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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 12:43 PM

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

Quality of play, not position, concerns Rangers

NEW YORK -- Last season, the Rangers had to wait until the final day of the season to secure a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, catching a break when the Carolina Hurricanes lost to a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had secured its playoff position.

On Monday night, the Rangers can become the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a spot in the postseason by simply earning a point against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. If the Rangers lose in regulation, they'll have to wait at least another day before punching their playoff ticket.

What was once an insurmountable lead for the top spot in the East has been whittled to one point on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Philadelphia Flyers have played one more game than the Rangers and are three points back.

If the Rangers continue to play mediocre hockey -- they are 7-7-2 since Feb. 14 -- home-ice advantage in the first round might slip away. That's something that's not a concern to coach John Tortorella.

"It's certainly not on my mind, home ice," Tortorella said. "It's how you're playing. If you have the opportunity to play in the playoffs, it's how you're playing. So I guess your momentum going into it is very important. We're just trying to play the right way. We certainly did our last game, even after breaking the tape down, I was even more pleased by some of the things we did, but we didn't get the result.

"We're still in the regular season. We're trying to talk about playing the right away, and I believe we will. I have full faith in the hockey club. We've had a little bump here, but I thought we were dead on in our game the other night. Hopefully we can bring it into tonight."

Tortorella probably didn't mind home-ice advantage when his Tampa Bay Lightning won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 at home against the Calgary Flames and Game 7 of the Eastern Final at home against the Flyers. Rangers center Brad Richards was a member of that team and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and said while finishing atop the East that season was nice, it doesn't necessarily guarantee anything.

"I don't know if it's important, but it's good to play a Game 7 at home," Richards told NHL.com. "To start a series at home, sometimes it's harder. I don't think it matters much anymore. Look at Boston last year. I'm sure Vancouver felt very good coming home for Game 7. Once you get that far in, players block everything out. You're so focused and in tune it doesn't really matter anymore."

Does having the last change in that game matter?

"In one game, I don't think so," Richards said. "By that far, everybody knows exactly what everybody is doing. It can go both ways. We were happy to have our two Game 7s that we needed at home. So, who knows?"

The Rangers have spent the past month talking less about results and more about their overall play. It begs the question -- would Richards prefer to be the No. 5 seed and have the team playing well, or would he rather see the Rangers plod along and grab the No. 1 seed in spite of that? After all, the Rangers 24-9-2 at home, the fifth-best mark in the NHL.

"I think if we're playing well, we'll be pretty close to the top, and that's still where you want to be," Richards said. "It's so tough to say I want to finish here or finish there, really you just let him fall. You're going to have to beat the best teams to get where you want to go. All 16 teams, it's crazy, you have a chance if you get in. It's happened a lot over the past however many years. Two years ago in the East, it was 7 vs. 8 in the conference finals (Canadiens vs. Flyers). So you don't know. You just want to be playing good hockey and have everything fine-tuned and it's whole new ballgame once that starts."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 12:40 PM

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

Rangers to keep same lineup vs. Devils

NEW YORK -- The Rangers will roll out the same lineup they did last game when they face the New Jersey Devils on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) at Madison Square Garden.

Forward Artem Anisimov (left shoulder) and defenseman Steve Eminger (unknown) will sit again, although Anisimov skated Monday morning and is considered day-to-day. Defenseman Anton Stralman again will be a healthy scratch, with Tim Erixon getting another chance after playing 9:57 over 12 shifts in a 2-1 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday.

Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in net. Here are the Rangers' line combinations from practice:

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

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Michael Del Zotto
Tim Erixon - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist will start in net, with Martin Biron the backup.
 
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 12:07 PM

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

Anisimov healing, but still out

NEW YORK -- Artem Anisimov won't be back in the Rangers' lineup Monday against the Devils (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2), but the good news is the injury to his left shoulder doesn't appear to be serious.

A staple among the Rangers' top-six forwards, Anisimov took part in practice Monday morning at Madison Square Garden for the first time since taking a hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale on Thursday. Anisimov left the game unable to move the shoulder, but he was on the ice for a lengthy skate and said he felt "all right" Monday.

"Day-to-day," Anisimov said, echoing what coach John Tortorella had said earlier in the morning. "I'm so happy it's not more serious because it's a tough injury. I want to fully recover and not get rushed, because I go on the ice and somebody hit me in the shoulder, it'd be much more serious.

"When I hit, I don't feel my arm, I can't move my arm. I say to (head trainer Jim Ramsay), 'I can't move arm.' We went inside to work on it and he did his stuff."

In 69 games this season, Anisimov has 14 goals and 19 assists. He's been a valuable part of the Rangers' power play and penalty kill this season.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Matt Kalman -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Corvo says hand 'doesn't feel 100 percent'

BOSTON -- When Joe Corvo missed Saturday's game with Philadelphia, he left Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg as the only Boston Bruins players to skate in every game this season.

While Bruins coach Claude Julien classified Corvo that day as "banged up but healthy," Corvo on Monday told NHL.com that he definitely wasn't healthy.

Corvo revealed that Friday night he had a cortisone shot in his right hand for an injury he had been playing through since a collision with teammate Andrew Ference in a game against the New York Rangers earlier this month. Corvo strained some ligaments in the hand/wrist area.

"My hand doesn't feel 100 percent, so I'm not going to out there and not be able to battle and stuff and do my job if I'm not 100 percent," said Corvo, who stayed on the ice for extra skating Monday.

Corvo said he's feeling better, and Julien on Monday re-classified Corvo as "a little banged up." He added that if the Bruins needed Corvo, he could play. But since the Bruins currently are carrying eight healthy -- if you include Corvo -- defensemen, it's likely Corvo will sit out tonight's game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 70 games this season, Corvo has 4 goals, 21 assists and a plus-7 rating.
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 9:20 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 19th

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 72 78 10 88 6

9th 72 76 10 85 7
10th 72 76 10 85 7
11th 73 73 9 80 8
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 74 83 8 91 6

9th 71 82 11 93 6
10th 72 82 10 92 6
11th 73 81 9 89 7
The skinny: The race for No. 8 in the East is the focus Monday.

Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators was recently asked about the Stanley Cup Playoff race and said, "We are looking at the scoreboard and checking out what teams are doing." You can bet the Buffalo Sabres were tuned in to the Winnipeg-Carolina game Sunday night.

Not that teams root against one another, but I can't imagine under any circumstance that Buffalo wouldn't be euphoric about the late goal by Chad Larose to give the Sabres -- I mean the Hurricanes -- a big victory! Now, the Sabres must take advantage of that gift from the Hurricanes when they face the Lightning in Tampa on Monday.

A win, combined with a Washington loss at Detroit on the same night, and the Sabres will move into a points tie with the Capitals for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres would still be on the outside looking in because they don't own the tie-breaker at this point, but Buffalo would be in control of its destiny because it plays at Washington on March 27. A win there and perhaps Buffalo will hold its fate in its own hands.

Interestingly enough, last season on this exact date, the Sabres were in the eighth playoff position  with the same amount of points (76), and the team is now hoping to follow a similar script this season with another strong surge after the All-Star break to help a lost season turn into an unexpected qualification for the playoffs.

As for the Capitals, they don't have the easiest schedule for trying to hold on to that No. 8 spot. Less than 24 hours after losing in Chicago, the Caps are back at it, trying to beat a Detroit team that may be struggling, but has been very good at Joe Louis Arena.

Then, it's a road date at Philadelphia on Thursday before hosting the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.

Looking at the projection, the Caps most likely need to win six of their remaining ten games to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's definitely a tall order. It becomes increasingly more difficult if Washington can't win in Detroit and the City of Brotherly Love. Then, the equation changes to this: The Caps would need to win six of its final eight games with the Jets and Sabres among the opponents.

The silver lining for Washington is it holds the tiebreaker with more regulation and OT wins than both Winnipeg and Buffalo.

It's all madness of a different kind in March and the intensity the Stanley Cup Playoffs brings has certainly started early.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 6:17 PM

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

Caps' Brouwer has fond memories of Chicago

CHICAGO -- Troy Brouwer still owns a place in the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago and is looking to sell now that his prime renter -- former Chicago Blackhawks enforcer John Scott -- was dealt to the New York Rangers.

"If you've got anyone (who needs a place), we're still looking to rent it out," quipped Brouwer, who's now a Washington Capital and will play against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night at the United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN) for the first time.

Brouwer was drafted by Chicago in the seventh round of the 2004 NHL Draft (No. 214) and helped the Hawks win the 2010 Stanley Cup. He played last season in Chicago trying to defend the title, but was dealt to the Capitals in the summer for an extra first-round pick in the 2011 Draft.

The memories are nice, but this is no pleasure trip for Brouwer -- who said he's long past the initial disappointment of being traded by the only team he'd played for in the NHL.

"A lot of good memories when I got out on the ice this morning," Brouwer said. "You got that comfort factor because I played so many games here and it was, I guess, the only place I’d called home up until I got traded. It’s a lot of fun to be back, but at the same time my career’s moved on a bit. I got a little different view when I’m going to be on the ice."

The trade that brought him to Washington seems like ancient history by now, but he still remembers the surprise when it was announced.

"I had small ideas that something might be looming but nothing concrete," said Brouwer, who has 18 goals and 13 assists in 71 games and leads Washington with 217 hits. "When I did get traded, obviously it was a surprise. For me, I missed the city more than anything. The people here were phenomenal. The fans here were great to me. So that's what’s tough to deal with the most ... just picking up, me and my wife. We have a home here in Wrigleyville."

One that Scott rented from him up until the deal that took him to New York hours before the trade deadline expired. As for Brouwer, he and his wife had a whole new stable of teammates and families within the Capitals organization to meet -- not to mention the joy of finding a new home in the Washington D.C. area.

"Trying to find a new place to live, get comfortable, meet new people, meet the new teammates ... that’s the biggest problem with having to move your whole life," said Brouwer, who had a chance to catch some dinner on Saturday night with former teammates Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook.

As it turned out, the transition to his new team and new locker room was pretty smooth.

"It's been great," Brouwer said. "When I got to the team, the guys where very receptive. A little bit of an up-and-down season, but the girls have been great to my wife. The guys have been really receptive to me when I came into the dressing room, because sometimes it's not always easy to welcome a new player -- especially when the guys here had such a tight knit thing going."

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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 5:56 PM

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

Blues' McDonald returns to practice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With news of St. Louis Blues winger Andy McDonald returning to the ice just three days after crashing heavily into the boards as a result of a shove, it could be taken as a sigh of relief that it wasn't any worse.

The result was a shoulder contusion after first being slashed, then shoved from behind by Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu during Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Hurricanes.

Or in the words of McDonald: "I guess it could have been worse. That's always a positive, but obviously I could still be playing if (Ruutu) doesn't trip me and push me into the boards. I'm disappointed."

McDonald joins a plethora of injured players, including Alex Steen (concussion), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Kris Russell (concussion), Jason Arnott (bumps and bruises) and now David Backes (toe/foot) ailing because of injury for a team that became the first in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth Saturday and reach the 100-point mark (46-19-8).

McDonald, who arguably was the Blues' best player after returning following a 51-game absence due to a concussion, pitched in with 18 points in 17 games and gave the Blues a dynamic that had been missing since both he and perhaps Steen were playing at the same time.

"When you've got players like him on the ice, you have the puck all the time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of McDonald. "The best defense is to have the puck all the time. That's what was so good with him is we had the puck all the time. Every time he was out there, he was making plays, we had possession with the puck, we were creating scoring chances. It changes. When you're missing him, Steen, even Arnott to a certain extent, obviously when Backes went down (Saturday), we're a little bit different also.

"You just don't have the puck very much, so you've still got to win the game even though you don't have the puck. When you get it, you've got to make a direct play. When you don't have it, you better check like crazy. When Backes went down, we didn't have the puck very much and we still had to win the hockey game."

Half of McDonald's points had come in the last seven games and he was hoping to use the final stretch to get himself in even better position to be at his best, which was becoming quite evident out there.

"The play-making part of it, I thought that for me, I was getting frustrated early because there were a lot of times where I had chances to make plays to guys that were open and I seemed slow at times," McDonald said. "Around the net, I've had some bounces and stuff and I was able to score, so that helped out a lot. I felt like my last two games, I thought I was moving the puck, getting back to that form where I was being a play-maker. That's always the strong part of my game. That part of it was coming around, so that's hard because my play was coming around and now I have to go back out again. Obviously it's different this time. I'll be able to get back and not have much of a drop-off."

The team held an optional skate Sunday following a four-game trip in which the Blues were 2-1-1, McDonald was a full participant in drills and skating.

"It felt pretty good today," McDonald said. "I was able to do a lot of things. I guess it feels better than I thought it would at this point. I was happy to be able to skate and get out and do a lot of the drills."
Initially, the Blues said McDonald would be week-to-week.
 
"I don't think he's that far away from playing," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "I don't know when, but they're all going to go on the trip, including D'Agostini. Arnott's going to be on the trip, Backes on the trip, Mac's on the trip ... everybody's on the trip. We'll pick up Steen when we arrive. Hopefully Alex will skate with us on Tuesday or Wednesday and we'll just see where everybody's at."

Steen has been out of the lineup since Dec. 27 (37 games) and has spent the better part of the last two weeks in California with a concussion/spinal specialist while getting treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. He will meet up with the team when they get to Anaheim Tuesday for the start of a three-game swing on the west coast that also takes the Blues to Los Angeles and Phoenix. There's the possibility Steen could skate Tuesday or Wednesday to gauge his progress.

"I don't know where Alex is at," Hitchcock said. "He says he feels great. We'll just see when we get out.
"I don't know what the formula is. I just know he's going to meet us in Anaheim on Tuesday and we'll just see from there."

Backes, who's played in 185 consecutive games dating back to the 2009-10 season, blocked a shot on his left toe/foot late in Saturday's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay. He did not return but Hitchcock did say there were no broken bones and he is questionable for Wednesday.

"It's day-to-day, week-to-week," Hitchcock said. "It's all based on pain tolerance. These things hopefully heal real quick. It's not a big deal, but it isn't like it's a long-term injury."

D'Agostini, who did not accompany the team this past week, has been sidelined since Feb. 7 (21 games). He and Russell, out since Feb. 23 (12 games), were on the same path as far as potential returns but have not given Hitchcock that knock on the door yet. Both were on the ice Sunday.

"I don't know. He's not ready yet," Hitchcock said of Russell. "... He's close, but the player has to be convinced. There's no point in me having a conversation with him every day. Just tell me when you're ready."

Arnott missed the last two games, and it was by design that Hitchcock decided to sit the 37-year-old veteran to heal up from some bumps and bruises suffered down the stretch. He is also questionable for the start of the trip but skated without any issues Sunday.

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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pesky Hurricanes happy with their recent form

WINNIPEG – Loose, relaxed and intent on finishing their season on a strong note, the Carolina Hurricanes have become a dangerous team capable of dragging opponents down with them below the playoff line.

The Hurricanes (28-29-15) shut out the League-leading St. Louis Blues at home on Thursday night before hitting the road for a two-game sojourn to Minnesota and Winnipeg. Carolina handed Minnesota a 5-3 loss on Saturday afternoon to continue a stretch in which the Hurricanes are playing 10 of 12 games away from home.

Goaltender Brian Boucher played his first game since Dec. 3 and turned in a 23-save effort. Despite the road-heavy schedule, the Hurricanes have won three of their past five games, leaving coach Kirk Muller happy with his club.

“We compete every night and play hard,” Muller said of a club trying to atone for a poor first half that doomed their playoff chances and led to coach Paul Maurice’s firing in November. “Everyone is engaged and feeling a part of it.”

Leading scorer and captain Eric Staal echoed Muller’s words.

“We like our game,” Staal said. “We like the way our team is preparing to come into games and pick up points. We’re still trying to fight and climb and get back into the thick of things and go from there.”

Jeff Skinner will conclude his two-game suspension for a kicking incident on Thursday night against the Blues. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek exited the game at Minnesota with an injury after he had returned from a two-game absence. Carolina recalled Bobby Sanguinetti from the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers to replace Spacek. As well, Joni Pitkanen skated with Skinner during the Hurricanes’ morning skate.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes, with Boucher backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Hurricanes:

Jiri TlustyEric StaalChad Larose
Drayson BowmanJussi JokinenTuomo Ruutu
Andreas NodlBrandon Sutter – Pat Dwyer
Tim BrentAnthony Stewart

Tim GleasonJamie McBain
Jay HarrisonJustin Faulk
Bobby SanguinettiBryan Allen

Cam Ward
Brian Boucher
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets face another critical home test

WINNIPEG – The big games continue to pile up for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets (34-29-8) will play host to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at MTS Centre and continue their bid to overtake the Washington Capitals for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Jets must also fight off the Buffalo Sabres, with whom they are tied at 76 points. After tonight, the Capitals, Sabres and Jets will all have played 72 games.

Winnipeg has won its past four outings on home ice and fended off a stubborn Washington club in a 3-2 win at MTS Centre two nights earlier. A three-game, Pittsburgh-Washington-Nashville road trip this week looms for the Jets, who have endured road struggles all season. Winnipeg will play seven of its last 10 games away from home after tonight.

The Jets will welcome Zach Bogosian back to their blue line. Bogosian has missed 12 of the club’s past 13 games with nagging health problems. Bogosian’s return means that Randy Jones is a candidate to sit out tonight.

Winnipeg will also again audition a new right wing on their checking line with Tanner Glass and Jim Slater. Eric Fehr, who played two games in place of the injured Chris Thorburn, was banged up against the Capitals and will not play tonight. Winnipeg recalled Spencer Machacek from their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps, to replace Fehr.

Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start again in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up. Pavelec has started 11 of the Jets’ past 12 games.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew LaddBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Evander KaneAlexander BurmistrovKyle Wellwood
Tanner GlassJim SlaterSpencer Machacek
Tim StapletonNik AntropovAntti Miettinen

Tobias EnstromDustin Byfuglien
Ron HainseyGrant Clitsome
Mark StuartZach Bogosian

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:27 PM

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

Blue Jackets playing spoiler role in Calgary

CALGARY – Though their playoff hopes are dashed, the Columbus Blue Jackets can put a dent in the postseason aspirations of another team Sunday night.
 
The Blue Jackets are set to square off against the Calgary Flames, who currently hold down the 11th spot in the Western Conference. The Flames sit just two points back of the eighth-place San Jose Sharks.
 
With a win, the Blue Jackets will not only halt a four-game losing skid extended Saturday night by a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, but can also damper the hopes of a Calgary club that is coming off a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Friday.
 
To be successful, Columbus will need a strong effort from their top line of RJ Umberger, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. The trio has failed to find the score sheet during their losing skid, with Nash, the Columbus captain, failing to record a point in six straight. 
 
Projected lineup

R.J. UmbergerDerick BrassardRick Nash
Vinny ProspalMark LetestuCam Atkinson
Colton GilliesRyan JohansenDerek Dorsett
Ryan RussellDarryl BoyceJared Boll
 
Jack JohnsonJames Wisniewski
Aaron JohnsonNikita Nikitin
John Moore – Bret Lebda
 
Steve Mason
Curtis Sanford
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Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins