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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:22 PM

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

Wild get their captain back as Koivu returns

ST. PAUL -- Seeking their first back-to-back victories in a month, the Minnesota Wild welcome back captain Mikko Koivu to the lineup for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames.

Minnesota, coming off an impressive 2-0 victory over Vancouver Monday night, hasn't won back-to-back games at home since the week of Thanksgiving. If the Wild put forth a similar effort tonight as they did against the Canucks, they should have that opportunity.

"Attention to detail and a real purpose in the way that we play the game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said about the keys to victory. "We spent a great deal of time about preparation. It's not an easy thing when things haven't gone well. Preparation is not a matter of telling yourself you want to play really good or really well. It's concentrating on things you have to do in that game and putting those thoughts in your head so you're ready to go execute them once game-time starts."

That lack of focus recently has resulted in losses, including three in a row at home prior to Monday's win. If the Wild win tonight, they will salvage two victories on their current five-game homestand, before heading east for games in Buffalo and Washington this weekend.

That's where Koivu's return will come in handy. His injured shoulder has kept him from the last 15 games, and 23 out of 27. Koivu will be inserted right back onto the team's top-line, looking to spark winger Dany Heatley, who has scored just 1 goal in his last 15 games.

"We're just extremely excited to have him back," Yeo said. "As far as what he means to the team, it's hard to measure because there are so many intangibles within the game and the way he plays it."

Koivu's presence also helps bring some stability to Minnesota's lines, which have fluctuated a great deal without the top-line center. Some nights, Matt Cullen has been on the first line, while others have seen Kyle Brodziak. With Koivu back, Cullen will be slotted on the second line while Brodziak moves to the third -- where those two began the season, and where they played when the Wild were atop the NHL standings as late as mid-December.

Having Brodziak on the third line gives the Wild three lines with a scoring threat instead of just one or two.

"Brodzy's had a good year because he hasn't changed his role," Yeo said of Brodziak, who already has established a new career high in points. "There's been more focus on him and probably more pressure on him to contribute offensively, but what I like is his game didn't change. He just has to go out and continue to do the same thing he's been doing all year long."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:15 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Anderson back in net Friday for Senators

Craig Anderson will return to the Ottawa Senators lineup Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens, coach Paul MacLean confirmed Thursday.

Anderson has not played since Feb. 22 after he cut his hand with a knife preparing food at his home after the game. He is 29-19-6 this season with a .913 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average.

"I felt pretty good out there. I had a good practice today and everything is kind of back on track," Anderson said to Ian Mendes of Rogers Sportsnet.

The Senators have gone 5-5-2 in Anderson's absence, holding steady in seventh place in the Eastern Conference (though Ottawa did pass Boston for one day at the top of the Northeast Division). General manager Bryan Murray traded for St. Louis Blues prospect Ben Bishop before the deadline, and Bishop has posted strong numbers (3-2-2, .925 save percentage, 1.96 GAA) since his arrival.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:14 PM

By Lonnie Herman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Banged-up Lightning contend with improving Oilers

TAMPA -- The two teams meeting Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum are going nowhere fast; but one team seems as if it will get there quicker.

Both virtually eliminated from postseason contention (though the Lightning are still mathematically alive), the Edmonton Oilers and the Tampa Bay Lightning hook up for a rare face-to-face meeting, their first since Dec.10, 2010.

The Oilers are intent on ending their season on a good note and have compiled a 5-1-1 record over their past seven games, including a 6-3 schooling of the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay, by contrast, is limping to the finish line, beset by enough injuries to make a good bit of their current roster resemble the Norfolk Admirals, their AHL affiliate. They are 1-5-1 over their last seven games, during which they have been outscored by a margin of 28-18.

"Goals are like bananas, they come in bunches," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

Yes, he has no bananas, and Boucher can explain why.

"Half our team is from the AHL right now, so other teams key on our scorers and can shut them down, plus (Steven) Stamkos and (Martin) St. Louis and (Ryan) Malone are spending so much time on the ice, there is a wear and tear in there," he said.

Stamkos hasn't had a goal since reaching 50 three games ago, and St. Louis has 1 goal in his last 10 games.

But Boucher points out that the team is not just going to mail the last few games in.

"You can see the quality of our individuals; they are working extremely hard," Boucher said. "It's easy to close the books and just go through the motions, but that's not what these guys are doing. We had some meetings the past two days, but meetings are just words; they are showing me actions, and I'm impressed."

Dwayne Roloson, starting in net for the Lightning Thursday night, agreed.

"It's a difficult time," Roloson said, "but we have a lot of guys here now that have been up and down all year and it's an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to go out and play and some of the guys who don't have contracts for next year, and this is a chance to continue playing and maybe get an offer someplace else."

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

OILERS
Ryan Jones - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Teemu Hartikainen - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Lennart Petrell
Darcy Hordichuk - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager

Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Ryan Whitney - Nick Schultz
Theo Peckham - Corey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk

LIGHTNING
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Brandon Segal - Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Eric BrewerVictor Hedman
Brett Clark - Keith Aulie
Brian Lee - Brendan Mikkelson
Bruno Gervais

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron



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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Rinaldo credits Dale Hunter for his success

PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo had a pretty simple answer when asked his opinion of Dale Hunter: "I'm not the player I am today if it wasn't for Dale Hunter."

Rinaldo played for Hunter with the London Knights for parts of two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10), and had no problem crediting Hunter for his rise to the NHL.

Rinaldo had 12 goals, 20 assists and 237 penalty minutes in 56 games playing with Hunter.

"Dale lets his players play hockey," Rinaldo told NHL.com. "If you come to the rink prepared to play and he sees you're working hard, you'll get the ice time."

Hunter told NHL.com he was happy to see Rinaldo emerge as a full-time NHL player this season. In 57 games, he has 2 goals, 6 assists and is second in the League with 190 penalty minutes. Beyond that, however, he's emerged as a useful fourth-line checking forward who supplies speed and energy on the forecheck.

"You can see he's an aggressive kid," Hunter said. "He cares about winning and losing, and he's got the fire in the belly. … You try to corral it, without taking penalties and stuff. He's been doing a good job of it. He playing against top lines, he's learning his defensive responsibilities. He's a great kid, got a great personality. He just wants to play hockey. He's a hockey player."

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

 

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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Crosby's return has made Malkin even more lethal

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin was leading the NHL in scoring even before Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup last week. But Malkin felt he would be an even better player once Crosby returned because No. 87 requires so much attention from opponents, it creates more open ice for his teammates.
 
Malkin was right. Sidney Crosby has been Sidney Crosby since he returned -- and Malkin has been an even-better Malkin.
 
Going into Thursday night's attractive interconference matchup between the Penguins and Nashville Predators, Malkin had 5 goals and 4 assists in the four games since Cosby returned against the Rangers on March 15 -- with at least one goal in every game.
 
Crosby hasn't found the net in his last 11 games overall, including the last seven he played before concussion-like symptoms sidelined him following a Dec. 5 game against Boston. But Crosby has 9 assists in the four games since he returned, giving him 21 points in the 12 games he's played in a season in which he endured injury layoffs of 20 and 40 games.
 
In those 12 games Crosby has played, Malkin has 9 goals and 19 points. So much for the perception that Malkin acquiesces to Crosby when the captain is in the lineup, willing to accept a less-prominent role.
 
"I'm not surprised at all," Crosby said of Malkin's production with both superstars in the lineup. "He's a great player; he's got every tool it takes to be consistent and to be as dominant as he is. As for me coming back, I don't think it's changed anything. It (Malkin's production) probably has helped me a bit to be able to come back and ease myself into it. That's something that anybody coming back will tell you, the better the team's playing, the easier the transition is."
 
The Penguins are 12-0-1 in their last 13 and 24-4-2 in their last 30.
 
With 93 points, Malkin took a nine-point lead over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia into Thursday's NHL games. Despite missing seven games earlier this season as he mended from offseason knee surgery, Malkin is in a very strong position to win his second Art Ross Trophy in four seasons.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin is a better player since he returned from that disappointing 2010-11 season in which he had only 15 goals in 43 games before tearing two ligaments in his left knee. During his lengthy rehabilitation, most of it in his native Russia, Malkin took on the look of a focused, determined player intent on returning to the elite level at which he once played.
 
To do so, Malkin didn't just get into better playing shape, he worked on and polished up some often-overlooked aspects of his game.
 
"A few things strike me about his game that are real evident," Bylsma said. "When he's playing really well, he's the guy who takes the puck away from other team. He tracks the puck, lifts the stick and takes the puck the other way. In the offensive zone, he wins puck battles and strips people of the puck. … That's when he's at his best."
 
Bylsma added, "You see the highlights, but you don't often see the highlight of him tracking back, stripping the puck and going the other way."
 
Malkin also has improved significantly on faceoffs, once a major deficiency in his game. He is winning 47.2 percent of his faceoffs, compared to 38.5 percent a season ago, and is becoming so reliable that Bylsma now uses him for defensive-zone draws.
 
"What you're seeing this year that you never saw before was Geno in the faceoff circle winning faceoffs -- in the left circle, he's over 65 percent. And that has contributed to us scoring goals. You're talking about a guy who was under 40 percent last year."
 
A set play in which Malkin slams the puck directly to James Neal's stick on a faceoff has resulted in multiple goals this season.
 
No doubt Malkin will draw motivation Thursday from the return of fellow Russian star Alexander Radulov, who will play for Nashville for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Radulov played the last four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
 
The Predators and Penguins haven't played in 17 months, or since Pittsburgh won 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 21, 2010, at Bridgestone Arena.
 
The Penguins' projected lineup for their one and only meeting of the season with Nashville -- unless the two elite teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
 
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen, a rookie with a 3-0 record, beat Winnipeg 8-4 in an up-and-down game Tuesday. Fleury has opposed Nashville only five times, going 2-2-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average.
 


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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:50 PM

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

Semin to be game-time decision for Capitals

PHILADELPHIA -- Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said forward Alexander Semin will be a game-time decision for Thursday's game here against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Semin did not practice Wednesday and skipped this morning's skate, which was an optional practice. Team captain Alex Ovechkin and defenseman Dennis Wideman also opted to skip the practice.

"He's still on maintenance right now," Hunter said.

Hunter said Semin would skate in the pre-game warm-ups, after which he'll decide if the forward will play or not.

If Semin does play, it looks like Joel Ward will be a healthy scratch, although Hunter would not reveal what his lineup would look like.

Assuming Semin plays, here is what the Capitals likely will put on the ice tonight:

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

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Jeff Schultz - John Carlson
Mike Green - Roman Hamrlik

Hunter wouldn't reveal who his starting goaltender would be, but it's likely Braden Holtby will receive his second straight start. He stopped 30 of 33 shots in Monday's 5-3 win in Detroit. Michael Neuvirth will be the backup.

Ward and defensemen John Erskine and Dmitry Orlov likely will be healthy scratches.

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


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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 12:20 PM

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

Melrose Match Up: Predators at Penguins

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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 10:28 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 22nd

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 73 80 9 89 5

9th 74 80 8 88 5
10th 73 76 9 84 7
11th 74 75 8 81 8
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 84 9 93 5

9th 74 84 8 92 5
10th 73 82 9 91 6
11th 74 82 8 89 6
The skinny: What a Thursday night in the NHL as the drama-filled race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues.

Washington takes center stage as it finishes a long road trip with a visit to Philadelphia. The Capitals are trying to hold off the fast-charging Sabres, who won again Wednesday night to enter a dead-heat with the Caps at 80 points, while the Winnipeg Jets await in Washington D.C. for a Friday night date with the Caps. Buffalo, however, has played one more game than both the Capitals and the Jets, who have 76 points.

With back-to-back wins against Philadelphia and the Jets, Washington could go a long way toward solidifying a spot in the postseason, not to mention the fact that taking four points would certainly keep the pressure on Florida for first in the Southeast Division. A Washington win against Philadelphia moves the Caps six points up on the Jets and sets up a potential knockout blow for the Jets on Friday. A loss to the Flyers, though, would give a boost to the playoff hopes of the Jets, who could close the gap to two points with a win against Washington Friday night.

Winnipeg fans, not to mention the team, will be cheering hard for the Flyers.

Turning attention to the wild, wild West, the schedule Thursday has five games with significant playoff implications.

First in the Pacific, Dallas can keep its hold on first in the division with a win against Vancouver, but could fall out of the playoff picture entirely with a loss.

The Stars have 85 points, but could be passed by both Phoenix and Los Angeles, division rivals, with wins in their respective games Thursday night. Phoenix, currently No. 9 Because of tiebreakers, plays No. 7 Colorado, which has 85 points.  Los Angeles, which has 84 points and a game in hand on Phoenix, plays St. Louis, which sits atop the League standings.

Colorado has played more games than all the other Western contenders, so a win against the Coyotes keeps them on pace for the playoffs and leaves them controlling their own destiny. A loss, however, has Colorado moving into that dreaded territory of relying upon the vagaries of hope and luck.

Calgary, which has gone gone 0-1-2 in its past three games, faces the Wild on Thursday night needing to make up three points and climb above three teams to find the safety zone. That process has to begin with a win Thursday night against a Wild time out of the playoff equation. That is unless the Flames want to face the almost impossible task of winning six of their seven remaining games to reach 94 points, which appears will be the demarcation line when the season ends.

While the Blues pose a significant challenge to the Kings, Los Angeles is playing extremely well and is on a five-game winning streak, picking a perfect time to get hot.

Up the coast in San Jose, the Sharks have been hot and cold and can't afford to get into an extended cold streak or they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. It's best now that they help themselves and that starts by not losing Thursday night against a Boston team showing signs of once again finding its way. A loss puts San Jose in a position where it would have to 12 of 16 points to get to 94 points.

There will be a sense of satisfaction for the teams in the West that win the games Thursday, but they won't be able to relax for long. That's why I love the schedule and the drama of the season's final few weeks.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 8:27 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

FLA @ CAR - 10:24 of the Second Period

At 10:24 of the second period in the Panthers/Hurricanes game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Brandon Sutter's shot never crossed the Florida goal line. No goal Carolina.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 7:04 PM

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

Hawks, Toews taking 'wait-and-see' approach

CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews went through a second straight day of on-ice work at the United Center on Wednesday morning, but the waiting game for the Chicago Blackhawks captain's return from suspected concussion symptoms is still status quo.

It's still a "wait-and-see" process the Hawks are going through with Toews, who will miss his 15th straight game on Wednesday night when Chicago hosts the rival Vancouver Canucks. The good news is that Toews is back on skates after needing a few days off following four-straight days doing on-ice work.

"Kind of the same," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, when asked to assess Toews' current health status. "Your body tells you what it's able to do. That's all part of the process. Hopefully you get consecutive days and you just keep on pressing – get a little more every day – that's kind of where we're at."

Toews has not been cleared for contact, which is logically the next -- and maybe final -- step that he'll need to take before being cleared to return for game action. Following the game against the Canucks, the Hawks will have just seven games left in the regular season.

Toews' situation is comparable to one that kept center Dave Bolland off the ice a year ago at this time of year. Bolland didn't return until the fourth game of a first-round playoff series against Vancouver that wound up going seven games with the Hawks losing the deciding game in overtime.

"You look at Bolly last year, he got back and was playing Game 4 against Vancouver," Quenneville said. "He was up to speed pretty quick. There's a process when you know you're ready, you're ready. I don't know how long it takes before you’re ready for contact, ready for pace, ready for making a contribution – it's tough to say when and tough to say how long it's going to take."

Quenneville was also asked whether he thought Toews might have pushed himself too hard the first time he returned to the ice with the injury, which spanned four days in a row of hard skating. Toews spoke to reporters after the workouts and even said he was hoping to play in a March 13 home game against the St. Louis Blues.

He needed to halt his on-ice and then off-ice workouts for about 10 days not long after stating that as a potential return date.

"I just think that every day you're trying different things," Quenneville said. "You push your body in different ways, testing it and see what you’re able to handle – on or off the ice."

Chicago defenseman Steve Montador, who will miss his 21st game in a row with what's believed to be a similar injury to Toews, also skated on Wednesday morning and continues to show signs of progress according to Quenneville.

The Hawks got other positive news on the injury front, as well, as defenseman Nick Leddy will play against the Canucks despite not finishing Tuesday night's 5-1 win at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Leddy was illegally checked from behind early in the third period by Darryl Boyce, who was assessed a boarding minor, and only played one more shift before sitting out the rest of the game.

Quenneville also said that Corey Crawford will start against the Canucks, which will be his fourth straight start and fifth straight appearance. He's won four games in a row and has allowed just four goals in the four previous appearances.

"Corey at this time last year had the ball and he was running with it and we played him [27] games in a row?" Quenneville said. "And he handled back-to back games ... we don't usually do that during the course of a season. This is a big game. The fact that we're coming back to him is a good sign for him to get some confidence going that we're relying on him at an important time of the year."

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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