in and we understand that it's going to take time to get up to full speed. But with the (limited) number of games left in the season, it's good that he's in the lineup."

Steen had been in Southern California for the last month receiving treatment from a concussion/spinal specialist while also having the use of a hyperbaric chamber, something that teammate Andy McDonald used while he was sidelined with a concussion this season.

Steen, who has 13 goals and 24 points in 36 games this season to go with a plus-20 rating, is among one of the top all-around players for the Western Conference-leading Blues, who enter Sunday night's game with 101 points.

Steen was cleared for contact on Friday, along with teammate Matt D'Agostini.
 
"I always think it's necessary to leave those decisions to the players," Armstrong said. "Obviously they consult with the training staff and the doctors. He was skating and conditioning when he was in California (receiving treatment). He skated a couple of times with the team ... Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday... he's had time to get up and running."

In addition to Steen, defenseman Kris Russell will also return to the lineup Sunday night. Russell has been sidelined with a concussion since Feb. 23, missing the last 14 games.


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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pens Showing Off Many Looks as Playoffs Approach

PITTSBURGH -- If opposing teams are scouting the Pittsburgh Penguins for clues on how to defend against their three elite centers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and no doubt they are -- they certainly are filing up a few computer hard drives.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma is showing off all kinds of looks -- and multiple line combinations featuring Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal -- as the Penguins try to catch the New York Rangers and secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
The Penguins' hopes of doing that took a hit when they were blown out 8-4 by the Ottawa Senators with rookie Brad Thiessen in goal Saturday night. It was Pittsburgh's first loss in regulation since Feb. 19 against Buffalo and only its second defeat in 15 games overall, leaving the team three points behind the Rangers.
 
But playing such a game allowed Bylsma to mix and match his lines, and Crosby -- who scored his first goal since his March 15 return against the Rangers -- wound up playing at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams.
 
Crosby has 1 goal and 10 assists in the six games since he resumed playing for the first time since Dec. 5. Crosby is playing mostly on a third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, who have benefitted greatly by playing alongside No. 87. Cooke had a pair of goals Saturday, his third multiple-goal game in the six games he has played with Crosby, and Kennedy has three goals and four assists.
 
With the Penguins (46-22-6) playing back-to-back games, they did not hold a morning skate Sunday.
 
The Devils (42-27-6), who lost to Toronto 4-3 in a shootout Friday, held an optional morning skate attended by a majority of the team. The most-watched player on the ice was center Travis Zajac, who has been limited to eight games this season by a sore left Achilles tendon but will play against Pittsburgh. Zajac last played on Jan. 2.
 
Devils coach Peter DeBoer is shaking up his lines, not just to accommodate Zajac but to try to find some more scoring chances.
 
New Jersey scored only six goals in its previous five games before scoring three times against Toronto, and has had only one game with as many as four goals in its last eight. Pittsburgh, by contrast, has scored at least four goals all but once in its last seven games, piling up 34 goals during that span.
 
The new lines find Zajac with Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei PonikarovskyPatrik Elias with Zach Parise and  Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique with Petr Sykora and David Clarkson.
 
"I'm not even concerned about goals," DeBoer said. "I think the goals will come. What we want is offensive zone time. We want to create chances. We want to look for some chemistry -- all of those things when, when things are going well, you have in place."
 
The likely lineups for the sixth and final meeting for the Atlantic Division rivals this season; New Jersey won three of the first five:
 
DEVILS

Ilya KovalchukTravis ZajacAlexei Ponikarovsky
Zach ParisePatrik EliasDainius Zubrus
Petr SykoraAdam HenriqueDavid Clarkson
Ryan CarterJacob JosefsonSteve Bernier
 
Andy GreeneMark Fayne
Anton VolchenkovMarek Zidlicky
Bryce SalvadorAdam Larsson
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Brodeur has nine shutouts in 79 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
PENGUINS

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Matt CookeSidney CrosbyTyler Kennedy
Eric TangradiCraig AdamsRichard Park
 
Brooks OrpikZbynek Michalek
Kris LetangPaul Martin
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
 
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen gave up eight goals on 28 shots in Ottawa, his first NHL loss in four decisions.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 1:26 PM

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

Projected lineups for Predators-Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Nashville Predators look quite a bit different from the last time the Chicago Blackhawks saw them on Valentine's Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Of course, the same could be said the other way around too. Chicago didn't make as many changes through trades as the Predators have made since that 3-2 Nasville victory, but the Hawks are certainly not the same team as they were at that point.

That loss was Chicago's ninth straight winless game and things seemed to be spiraling downward in a hurry. The Hawks still had captain Jonathan Toews healthy, but their psyche wasn't.

Meanwhile, the Predators since that game have decided to push all of their chips toward the center of the proverbial poker table -- making trades to bring in the likes of pieces like defenseman Hal Gill, forward Andrei Kostitsyn and center Paul Gaustad and then convincing Alexander Radulov to return from Russia to join the cause.

Toews (suspected concussion symptoms) and Duncan Keith (five-game suspension) won't be playing on Sunday night when the Central Division teams meet up at the United Center for the fifth of six games against each other this season, but it's no less exciting of a matchup.

After winning five straight games and going 9-1-1 in the past 11 -- all without Toews -- the Hawks have pulled themselves within two points of the Preds in both the division and Western Conference standings.

A regulation win on Sunday night will pull them even and both teams will be just one point behind Detroit for second in the division and fourth in the West.

Pekka Rinne has started all four of the previous meetings for the Preds this season, going 3-1, and is likely to get the nod on Sunday too. On the other side, Corey Crawford has seemingly reasserted himself as the Hawks' starter with five straight wins and only five goals allowed in the last 107 shots he's faced.

Nashville beat Winnipeg 3-1 Saturday night at home, while Chicago's been off since beating the Vancouver Canucks in overtime Wednesday at the United Center. Here's a look at how the two teams might line up:

PREDATORS

Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Brandon Yip - Paul Gaustad - Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Injuries: Roman Josi (upper body)

BLACKHAWKS

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Brendan Morrison - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean-O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Injuries: Jonathan Toews (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms), Steve Montador (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms), Marcus Kruger (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms)
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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 12:11 PM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 25th

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 76 84 6 90 4

9th 75 82 7 89 5
10th 75 78 7 85 7
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 75 86 7 93 5

9th 75 86 7 93 5
10th 77 86 5 91 5
11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: Try telling the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoff race that Sunday is a day of rest.

After Saturday's games and the resulting shuffle in the standings, the Sunday schedule features intense battles for the final spots in each conference.

Washington hosts the Minnesota Wild and after losing Friday to the Winnipeg Jets, the Caps want to get back into the win column -- but, more importantly, also back into a playoff spot after Buffalo took the No. 8 spot with Saturday's win against the same Wild. Now, it is time for Washington to keep pace and for the jockeying to continue.

Let me emphasize how important this game is for the Caps. They are two points behind the Sabres for No. 8 and play Buffalo on Tuesday night. A loss Sunday, coupled with a loss to the Sabres on Tuesday  and the Caps will be four points out of the eighth spot with five games to play, including games against the Bruins and Rangers, who are the top two teams in the East. A win Sunday by Washington and the Caps will be in position to move two points ahead of the Sabres by beating them Tuesday. That could be a potential six-point swing of significant importance.

Down in Florida, the Panthers continue their path toward the playoffs in a meeting with the Islanders. They need to gain five points to hit the 91-point plateau that is the current projection for playoff participation in the East. With eight games remaining, the Panthers have put themselves in excellent position to do exactly that. But, they have more than that to play for as Boston and the No. 2 seed appears to be in the Panthers' reach -- especially if the Bruins lose in Anaheim in Sunday's close to a quick West Coast trip.

In the West, Phoenix hosts the St. Louis Blues in a pivotal game for both teams.

The Coyotes picked up a point Saturday night against San Jose in a shootout loss and held onto a playoff spot, remaining in seventh place. If 94 points remains the magic number -- and that is the projection in the West as of now -- then Phoenix moves to 89 points with a win. Needing five points in the five games that follow is an easier task than needing seven points in those five games.

St. Louis is trying to maintain its hold on first in the Western Conference and continue toward a Presidents' Trophy. The Vancouver Canucks, who won in OT against Colorado Saturday night and clinched the Northwest Division title, want to have a say but the Blues have control the race as long as they continue to win.

In Chicago, the Hawks play the Predators in a key matchup. Detroit sits in fourth with 95 points, Nashville, has 94 and the Hawks have 92. All three teams are in the hunt for the No. 4 seed in the postseason and the all-important home-ice advantage that come with it.

So while there might be some rest with 16 of the League's 30 teams enjoying a day off, there still promises to be unrest and upheaval in the standings and the playoff races that appear destined to rage until April 7.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 11:13 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ LAK - 5:56 of the Third Period



At 5:56 of the third period in the Bruins/Kings game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Benoit Pouliot's pass deflected off Chris Kelly's left skate and into the net. According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Boston.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 10:53 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX @ SJS - 19:59 of the First Period



At 19:59 of the first period in the Coyotes/Sharks game, the official timekeeper upheld the referee's call on the ice that Derek Morris' shot crossed the goal line with 0.5 seconds left in the period. Good Goal Phoenix.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 10:16 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

BOS @ LAK - 3:18 of the First Period

At 3:18 of the first period in the Bruins/Kings game play was stopped in a neutral zone face-off in front of the Boston bench. When play resumed the clock was not started with the puck drop, it started 1 second prior to a whistle and then was stopped when the play was blown dead.  The official timekeeper removed 6 seconds from the clock to account for the missed time.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 8:31 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

NYR @ TOR - 6:53 of the Second Period



At 6:53 of the second period in the Rangers/Maple Leafs game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Joey Crabb's shot went into the net in a legal fashion. Good Goal Toronto.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 7:32 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharks need fast start vs. Coyotes

SAN JOSE - San Jose Sharks forward Daniel Winnik played for Phoenix two years ago during coach Dave Tippett's first season with the Coyotes.

Winnik said he'd always hear opposing players say how "hard and frustrating" it was to play against the Coyotes, but he didn't truly understand why until he was traded to Colorado the next year and had to face Tippett's team.

"They're extremely patient," Winnik said after Saturday morning's optional skate at HP Pavilion. "The way (Tippett) coaches, they don't care if they ice the puck seven times in a row, their whole bench isn't getting frustrated. They try and slow the game down and make it boring enough that you get disinterested and try plays that create turnovers, and that's where they score their goals.

"It's kind of like playing St. Louis in a sense where they don't give you much, you don't get many shots. That's how St. Louis beats teams as well -- thrive off your turnovers and you getting frustrated by not being able to get to the net and to plays inside."

The Sharks lost all four of its games against St. Louis this season, and they've lost three of four to Phoenix entering Saturday's night's game against the Coyotes at HP Pavilion.

San Jose (84 points) and Phoenix (86) are both fighting for a playoff spot in a wild Western Conference race, and the Sharks need to solve the Coyotes' frustrating defensive puzzle or risk falling farther back.

Phoenix has defeated San Jose three straight times by a combined score of 11-3. Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith had two 3-0 shutouts during that stretch. The Sharks' only win in the series came in the season-opener on Oct. 8, a 6-3 victory at HP.

"After the first game of the year where we got dominated, I think our guys have really tried to hunker down," Tippett said. "You can't give away a lot of free chances. They're a really good team. If you give them extra time in your zone or give them outnumbered rushes, they're going to hurt you. Those are things we have to do to make sure we play a sound game. Again, that's whether it's the Sharks or whoever it is. We've had some success against the Sharks because our goaltending has been very good and we've been able to play a good defending game."

The Coyotes will play their second straight game without captain Shane Doan, who was suspended three games for elbowing Dallas' Jamie Benn in the head on Monday night. With Doan out of the lineup on Thursday night, Phoenix jumped to a 3-0 lead and held on to beat Colorado 3-2.

"He's one of their best players, but the way they play it's a team game, and I think probably out of all the teams in the league they're the least affected by losing a top player just because everyone seems to fill in real well for Tippett," Winnik said. "But he is a big loss. On the power play, they lose his one-timer on that side. He's been a threat for them there. He's really like the heartbeat of the team and obviously the organization because he's been there forever."

Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris, who will play in his 999th career NHL game tonight, said it takes a total team effort to compensate for Doan's absence.

"His leadership he brings in our room is huge," Morris said. "He's on the trip right now with us. He's around because he's the leader of our team. None of us expect any of us to replace him, but we expect all of us to be a little bit better. We can't rely on Shane to score a big goal for us or make a big play for us. The rest of us have to do it ourselves. If we can get five percent more out of each guy to fill in while Shane's out, that will be even better when he comes back."

Smith has been a force Phoenix's past three wins against San Jose, and not only because of his stingy play in goal. He is one of the NHL's most skilled goaltenders in terms of handling pucks and getting them quickly to his defensemen.

"It's definitely helped out," Morris said. "With the new game you see a lot of guys now are just dumping pucks and going and getting them. If they make them a little bit far we know that we don't' have to go back there and get in that battle with that guy because Smitty's going to make a good play out of the zone. We just got to get open for him. You don't even have to yell at him. He sees the play as it's coming in. He knows what he's going to do with it."

The Sharks always stress the importance of getting off to a fast start, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said starting quickly is more important against Phoenix than against most teams.

"They try to lull you into their system, their way of playing," Vlasic said. "Especially when they get the lead they're really good at holding the lead. You really want to jump all over them right off the start, maybe the first 10 minutes, jump all over them, get the lead. They're a different team when … they're trailing. When they have to come back, they're opening their system up more, the game more. It's a totally different (team) when they have the lead or don't have the lead."

The Sharks are coming off a 2-1 win Thursday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins that snapped a two-game skid. Their final eight games are against Western Conference teams, including two against Phoenix.

The Sharks will be without forward TJ Galiardi (upper body) for the fifth straight game, but he returned to the ice Saturday morning for the first time in nearly a week.

"Nice to get back out there," Galiardi said. "I don't really know the timetable yet, just kind of playing it day by day, see how it feels. But getting better."

Here's how the lineups could look Saturday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat

Dominic Moore - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle

Douglas Murray - Brent Burns

Jason Demers - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi

Thomas Greiss

Niemi will make his 14th straight start tonight. He's 0-2-0 against the Coyotes this season with a 3.56 goals-against average.

COYOTES

Mikkel Boedker - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Ray Whitney - Antoine Vermette - Lauri Korpikoski

Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival

Rostislav Klesla - Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Jason LaBarbera

Smith is 3-1-0 with two shutouts and a 2.27 goals against average vs. the Sharks this season. … Phoenix recalled center Alexandre Bolduc from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.

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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 6:49 PM

By Neil Acharya -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Rangers projected lineups

TORONTO -- Despite playing back-to-back nights, Rangers coach John Tortorella has elected to go with Henrik Lundqvist when the club meets the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the Air Canada Centre.

"He has plenty of rest, our team has had plenty of rest," Tortorella said late this afternoon. "They are off again tomorrow. I think we have done what we need to do with the club as far as resting. We need to also get need to get Hank into some sort of flow as far as playing games – so he goes tonight."

Lundqvist has lost twice to Toronto this season and was on the bench in place of Martin Biron in the lone victory against the Maple Leafs, a 3-0 blanking at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 14.

The Rangers not only lost last night's contest 4-1 to Buffalo, but they also lost forward Mats Zuccarello to a broken wrist, which he suffered in the first period. While Tortorella did not tip his hand as to who will fill the void left by Zuccarello, the odds-on favorite is veteran Ruslan Fedotenko.
 
"I know Feds very well … he is a good player and has been a good player for us," Tortorella said. "This is the time of year where he needs to find his defensive game and offensive game, and I believe he will."

Fedotenko has been a healthy scratch for the last two games. In 65 games played this season, he has eight goals and eight assists along with a minus-10 rating. He has been in the lineup for all three games against Toronto this season.
 
Here are the projected lines for the Rangers:

Brandon DubinskyDerek StepanRyan Callahan
Carl HagelinBrad RichardsMarian Gaborik
Artem AnisimovBrian BoyleRuslan Fedotenko
Brandon PrustJohn MitchellMike Rupp

Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi
Marc StaalMichael Del Zotto
Tim ErixonStu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
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