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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Players you can expect to impact the postseason race

With the race for playoff berths so tight in each conference, there will be several players who have a major impact on whether or not their teams are playing hockey this spring, or playing golf.

From where I stand, these are the players I expect to be having a major impact down the stretch.

Eastern Conference

Alex Ovechkin and Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals: This is why Ovi is supposed to be great -- this time of year. They need him as a leader and a scorer. Vokoun was brought in this offseason for this specific reason. They traded away Varlamov, the young goaltender, so Vokoun would be the guy that does it. That means this is the time for both of these guys to show what they're worth.

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 22-13-2
GAA: 2.45 | SVP: 0.920
This offseason, Washington thought Vokoun's international experience and the battles he had been in prepared him for this even though he has limited experience in the NHL's chase for the postseason after all those years in Florida. Am I in love with him? Do I think he's one of the all-time greats? No, but I do like having a veteran goaltender. I like having a guy I know isn't going to have trouble sleeping at night, someone who isn't going to have to listen to Dr. Phil during the day to calm himself down. This is why you got a veteran goaltender. Now you've got to live with your choice.

Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: All season these guys have been the main force for Toronto. This is when you find out if your players and your team are great. It's easy to play when you know you're in the first spot or you're out of the playoffs. But every night, when your season is on the line and you're fighting for the playoffs and these two points might get you in and these two points might get you out, that's when you find out who's great. I think Kessel, Phaneuf and Lupul have been those guys all year long for Toronto and I think they're going to determine whether or not Toronto makes it into the playoffs.

Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, Florida Panthers: Florida is very similar to Toronto in that it's really been a group of three that's been the driving force. This line has been their top group offensively, it's been their power play all season long and they're going to be the guys Florida needs going down the stretch. Other guys have to do their jobs, of course. They'll need good goaltending and good defense, but those three have been their whole offense all year long and they need to continue to be.

Western Conference

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: This is his race. Period. If L.A. gets in, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be the best goalie in the Western Conference, because they just don't score many goals. He's shown that he's a guy that can do that, though. The Kings only have 120 goals for; that pales in comparison to Detroit or Vancouver. A defensive team like St. Louis has more goals. Phoenix, which has never been a big offensive team, has more goals. The Columbus Blue Jackets have more goals. For the Kings to make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be great. Plain and simple.

Ray Whitney
Left Wing - PHX
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 51
SOG: 123 | +/-: 19
Mike Smith and Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes: I think right now the Tampa Bay Lightning are wishing they had held on to Mike Smith, and I also think Ray Whitney is just a great story. Whitney is leading the team in scoring despite being one of the older guys. He's still a force on the power play, he's still quick and he's still the smartest guy on the ice every night. I think he's a real leader for Phoenix and he and Smith, who has been tremendous lately, will need to keep playing well for the Coyotes to make it into the postseason.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Just like Jonathan Quick in L.A., it's going to come down to Kiprusoff this time of year. Most nights that Calgary wins, it's Kipper who's the first star. He just got his 300th win and he's playing as well as he's played since he became a Flame, so he's obviously the key up in Calgary.

Kari Lehtonen, Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: With Brenden Morrow out, your best players will have to be your best players and in Dallas that falls on these guys. They'll need to help Lehtonen out so he can go back to being the best goalie in the League like he was earlier this season, and Ribeiro and Benn will need to start putting the puck back in the net.

Whoever is in goal, Chicago Blackhawks: If you look at the records of Corey Crawford or Ray Emery, they're simply not getting the job done. Whether it's one of those guys or it's somebody out there they go get, the goalie is going to be the key, and I'll be surprised if the Blackhawks don't go out there and get somebody at the deadline. The obvious choice might be Evgeni Nabokov from the Islanders, but with the way he's played lately, his price is going up every day. There aren't very many options out there for Chicago, but they need to be careful as the cost gets higher with his play. Still, whomever it is in net is going to be a key component for Chicago down the stretch and in the playoffs.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 7:22 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

LAK @ DAL - 8:21 of the second period



At 8:21 of the second period in the Kings/Stars game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Andrei Loktionov's leg and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Los Angeles.

According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body , in any manner, the goal shall be allowed."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Projected Lightning linuep

The Lightning's possible lineup for their first game in Pittsburgh since that Game 7 on April 27:
 
Steve DownieSteven StamkosTeddy Purcell
Ryan ShannonVincent LecavalierMartin St. Louis
Nate ThompsonDominic MooreTom Pyatt
Brett Connolly - JT WymanAdam Hall
 
Pavel KubinaEric Brewer
Victor HedmanBrett Clark
Bruno GervaisBrendan Mikkelson
 
Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:29 PM

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

Despite cold, Bolts have warm memories in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill far below that -- yes, there was snow, too -- the Tampa Bay Lightning received a bitterly cold greeting when they arrived in Pittsburgh for Sunday night's game against the Penguins.
 
Not that they needed it. At least for a while longer, the Lightning are likely to retain very warm memories of Pittsburgh when they make their infrequent visits there.
 
Last spring, the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Penguins in their Eastern Conference opening round playoff series. They won each of the final two games in Pittsburgh, in a pair of couldn't-be-different contests -- a free-wheeling 8-2 decision in Game 5 and a tighter-than-tight 1-0 win in Game 7.
 
Sunday's game was the Lightning's first in Pittsburgh since that series, which marked only the second time in franchise history that the Penguins lost a playoff round in which they led 3-1. Tampa Bay went on to sweep favored Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then took eventual Stanley Cup champions Boston to seven games before losing the Eastern Conference Final.
 
The Lightning didn't have a morning skate in Pittsburgh after winning in Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night behind Steven Stamkos' NHL-leading 37th goal. They will finish up a three-game, four-day road trip that began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Still, the Lightning are 3-0-1 in their last four road games.
 
Stamkos has five goals during a six-game scoring streak, but he isn't the only Lightning player who is streaking. Martin St. Louis has six goals and 11 assists while scoring in 10 of his last 12 games, and Vincent Lecavalier has 10 goals and 23 points over 21 games.
 
While the Lightning's stars are leading a 7-1-2 surge over their last 10 games, star Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and seven assists as the Penguins have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10. Malkin had his third 5-point game of the season Saturday, netting a goal and setting up four others during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg.
 
An admiring Guy Boucher, the Lightning's coach, said Sunday that Malkin looks “gigantic” at ice level the way he is playing these days -- much like former Penguins star Mario Lemieux did during his prime.
 
Forward Ryan Malone (upper body injury), a former Penguins player, was expected to play during this road trip after being out since Jan. 21, but Boucher said he will remain out for precautionary reasons. The Lightning don't want to take a chance that Malone will have a setback.
 
While Dwayne Roloson was in net during that first-round playoff series last season, Mathieu Garon made 27 saves while beating Buffalo and is 6-0-2 in his last eight, so Boucher plans to start him.
 
While the Lightning won't have long to experience the cold of a February day in Pittsburgh, they'll be back in less than two weeks -- on Feb. 25 -- to finish out the season series. The teams split the two games in Tampa, with the Lightning winning 4-1 on Nov. 17 but the Penguins earning a 6-3 win on Jan. 15.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:24 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

McDonagh returns after injury scare

NEW YORK -- Ryan McDonagh gave the Rangers and their fans a scare Sunday afternoon, but it was only a brief one.

The defenseman left Sunday's game against the Washington Capitals after his left leg buckled during the second period, but returned almost immediately after being helped to the locker room.

The non-contact injury occurred as he scored his fifth goal of the season at 13:21 to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. McDonagh used a toe drag to move around a sliding defenseman, then crumpled to the ice in pain after releasing the shot.

McDonagh was back almost immediately, however, taking a shift about two minutes after leaving.

McDonagh has stepped up in a big way this season with top defenseman Marc Staal missing the first three months of the season. McDonagh is second on the Rangers and 12th in the League in ice time at 25:19 per game playing alongside NHL ice time leader and All-Star Dan Girardi.

The Rangers are currently carrying seven defensemen, but have been using Stu Bickel at forward with Ruslan Fedotenko out with an injury suffered Thursday.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:09 PM

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

Projected lineups for Sharks-Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The projected lines for tonight's game between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Winger Evgeni Grachev and defenseman Ian Cole are expected to be healthy scratches but Hitchcock indicated that the flu bug is going around the team and all active players will dress for the pregame skate. Russell missed Saturday's game against Colorado with the flu. Wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) are out, as are defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and center Jason Arnott (shoulder). All are on injured reserve. The Blues put D'Agostini on IR Sunday morning.

SHARKS

Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Winger John McCarthy is expected to be the healthy scratch. Winger Martin Havlat (lower-body) winger Tommy Wingels (upper-body) and defenseman Jason Demers (lower-body) are on injured reserve.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:07 PM

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

Despite streak Babcock looks for more

DETROIT -- Yes, the Detroit Red Wings have rattled off 19 straight wins at Joe Louis Arena since last losing here on Nov. 3 to the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't mean all of the wins have been pretty, especially the last few in the stretch. Since beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-0 on Jan. 16 to set a new team record for consecutive home wins, they've eked out wins by just one-goal margins in three of the past four wins at Joe Louis Arena -- including two by shootout.

On Friday night, win No.19 came by shootout in a game the Wings were largely outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks -- with Detroit looking slow and a little tired for long stretches. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock hopes that trend changes on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) -- when they try to tied the NHL record with their 20th straight home win.

"We've got to play way better than we have played," Babcock said. "Our energy level this last little bit hasn't been as good and our goal to just skate and play the kind of game we want to play at a high level hasn't been there. We've found ways to just grind out games with good goaltending and defense, and yet we think we can be better than we've been … and we have to be."

Is he concerned about the recent trend?

"No, it's just the ebbs and flows of the year," Babcock said. "You're not always as good as you can be, and that's why you grind it out. The next morning, like [Detroit general manager]Ken Holland always says, you look in the paper and you've got two points and it's a Picasso. You find a way to do it and keep grinding. If you can win when you're on a down cycle, that's a great thing."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:33 PM

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

Kindl excited to play against childhood idol

DETROIT -- Jakub Kindl isn't just eager to get on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena  because it will be his fourth straight start on the blue line.

His giddiness on Sunday morning also wasn't because the Detroit Red Wings have a chance to become just the third team in NHL history to win 20 straight home games. It was a more personal reason, stemming from his childhood growing up in the Czech Republic as a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr -- who plays right wing for the Flyers' top line.

The 25-year old Kindl has never played against Jagr, so Sunday's game will be special for him.

"I'm excited because I've been dreaming of one day playing against him," said Kindl, who owns a signed copy of Jagr's autobiography that came out in the late 1990s. "Here I am and the dream finally came true. I'm playing one of the best hockey players born."

Kindl's favorite Jagr memory is when he helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"When they won in Nagano '98, I think I was about 10," Kindl said. "I was watching it in the school. We were skipping class to watch the finals. It was the biggest [deal], so I'm really looking forward to tonight."

Even if he winds up in a one-on-one situation against the skilled 6-foot-3, 240-pound Flyers forward?

"If I get the chance to be out there against him, I've just got to be good defensively because he's a very strong guy on the puck, especially one-on-one," said Kindl, who's 6-3, 216 pounds. "I've got to watch out if I get a chance out there."

Kindl doesn't know if he'll get to meet Jagr after the game, but does plan to request one of his sticks.

"I've never met him," Kindl said. "I'm going to request a stick, but it feels kind of awkward for me. I'll do my best, though, because I think there are going to be a lot of guys asking him for his stick, too. I'm going to have to find a way."

Detroit also has Czech-born forward Jiri Hudler playing right wing on the second line.

"Huds knows him better than I do," Kindl said. "He played against him in Russia [KHL] a couple years ago, and he knows him better. I think they played on the national team a couple times, too."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:09 PM

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

For Now, Pens' Jeffrey Just Winging It

PITTSBURGH -- It's not the easiest thing to do -- change from one position to another during an NHL season -- but, at least for now, Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just winging it.
 
In every sense of the word.
 
Jeffrey, a center most of his career, is currently seeing time as a right wing mostly on the Penguins' third line, which is centered by the recently acquired Cal O'Reilly. Jeffrey was on a line with No. 2 center Jordan Staal and left wing Steve Sullivan when he scored a goal during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.

With the Penguins overloaded with centers now that two-way star Staal is back after missing 15 games with a left knee injury, coach Dan Bylsma felt that Jeffrey's proven versatility would allow him to adjust to the move.
 
"I think it's a bigger move when wingers go from left to right wing, that's not as big a move as from center to wing," said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. "But Dustin Jeffrey has played  a full season at wing in Wilkes-Barre (AHL). For that reason, there was a possibility he could play wing up here because we have so many center men. We've had some injuries so we've needed him to play center, but the possibility of him playing wing has been brought up for a long time."

Currently, the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Staal, O'Reilly and Joe Vitale at center, with Jeffrey in reserve. Right wing Pascal Dupuis has filled in at center. And that group doesn't include No. 1 center Sidney Crosby, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby skated again Sunday in advance of the Penguins' optional morning skate.
 
Jeffrey has 3 goals and 2 assists in 20 games during a season in which he wasn't a full-go until mid-January after having knee surgery last year.
 
"While he hasn't played there this year and moving to wing is an abrupt change, he's had a fair amount of experience doing it," Bylsma said. "He knows the wall play, he knows the details of playing wing, so it's not a drastic move for him. I think his best season points-wise in the American Hockey League was at wing. He's a smart player and he understands the game really well."
 
Jeffrey, who realizes that a player's versatility can greatly aid his chances of remaining in the NHL, seemed to make the adjustment rather easily after practicing at wing for several days.
 
But, despite scoring  against the Jets, Jeffrey believes the Penguins need to tighten up defensively – especially when they play Tampa Bay and the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos on Sunday night. Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals.
 
"We were almost trading chance for chance, and that's not how we're going to have success," Jeffrey said. "Obviously, we needed some secondary scoring; we got some. … But we can't let up that many goals. Especially against a good team; they're not going to let us score eight goals a game."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:01 PM

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

Mule's stall falls prey to practical joke in Detroit

DETROIT -- After he came off the ice following a morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen found his locker stall barricaded by a wall of red and white tape.

Rather than try to cut through it, Franzen hung most of his pads on a hook outside the stall and stuffed his shin pads into the upper portion of the locker through gaps in the tape.

Franzen [a.k.a 'The Mule'] didn't seem entirely amused, either.

Though Franzen didn't reveal by name who he thought was the primary suspect, he did boil it down.

"I think one of the young kids is growing up a little too fast here," Franzen said, smiling. "One of the fastest guys, youngest guy."

The fastest skater on the team is third-line center Darren Helm, who's 25 and was seen walking around the Wings locker room wearing a smile like the cat that swallowed the canary. It should be noted that Helm used to locker next to legendary Wings prankster Kris Draper -- who retired after last season and now has a front office position in Detroit.

Helm admitted seeing the tape job happen, but denied any involvement.

"I plead the Fifth," he said.

Second line center Henrik Zetterberg was also asked if he'd had a hand in the tape job.

"Yeah, actually I saw it," Zetterberg said. "So, it wasn't me. I have nothing to do with this one."

What kind of message did "The Mule" think was being sent with the joke?

"I don't know," Franzen said. "He's been all over me all morning. Stole some of my equipment and now he did this. I don't know how to take that. Maybe I have to do something with his car. I probably will … make it disappear or something."

Did Franzen do anything to start it?

"Nope," he said, laughing. "Not at all."

As for the tape job idea, Franzen acknowledged it was at least creative.

"It's interesting," he said. "I'm not going to touch it, so the guy who did this gets a little bad feelings because he gave the equipment managers [another] job. That's the only way to get it to stop. I'm going to leave this and go shower."

Asked if even Draper could've done something like that, Franzen dismissed the notion.

"He would never spend as much time on anything like this," Franzen said. "It'd be quick. Something with scissors."
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