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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:18 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers have decision to make on defense

VOORHEES, N.J. -- One of the more interesting lineup decisions for Flyers coach Peter Laviolette could come in his third defense pairing.

For the second straight day at practice, Andreas Lilja and rookie Marc-Andre Bourdon formed the third pairing, while Pavel Kubina -- acquired from Tampa Bay in February to bolster the back end -- skated as the extra blueliner.

Kubina had just four assists in 17 games with the Flyers, and missed two weeks in March with what the team called an upper-body injury. In 10 games back since the injury, he has two assists, a minus-3 rating and has looked easy to push off the puck.

"Pavel has been really good," Laviolette said. "He's been a welcome addition to our back end."

Bourdon has been a pleasant surprise this season, with four goals in 45 games and a good level of physical play for his 6-foot, 206-pound frame. Lilja also brings size and physicality, but played just 46 games due to injury and being a healthy scratch 26 times.

Laviolette wasn't going to discuss his lineup, which at Tuesday's practice saw Braydon Coburn paired with Nicklas Grossmann -- likely to play in Game 1 after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury -- and Kimmo Timonen with Matt Carle.

"We're fortunate to get some health now so we've got good defensemen available for the playoffs," Laviolette said.

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



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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Daniel Sedin absent from Canucks practice Tuesday

Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin practiced with teammates Monday, but didn't talk.

He didn't practice Tuesday, but skated shortly after.

What does it mean for the Canucks' leading scorer in Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday?

No one with the Canucks was saying, leaving only question marks about whether last season's Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer would be ready to return from a March 21 concussion in time to face the Los Angeles Kings when Vancouver starts the first round.

Twin brother Henrik, who said Daniel was "100 percent" a day earlier, offered only no comments when asked about his lifelong linemate's health and playing status.

Coach Alain Vigneault did at least say Sedin hadn't suffered a setback in his recovery after practicing for the first time with teammates on Monday, but that was about it.

"It's not a setback," Vigneault said twice. "It's a unique injury and he will continue the protocol and when he's ready to play he'll address you. Until then he won't talk to you."

Daniel, who missed the final nine games of the season, but still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points, did not talk with reporters after practicing on Monday. He skated with regular linemates Henrik and Alexandre Burrows, and worked in his usual spot on the top power-play unit, staying out through the end of a hard skating session at the end. On Tuesday he didn't go on the ice until most teammates were talking to the media -- mostly not answering questions about his status.

Daniel skated for 40 minutes with six spares, including Keith Ballard, who is coming off a concussion of his own and not expected to play in Game 1, doing drills with skill coach Glenn Carnegie, and firing into a net guarded only by a shooter tutor.

There was no word -- or even a hint -- if he'd play Wednesday.

"You should know by know I don't discuss lineup decisions," Vigneault said.

Daniel still wasn't wearing a white helmet the way Ballard, who has been out since early February, did before he was cleared for contact last week. But there was no contact.

Keith was suspended five games for the hit. The Canucks won eight of their last nine games without Daniel to secure a second-straight Presidents' Trophy.


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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers put youth up against Penguins' experience

VOORHEES, N.J. -- No team got a bigger contribution from its rookies in the 2011-12 season than the Philadelphia Flyers.

They got a League-high 64 goals from their rookies, and with as many as six first-year players expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, their play will be pivotal for Philadelphia.

How those young players react in the crucible of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be so important because of the Penguins' advantage in experience -- 11 players expected to be in the Game 1 lineup for Pittsburgh were part of the team that won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

While many would think that playoff knowledge would give the Pens a major advantage, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he isn't so sure.

"That's one I don't have an answer for," he said. "If you're asking me if I like our team and if I like our young players that we've had and that we've had in place all year and if they've answered the bell every time we've asked them to answer a bell, I have. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in this group. And I guess the guys, to answer your question, the guys that don't have the playoff experience, we really like them as players. They've done a terrific job all year.

"How does that compare to [the Penguins]? I'm not sure. I'm not sure if matters. We're going to go in there and we expect to play a good hockey team and we expect to win."

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


 
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Hitchcock downplays news of Elliott injury

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Maybe Ken Hitchcock's selection of a goalie for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the San Jose Sharks became easier with the news of Brian Elliott's upper-body injury.

But Hitchcock said it's nothing that will alter a decision as to who starts, because Elliott is in play along with Jaroslav Halak. The injury is one that Hitchcock said, "is from weeks ago when he fell into the net."

The Blues had a double practice session that lasted 90 minutes. They split the time up and Elliott was on the ice for the first session. He took a good amount of work, but the team decided to keep him off the ice when they returned.

"He's got a little bit of an upper-body issue, day-to-day," Hitchcock added. "Rather than just try to squeeze the big, long [practice], we took him [out after] the short one and we'll get him back out here tomorrow or the next day and see how it is. He'll be fine, though.

"We didn't want to aggravate it. We've been nursing it for a week. We didn't want to take him too far down the lineup. He got a lot of work in the first 45 minutes."

Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season after going 23-10-4. Hitchcock said Elliott will still be up for selection for Thursday's opener.

"It's more maintenance," Hitchcock said. "We've been nursing this thing for a week now. It's not a big deal. We knew how long this day was going to be and we just felt like, 'Man, why cool a guy down?' If we're going to continue to practice at this tempo, we might bring a third guy in."

The team recalled Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis but only to participate in the practices. Hitchcock has moved up a day for naming a starter after initially saying he would wait until Thursday morning.

"I'm going to move it up a day so you guys can write about something," Hitchcock said, joking. "I'll give it to you on Wednesday. I'm going to give you a little treat."

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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 12:38 PM

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

Lundqvist to be featured on Sports Illustrated cover

Courtesy: Sports Illustrated (Click image to enlarge)

After a sparkling regular season that may earn him a Vezina Trophy, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earned a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

The last Ranger to appear on the magazine's cover was Wayne Gretzky on April 26, 1999, in recognition of his retirement from the NHL.

Lundqvist and the Rangers will start their postseason Thursday night (7 ET, NHLN) against the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Lundqvist set career-highs in wins (39) goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.930) this season.

Lundqvist's cover is one of two Sports Illustrated will issue this week. Golfer Bubba Watson, who won The Masters on Sunday, will appear on the other cover.

Past Rangers on Sports Illustrated cover:

* Wayne Gretzky -- April 26, 1999
* Mark Messier & Wayne Gretzky -- October 7, 1996
* Mark Messier -- June 13, 1994
* Pete Stemkowski -- May 6, 1974
* Ed Giacomin -- March 2, 1970
* Andy Bathgate -- January 12, 1959

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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 7:56 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Neal, Sullivan ready to go for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma skated onto the ice Monday for the Pittsburgh Penguins' first practice in advance of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Philadelphia and was greeted by an uncommon sight.
 
All of his forwards were in uniform , healthy and ready to go -- including James Neal and Steve Sullivan.
 
James Neal
During a season in which star Sidney Crosby missed 60 games with concussion-related issues, Tyler Kennedy was out for 22 games, Jordan Staal sat out 20 and Neal and Sullivan were sidelined for the final two games, Bylsma rarely had all four lines healthy at the same time.
 
Evgeni Malkin even missed seven games early in the season, although he still managed to easily win the scoring title by 12 points over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.
 
Neal, whose 40 goals ranked fourth in the League, and Sullivan, who had a 48-point season, each missed games Thursday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Flyers with lower-body injuries.
 
"We saw Sullivan and Neal return to practice and play on the lines they played on three games ago and will be playing on for the start of Game 1," Bylsma said.

That means Neal goes back onto the Malkin line with Chris Kunitz, where he has played nearly all season, while Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis will be the wings on Sidney Crosby's line.
 
"It was good to get back out there and get the legs going, get your timing back and get ready for playoffs," said Neal, who had one goal in seven playoff games against Tampa Bay last spring.

Asked whether his condition was a concern with the start of the playoffs so close, Neal said, "No, it's fine. I'll be all right. I had a good week of rest. That's what I needed and I'll be ready to go, 100 percent."
 
Sullivan felt he could have played Saturday but, since that game did not affect the Penguins' playoff seeding, he was held out.
 
"Awesome," Sullivan said when asked how he is feeling. "I'm ready to go."
 
Sullivan signed with the Penguins before the season started in part because he has never lifted the Stanley Cup since breaking into the NHL with New Jersey during the 1995-96 season.
 
"It's probably the best opportunity that I've had," Sullivan said. "I think I'm very excited, energized and ready to go. These opportunities don't come along very often, so I'm going to make the best of my opportunity here."

Defenseman Matt Niskanen's status for Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday is uncertain. He missed the final two regular season games with an upper-body injury, and he didn't practice Monday although he skated on his own.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 7:54 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Mitchell returns to practice, will play in Game 1 for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell returned to the ice Monday after missing the regular-season finale Saturday night against Los Angeles with an undisclosed injury, but forward Ryane Clowe and defenseman Brent Burns missed practice as the Sharks began preparing for their first-round series against St. Louis.

The series opens Thursday night at the Scottrade Center.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Clowe and Burns had "maintenance" days and added, "They'll both be ready to play."
 
Torrey Mitchell
Center - SJS
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 19
SOG: 100 | +/-: -6
Mitchell was injured Thursday night at Los Angeles when he took a hard hit from Colin Fraser in the first period. He left that game and didn't return. Mitchell declared himself "good to go" after Monday's practice.

"I felt fine," Mitchell said. "I biked two days ago and I felt fine. I'm pretty much ready to go."

Clowe didn't play in the third period or overtime of San Jose's 3-2 victory against Los Angeles on Saturday night at HP Pavilion. Neither did defenseman Colin White, who practiced on Monday. After that game, McLellan said Clowe and White needed a "maintenance period" and granted them one.

Clowe declined to say whether he suffered an injury against the Kings, but he said he "was fine" with McLellan's decision to keep him off the ice for the end of Saturday's game and Monday's practice.

"I stayed off. I feel good," Clowe said.

Before the series opens Thursday night at St. Louis, the Sharks will have had three full practices and a morning skate to prepare for the Blues. After losing all four regular-season games to St. Louis in regulation, the Sharks have plenty of tactical work to do. McLellan said he also wants to make sure his team keeps the sharp edge it developed during its playoff push. The Sharks won their final four regular-season games, beating Dallas and Los Angeles in back-to-back, home-and-home series sweeps.

"We do that physically and mentally," McLellan said of both goals. "Visually, we see some video of us and them, we talk about how we want to play, and that's been established since the beginning of the year. It's just maintaining it, and then physically just practice situations, as much game situation play as we possibly can that's both unique to our team and maybe to what we'll see in the series."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he won't name his starting goaltender – Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott – until Thursday, but the Sharks likely don't have a preference. They lost twice to Halak and twice to Elliott. Each one shut them out once.

"They're just both elite goaltenders," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "You're going to have to work to get your goals. It's going to be a low-scoring affair. It's going to be 2-1 games, 1-0 games, and that's what we have to expect."

The Sharks will wear their alternate black jerseys for their home playoff games. They were 12-2-0 this season when dressed in black.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 6:00 PM

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

Standout Karlsson presents challenge for Rangers

A win against Washington on the final day of the regular season, and the New York Rangers would have wound up facing the Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, after all the Eastern Conference playoff dust had settled, they found themselves with the Ottawa Senators as their draw -- which means, in part, having to defend against this season's breakout defenseman and possible Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson led all blueliners in scoring with 78 points and tied Shea Weber for the lead with 19 goals. The 21-year-old Swedish standout didn't score any of those goals against the Rangers, but he picked up five assists as the Senators won three of four in the regular-season series.

Thirty-plus goal scorers Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek will be primary focuses of the Rangers' defensive efforts in this series, but center Brad Richards said they can't lose track of where Karlsson is on the ice.

"He's a big part of their offense, obviously, and it'll be a big focus for us to try to limit his time and space," Richards said during a Monday conference call with the media. "Hopefully we can keep him away from puck as much as we can. He's kind of a rover, he'll jump up in the play, and he's such a great skater he gets back just as quick, so he can take more chances than other d-men can.

"You have to keep your head on a swivel when he has the puck, try to get it out of his hands as quick as we can so he can't be a big part of the offense … start in their end and keep an eye on him down there, don't let him beat you and create those odd-man rushes."
 
Ottawa won both of its games during the regular season at Madison Square Garden, where the series will get started with Game 1 on Thursday.

"They're a very talented team … we plan on making it difficult on them when we start Thursday," Richards said. "If you give time and space they can score goals. That's probably why they [had success against us]."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:40 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Lidstrom: Red Wings don't mind being underdogs

The last time the Detroit Red Wings finished as low as third in their division was in 1990-91 -- the season before Nicklas Lidstrom arrived from Sweden to patrol their blue line.

Over the ensuing two decades, Lidstrom and his teammates haven't had much experience being the underdog in a series -- especially not in the first round. But despite completing their 12th consecutive season with over 100 points, there are many who consider the Red Wings just that heading into a series with the Nashville Predators in which their Central Division rivals have home ice.

"We don't mind that at all, being the underdog," Lidstrom said during a media conference call Monday. "Nashville had a real strong regular season and finished ahead of us in points. I think they're the team to be the favorites, and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Starting the series at Bridgestone Arena could prove to be a distinct disadvantage for the Wings if they can't reverse a regular-season trend that saw them post an NHL-high 31 wins at home, but finish a mediocre 17-17-7 on the road.

"Our team defense needs to be better and we need to play better without the puck, especially with the quick forwards Nashville's got," Lidstrom said about how Detroit might reverse its fortunes. "We have to take advantage of our chances offensively, too."

Getting healthy is also a key. The Wings got some key players like Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk back late in the season, but the conditions of veteran Danny Cleary (sore knee) and energy-line player Darren Helm (sprained knee ligament) also bear watching.

"Both Cleary and Helm skated with us today, practiced and stayed out there the whole time," Lidstrom said. "We expect Clear to play in the first game. Helm is almost there. He's getting closer and closer. I think we need a player like Helm, with his speed up front, to play against a very good Nashville team."
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 5:33 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Dan Rosen gives his first-round picks

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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic