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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Helm back on the ice for Red Wings

DETROIT -- Only a few players took part in Thursday morning's optional skate for the Detroit Red Wings, but injured center Darren Helm was one of them.

Helm, who's recovering from a Grade 2 tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, got back on the ice for the first time since being injured himself March 17 in San Jose while trying to make an open-ice hit in the neutral zone.

Helm wore a brace on the knee and skated for about 30 minutes, showing some of the speed that makes him such an effective player on the Wings' third line. He's not ready to return for game action just yet, however, and remains hopeful that he could return midway through Detroit's first Stanley Cup Playoff series.

"Before I came in today, I wasn’t even sure when I'd be on the ice," Helm said. "They wanted me to get on there now and it felt better than I thought. It's still a ways away, I think, but it still helps a lot mentally. As soon as I got going, I felt pretty good. It's kind of feeling it out slowly. It's all feel now, I think. The docs will be keeping an eye on it."

As for being ready to play in the first game of the playoffs, Helm is keeping an open mind but seems to be aiming for later in the series.

"It'd be a nice goal to have," Helm said of returning for Game 1. "Previously they told me probably not Game 1. So I'm not going to be super angry if it's not Game 1. Obviously I want to be back. We have to play it as safe as possible right now. If I re-hurt it, it could be the rest of the year. At the same time, I don't want to milk it too much. It's a pretty exciting time and I want to get out there."

Helm said the biggest challenges right now on the ice are stops and starts plus any sudden side-to-side movements. This is the first time he's worn a knee brace, but he didn't seem to mind it too much.

"It didn't feel too bad," he said "It's a little stiff, a little tight. I don't think it'll be a factor when I get going."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Panthers, Capitals

WASHINGTON -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game at Verizon Center between the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals:

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Keith Aucoin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

Notes: Joel Ward will miss his seventh straight game after taking a shot off his foot from Flyers forward Danny Briere on March 22. … Jeff Halpern will be a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game and for the 11th time in the last 14 games overall. … Jeff Schultz will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game. … John Erskine and Cody Eakin are also scratched.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:32 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks get Keith back for final push

ST. PAUL -- After missing five games because of suspension, Duncan Keith returns to the Chicago lineup Thursday as the Blackhawks play at Minnesota.

Keith, who was disciplined for elbowing Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin Mar. 21, will jump back into the Hawks top pairing with partner Brent Seabrook.

Chicago went 2-1-2 in the five games Keith missed, but his return comes at a good time. With a pair of road games against the Wild on Thursday and Detroit on Saturday, Chicago is currently sixth in the Western Conference playoff race. Two points behind Nashville and three behind Detroit, the Blackhawks could jump as high as fourth with a pair of wins and some help. The Red Wings host New Jersey and Nashville hosts Dallas on Thursday.

"It was tough," Keith told NHL.com following practice Tuesday. "Obviously you want to be out there playing and helping the guys. They did a great job and played well. We've been playing well for a long time now, I think. I just want to help out and keep it going."

Keith, who won the Norris Trophy two years ago, is second in the NHL in ice time this season, trailing only Brian Campbell of Florida. And while a suspension is never a positive thing, a break down the stretch for Keith could benefit both him and the Blackhawks. Chicago has already clinched a playoff berth and a rested Keith could make the Hawks a dangerous team over the next few weeks.

"I guess getting some rest at this time of year would probably be beneficial in that regard," Keith said. "I didn't feel like I needed rest. I've been able to play a lot of games every year, so I don't feel that's a reason or anything why I need rest. I feel good and I feel stronger than I was before, so hopefully it pays off."

On the injury front, forward Jonathan Toews is on the roadtrip for Chicago but will not play Thursday. He could play Saturday in Detroit after missing 21 games because of a concussion.

Center Dave Bolland also will not play Thursday. He is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but is also on the trip and could play Saturday.

Andrew Brunette is questionable with a lower-body ailment, but practiced Wednesday.

As a whole, the Blackhawks should be a rested bunch: They haven't played since Sunday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Wild, which they will attempt to avenge this evening.

Here is Chicago's projected lineup:

Jimmy Hayes - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Brendan Morrison - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Johnny Oduya
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:32 PM

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

Matching set of knee braces for Flyers' Grossmann

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann wasn't on the ice with the team Thursday at its morning skate due to a knee injury, but he's still hopeful to be back on the ice when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start next week.

Grossmann was hurt in the first period of Sunday's game with the Penguins when he collided with Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He hasn't been on the ice since, and on Thursday was walking around with a brace on his right knee, to match the one he's been wearing on his left.

"I'm pretty used to it, but yeah, we'll see how that [two braces] goes," Grossmann told reporters following the Flyers' practice Thursday at their practice site in Voorhees, N.J. "Me and Forrest Gump."

Grossmann won't play Thursday against the Sabres and is doubtful for Saturday's rematch with the Penguins (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN). While it would be nice to get a game in before the playoffs start, Grossmann isn't too concerned.

"It's always nice, but I'd rather be healthy [for the playoffs] and come back and play," he said. "We'll see. Taking it day-by-day and progressing as much as possible."

With center Danny Briere (back) also out against the Sabres, here's the lineup the Flyers likely will use Thursday against the Sabres:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Matt Read - Wayne Simmonds
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Eric Wellwood - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Pavel Kubina
Andreas Lilja - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on  Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:22 PM

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

Penguins still motivated to gain home ice

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins talked it about for weeks -- if they could sweep their final three games against the Rangers, they just might overhaul New York for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma didn't discourage such talk, believing it might be a motivator for the stretch drive.
 
As it turns out, the Penguins could sweep those three games but still not overtake the Rangers, who secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by finishing off a season sweep of the Atlantic Division rival Flyers with a 5-3 victory Tuesday.
 
The Rangers go into the next-to-the-last game of the season for both teams with 109 points, and the most the Penguins could end with is 108 if they beat New York on Thursday night and Philadelphia on Saturday. Both games are at Consol Energy Center.
 
It's not that the Penguins lack motivation. They can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by beating the Rangers. If they can do that -- or if the Flyers lose in regulation to Buffalo -- then their Saturday home game against the Flyers would be relatively meaningless.
 
That's a scenario the Penguins would welcome, if only to give goalie Marc-Andre Fleury another much-needed day off; he is expected to play in his 66th game of the season Thursday. Three injured players -- forwards James Neal and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injuries) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper-body injury) -- also would get another day off. None of the three will play against the Rangers.
 
"It's not everything, but it's nice, though," captain Sidney Crosby said of home ice. "It's something that if you have the opportunity to get, you want to get it, I think it's something that's on our mind the last couple of games, making sure we do that. We love playing here and it gives us a lot of energy."
 
Still, the Penguins are aware they owned the home-ice edge against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season and against Montreal in Game 7 of the semifinals the season before, and they lost both games.
 
To Crosby, that's why it is important for the Penguins to be concentrating on sharpening their game, paying attention to detail and managing the puck well -- and that means cutting down on neutral zone turnovers -- over the next two games.
 
"We've got to make sure we've got our game and it's where it needs to be," Crosby said. "We dropped a couple of games there to the Islanders and we weren't happy with our play. I think it's just a matter of making sure we're on the right track."
 
Those home-and-home losses to the Islanders last week blunted the momentum the Penguins generated by going 14-1-1 over the previous 16 games, and cost them any chance of overtaking the Rangers. Pittsburgh won the last two matchups, 2-0 at Consol on Feb. 21 and 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on March 15.
 
New York isn't entirely without motivation against the Penguins -- the Rangers still can win the Presidents' Trophy for regular season superiority -- so Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma doesn't expect to see a relaxed opponent.
 
"They've certainly locked their position, the top of the conference. They've locked home ice through the
first, second and third round if they advance that far," Bylsma said. "It would seem like they don't have a lot to play for, but you never know what the case will be. We're anticipating the first-place team in here. This is a team we've been trying to catch and win the last three games against them. Our last one is [Thursday]."
 
While the Penguins could finish with the second-most points in the conference, they can finish no higher than fourth because division winners automatically claim the top three spots in the playoffs.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Richard Park
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
 
Fleury (41-17-4) would be playing in his 66th game, one off his career high set twice previously. Johnson played and won two of Pittsburgh's previous three games.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cuma set to make NHL debut on Wild blue line

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota defenseman Tyler Cuma will make his National Hockey League debut tonight when the Wild host Chicago at Xcel Energy Center.

Cuma, a first-round pick in 2008, will be the 46th different player to suit up for the Wild this season. He will be the 15th rookie and the ninth to make his NHL debut -- all League highs.

A series of injuries, however, has derailed his track to the NHL, including a knee injury in 2009, after he nearly made the Wild roster out of his first training camp.

Cuma has played in 68 games this season with Houston of the American Hockey League, chipping in offensively with nine assists.

Here is Minnesota's projected lineup:

Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Tom Gilbert - Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Tyler Cuma

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:48 PM

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

Neal, Sullivan, Niskanen all sidelined for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing somewhat shorthanded against the New York Rangers on Thursday night, as forwards James Neal and Steve Sullivan and defenseman Matt Niskanen sit out with injuries.
 
All three might also miss the regular-season ending game Saturday against the Flyers, but coach Dan Bylsma said they are expected to be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that begin next week.
 
Neal and Sullivan have lower-body injuries and Niskanen has an upper-body injury, all of which occurred during the Penguins' 5-3 victory at Boston on Tuesday night. Niskanen was injured during a collision with Daniel Paille in the first period and did not return. Sullivan played the entire game, but was seen limping afterward.
 
It is uncertain when Neal was hurt.
 
With Neal missing, Richard Park -- who has not dressed for 10 of the last 13 games -- was on a line with Chris Kunitz and NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin during the morning skate. Eric Tangradi and Pascal Dupuis were the wings on the Sidney Crosby line.
 
Joe Vitale took part in the morning skate despite being struck in the jaw by a Zdeno Chara shot Tuesday.
 
"All of us and everyone in the building (TD Garden) saw the puck rise off his stick, it was only a wrist shot, but it was (Zdeno) Chara," Bylsma said. "He got it up and around the head area, so there was concern. It left a mark, but he's doing well and everything seems to be good with him."
 
Vitale is expected to center the fourth line, which also includes Arron Asham and Craig Adams.
 
The Penguins can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, as early as Thursday if they defeat the Rangers or the Flyers lose to Buffalo in regulation.
 
 
 
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:46 PM

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

Lupul skates, laments season-ending shoulder injury

TORONTO -- Ahead of their last home game of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul was on the ice Thursday morning. He skated for the first time since succumbing to a shoulder injury on March 6. He will not be in the lineup against Tampa and will also miss the final game of the season in Montreal.

"Hopefully another week or so of rehab and working on some things and I'll be ready 100 percent," said the 28-year-old Lupul, who was arguably Toronto's most valuable player this season before the injury. He had a career-high 67 points in 66 games.

Lupul, who has faced his fair share of set backs throughout his career, feels the timing of the injury could not have been worse.

"It was extra tough because we we're still in the midst of a playoff chase," he said. "We had been struggling right before I went out, and then to watch what happened over the next couple of weeks was pretty difficult. ... Everything went wrong, we didn't get the job done as a team."

Fellow Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski, who is recovering from a leg laceration suffered this past Saturday, also hit the ice but is not expected to play Thursday evening.

Tampa did not hold a skate after playing last night in Montreal, falling to the Canadiens, 5-2.

Here are the Maple Leafs' projected lines:

Matt Frattin - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Matthew Lombardi - Joey Crabb
Tim Connolly - David Steckel - Mike Brown
Jay Rosehill - Carter Ashton - Colby Armstrong

Dion Phaneuf - Mike Komisarek
John Michael-Liles - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Ben Scrivens
Jonas Gustavsson
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:30 PM

By Erin Nicks -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Bruins

KANATA, Ont. -- Here are the projected lineups for the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place:

SENATORS
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Colin Greening
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Zack Smith - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil
Rob Klinkhammer - Jesse Winchester - Erik Condra

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar

Ben Bishop
Craig Anderson

Alex Auld, Zenon Konopka, Bobby Butler, Matt Gilroy and Kaspars Daugavins are the healthy scratches. Kuba and Karlsson did not participate in the morning skate, but coach Paul MacLean insisted that both would play.

BRUINS
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot - Brian Rolston - Jordan Caron
Lane MacDermid - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Dennis Seidenberg - Andrew Ference
Greg Zanon - Joe Corvo
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Anton Khudobin
Marty Turco

Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara did not travel with the team -- all three are resting in preparation for the playoffs. MacDermid was recalled from Providence on Wednesday and will start on the fourth line. The Bruins said defenseman Johnny Boychuk is day-to-day after sustaining a knee strain against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Goalie Tuukka Rask (lower body) is anticipated to be back in time for the postseason. Mike Mottau is a healthy scratch.

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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:24 PM

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

Rinne likely to return to Predators net against Stars

NASHVILLE -- After not dressing for the Predators' game on Tuesday because of an illness, No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne practiced Wednesday and participated in the team’s morning skate for its regular season home finale on Thursday against Dallas.
 
Coach Barry Trotz said that "he's probably in, yeah," in reference to a question as to whether Rinne would start on Thursday. Rinne said on Wednesday that he had an IV to help him rehydrate.
 
Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Predators:
 
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Jordin Tootoo
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
 
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— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic