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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 12:47 PM

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

Bryzgalov out, Timonen in for Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- Sergei Bobrovsky will make his second straight start for the Flyers on Saturday when they face the Ottawa Senators (1 p.m., NHLN-US, CBC).

Ilya Bryzgalov practiced Friday, but the team will give him another day off to recover from the chip fracture in his right foot that occurred Monday night prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Flyers play again Sunday, in Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET, NBC), and there's a chance Bryzgalov could return for that one. After that, the Flyers next play Tuesday.

In four career starts against the Senators, Bobrovsky is 3-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Jason Bacashihua again will serve as the backup.

While Bryzgalov is out, All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen will return to the lineup after sitting out a game Thursday with an upper-body injury.

Here is the lineup the Flyers likely will use against the Senators:

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

Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Pavel Kubina - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jason Bacashihua

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







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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 12:43 PM

By Kurt Dusterberg -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Devils' Ponikarovsky faces old teammates for first time

Alexei Ponikarovsky will play his first game against Carolina since the Hurricanes dealt him to the Devils on Jan. 20. Ponikarovsky was in his first season with Carolina, but struggled to make an impact as the team fell to 15th in the Eastern Conference. After registering 15 points in 49 games in Carolina, he has accounted for 16 in just 29 games in New Jersey.

"We're playing pretty good as a team," Ponikarovsky said. "When you're in a playoff spot, it's a little different than when you're out of the playoffs. The atmosphere and everything else is a little different, for sure. Our focus is to win some games and get some points on the board."

The Devils will call on Martin Brodeur in net, while Carolina will counter with Brian Boucher.

Here is the projected lineup for the Devils and Hurricanes:

DEVILS

Patrik Elias - Dainus Zubrus – Petr Sykora
Ilya Kovalchuk - Zach PariseAdam Henrique
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Jacob Josefson - Ryan CarterSteve Bernier
 
Anton VolchenkovPeter Harrold
Marek ZidlickyBryce Salvador
Andy GreeneMark Fayne
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
HURRICANES
 
Jiri TlustyEric StaalChad LaRose
Jeff SkinnerJussi JokinenTuomo Ruutu
Drayson BowmanBrandon SutterPatrick Dwyer
Derek JoslinTim BrentAnthony Stewart
 
Tim GleasonBryan Allen
Jay HarrisonJustin Faulk
Joni PitkanenJamie McBain
 
Brian Boucher
Cam Ward
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Brian Rolston

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:56 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mathup: Predators at Blackhawks

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:55 AM

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

Senators back to work after long layoff

PHILADELPHIA -- For the Ottawa Senators' first game since Monday, coach Paul MacLean said he plans on using the same lineup that took the ice March 26 in Winnipeg.

MacLean said he wasn't sure how his team would react coming off a long layoff, telling reporters, "The biggest concern is we come out flat."

He said that the way he feels his team handled the long week had him feeling cautiously optimistic.

"Nothing is ever easy, but the way we've handled the week looks good," MacLean said. "We'll know (Saturday) at 1:08 when the face off hits."

Here's the lineup they'll like put on the ice here at Wells Fargo Center:

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

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

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 31st

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
7th 77 88 5 93 2
8th 78 86 4 90 3

9th 78 86 4 90 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 78 95 4 99
7th 78 89 4 93 3
8th 78 89 4 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Los Angeles Kings move to third from eighth in the Western Conference on Friday night with a win over Edmonton. The Stars fell to seventh from third with a loss to the Canucks and the Coyotes without playing dropped a spot to eighth.

There will be more jockeying on Saturday in the West, and the minimum projected playoff point total remains at 94. San Jose is out of a playoff spot but the Sharks have full control over their playoff aspirations. They have four games remaining -- two with Dallas and two with Los Angeles. It says here that three regulation wins in those four games will see them in the postseason.

The same can be said for the Dallas Stars who can put three points between them and ninth-pace San Jose with a regulation win Saturday. Regardless, two points will go to the victor and inch them closer to the playoffs. Los Angeles visits Minnesota and a win gets the Kings to 92 points and needing one win in their reaming three games to 'hit' the magic number. With a visit from the Oilers on Tuesday, the Kings could be in a position to punch their ticket to the postseason.

The Coyotes entertain the Ducks and after beating the Sharks on Thursday, and they need a win to keep their trek towards the playoffs on the rails. A loss and then they are looking at needing five points in their remaining three games to reach 94 and that includes a game against the dominant Blues in St. Louis. They will get a little help because of the schedule with the Kings, Stars and Sharks playing against one another but there is nothing better than helping yourself.

The East has now become a heated race for the seventh and eighth spots. Ottawa, Buffalo and Washington are battling it out and it looks to be 90 points to qualify, but I'm beginning to think that 90 may not be enough. Finishing third in this race will get you a seat in front of your TV to watch the playoffs.

Ottawa has five games remaining and visit the streaking Flyers on Saturday. It is no easy task for the Senators but a win gets them to 90 with four games remaining. The Sabres visit the Leafs, who have not won a game at home since Feb. 6th. Buffalo doesn't have an advantage with the non-shootout wins tiebreaker, so that is why I think Buffalo may need 91 points to make the cut. The Sabres could finish with 90 points and be tied with either Ottawa or Washington, but that won't be enough.

The Caps entertain the Canadiens and when you are playing the Conference's weakest team at home, anything less than a win is a blow to your playoff hopes. Washington holds the tiebreaker, but getting a sole point takes away that advantage to a certain extent. You don't want to be losing any advantages at this time of the year. There is a scenario where after the games Saturday, there could be a three-way log jam in the standings with the Sens, Caps and Sabres all at 88 points with seven days left in the regular season.

For the teams chasing down a playoff spot, nothing else matters but winning today because a loss potentially means 'no tomorrow.'
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 10:27 AM

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

Backstrom returns to help Caps' playoff push

ARLINGTON, Va. – Nicklas Backstrom confirmed after a morning skate Saturday for the Washington Capitals that he will play against the Montreal Canadiens.

Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque, but the Caps No. 1 center was medically cleared this week to return to the lineup after passing a baseline neuropsychological test.

“I'm really excited,” Backstrom said. “It's going to be fun to play again. It's a big game for us and we need all those points. I'm excited to be back in such an important game.

“It feels like I'm ready. I've been practicing hard and stuff and I've been battling with a couple of guys on the team and I've been taking a couple hits. It feels like I'm ready, so I'm excited to be back.”

On Saturday morning the 24-year-old Swede took line rushes alongside Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson on the Caps’ No.1 unit.

“He’s been missed in all areas,” Johansson said. “He’s such an all-around player, he plays penalty kill, power play, and he plays at the end of games whether we’re up or down, so that was all missed and it’s good to have him back.” 

The Capitals have won 18 of 40 games without Backstrom in the lineup and he remains fifth on the team in scoring with 42 points (13 goals and 29 assists) in 38 games.

The team is hopeful that Backstrom’s return can spark a power play that has gone 15-for-102 (14.7 percent) during his 40-game absence.

“He’s a natural on the half-board, he sees the ice well,” said coach Dale Hunter. “You see him working today; he’s got one of those gifts where he doesn’t have to look at the guy to pass it -- he just knows where he is.”

In the 38 games prior to his injury, Backstrom had a point on 72 percent of Washington’s power play goals (three goals, 15 assists on 25 power play goals).

With four games to play in the regular season, this contest Saturday against Montreal marks just the second time that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green will have all played in the same game since Hunter was hired Nov. 28.

“He’s one of the best at seeing the ice and seeing plays before they even happen and getting pucks in guys hands so that they can score,” Green said. “When I say that I honestly mean that he’s one of the best and so in that aspect he’s going to help out our team big time. We’re very thankful that he’s back before the end of the regular season.”

Washington is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, two points behind the seventh place Ottawa Senators and four points behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.

“It's been frustrating,” Backstrom said of having to watch his team battle for a playoff position. “I think you're more nervous sitting up top in the press box than playing. It's been really tough, but the good thing is I'm back now and I'm just looking forward to it.”

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Saturday night against the Canadiens:

CAPITALS

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromMarcus Johansson
Jason ChimeraMathieu PerreaultAlexander Semin
Keith AucoinBrooks LaichTroy Brouwer
Matt HendricksJay BeagleMike Knuble

Karl AlznerDennis Wideman
Roman HamrlikMike Green
Dmitry OrlovJohn Carlson

Michal Neuvirth
Braden Holtby

NOTES:
Since the Canadiens beat the Capitals in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Washington has gone 6-0-1 against Montreal with four shutouts from four different goalies.
 
The Caps have won all three meetings this season, outscoring Montreal 10-1. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 against Montreal with a shutout, a 1.82 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Forward Joel Ward will miss his fifth straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Former Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 12 games overall. 

Bourque served a five-game suspension for his elbow against Backstrom, and he has since been traded to the Canadiens. Asked about playing against Bourque in his first game back, Backstrom downplayed the irony.

“You know what? I don't really care about that," Backstrom said. "It happened, and I'm not going to waste any energy on it."

The Canadiens did not have a morning skate Saturday, but backup Peter Budaj is expected to be in net for Montreal.



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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:47 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

NHL Central Scouting begins final discussions ...


11:40 a.m. (ET) - The scouts have completed the ranking of players from the WHL. Quite an undertaking, but the boys broke it down extremely well and have left the meeting room for lunch. The Ontario Hockey League and U.S.-West skaters are up for discussion following the one-hour break.

11:00 a.m. (ET) -
Some great debate on Saskatoon's Dalton Thrower and Lukas Sutter and Regina's Chandler Stephenson, who played center/left wing.

10:40 a.m. (ET) - The Western Hockey League is now up for discussion. Of course, the league is stocked with defenseman. Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Mathew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart and Derrick Pouliot were among the top 10 blue liners regarded highly at the midterm rankings in January.

Fantastic discussion on whether or not Dumba has accelerated his play over the second half of the season to make a jump in the final WHL ranks.

While defenders are dominating the talks, center Colton Sissons of the Kelowna Rockets is certainly a player that isn't overlooked here.

Scouts now viewing a fight that took place at Top Prospects Game between Dumba and Raphael Bussieres. You have to be here to hear the banter that takes place as they view a fight. It's like kids in a candy store.

And, yes, Ryan Murray, as you might expect, is regarded highly by every scout.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 8:05 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Prospecting with Central Scouting

NHL Central Scouting ready to debate 2012 draft class

NHL Central Scouting is ready to rock here in Ontario this week to determine its final rankings of the top draft-eligible players on the board this June at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On Saturday, the pro scouts will have a go at it to determine this year's final list of the top 210 draft-eligible skaters and 30 goalies from North America for the 2012 NHL Draft.

NHL.com will also be present for the opening three days of the meetings, providing exclusive coverage. The scouts will no doubt be in heated debate, unveiling the pros and cons of every player from all the major junior leagues throughout North America.

Discussions will heat up almost immediately on Saturday morning as the scouts debate over who should receive the No. 1 overall placement among North American skaters. The four candidates expected to vie for that position will be Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Quebec's Mikhail Grigorenko, Everett's Ryan Murray and Red Deer's Mathew Dumba.
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 7:10 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Canucks need to shut down Stars' stars

With the Vancouver Canucks preparing for the playoffs, it's no surprise they've built a shutdown line around new checking center Samuel Pahlsson. With the Dallas Stars in a battle to make the playoffs, it's no surprise they're leaning on a sizzling top line anchored by skilled center Mike Ribeiro.

When the two lines go head-to-head Friday night, however, it may surprise some to learn it will also be a battle of the team's top two lines overall of late.

In addition to seeing more pure matchups against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson's line has been producing offensively, with Chris Higgins scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Colorado last week -- and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Wednesday. Pahlsson, who had two goals and nine assists in 61 games with Columbus before being acquired at the trade deadline, already has a goal and four assists in just 14 games with the Canucks.

That may not sound like much, but with Vancouver struggling to score it's more than Ryan Kesler (three goals, one assist) over the same stretch, and not far behind former Hart and Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik Sedin (seven assists).

"It took a couple games for us to find each other and mesh," said Higgins of a trio rounded out by Jannik Hansen. "Now I kind of know where [Pahlsson] is going to be and that's why we're having success. All three of us know where we are going to be on the ice and that's an underrated element of a line. [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] don't even look for each other, they just know where each other are and it's not as difficult when you don't need to take that extra half a second just to know where your teammate is going to be."

That sounds a lot like the chemistry enjoyed by Ribeiro with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder on a top line that combined for all three goals and eight points in Dallas' 3-1 win in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The trio has five goals and 12 points in the last three games, as well as six goals in three games against Vancouver this season.

"Ribeiro is really tricky to play against," Pahlsson said. "He can really make a fool out of you and make you look stupid, so you've got to be ready for him."

Playing against that line is perfect playoff preparation, said Higgins.

"We're playing some tough minutes against some of the players we'll play in the playoffs, some of the other team's best players, but it's good practice," he said.

"Ribeiro is one of the best passers in the game and sees the ice like few players in the game can, Ryder is having a great year, has an unbelievable shot, and Eriksson is great around the net. So it will be a tough match up for us tonight but I think we enjoy the challenge of playing against those guys."

The results have played a role in the Canucks' success against Dallas. After the Stars' top trio combined for 12 points while winning the first two meetings - and before the Canucks put their current shutdown line together - Vancouver held all three off the scoresheet in a tight-checking 2-1 win March 22. Ribeiro expects the matchup, and welcomes the challenges, knowing it frees up others.

"They've had a few shutouts. It's just up to us to be ready tonight," Ribeiro said. "We'll see probably a few more checking lines, and that's fine too, it gives [Jamie] Benn's line a chance to create more chances and score for us too. It's hard for other teams to match up against two or three lines that can score."

As for tendencies, Higgins may have a slight advantage having played on the same line with Ryder for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.

"Yeah I may know a couple things," Higgins said with a smile.

Of course, in a battle of the two top lines, that may work both ways.

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Quote of the Day

When I first became captain here, Monsieur Beliveau came to me and said, 'You're going to be fine. You don't have to change, you got selected because of who you are.'

— Saku Koivu on Thursday, recalling what he was told by the late Jean Beliveau when he was named Canadiens captain in 1999
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