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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 5:24 PM

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

Filling Toews' spot, Bolland could get offensive

CHICAGO -- He's known as the ultimate checking-line center, who can make plays at both ends of the rink but especially irritate stars on opposing top lines by harassing them defensively.

That's what Dave Bolland is for with the Chicago Blackhawks, along with being a nightmare for the Vancouver Canucks and their uber-talented Sedin twins.

But, his reputation precedes him so much that it's easy to overlook what Bolland contributes in the offensive zone. He's tied for fourth on the Hawks in goals with 14 goals through 45 games heading into Tuesday night's matchup against the visiting Nashville Predators and has potted six of them in the past eight outings.

Now Bolland will try to help the Hawks make up for the loss of captain Jonathan Toews -- who will miss at least the Nashville game and the All Star Game because of an upper body injury. Bolland will center Chicago's top line between Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Kane, which could help bring out his offensive side even more.

"I've played with him a few times before and I think he's an awesome player,"  Stalberg said. "He makes smart plays out there. If you get open, he'll find you. He's not too much different than (Toews) that way. He's just not put in that position too often."

Looking at his career, Bolland has usually responded well when he has been put into that position before -- especially in 2005-06 for his last season of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.

That was two seasons after the Hawks selected him in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft and Bolland's offensive stats skyrocketed. He'd scored 37 and 34 goals in his previous two seasons with the Knights, but tallied a whopping 57 goals and 73 assists for 130 points in 2006, before racking up another 15 goals and 9 assists in 15 playoff games.

He also scored three goals and added a pair of assists for Canada in six games at the World Junior Championship that year. Granted, that wasn't the NHL and Bolland was playing a much different role than he does for the Hawks. Still, 130 points in just 59 games?

That's impressive and possibly an indication of how much offensive ability Bolland still has left in him at the NHL level.

"I put up big numbers (in junior)," Bolland said after Tuesday's morning skate at the United Center. "Things come and things go. When I'm playing that third-line role, I might not get those (offensive) chances or that time to get those chances. When it comes, you've got to sort of roll with it and take charge. At the same time, you just want to play your game and be sure that you're helping out the team and doing anything you can to help get the win."

That's the kind of talk that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes to hear from Bolland, who's found a good measure of offensive success in the League by simply playing great defense.

"We don't want him to change his game or play like Johnny [Toews]," Quenneville said. "Just play your own game. Offensively or defensively, Bolly has some good skills and good play recognitions in both areas and that line doesn't have to change their focus on how they want to play. We all have a rhyme or reason with and without the puck and your job description going up there doesn't really change at all."

Backing Quenneville up are the team-high three short-handed goals that Bolland's scored this season, which often happen as the direct result of a defensive play he makes to kill off a power play.

"There are some times you do want to get into that offensive role and [go] forward with it, but for myself it's just sticking to my same game," Bolland said. "Hopefully Toews is not out that long and it's just a minor thing. When a guy goes down, everybody's got to step up. It's just the way it goes. It's not changing our game. Let's just keep our game the same and keep playing hard."

It's hard not to look at Bolland's skill level, however, and not wonder if the second-line center that Chicago's said to be looking for isn't already wearing a No. 36 Hawks uniform. His ability at both ends of the rink haven't been overlooked by his teammates, and the more exposure he gets playing "up" with the top six forward group, the better chance he'll have of shining offensively.

"I'm sure he's looking at it as an opportunity," veteran Hawks forward Jamal Mayers said of Bolland filling in for Toews on Tuesday. "Anyone who knows the game knows his background and that he does have that skill set, but he has had a certain role on this team and he's relished that role and it doesn't take away anything from what we know he can do."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 5:20 PM

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

Projected lineups for Jets, Rangers

NEW YORK -- Martin Biron was scheduled to get the start in net for the New York Rangers against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night, but he came down with a touch of the flu following morning practice and will sit the game out.

Instead, starter Henrik Lundqvist will be between the pipes in the Rangers' final game before the All-Star break. Chad Johnson was recalled from Connecticut of the AHL to serve as Lundqvist's backup.

The Jets are playing their third game in four nights as they enter the break. Ondrej Pavelec will be in net for the Jets as Chris Mason made the start Monday night in Carolina.

Alexander Burmistrov suffered an injury in that 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes and won't play against the Rangers. The Jets recalled Aaron Gagnon from the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL to take his spot in the lineup. To make room, the team placed Evander Kane on the injured reserve.

Jets coach Claude Noel said he liked the fact that Gagnon can play center and he's been doing well (8 goals, 12 assists, 32 games) in the minors.

How Noel will stack his lineup remains in doubt, but if Gagnon plugs into Burmistrov's spot, this is how things could look:

Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Aaron Gagnon - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Patrice Cormier - Eric Fehr

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Ryan Callahan
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brad Richards - Brandon Prust
Michael Rupp - Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Chad Johnson

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:46 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Critical two points at stake for Avalanche, Wild

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are running neck-and-neck in a race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference heading into tonight's meeting at the Pepsi Center.

The teams are separated by one point -- the Avalanche have 54 points in 50 games, the Wild 53 points in 48 games -- and both are hoping to start building some momentum heading into the NHL All-Star break before the season's stretch run.

A couple of veterans will be in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere making his fourth consecutive start for the Avalanche and Niklas Backstrom getting the nod for the Wild. Backstrom has played just once in Minnesota's previous six games, but he missed two of those because of illness.

"They're all big games for us, but obviously we want to go into the break with a nice feeling, kind of how we did in the Christmas break a few weeks ago," Giguere said this morning.

The Avalanche have gone 13-6-1 in the past 20 games and 10-2-0 in the past 12 on home ice, but are coming off a tough 3-2 loss in Anaheim on Sunday when they outshot the Ducks 45-18.

The Avalanche and Wild split two earlier meetings this season, both at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Backstrom outdueled Giguere 1-0 on Nov. 17 and Giguere returned the favor in a 4-2 win on Dec. 26.

The Wild are winless in their past 11 road games (0-9-2), one short of the franchise record set in 2003-04, but Minnesota has gone 8-1-2 in the past 11 games at the Pepsi Center.

"They're a tough team," said Avalanche right wing Peter Mueller, who is from Bloomington, Minn. "We know what's at stake; these two points are huge. It was a tough game in Anaheim, but we're focusing on playing a full 60 here and trying to get the two points. We've got to be ready right from the start."

Neither team has had a great deal of success against Northwest Division opponents, with the Wild posting a 7-8-1 record and the Avalanche a 2-9-0 mark.

"Everybody looks at the standings, everyone's human and you're always checking to see where you are, but at the end of the day there's a certain number that you have to hit as far as reaching points," said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco, who needs one win for 100 in his NHL career, all with Colorado. "What that number is, everyone can argue. It's such a tough conference and these games are all so big and so important. You try to focus on smaller increments. We work on five-game segments. It helps us keep our focus on the smaller picture, not the big picture. Tonight's the start of a new segment."

Defenseman Ryan Wilson will return to the Avalanche lineup after missing two games with a groin injury. He replaces rookie Stefan Elliott, who has 3 assists in his past 11 games.

Except for Backstrom, the Wild is going with the same lineup they used in Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas. Josh Harding stopped 23 shots against the Stars to end the Wild's four-game winless streak.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:19 PM

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

Canucks hope Salo's return gets 'D' back in groove

Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo would prefer to go into the All-Star break feeling good about his health rather than worrying about it.

So the oft-injured blueliner will return from a concussion Tuesday against Edmonton.

The veteran Salo has missed six games and 17 days after getting sent head over heels by a low hit from Boston’s Brad Marchand on Jan. 7. As for the thinking one more missed game would mean an extra week off with the upcoming All Star weekend, the 37-year-old would prefer to go into the break with a game under his belt.

"I just look at like try to get back as soon as I can and get back with the team as soon as I can," Salo said. "There's no better scenario for me. Once I'm ready, I'm ready."

There's little question the Canucks missed Salo's calming influence, despite managing a 3-2-1 record without him. Despite having two extra bodies on the back end, none were comfortable on the right side of Alexander Edler on an important second pairing.

There were long stretches without Salo when they struggled with defensive coverage and getting out of their own end smoothly, leading to the recall of second-year pro Christopher Tanev to play alongside Edler in Saturday's win over San Jose.

"He's able to contribute both offensively and defensively," coach Alain Vigneault said Monday of Salo. "He's such a smart player both with the puck and without the puck that he makes our groove so much better, and that's why he's going to play (against the Oilers)."

The threat of Salo's shot at the point -- once dubbed "The Finnish MacInnis" by Curtis Joseph, he won the Canucks' hardest shot contest Sunday with a 102.7 mile-an-hour blast -- should also help a struggling power play. Still ranked first in the NHL at 23.3 percent, Vancouver has only converted 3 of 21 chances with the man advantage since Salo was hurt -- and two of those goals were scored by the second unit.

"His big shot on the power play really helps our set up," said forward Alexandre Burrows, who filled in for Salo on the point of the top unit. "He's so reliable back there and seems to have that calming influence on everybody, and on the power play you miss that big shot and his poise when dragging that blue line and making plays."

With Salo back, Tanev was sent back to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League -- a short trip since they were playing in nearby Abbotsford -- but Vigneault made it clear he has a future with the big club, possibly by playoff time.

"He confirmed what we knew," Vigneault said of Tanev, who played 29 games as a rookie last season, including five in the playoffs and three in the Stanley Cup Final.

"We know we've got a real strong young man there that is real close to playing in the NHL on a regular basis, and in our minds we think he's got the possibility one day to maybe play in the top-four. But he's only 22. He needs to play a bit more."

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:10 PM

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

Canucks, Oilers to get veteran defensemen back

The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers both expect key veterans back on the blue line Tuesday night.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after practice Monday that Sami Salo will return to the lineup after missing six games and 17 days as the result of a concussion suffered after a low hit from Boston's Brad Marchand on Jan. 7.

Most Oilers didn't skate in Vancouver on Tuesday morning after a shootout win over San Jose on home ice the night before, but Ryan Whitney did, and said afterward he would return after missing 13 games since Christmas because of lingering tendonitis from an ankle surgery more than a year earlier.

What they are getting back, however, could be very different.

Salo doesn't think it will take long to get back up to speed, which means the Canucks get back a steadying influence on the back end at even strength and on the penalty kill, as well as a powerful point shot for a power play that has struggled in his absence.

There are more questions surrounding Whitney's return, both short- and long-term.

Is it the Whitney who had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night before the ankle surgery? Or the one that didn't return until five games into this season, missed another 13 with a knee injury, has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and averaged just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health? Whitney sure didn't sound convinced his ankle was back to normal.

"It feels OK, it's kind of one of those things now where we're going to have to figure it out hopefully at the end of the year," Whitney said. "Everyone telling me wait until you are 100 percent, while I don't know if it will ever be 100 percent again, so you gotta just try playing at some point. It feels better than it did a month ago, I've tried taping it a little different and just got to give it a go at some point."

It hasn't been easy for a player counted on to lead the Oilers out of their own end and contribute offensively at the other end.

"It's frustrating, but days like this, when you are playing, I really try not to think about it," he said. "You have to change your game a little bit, but I'm just happy to be playing again. I can't really get frustrated that it hasn't healed as i hoped. It's in the back of my mind, just not on days I am playing."

Even with Whitney back, the banged-up Oilers are still missing two top-four defenders, with Tom Gilbert out since the new year with a knee injury and Cam Barker missing his 34th game since mid-November because of an ankle injury of his own.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:09 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Oilers

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Vancouver Canucks host the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Mason Raymond - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo is in goal for a fifth straight start, a bit of a surprise given backup Cory Schneider has only played three times in more than five weeks -- and won them all -- and, with the break, will have gone three weeks without a start by the time he next plays.

No changes up front, though the top line is hoping to be better than the last few games, with Henrik Sedin on his first three-game drought of the season. Thankfully for Canucks fans, Hodgson continues to roll, with 2 goals, including the winner, in his last game, and a team-high 9 points in January. And a reunited second line is showing signs of the promise demonstrated before Booth's sprained knee split them up for six weeks. He has 2 goals since returning three games ago, and with Higgins feeling like himself after antibiotics to cure a staph infection robbed him of energy, Kesler, who also scored Saturday, now has better options on the wing.


Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Teemu Hartikainen - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Eric Belanger - Magnus Paajarvi
Lennart Petrell - Anton Lander - Ryan Jones

Ladislav Smid - Ryan Whitney
Theo Peckham - Corey Potter
Andy Sutton - Jeff Petry

Devan Dubnyk gets a second-straight started ahead of Nikolai Khabibulin, and the chance to build off an impressive 44-save, 2-1 shootout win over San Jose Tuesday.

"You want to be a No. 1 in this league, you have to nail a couple of these together to get your team going," coach Tom Renney said Monday night after Dubnyk also stopped three of four in the shootout. "This is a good one to feed off of and build off of. He has to seize the moment."

The forward lines, still missing top rookie scorer Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, should be the same as against San Jose the night before as there is no indication Hemsky will face further discipline for the kneeing major that knocked San Jose defenseman Brent Burns out of Monday night's game with a knee injury.

Taylor Chorney is the likely scratch on defense with Whitney's return, with Petry dropping down from a pairing with Smid to play alongside Sutton, who was suspended the last time these teams met in Vancouver on Dec. 26.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Coyotes

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Ottawa Senators visit the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena:

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Butler
Nick Foligno - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Erik Condra

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

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

C Peter Regin (shoulder), indefintely
C Jesse Winchester (concussion), indefinitely
D Brian Lee (lower body), indefinitely
Turris will make his return to Phoenix for the first time since a Dec. 17 trade with the Senators. He was booed while he was a Coyote, so don't expect that to change tonight. Anderson was pulled in Monday's loss to the Kings, but is expected to start tonight.


Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Marc-Antoine Pouliot - Mikkel Boedker
Raffi Torres - Kyle Chipchura - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Rostislav Klesla
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin
Michal Rozsival - Chris Summers

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

D David Schlemko (foot), out for the rest of the season
D Derek Morris (lower body), day-to-day
C Daymond Langkow (face), questionable
Phoenix will get Aucoin back on defense -- just in time to replace the injured Morris. Langkow is a game-time decision and would replace Marc-Antonie Pouliot in the lineup if he can go, moving between Korpikoski and Doan with Gordon dropping down to the third line.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 3:24 PM

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

Blues get another stiff test heading into break

ST. LOUIS -- Playing their fourth game in six nights, the St. Louis Blues haven't gotten any free passes heading into the All-Star break.

After a playoff-type intensity for 60 minutes in a 3-1 loss at Detroit Monday, the Blues jumped on a plane and headed back home, where they have the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins awaiting for tonight's matchup at Scottrade Center.

The Penguins (27-17-4) have reeled off six wins in a row after dropping six. In the six games they've won, the Pens have picked it up offensively with 25 goals. They scored only six in the previous six losses in a row.

"Pittsburgh's playing really well," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've got the good winning feeling going. We're in the same position when we went into Pittsburgh. We played very well there, so if we can duplicate the game there we played in Pitt, it'll be really good for us. That was a jumping off point for us. We really took the ball from there and played well for about a month. That's what we want to do is keep building on the good things we're doing and address some of the things we need to get better in."

The Blues won 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 23, which was Sidney Crosby's second game back from a concussion, on an overtime goal by Alex Pietrangelo. It started a string of four straight wins for the Blues, and the Penguins remember it quite well.

"They're a formidable challenge," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They play a physical, aggressive game. They have been tough to score against, they haven't given up a lot of goals, they've gotten good goaltending, and they're a team that takes the attack to the other team as well, quickly and with aggression. They're playing well on the road and at home."

The Blues (29-13-6) went on a 9-1-2 run starting with the win over the Penguins, a game they used as a building block to what Hitchcock is trying to preach to his squad.

"We want to do the things they do," Hitchcock said of the Penguins. "They're one of the best north-south teams in the League. They have been for four years now. We want to learn to play that way. It's a hard way to play, it's very demanding but very successful.

"We played that way for the most part against Pitt and were very successful. It helps selling it down the line in other games. We were able to use that game for over a month as a reference point that this is how you have to play to win hockey games in the League now."

The Blues will have the challenge of facing the scorching-hot Evgeni Malkin, who leads the NHL with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 41 games.

Malkin has 15 points in nine games coming into tonight, and combined with James Neal's 26 goals and 20 assists, the Penguins will throw a lot at the Blues' top line, led by captain David Backes.

"I think when you play against teams who are good offensively, they challenge you defensively," Hitchcock said. "They're a little different opponent. They play a different way, but it'll be a good challenge for us."


The St. Louis Blues' loss at Detroit on Monday night marks their third and final time playing at Joe Louis Arena this season. They went 0-3 there, and those defeats are the Blues' only regulation losses in their last 15 games (10-3-2).

"They dialed up their ability to play defense and didn't give us much and created a lot on the transition," Backes said of the Western Conference-leading Red Wings. "Rather than having a good response to it and staying with our game, putting pucks in and going on the forecheck, we kind of tried to play a finesse game and tried to play an easier game. You can't respond that way or else they take advantage. They create a lot of penalties and capitalized on a lot of their chances."

Hitchcock agreed.

"They don't dial up their skill, they dial up their checking," Hitchcock said of the Red Wings. "They dial up the checking and they pushed a few of our guys out. Lessons learned.

"We're a young team trying to learn to win. We're getting closer and closer. There's going to come a time when we're going to beat them, whether it's in a series or whatever, we're going to end up beating them. But we're going to have to learn the lessons. ... All the games were very similar. We had an advantage early, they had the advantage late and they ended up beating us. The same thing happened here, too. They had the advantage early in both games here and then we took it over. They're up 3-2 in the series, but it's their checking that dialed it up yesterday. They pushed us out from that aspect and got some guys discouraged. We dealt with it today and it's going to make us better moving forward."


The game against Detroit changed for the Blues late in the first period on Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart's check on Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

The Blues were leading 1-0 at the time and the jolt along the right boards seemed to spark the Wings. They went on to score twice in the second and late in the third.

The Blues' Chris Stewart took exception to Stuart's hit, came off the bench on a line change and challenged Stuart. Stewart went on to drop Stuart in a fight but got 17 minutes in penalties, including an instigator penalty that led to Pavel Datsyuk's game-tying power play goal.

Still, the Blues had no issues with Stewart sticking up for a teammate.

"I loved it. No problem," Hitchcock said. "What he did was a teammate's response. No issue."

Backes added: "We need to be able to kill off that penalty and pick a guy up. Maybe he took an extra penalty, but he stood up for a teammate. We're going to stick together and go through the battles together. He gets a lot of respect and admiration from our team; we don't think that was a poor play at all."

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 3:22 PM

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

Crosby remains in California after visiting specialist

ST. LOUIS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to try to give daily updates on star center Sidney Crosby, but coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he's in California after visiting with Dr. Robert S. Bray, a neurological spine specialst, to continue to treat the lingering effects of concussion-like symptoms, which will force Crosby to miss his 21st straight game tonight after playing in eight upon his return.

So in essence, no new real information.

"Not a timetable because it's possible he could stay there for a little bit of a break as well," Bylsma said of Crosby. "Not a definitive day back in Pittsburgh because he'll be staying on the beach for a little bit."

Crosby first went to Atlanta to pay a visit to Ted Carrick, the chiropractic Neurologist who treated the 2009 NHL MVP for his concussion symptoms last summer.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 3:15 PM

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

Homecoming for Missouri native Vitale

ST. LOUIS -- Tonight's game against the Blues isn't just a run-of-the-mill hockey game for Pittsburgh Penguins center Joe Vitale. It's a chance to play at home.

Vitale, from nearby Sunset Hills, Mo., will make his first appearance on Scottrade Center ice since his senior year in high school, when he helped CBC High School knock off De Smet in the Missouri Mid-States State Championship game in 2004.

"I had some good memories here when I was a kid and playing two periods at Blues games," said Vitale, who has 2 goals and 9 points in 41 games this season. "I obviously played in playoff state championships here. To play here and come back and play (against) the Blues, it's pretty crazy, but I'm pretty sure it'll sink in sometime later this week when I'm on break."

Vitale will have a plethora of family and friends in attendance, to which he said: "I lost count. They got about three boxes. I let them have at it with that. People keep asking for tickets, but I finally had to shut my phone off. It's gameday and I'm trying to focus now."

His dad helped him in that aspect, but he's just glad to see a dream come true for a local kid.

"Twenty years ago, this wasn't really a hockey hotbed," said Vitale, who played most of his youth hockey at the local Affton Ice Rink. "So the expectations were pretty low. I was just kind of out there having fun. So it's definitely exciting being out there.

"I glanced at (the schedule), but I was hopeful that I would be here. Around Christmas time, I thought I had a shot to play here. I really started getting excited then."

Vitale's teammates know the feeling.

"It's a great thing to have your family, siblings in the stands and all your friends you grew up with," defenseman Kris Letang said. "To have them get the chance to see you play live, it's pretty amazing that he has a chance to do that.

"I'm from Montreal, so when we play in Montreal, there's always a little something about it because I grew up watching (the Canadiens) play. It's always special to play in your hometown."
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