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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:28 PM

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

Spoiler role aside, Jets just want to finish strong

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets are back in action Tuesday night for the first time since being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

But they say they're not concerning themselves with playing the role of spoilers against the Florida Panthers.

"We look at it more as a situation where we want to try to play well and win," coach Claude Noel said after the morning skate. "With our road record being what it is, we'd like to continue getting points and hopefully getting two points and getting a win out of here would be good for us. We talked about finishing out on a positive note and that's what we want to do."

In their first year in Winnipeg after moving from Atlanta, the Jets saw their playoff hopes officially terminated in a 3-2 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

The Jets found themselves only two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference after beating Washington 4-3 in overtime on March 23, but have gone 2-5-1 since.

"Obviously, we're disappointed with how our season ended up and being on the outside of the playoff picture," captain Andrew Ladd said. "It's something that as a player, it's the time of year you want to be playing. It's where the fun starts. We've still got some work to do to make sure it doesn't happen next year."

It was fitting that the Jets' playoff hopes would end on the road because that's where the team really struggled this season.

Winnipeg has only 31 points in 39 road games to rank 28th in the League. The Jets' last road game will be Thursday against the New York Islanders before they close the season at home against Tampa Bay on Saturday.

That means the Jets will play a game with playoff implications for the last time Tuesday.

"We should be on the same page, everybody, to finish hard, to finish the season with three wins," goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. "Of course, it's disappointing we didn't make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop playing. The fans, everybody deserves for us to play as hard as we can and we'll see how everything is going to go.

"I think it's going to be pretty exciting tonight. Florida is battling for a playoff spot. It should be a great game. It's going to be a big chance. We expect the three wins and finishing strong and having fun."

The Panthers certainly don't expect the Jets to let them clinch the division title without a fight.

"We know Winnipeg is a well-coached team," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "They respect the game, so they're going to play hard. We've got to be on our toes early."

Ladd is familiar with several Panthers players, having played in Chicago with Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

After being traded to Atlanta last season, Ladd once again is playing out the end of the regular season with nothing at stake.

"It's tough," he said. "They mean pretty much absolutely nothing now. At the same time, we owe it to ourselves and to our fans to show up and work and see where the chips fall. It's all part of creating a culture where you show up and you work every day. This is part of it."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:12 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lindback starts as Predators give Rinne a break

NASHVILLE -- Goalie Anders Lindback will play on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks for the Predators, which, by Lindback's standards, is not so long.
 
Nashville is gearing up for the playoffs and intends to get some rest for No. 1 Pekka Rinne. With three games remaining, Rinne, the League's leader in wins, has played in 71 games. Lindback, by contrast, has made 14 appearances.
 
The last time Lindack played was in relief of Rinne, giving him playing time in two straight games (March 18 and 20). Not bad, considering that Lindback played in only one game between Jan. 19 and Feb. 27.
 
That was not the plan for Rinne coming into the season, Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
 
"No, I think going into it, I looked at it as more of a 65, probably, as a number going into the season," Trotz said. "He's probably best around that number. So it's a little higher…. I think we went into a little bit of a roll right before the All-Star break. We knew the teams in the West are so close and we wanted to get some separation. We rode him hard into the All-Star break."
 
Trotz said that the Preds have been careful of Rinne's rest and recovery time since the All-Star break. To that end, on Tuesday Nashville recalled goalie Chet Pickard, a first-round pick in 2008, from Cincinnati (ECHL), whose season has ended.
 
Trotz said that in trying to take some shots off of Rinne, at times they will shorten his practices and will need Pickard for practice. Rinne did not participate in the team's morning skate and Trotz said that if he did not back up on Tuesday, then Pickard would.
 
For his part, Lindback, 23, was looking forward to the start. He said watching has been helpful in his development process.
 
"You pick up a lot of things, too, watching Pekka play," he said. "Tendencies every team's got. You try to pick it up and put it all together."
 
He was asked what in particular he has learned from watching Rinne.
 
"Just the way he handles the puck around the net and uses his glove," he said. "He prevents so many rebounds. He saves us a lot of shots. Really helps out for the (defensemen)…. It's fun to watch him play and really educational."
 
Projected lineup:
 
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Brandon Yip
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
 
Anders Lindback
Chet Pickard/Pekka Rinne
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:08 PM

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

Tortorella hopes to see improved power play

About the only place the Rangers have struggled this season is on the power play, and coach John Tortorella said he's hoping to see that area of his team's game improve when it plays the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

He has reason to expect his team to get better in that category against the Flyers. In five meetings this season, the Rangers are 5-for-19 with the extra man, a 26.3-percent efficiency that dwarfs their regular-season average of 15.1 percent.

In Sunday's loss to the Bruins, though, the Rangers went 0-for-3, including a 22-second 5-on-3 advantage.

"We want to go into the playoffs with our special teams consistent at both ends," Tortorella told reporters. "I think our power play is coming. Our penalty killing has been consistent all year long. If you have those two, it gives you a foundation, it gives you an advantage of trying to find your way."

Tortorella said one way of helping solidify things is putting center Derek Stepan on the point.

"The biggest thing that has helped our power play having Step there is having him have the puck," Tortorella said. "He sees the ice well and he does bring a certain amount of patience to it to where we have the puck under control more."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK



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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:02 PM

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

Panthers' Weiss chasing very special birthday gift

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's almost like deja vu for Stephen Weiss.

Ten years ago on this day, Weiss celebrated his 19th birthday by playing in his first NHL game and scoring his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

The Florida Panthers center turned 29 on Tuesday, with the possibility of clinching his first NHL playoff berth looming as an even better birthday present.

"I think [I'm] more excited today, more nervous back then," Weiss said when asked to compare the emotions of both days. "But it's cool that it falls on the same day. My mom's in town, so it's nice. Hopefully we'll have something fun to talk about after the game."

Earlier this season, Weiss became Florida's all-time leader in games played. But he has yet to play a game in the postseason.

That's likely to change this year, with Florida's magic number down to two to clinch a playoff berth and the Southeast Division title. That means a victory over Winnipeg on Tuesday will give the Panthers the first division title in franchise history.

"We've got to win," Weiss said. "We know what's at stake. The key is not to think about it, just go through your normal routine that you usually do. Saying that, we've got to have a little extra bite tonight, for sure. We don't want to keep this thing going. We want to finish it off tonight, and we're playing a good hockey club, so we'll have our hands full."

Weiss actually got an early birthday present Monday night from Steven Stamkos, a fellow Ontario native with whom he often trains in the summer.

It was Stamkos' two late goals, including the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, that gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 victory over Washington on Monday night and put the Panthers on the brink of clinching the division title.

"Stammer came through for us at the end," Weiss said. "Gave Stammer a little text there, told him I love him, there at the end of the game. It was big for us, obviously.

"I'm rooting for him to get 60 [goals] obviously. That was a big goal for him and for us, so I thought I'd just give him a little text."

With Stamkos having done his part, Weiss and his teammates now have the chance to make it a truly memorable birthday.

"It's got the makings to be a good day," Weiss said. "We'll put all that aside for now and just focus on going through our routine and our process and playing hard for 60 minutes, and see what happens."
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:56 PM

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

Sharks anticipate better effort from Stars in rematch

DALLAS -- On Saturday night, the San Jose Sharks dispatched the Dallas Sharks at HP Pavilion, blanking them 3-0, a game where Dallas was clearly feeling the effects of being on the second night of a back-to-back.

These Pacific Division rivals meet for a sixth and final time this regular season on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, and while Sharks coach Todd McLellan would like to see an effort from his club similar to what they delivered just three days ago in the Bay Area, he also knows they will see a different Stars team this time around.

"I think we'll see a better effort on their behalf," McLellan said. "They won't be playing back-to-back. They won't be at the back end of a four-game road trip. They've had two days off. Think they'll get some healthy people back into the lineup. That should just make us elevate our game a little bit more as well.

"I liked our game in San Jose. I liked a lot of the things that we did. We have to take it to another level now in this building and be fully prepared to play."

San Jose (40-29-10, 90 points) has taken four of five meetings from Dallas this season, with the lone exception being a 4-3 shootout loss during its last trip to the Lone Star State back on March 8.

And there's no escaping that the Sharks seem to be one team the Stars have more than a little trouble matching up with on the ice.

"It's just those types of games where they've got players who get under your skin and I think they fire us up," San Jose center Logan Couture said. "I think we rise to the occasion. They're obviously a good team. We enjoy playing against them."

The Sharks currently sit eighth in the Western Conference standings with 90 points, just one point ahead of the Stars, who are currently ninth with 89. The Avalanche are one point behind Dallas in 10th with 88 points, which makes Tuesday's game even more crucial.

"We're sitting in eighth place and it's going to be a battle down to the end. Treat this like a playoff game, so it's a big one tonight," Couture said.

Of course, it might sound cliché to say treating their final three games all like playoff games is an absolute no-brainer, but that's exactly how San Jose is treating the final week of the regular season.

"We've passed the first test. If we're looking at a four-game series to finish the year to get into the playoffs, we've passed the first test with some pretty good results," McLellan said. "Now we're out on the road. We'll find out a little bit about ourselves tonight here in a hostile environment with some pressure that's put on us based on where we are in the standings."

San Jose is now almost completely healthy. Defenseman Douglas Murray, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, did skate on Tuesday morning, but according to McLellan is a game-time decision.



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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Khudobin ready to contribute if Bruins call on him

BOSTON -- Anton Khudobin nearly missed his chance to get called up to Boston this season.

When Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask went down with an abdominal/groin injury March 3, Khudobin was also sidelined while with Providence of the American Hockey League. Khudobin's wrist injury eventually healed, but by that time the Bruins had already imported Marty Turco from Austria to back up Tim Thomas.

Now with three games remaining in the regular season, Rask is recovering. But it's unknown if he'll be available to play in a game when the playoffs start next week. Turco is ineligible to play in the postseason because he signed after the trade deadline. So now the Bruins might give Khudobin a chance to play in an NHL game or two to make sure he's ready should he have to be Thomas' backup at the start of the postseason.

"Well, you know sometimes it happens in hockey. So it's kind of, yeah, maybe it was time to call me up, but I was hurt, so I just tried to keep moving forward and finally this time comes up," Khudobin said after the Bruins' morning skate at TD Garden. "I'm glad to be here, at least for now."

Khudobin was recalled Monday. He's scheduled to serve as Turco's backup Tuesday night against Pittsburgh. On the season, Khudobin compiled a 21-19-3 record and 2.61 goals-against average in 44 games for Providence.

"I'm feeling pretty good. I played four games there [since returning from the injury] and I feel ready to go," he said.


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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:49 PM

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

Projected lineup for Rangers vs. Flyers

The New York Rangers held an optional practice Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, but they will use the same lineup that skated in Sunday's game in Boston.

That means Henrik Lundqvist will make his season-high 10th straight start. If coach John Tortorella had any interest in giving Lundqvist off, it's doubtful he would have done it against the Flyers, anyway -- in five games against Philadelphia this season, Lundqvist is 5-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage.
 
Here's the rest of the lineup the Rangers likely will use against the Flyers:

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

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron


Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on  Twitter: @NHLAdamK









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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:42 PM

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

Playoffs, division title within Panthers' grasp Tuesday

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are doing their best to remain focused, but they're also well aware what's at stake Tuesday night.

With a victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers not only will secure the organization's first playoff berth since 2000, they also will clinch the first division title in franchise history.

"We're excited as a group," veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "We've worked all year for games like this. We obviously know the importance of it, what it means to this group of guys, this franchise."

The Panthers can extend their lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to five points with a victory Tuesday, and the Capitals have only two games left -- including one Thursday at home against Florida.

When they picked up a point in a 2-1 shootout loss at Detroit on Sunday, the Panthers already knew they could clinch a playoff spot Tuesday. But Washington's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday night, when Steve Stamkos scored the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, set up the division-clinching scenario.

Coach Kevin Dineen said he didn't watch the game, instead waiting for the start of the NCAA Tournament championship game between Kentucky and Kansas. Dineen did say he was made aware of the score by family members.

All Panthers players interviewed after the morning skate Tuesday, on the other hand, saw Stamkos' late-game heroics.

"I kind of let out a good jump on the couch when he scored with around a minute left," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We want to get in and work hard by doing what we need to do. But definitely you're always scoreboard-watching at this time of the season. But now we need to take care of our business."

The Panthers, whose playoff drought is the longest in NHL history, have held first place in the Southeast for 123 days this season, including the last 38.

They've managed to hold off Washington despite winning only once in their last seven games, largely because of their ability to pick up points most outings.

But after going 1-2-4 during that stretch, Florida needs a victory Tuesday to make the playoffs a reality.

"It's an exciting time for us, for sure," Dineen said. "We're confident, but also we understand there's still lots of hockey to be played in this season. It's quiet confidence with the understanding that, as always, work has to come before any kind of carrots. Certainly our players are ready to go in and put in a solid effort tonight."

In Winnipeg, the Panthers will be facing a team that saw its playoff hopes disappear in its last game.

But the Panthers aren't about to take the Jets lightly. Florida has won three of the first five meetings, but was shut out 7-0 the last time it faced the Jets, March 1 at Winnipeg.

After Tuesday, the Panthers have games remaining -- at Washington on Thursday, and at home against Carolina on Saturday. But they want those two points right away.

"You want to take anything the first opportunity you get," Campbell said. "We know what our schedule is like. It's been grueling over the last couple of weeks. It's a good challenge. If we play like we played in Detroit, we're going to have a lot of success.

"We're just trying to lock up a playoff spot here, and it's a great opportunity tonight. We've got a great challenge with Winnipeg and being at home is pretty exciting."

Dineen has spoken several times in recent weeks of being happy his team was relevant late in the season. With a victory Tuesday night, the Panthers will be relevant in the postseason.

"Obviously, there's a lot of clarity that we can do things here at home," Dineen said. "There's still some work to do, and we need to go out and take care of our business. It's right there in front of us."


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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Fleury rests, Johnson gets start for Penguins

BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson has been limited to just one game played since Feb. 19 due to injury.

So when he gets the start against the Boston Bruins tonight at TD Garden, he'll be looking to shake off some more rust before the postseason. However, coach Dan Bylsma stressed that Johnson's start is more about Marc-Andre Fleury's well-being.

"[It's about] giving Marc-Andre Fleury a rest here going into the last week," Bylsma said after his team's morning skate. "And Brent has obviously played only one game in a long time, to get him back in the net and to play in a game ... but really it's about Marc-Andre Fleury getting some rest going into the playoffs in the last week."

Fleury has played in 13 of the Penguins' last 17 games.

Bylsma said the rest of the lineup will be a game-time decision. Both Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang came off the ice much later than the rest of their teammates.

Here is the projected lineup:

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

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

Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury



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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Briere hopes to be back for playoffs after Vitale hit

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Danny Briere said the upper-back contusion he suffered on a hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale late in Sunday's game in Pittsburgh was causing back spasms, and said he's hoping to be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't know much at this point," Briere told reporters. "All I know is that my back is in spasm. … There's no timetable [for a return], but obviously I'd like to be ready for the playoffs. I just don't know at this point."

Briere said he saw Vitale coming at the last second and was able to brace himself for the hit, which he said allowed him to avoid worse injury.

"I saw him at the last second and braced myself," he said. "Try to take the hit. Just one of those things, sometimes it turns out bad, that's kind of what happened on the play."

It's the play itself, however, that Briere wasn't particularly happy about.

"Everybody knows that you put the line that they put on the ice at the end of the game with a minute left when the game is out of hand, everyone knows the intent," Briere said. "Was it a bad hit? No, it was a clean hit. But obviously whatever he was doing, he was obviously trying to hurt me. We all know that. It was a clean hit, I'm the first one to admit to that. I saw him coming at the last second. I braced myself to take the hit like I do when I've taken hits like that. Just turned out bad this time. Not much else to say or do about it. It is what it is. It just makes for a more entertaining series coming up if we face them in the first round."

Briere said the worst part of getting hurt now is he's playing his best hockey of the season. He has just 16 goals, and earlier this season he went through a 23-game goal drought. But in six games since being put on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, he has two goals and seven assists.

"I guess that's the positive side," he said. "I was very excited about our line the past couple weeks, it was starting to click, it was starting to really mesh well together. It's been a big issue all year, trying to find the right combination. It's disappointing in a sense, but I'm hoping we'll be able to pick up where he we left off whenever I have the chance to get back."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK


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Quote of the Day

I've never seen anything like that. The great thing is I don't know how many times guys bailed me out where they had to score to keep it alive and they did every time. It was amazing. It's not the way we draw it up, to go 20 rounds here, but obviously it's a big win.

— Florida goalie Roberto Luongo after the Panthers defeated the Capitals in the longest shootout in NHL history on Tuesday
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