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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:48 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks playing for top seed, Flames for pride

CALGARY -- It's pride versus the Presidents' Trophy when the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks collide at the Scotiabank Saddleomde Thursday.
 
While the Canucks staring down the League lead, the Flames are simply left to play out their remaining two games of the season.
 
But there is something left on the line for Calgary, according to coach Brent Sutter.
 
"There is, plain and simple, it is something you better have inside of you to have the pride to go out there for the front of the jersey and for our fans, for our ownership group, for the people that support this team so loyal and for themselves," Sutter said. "You shouldn't have to beg individuals to do that. You should have it internally inside you."
 
Alex Tanguay and David Moss may have already had their last opportunity to display that pride.
 
After missing practice earlier in the week, neither will skate in the game with the Canucks. With another game Saturday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks, Sutter suggested the pair have already played their last games of the season.
 
"Neither of them are playing [tonight]," Sutter said. "Again, it’s day-to-day but you've got to assume that with it being less than 48 hours until the next game after tonight, if they're not playing tonight there's a chance neither one of them will be playing Saturday either."
 
Instead of Tanguay and Moss, the Flames will showcase Akim Aliu, who is set to make his National Hockey League debut 19 days shy of his 23rd birthday.
 
"It's unbelievable," Aliu said. "It's a dream come true. I'm really exited. Sometimes you think this day will never come, but when it does come it's that much more special."
 
The Canucks do not have any players making their debut, but there's still plenty to play for throughout the lineup.
 
Vancouver is tied with the New York Rangers heading into Game 81 with 109 points with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs on the line. The Canucks are also just two points up on the St. Louis Blues for the Western Conference lead.

"It's hugely important," said Cory Schneider, who will start against the Flames. "You look at some of those teams and their home records, teams like St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, they're pretty unbeatable at home. If it comes down to a Game 7 in your building, that makes a huge difference.
 
"We still have something to play for. We're not taking anything lightly."
 
Byron Bitz, recalled yesterday to replace Zack Kassian, knows the importance of the two points.
 
"The team does have a lot of expectations and playoffs are right around the corner," he said. "It's an exciting time of year and I'm very happy to get a chance here."
 
Here are tonight's projected lineups:
 
FLAMES

Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Michael Cammalleri - Matt Stajan - Akim Aliu
Blake Comeau - Blair Jones - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Lance Bouma - Tim Jackman
 
Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Cory Sarich
Scott Hannan - Anton Babchuk
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett - Manny Malhotra - Byron Bitz
 
Alexander Edler - Dan Hamhuis
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Christopher Tanev
Aaron Rome - Sami Salo
 
Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:34 PM

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

Stars will have Dvorak for critical game vs. Predators

NASHVILLE -- Veteran right wing Radek Dvorak, who has missed eight of the Stars' last 11 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday against the Predators, as Dallas sits on the brink of elimination.
 
A regulation loss will elimination the Stars. They need, at a minimum, three points in their final two games combined with two regulation losses by San Jose to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
While it might seem like a 35-year-old with only 4 goals and 17 assists in 72 games might not be the most important cog for the Stars, the team has gone 2-6 in the eight games Dvorak has missed and 2-1 in the three he has played over the last 11. He skates on a line centered by Vernon Fiddler with Eric Nystrom on the left. The trio has proved an effective combination.
 
"We play similar style," Dvorak said. "We try to be energy for our lineup. We play a simple game. We try to put pressure always on the opposing team's lines, which means get the puck deep, get in on the forecheck, cycle the puck. We have a lot of speed, so we usually get the puck first and that's how you gain the zone. That's our game."
 
Here's the projected lineup for Dallas:
 
Brenden Morrow - Mike Ribeiro - Loui Eriksson
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish
 
Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
 
Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Potential lineups for Devils, Red Wings

DETROIT -- Here are the lineups the Devils and Red Wings likely will use when they face off Thursday here at Joe Louis Arena:

DEVILS
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

RED WINGS
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Gustav Nyquist - Justin Abdelkader - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:57 PM

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

Devils hope to solidify fourth line in last two games

DETROIT -- The loss of 21-year old center Jacob Josefson to a wrist fracture in Tuesday's game against the Islanders leaves the New Jersey Devils scrambling a bit to fill his spot on the fourth line.

Heading into Thursday's game in Detroit, Devils coach Peter DeBoer plans to slide forward Ryan Carter to center and flank him with Eric Boulton on the left side and Steve Bernier on the right.

"We want to find that mix," DeBoer said prior to an optional morning skate here at Joe Louis Arena. "We want to have four lines that we can put out there at any time and some other guys are going to get an opportunity to fill that spot. For me, I've been talking about it for a long time. It's a critical piece for us and we've got to find the right group there."

DeBoer was asked if he thinks the Devils will be a "four-line team" once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

"I don't know," he said. "We'll see. I don't have an answer to that. I want to be comfortable enough that it's an option for us. That's where I want to get to."

Getting center Travis Zajac back March 25 after an extended injury absence should help in that regard. He fits in as the top-line center, which allows standout rookie Adam Henrique to slide into the third-line center role. With veteran Patrik Elias centering the second line, the Devils look particularly strong up the middle.

"It's all about depth this time of year," DeBoer said. "Everyone's got good high-end players. The depth guys are what makes the difference and this team over here [Detroit] is built around depth. You can see the importance of it."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Rangers turn to reliable Biron for 21st start of season

PITTSBURGH -- Martin Biron will play his 21st game of the season in net for the New York Rangers on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. It's probably more than he expected play as Henrik Lundqvist's backup, but not as much as he would like to play.
 
Backup goalies never have it easy, as Biron can attest. They often play when the starter is slumping, is hurt or needs a rest, sometimes under the worst of conditions -- the second night of a back-to-back -- or against the best of opponents.
 
Still, Biron has a 12-5-2 record and a 2.38 goals-against average -- the kind of numbers that would have earned him significantly more playing time on a team other than one that is contending to win the Presidents' Trophy. Biron played in 17 games last season, going 8-6-0 with a 2.13 goals-against average.
 
For a coach, there's nothing like the security of a reliable backup goalie. That's exactly what Biron provides to the Rangers, who have locked up first place in the Eastern Conference and the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
"I think the year went really good for everybody. We struck to the schedule and stuck to the plan and for me, Hank, it's worked out well," Biron said Thursday. "I was happy the way it went. You want to play more, you just want to get it. But you're patient and you practice and when you get that opportunity, you have to respond. We've been able to do that, nut just me but everybody else."
 
Lundqvist (39-17-5, 1.93 goals-against average) injured his right hand as the Rangers beat the Flyers 5-3 on Tuesday, but he was able to handle the stick without considerable discomfort during the morning skate.
 
Coach John Tortorella expects him to be fine, and there is a possibility Lundqvist could play in the final regular season game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
 
The Rangers won seven of nine to secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and Biron likes how they are playing as the playoffs approach.
 
"Some teams finish really strong, some teams don't," Biron said. "It's a matter of timing and being mentally prepared and being ready for anything. If you have to make adjustments, you make adjustments. There's no secret recipe, you've got to go with what you have. Right now we've been playing well, so we've got to go with that."
 
Perhaps that's why Tortorella plans to stay with his regular lineup against the Penguins, who lead the season series 3-2.
 
Forward Mike Rupp showed no signs of a concussion following a fight Tuesday with Jody Shelley and is expected to play.
 
The Rangers' likely lineup:
 
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Brandon Prust
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
 
Martin Biron
Henrik Lundqvist
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:53 PM

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

Red Wings sign Sheahan to entry-level contract

DETROIT -- It took reporters a few minutes to figure out who the guy wearing No. 15 on his helmet was for the Detroit Red Wings during Thursday morning's optional skate at Joe Louis Arena.

Soon it was learned the mystery Red Wing was rookie center Riley Sheahan, who was Detroit's first pick (No. 21) at the 2010 NHL Draft. The team then announced that the 20-year old Sheahan, who played three seasons at Notre Dame, had signed to an entry-level contract after playing seven games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout agreement.

"It was a tough one there today just getting my legs working," said Sheahan, who was put through the paces by Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill. "It’s great to be on the ice and putting on the Wings gear."

Will he be putting on that gear for one of Detroit's remaining two regular-season games?

"I haven't really gotten details right now," said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sheahan, who scored one goal and added an assist for Grand Rapids. "It's the coaches' decision. I'm just looking forward to it."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock seemed to shoot down the idea of Sheahan getting any playing time Thursday against the Devils or Saturday against the Blackhawks.

"I'm not going to take a look at him," Babcock said. "Our guys were there watching him last night [with Grand Rapids]. I'd love to put him in the lineup. I always like to put big people in the lineup. He's a big body and he looks like he's going to be able to play. He's going to decide with his play over time how soon that's going to be. If he's a regular every day Red Wing or just a guy who plays in exhibition and ends up in Grand Rapids ... I don't know the answer to those questions."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:46 PM

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

Panthers look to Theodore to wrap up division

WASHINGTON -- For all of general manager Dale Tallon's offseason acquisitions, goalie Jose Theodore could have the biggest say in whether the Florida Panthers clinch their first division title in franchise history.

Theodore (22-15-11, 2.43 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was the first goalie off the ice at the Panthers morning skate ahead of Thursday night's game against the Washington Capitals. He is expected to start for the Panthers in what is being described as the biggest regular-season game in the club's 18-year history.

Florida leads Washington by four points in the Southeast Division and the Panthers need one point in their final two games to clinch not only the Southeast Division but their first playoff berth since 2000. The Panthers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

"Goaltending is always an area that's a difference maker in our sport," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's no different than a quarterback or a pitcher in baseball, but with a goaltender the big save makes a big difference in the hockey game and over the course of the year we've gotten excellent goaltending from both Scott [Clemmensen] and [Theodore]."

Theodore is likely to get the nod against Washington despite allowing a season-high five goals in Tuesday night's 5-4 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets. Theodore is also on a personal six-game losing streak (0-2-4) and has not won since March 17. Clemmensen is 2-0-1 over that same stretch.

"It's always been a hard decision for me this year," Dineen said of choosing a starting goalie. "[Clemmensen] has really given us some incredible snapshots and he's played very well, but at the end of the day Jose has really carried the load and been a real workhorse for us."

Not only can Theodore help the Panthers punch their ticket to the playoffs, but the 35-year-old can also put a serious dent in his former team's chances at returning to the postseason.

Theodore spent two seasons as Washington's No. 1 goalie from 2008-10, but is remembered more for his playoff shortcomings than for his regular-season success.

Theodore went 62-24-12 during his two seasons with the Caps, including a 20-0-3 stretch to end the 2009-10 regular season. But after allowing two goals on two shots in Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens, Theodore was pulled by coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced by Semyon Varlamov for the second straight postseason. Theodore never played for the Capitals again and he has not played at Verizon Center since.

Theodore did not address reporters on game day but his Panthers teammate Tomas Fleischmann, who also played with Theodore in Washington, does not expect a repeat performance.

"We play a different style," Fleischmann noted of this Panthers team compared with the Caps teams they played for two and three years ago. "We played up and down, but right now we play safe hockey with a good defensive-minded game and that's how we want to play. … He's playing very good."

Added Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell: "He's been solid all season, we've had great goaltending and I think for Jose, he's been there all season, he's been solid and he's given us a chance to win every night that he's been in there. I wasn't aware of how good he is and he's definitely a No. 1 goaltender."

Michal Neuvirth (13-13-5, 2.86 GAA, .901 save percentage) will start for the Capitals.
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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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Quote of the Day

It's always a little bit weird, but it moves on. They've got a good team, and they played well tonight. I think that's just part of it.

— Peter Laviolette on facing his former team (Flyers) for the first time since his departure