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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Devils get shot-blocker Volchenkov back in lineup

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils will have a key cog back in the lineup on Thursday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center, with the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
 
The (Bergen) Record reported on Wednesday that Volchenkov did skate on his own Wednesday morning after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. Coach Peter DeBoer informed the media that there was a chance he could return to the lineup.
 
The return of Volchenkov is huge for the Devils, who currently stand sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh-seeded Ottawa.
 
Volchenkov, who has 2 goals, including a game-winner, 11 points and a minus-3 rating, leads the team with 166 hits and 120 blocked shots while averaging 18:02 of ice time. During the team's morning skate on Thursday, Volchenkov was paired with Peter Harrold.
 
"He's one of the better D-men on our team and it's kind of good for me to play with him because he's a good stay-at-home defenseman who takes care of his own end … it's comfortable back there with him," Harrold said. "I played a little with him the last stint up, but it's a comfort level with all the defensemen. Everyone here talks a lot and everyone knows what's going on, so they make the transition pretty seamless."
 
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will sit out his second straight game as a healthy scratch. Larsson was forced to leave a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 2 with 5:58 remaining in the third period after being hit hard by defenseman P.K. Subban.
 
The rookie Swede would produce just 2 assists and a minus-1 rating over the next 16 games before coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough, listing him as a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
 
"We had a good conversation prior to the Chicago game about my reasons for doing what I was doing and he understood," DeBoer said. "We had an assistant coach sit with him during the Chicago game and kind of watch the play and point out things we felt would help him when he got back in and be more successful."
 
For the season, Larsson, drafted fourth by the Devils last June, has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating. He ranks third on the team with 44 giveaways but also has 93 hits and 67 blocked shots while averaging 20:44 of ice time.
 
"There's lots of communication going there, but it's not a daily conversation for me," DeBoer said. "This time of year, we've got a lot of bigger things on our plate and Adam Larsson is a huge part of this organization going forward. But he's not the focal point; the focal point is our team and how we're playing."
 
DeBoer inserted Harrold, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Monday, into the lineup in Larsson's absence on Tuesday. He responded with two blocked shots in 19:06 of ice time.
 
There are several players looking to snap out of unusual offensive slumps, including Patrik Elias, who has 1 goal in his last eight games. Zach Parise has 3 goals in his last 13 games, David Clarkson is in the midst of a season-long nine-game goal drought and rookie Adam Henrique has 1 goal in his last 20 contests. DeBoer will have Travis Zajac centering Parise and Kovalchuk to begin the game to see if he can generate more offense.
 
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
 
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Adam Henrique - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
 
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
 
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 9:26 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 29th

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
8th 77 86 5 91 3

9th 77 84 5 89 4
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 77 87 5 92 4
The skinny: The road to the playoffs for the Washington Capitals has become a little more difficult with their loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, and it doesn't get easier playing in Boston against a Bruins team that has won five of their past six games.

It is still a very tight race in the East with Washington, Buffalo and Ottawa vying for the last two spots. My projection for the eighth spot is 92 points, so the Capitals (84 points) have the least margin for error -- they need to win four of their remaining five games. While Washington holds the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins) over Buffalo and Ottawa, a loss virtually guarantees a zero margin for error in their final four games.

The Florida Panthers visit the Minnesota Wild with a five-point cushion ahead of the Caps for the Southeast Division lead. They need only three points in their remaining six games to get to 92. That is a far more enviable position to be in than the Caps find themselves in.

In the Western Conference, losses Wednesday night by the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have seen their playoff hopes essentially vanish. My projected 'magic' number is 94 points in the West, and the Avs and Flames can max out at 93 with a sweep of their remaining four games.

The problem for these two teams is they meet in Calgary on Friday. One team will come up short again and no amount of help from other teams will be of assistance, while the winner will be left with the faintest of hope.

Phoenix has an important home game Thursday against the Sharks. Phoenix got some help for their playoff hopes Wednesday night when the Ducks beat the Sharks. A win by the Coyotes moves them ahead of the Sharks and Kings and only one point behind the Stars.

The Pacific division has one of the best races in the NHL and it will go down to final day (April 7th) before it is settled. It looks like three teams from the Pacific will be in the playoffs this year, and the Coyotes want to be one of them. A win will move them in that direction, and they have the added consolation of knowing the Sharks face the Stars and Kings two more times each.

A playoff race creates some of the fiercest games and rivalries as well as some of the strangest bedmates -- depending on where your team is standing.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:37 AM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

SJS @ ANA - 19:51 of the Third Period

At 19:51 of the third period in the Sharks/Ducks game, with the Sharks net empty, Corey Perry shot the puck at the net and Dan Boyle knocked the net off the pegs stopping play. According to rule 63.6 "when the goal post has been displaced deliberately by the defending team when their goaltender has been removed for an extra attacker thereby preventing an impending goal by the attacking team, the Referee shall award a goal to the attacking team."  Good Goal Anaheim.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 12:18 AM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

COL @ VAN - 4:53 of the Third Period

At 4:53 of the third period in the Avalanche/Canucks game, the Toronto situation room initiated a review because the puck crossed the goal line after a scrum in front of the Avalanche net. The referee ruled that he had blown the play dead after Alex Burrows shot was stopped by Semyon Varlamov and prior to the puck crossing the goal line. No Goal Vancouver.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 4:38 PM

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

Schneider starts for Canucks against desperate Avs

Fighting for their playoff lives, the Colorado Avalanche will face a backup goalie when they play a must-win game Wednesday night in Vancouver.

The only problem is Vancouver's No. 2, Cory Schneider, is anything but.

Schneider is second among all NHL goaltenders in save percentage at .934, and fifth with a 2.04 goals-against average. But it is still somewhat surprising that he’s starting Wednesday, just two nights after Roberto Luongo pitched a 38-save, 1-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings. It is a sign the Canucks want to have both parts of one of the League’s top tandems on a roll and ready when the playoffs start in two weeks.

“It is very important,” coach Alain Vigneault said of keeping both playing well. “I think we've done a good job of keeping both guys on top of their game throughout the year. It's something we worked into our planning.”

The start against Colorado will be Schneider’s fourth in the last six games, and with back-to-back contests against Dallas Friday and Calgary Saturday, he figures to play at least one of the final five games as well. The sophomore stopper is 10-1-1 in 12 starts since Christmas, while Luongo struggled through early March, giving up 25 goals over eight games before taking a week off to “reset.” Luongo is 2-0-1 with a .965 save percentage since coming back.

“We've got two great goaltenders and we’re using them both,” VIgneault said.

That’s tough news for a Colorado team that needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive, but has yet to beat the Canucks this season. Vancouver is 5-0 against their Northwest Division rivals, including one shutout each for Luongo and Schneider early in the season, and a 3-2 overtime victory in Colorado four days ago.

The Avalanche, who are only one point behind Phoenix and Dallas for the final playoff spot but only have three games left after Wednesday (both the Coyotes and Stars will have five left), could get one break if top-four defenseman Kevin Bieksa can't play for the Canucks. Already missing Aaron Rome to a knee injury, Bieksa took a maintenance day Tuesday and might have it extended.

“Just playing tough hockey, a couple little maintenance issues we're dealing with right now,” said Vigneault, adding he wasn’t worried about Bieksa for playoffs.

As for the Avalanche, which may need to sweep its final four games after going 0-2-1 in the last three, there will be a couple changes up front.

Captain Milan Hejduk, who hasn’t scored in 21 games, is slated to drop down to the fourth line, while fellow forward Peter Mueller, a surprise healthy scratch the last two games, gets back in at the expense of Chuck Kobasew. On the back end, coach Joe Sacco indicated rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is from B.C., is a game-time decision and may be scratched for a second-straight game after getting knocked off the puck on the play that led to Vancouver’s game-winning goal last week.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups as the Canucks prepare for a 400th straight sellout dating back to November 2002 – the longest active streak in the NHL and third longest in North American pro sports – by launching a “This is Our Home” campaign promoting responsible playoff celebrations from their fans:

CANUCKS

Mason RaymondHenrik SedinZack Kassian
Alexandre BurrowsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreDale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Alexander EdlerKevin Bieksa
Marc-Andre GragnaniSami Salo

If Bieksa can’t play Andrew Alberts will draw in, likely on the left side of a pairing with Gragnani, while Salo moves up to take Bieksa’s spot alongside Edler.
 
Cory Schneider starts in goal ahead of Roberto Luongo
 
AVALANCHE
 
Steve Downie - Ryan O'Reilly - Gabriel Landeskog
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Mark Olver - Matt DuchenePeter Mueller
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Milan Hejduk
 
Matt Hunwick - Ryan Wilson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson 

Semyon Varlamov makes a sixth-straight start ahead of veteran Jean-Sebastian Giguere despite a suspect outing in a 5-1 loss in San Jose.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:54 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor /NHL.com - World According to JR

Roenick: Hats off to Miller for keying Sabres' rise

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

As I continue to look at the playoff race, my focus this week is on the Eastern Conference, specifically the red-hot Sabres and the ice-cold Jets.

What's clicking?

We have to talk about Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres.

I don't think there is a hotter player in the National Hockey League than Miller right now. It's not even just his stats, though. It was how he responded in that trip out west about a month ago.

This guy had a horrible start. He let up bad goals, was getting hit -- he just wasn't himself. I don't know what happened, but he went out west and he made 43 saves in a shutout against Anaheim, 39 saves in a shutout against San Jose, and 32 saves in a win at Vancouver.

His confidence just went soaring off the charts.

Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 30-18-7
GAA: 2.46 | SVP: 0.919
Even more than that, the team has backed up Miller in a big-time way. They have come a long way from the time when Milan Lucic smoked Miller earlier in the season and they got a lot of criticism from people saying they were not protecting their goalie.

Now their goalie has stepped up like this, and the rest of the team has rallied behind him. Everybody has picked up their game, their level of play.

You have to be afraid of the Buffalo Sabres right now with the way they are rolling and as well as Miller is playing. This is a great hockey city, and it is one that deserves to have a team that is on this type of run.

The Sabres are about ready to do something amazing, and that's be in 15th place less than two months ago and still get into the playoffs with a magical run.

Hats off to the Buffalo Sabres.

Hats off to Ryan Miller for having the ability to go through a terrible slump, battle an injury, have people question him, deal with trade rumors -- all different types of adversity. It takes a strong man to be able to do that, to overcome that, and Miller is showing people now why he is one of the best goaltenders in the world.

I was one of the guys who was critical of him. We said it right here in this blog earlier this season. But just as I was critical of him, I now have to give him huge amounts of credit for playing big when the stakes are this high.

It's really a fantastic story.

What's missing?

The Winnipeg Jets are an easy target for good reason. They've won only one of their last five games.

You just can't have this happen if you're the Jets, especially in a city like Winnipeg.

These Jets fans have absolutely given the team one of the best home-ice advantages in all of hockey, but being as close as they are to the playoffs this year with that fan support, it's really just disappointing that the Jets have fallen out of the race by losing such big games at such a critical time.

2011-2012 Standings

Eastern Conference
GP
P
ROW

8
77
86
31
9
77
84
36
10
76
78
31
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted. For full standings tiebreakers, click here.
03/28/12 3:55PM
It's not for lack of effort, but when your sights are still set on getting a playoff spot and you go out and lose to Ottawa at home, that's just unacceptable. I know Ottawa is a good team, but when you're at home at this time of the year, in the middle of a playoff chase, you have to win those hockey games. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. You have to win those games.

But unfortunately, the Jets get into a run-and-gun style of game and their goaltending has only been average of late. They need to lock down defensively like a team is supposed to when it's trying to get into that playoff mode.

Playoff mode is not a run-and-gun style. It's about slowing things down, making sure all of the ducks on defense are in a row. It's about being on the same page, but the Jets are not on the same page, and because of it they find themselves on the brink of elimination, down eight points with only six games left to play.

This team has good players and good fans, and it had to find a way to win. That the Jets were unable to do that this year shows me that they still have a lot of growing to do as a team to make sure those fans in Winnipeg get what they deserve for all the effort and support they give.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:46 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Boudreau has Ducks embracing role as spoilers

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Anaheim Ducks will embrace the spoiler role as they can affect the race with remaining games against San Jose, Phoenix, Vancouver and Calgary. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau is using that to light a fire.

"We know it's definitely not a good-looking situation as far as continuing playing too much in April, but we're playing at home, we've got a chance to derail a little bit of San Jose's opportunities, so we'd love to be able to do that," Boudreau said. "It's motivation for us."

Said Teemu Selanne, "We still have to do our job. Obviously, every team that wants to make the playoffs has to earn it. That's how it goes."

Boudreau said he has an obligation to field his best lineup, although he said Jonas Hiller won't play all six remaining games. Anaheim re-assigned young winger Kyle Palmieri so he can help the Syracuse Crunch secure a playoff berth. Another prospect, Emerson Etem, the WHL's first 60-goal scorer since 2000-01, is helping Medicine Hat in the quarterfinals and there is not an urgency to recall him before the season ends.

As far as his approach down the stretch, Boudreau acknowledged that, "This is new territory for me, quite frankly. I've never been out of it at this stage. But as far as development goes, we won't change the way we play. We might put guys in different situations that they haven't been in before, maybe do a little experimentation in that regard."

Ellis closer: Dan Ellis has been practicing with Anaheim for a few days in his comeback from sports hernia surgery on March 2.

"I've always looked at that last week of the regular season in order to make it back," Ellis said. "I think, given our schedule, this week we've only got two games so it gives you a few practice opportunities -- some time to really push it and see where your body is at. I think I can push it as hard as possible and see where I am at the end of the week."

It would be a personal achievement for Ellis to return. He suffered a tear in his groin in practice on Jan. 7, a freak injury in which he said "the groin comes completely off the bone and you get an ab tear with it."

Ellis has appeared in only 10 games this season and won once.

"It would be nice to finish the season on a good note," he said. "The season didn't quite go the way I would have planned it. But you take it as a challenge to push through. You set some goals for yourself, and you always want to end on a good note."

Here's the projected lineup for the Ducks:

Niklas Hagman - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Bobby Ryan - Nick Bonino - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jason Blake - Rod Pelley - Matt Beleskey

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Sheldon Brookbank - Toni Lydman

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:34 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharks don't want to let Ducks damage chances again

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If the San Jose Sharks didn't have motivation already, there is a lingering subplot to Wednesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim dealt San Jose a big blow with a 5-3 victory at HP Pavilion on March 19. That gave the Ducks four wins in five meetings this season.

"I remember the feeling afterward and obviously we were not very thrilled with our performance and some of the things that happened throughout that game," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It's pretty fresh in our minds. But again, it's a new day, a new game and we've got to bring a better effort."

Said San Jose coach Todd McLellan, "It's fresh enough (in our minds), and we're 1-4 against this team. That's really hurt our opportunity to be a successful team this year, is just our record against Anaheim alone. That's not any disrespect to them.

"We've talked to our guys about not letting their guard down. This is a team that's had our number, that's played better than we have and deserved to win the games, and something we're going to have to try and correct it tonight."

Galiardi to return: TJ Galiardi is expected to return after he missed six games with an upper-body injury.

"I believe he's healthy and there's a good chance he can play," McLellan said.

Galiardi went a step further and said he will play with Dominic Moore and Torrey Mitchell. He said their role is to be solid defensively and generate a cycle at the other end.

"We're all pretty good at controlling the puck down there," Galiardi said. "We're not going to score too many highlight reel goals. It's just going to be greasy ones."

Here's the projected lineup for the Sharks:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell - TJ Galiardi
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:30 PM

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

Sutter vs. Sutter takes back seat to playoff race

CALGARY -- With both the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames fighting for their respective playoff lives, the brothers become a mere footnote.
 
Though Darryl Sutter is manning the Kings' bench opposite Brent Sutter's Flames, the siblings aren't the focal point with both clubs just a point apart in the highly-contested Western Conference playoff chase.
 
"They're intense, they're physical, they're brothers," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "Now it's beyond that. The season is coming down to this. We've played 77 games up to now. This is a very, very important game. No one has even talked about Darryl being on the other side. This is just about beating the Kings tonight and jumping them in the standings."
 
Los Angeles has a one-point advantage over Calgary and holds a game at hand. A win for either team significantly increases their chances in surviving the wild West playoff hunt.
 
"This is just about winning and trying to get into the playoffs and trying to jump them in the standings," Iginla said. "It's nothing personal. This is just about the game and us working to get a win."
 
The contest is as much a must-win as it can get without mathematically eliminating either team. That fact isn't lost on Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
 
"I think we obviously want to win that game for Darryl because it's the battle of the brothers, but we're looking at it as a must-win game," he said. "We're battling for a playoff spot right now, and that's all that matters."
 
Meaning the Sutter brothers will have to take a back seat with a critical two points on the line for both the Kings and Flames.
 
"It is what it is and we understand that, but that being said, they're fighting for the same thing we want and that's the magnitude of the game," Brent said.
 
"This is Kings and Flames. It's not about Darryl and I at all. Neither of us looks at it that way and never have."
 
Even though one Sutter has the opportunity to put the other's playoff chances on life support.
 
 
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 3:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lecavalier tweets he's 'happy to get back in lineup'

It appears Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has declared himself ready for game action after missing over a month with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand.

Lecavalier, who has been practicing with the team this week, announced via his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon that he is "happy to get back in lineup tomorrow" when the Lightning travel to Newark, N.J., to face the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Lecavalier, who last played on Feb. 18, has missed the last 18 games. For the season, Lecavalier has 21 goals and 46 points in 58 games for the Lightning. He has scored 372 goals and 839 points in 992 career games spanning 14 seasons.
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Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning
2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series