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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 10:52 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Flyers' rally should come as no surprise

Turnabout was fair play for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The last time the Flyers played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, on April 25, 2009, they led 3-0 in Game 6 and were less than 40 minutes away from forcing a seventh and deciding game -- only to have the Penguins score five unanswered goals for a series-ending 5-3 win.

The Pennsylvania rivals hadn't met in the playoffs since that afternoon -- until the Flyers exacted some revenge in the opener of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday. This time, it was the Flyers who overcame a 3-0 deficit -- rookie Brayden Schenn's third-period power-play goal forced overtime and Jakub Voracek's goal 2:23 into OT gave Philadelphia a 4-3 win.

On one hand, the comeback shouldn't have come as a surprise -- Philadelphia was the only team to win three regular-season games after trailing by three goals (there were only 17 other games in which it happened this season) -- and this was the third time in four meetings with the Penguins since March 18 that the Penguins saw a multiple-goal lead against Philadelphia turn into a loss.
 
The three-goal comeback was the sixth in Stanley Cup play by the Flyers -- and the first since their historic rally from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 of the 2010 conference semifinals against Boston, a game they came back to win 4-3 to cap a comeback after losing the first three games of the series.

But the loss had to be a shock for the Penguins and their fans. Pittsburgh had won 28 of the last 29 playoff games it led after two periods and was 32-0-3 during the regular season when taking a lead into the third period, as well as 29-0-0 when leading by three goals at any point in the game. The last time the Penguins led after two periods in a playoff game and didn't win was May 6, 2010, when they took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Montreal and allowed two quick goals in a 3-2 loss.

Preds get the jump
-- For the first time, the Nashville Predators actually lead the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series.

The Wings ended Nashville's season by beating the Predators in the first round in 2004 (the first time Nashville qualified for the postseason) and again in 2008. In both series, the Wings never trailed.

But both of those series began in Detroit -- this year's Western Conference Quarterfinal series began at Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators got two goals by rookie Gabriel Bourque and held off the Wings 3-2 to take their first-ever series lead on Detroit.

The Predators have won Game 1 in four of the eight playoff series since entering the NHL 12 years ago. The Wings, playing in their 116th postseason series, fell to 63-52 1 in Game 1s.

If history is any guide, one thing not to expect in this series is a sweep -- Nashville has never been involved in a series that went less than five games. Nor have the Predators ever played a seven-game series; they've had two five-game series and six that have gone six games.

Two of Detroit's top stars reached individual milestones. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom joined Hall of Famer Larry Robinson as the only players to take part in the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons when he stepped onto the ice for his first shift -- the Wings have never missed the playoffs since Lidstrom joined them in 1991. It was his 260th playoff game, six short of Chris Chelios' all-time record. Forward Henrik Zetterberg's second-period goal was his 50th in Stanley Cup play, as well as his 100th point; he's the 53rd player to score 50 playoff goals and the 80th to hit triple figures in points.

First time's the charm
-- Wednesday marked the start of the fifth playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks -- and for the first time, the Kings will go into Game 2 with a lead in the series.

Though the teams had split their first four series, the Canucks had won the opener in all four until late goals by Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown gave the Kings a 4-2 win at Rogers Arena on Wednesday.

It's hard to say which was more unusual, Los Angeles winning a series opener or Vancouver losing one.
For the Kings, it was the first Game 1 victory since they beat Colorado 4-3 in the opener of their second-round series in 2001. To find the last time the Kings won a series-opener in regulation, you have to go back to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, when they beat Montreal 4-1 at the Forum.

The Canucks, in contrast, had won their last eight series openers -- all four last year and a pair in both 2009 and 2010 (including their first-round series against L.A.). Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was 9-1 in series openers as a Canuck before the loss.

Vancouver hopes it can turn history on its head in Game 2 the way the Kings did in Game 1 -- while the Canucks had won the four previous series-openers against L.A., the Kings have won Game 2 in all four series against Vancouver.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:36 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Laviolette focused on Friday

PITTSBURGH -- After winning a thriller Wednesday that probably caused a few too many strands of his hair to turn from brown to gray, a calm and composed Peter Laviolette sat at the podium and confidently talked about tomorrow being bigger, better -- and more important.

"I definitely think we can move forward now," Laviolette said. "We had a lot of first-time experiences today and that's over with and we persevered, so that's a good thing."

Laviolette isn't a believer in momentum in the playoffs because, in his own words, "the playoffs is like a loaf of bread; it's slice-by-slice. Some slices you really like, and some are really moldy."

What he means is Game 2 on Friday will be different than Game 1 was Wednesday, and the Flyers have to make significant changes, especially at the start of the game, if they want to leave Pittsburgh with a 2-0 lead in the series.

"Every day you have to go out and work for your win," Laviolette said. "Whether you win or lose you have to move on to the next game. That'll be the focus, what can we do to be better. It's just one win and now we have to focus on the second game and making sure we're better in a lot of different areas."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 8:14 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill to miss Game 1 with lower-body injury

NASHVILLE -- Predators defenseman Hal Gill will miss Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Detroit with a lower-body injury.
 
Jack Hillen, 26, took his place in the lineup and made his playoff debut Wednesday night. Gill, acquired from Montreal in February, finished 16th in the League in blocked shots and led Nashville in shorthanded time on ice per game.
 
Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk earned the spots on the wings on the fourth line, which is centered by Paul Gaustad. Coach Barry Trotz seemed like he might play rookie speedster Craig Smith, but opted for the larger Yip on the right side. Earlier in the day, Trotz compared Yip to last year's playoff hero for Nashville, Joel Ward.
 
Veteran right wing Jordin Tootoo, center Colin Wilson and wing Brian McGrattan were the other scratches for Nashville.
 
As expected, center Darren Helm returned to the lineup for Detroit. Forward Gustav Nyquist was scratched in favor of Cory Emmerton, who had six goals and four assists in 71 games.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 7:13 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Blackhawks series blog

Toews expects to play in Game 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
 
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.

"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."

Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."

Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.

"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 7:05 PM

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

Toews expects to play in Game 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Acknowledging that he would be surprised if he isn't on the ice Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went through a symptom-free practice at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday and expects to be ready to go for Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
 
Skating on a line between Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, Toews took part in all phases of practice and had an extended chat with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville before meeting with reporters. Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season because of a concussion, but has been back practicing with the team for a week.

"I feel good. I'm right there," Toews said. "It's another day when I feel like I'm better and better and getting back to where I want to be as far as playing."

Asked if he was surprised if he didn't play Thursday, Toews quickly answered, "Yeah." Upon reflection, he qualified the answer by saying, "That's the goal we've set, but we're going to make that decision tomorrow. We're sticking to that program."

Quenneville was pleased with what he saw from the line in practice and was targeting Thursday as his captain's return.

"That line looks fine together," he said. "Their upside's going to be high-end, puck possession, lots of ability. For sure we'll get clarification tomorrow, but we're optimistic."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings understand they must deal with frustrations

VANCOUVER -- Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar is preparing to be frustrated by the Canucks.

So is defenseman Drew Doughty, but the similarities end there.

Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, is expecting to see a lot of Samuel Pahlsson in the first round of the playoffs. He knows Vancouver's new checking center well from his time with rival Anaheim, where Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup in 2007 and established a reputation as one of the game's top shutdown pivots.

"He's a hard-working guy, all over the ice and one of the top guys shutting down," Kopitar said. "It's going to be tough to play against him, obviously."

It could very well be the key matchup between a Kings team that has relied heavily on its top line of late, and a Canucks team that altered its identity slightly by refocusing on the defensive end after acquiring Pahlsson at the deadline.

In addition to matching up against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson combined with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen to provide steady offense, with eight goals and seven assists since they were reunited for the last 10 games of the regular season.

Coach Alain Vigneault called it his best line since then. It's the only one he hasn't tinkered with since top goal scorer Daniel Sedin was concussed on March 21.

"Our best line at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "They've generated and created and been on the score sheet, and defensively they have been reliable."

For all that Pahlsson does in that mix, talking is not among them. Unlike a lot of antagonizing checkers in the NHL, the quiet Swede lets his play do the talking.

"No, I haven't heard too much of him chirping on the ice," Kopitar said. "But he's certainly a guy that is in your face all the time, and he's one of the best shutdown guys in the League, and I am going to have to prepare myself for that."

Besides, the Canucks have plenty of other guys to do the chirping, something Doughty found out in their playoff meeting two years ago.

"There was a few times I got into it with [Alexandre] Burrows and took a few dumb penalties that took me off the ice," Doughty said. "I definitely learned from that."

His teammates and coaches at the time made sure of it. Doughty doesn't need another reminder as he tries to avenge that six-game loss in the first round.

"It's tough at times, but I can always get back at them during the play, make a big hit or a big stop or whatever it may be," he said. "That's what really matters."

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 5:13 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Dumba to captain Canada's World U-18 team

Red Deer's Mathew Dumba has been named captain of Canada's team for the World Under-18 Championship, which starts Thursday.

Dumba is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft. Dumba captained Canada's summer U-18 team to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

Windsor forward Kerby Rychel (2013 draft eligible) and Erie defenseman Adam Pelech (No. 120) were named alternate captains.

"All three players have tremendous leadership qualities," Canada coach Jesse Wallin -- also Dumba's coach in Red Deer -- said. "They have all shown a presence around the team and are respected by their teammates. We are pleased with our leadership group."

Canada opens round-robin play Thursday against Denmark. They're in Group A, along with Denmark, the Czech Republic, Finland and the U.S. Group B consists of Germany, Latvia, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden.

The tournament runs April 12-22 in Brno and Znojmo, Czech Republic. Canada finished fourth at last year's tournament.

Some of the top players for the 2012 draft will take part in the tournament. Check out some of the talent filling out the rosters for Finland, Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Russia.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:46 PM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Button breaks down top 5 picks for 2012 draft



NHL Network analyst Craig Button, like most hockey fans, watched with great interest the results of the 2012 NHL Draft Lottery.

With the win, the Edmonton Oilers earned the right to pick No. 1. And in Button's opinion, the choice is clear -- Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov, the top-rated North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking.

"Nail Yakupov is too good a player for the Edmonton Oilers to bypass," said Button. "The Edmonton fan base, they know about stars. Nail Yakupov has star written all over him."

At No. 2, Button sees the Columbus Blue Jackets dipping into the deep pool of available defenseman by opting for Everett Silvertips blueliner Ryan Murray.

"[Murray is] a real steady, strong defenseman," said Button. "Maybe not flashy, but incredibly effective. He's a leader, he's a player that will play 15 years in the League and he will help a team win."

At No. 3, Button sees the Montreal Canadiens going for center Mikhail Grigorenko, who plays for Canadiens legend Patrick Roy with the Quebec Remparts.

"You hear so much talk about their center ice and not being big in the forward ranks," said Button, "Grigorenko is a perfect complement to Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais.

With the fourth pick, Button believes the New York Islanders will take Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.

"We know they've taken forwards a lot," said Button, "but with Filip Forsberg, arguably he's in the same class as Nail Yakupov. Too big, too skilled, too determined. I believe he adds a tremendous amount to the Islanders' group."

With the fifth pick, Button envisions the Toronto Maple Leafs selecting Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk. The center missed most of the season with a knee injury, but that will be a thing of the past when next season starts.

"He's a player that reminds me of Ron Francis," said Button. "And for a team in dire need of centermen, Alex Galchenyuk fits the bill."
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:37 PM

By Ben Raby -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Bruins vs. Capitals series blog

Boston perfect spot for Aucoin to make playoff debut

ARLINGTON Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Keith Aucoin was a high school sophomore when he realized a dream that was shared by most hockey players growing up in the Boston area.

With Boston Garden only months from closing, Aucoin and his teammates from Chelmsford High School took celebratory laps around the legendary rink as the 1995 Division I Massachusetts state champions.

"That place was pretty cool," said Aucoin, a native of Waltham, Mass. "I was watching a lot of games there when I was younger and it was a lot different experience going there than it is to the [TD] Garden now, but both are fun places to play."

Seventeen years after that memorable night at Boston Garden, Aucoin is set to experience another lifelong dream when he makes his NHL Stanley Cup Playoff debut Thursday when the Capitals face the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). It just happens to be at TD Garden against the team he grew up watching.

"It's exciting," Aucoin said of facing the Bruins. "Obviously a lot of family and friends. … I've been getting a lot of calls and text messages. I told everyone to get their own tickets -- they're too expensive. But it's awesome. Obviously growing up a Bruins fan and growing up the goal is to win the Stanley Cup and now [to have] the chance to beat them to get to that goal -- it's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to getting it going."

It's hard to blame Aucoin if he's chomping at the bit to get Game 1 started. The 33-year-old entered the 2011-12 season having played 75 NHL games spread over six seasons and two organizations. However, he's played 88 games alone in the American Hockey League playoffs.

"It's my first time," Aucoin said of the NHL playoffs. "My last chance was with the [Carolina] Hurricanes [in 2008]. We lost the last game of the year [against Florida] and then Washington beat Florida the next night to make the playoffs and knock us out. So it's my first experience and I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously it makes it a little more special playing Boston."

At 5-foot-8 and 171 pounds, Aucoin went undrafted after four years at Norwich University and began his professional career in 2001 with the now-defunct Broome County Icemen of the United Hockey League.

Since then, Aucoin has spent the better part of the last decade developing into one of the AHL’s all-time greats. He's No. 15th all-time in scoring in AHL history with 777 points in 673 games, a two-time Calder Cup winner with the Hershey Bears and a six-time postseason all-star.

But success in the NHL has been hard to come by for Aucoin, who now has 11 goals and 37 points in 102 NHL games with the Hurricanes and Capitals.

Finding the appropriate role for the offensive-minded Aucoin in the NHL has been a challenge. While he has seen time late this season playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and on the Caps' No.1 power-play unit, Aucoin is expected to begin the playoffs on the fourth line, with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. It's a role Aucoin is ready to embrace.

"I think whenever you play in the playoffs, the game gets a little quicker and it's a lot more physical, but other than that, it's the same type of game," Aucoin said. "You just have to go out there and play your systems and play the way you're capable of playing. Obviously it gets a little more physical, but at the same time I like the physical play, so I'm going to go out there and be a little more physical myself."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 4:16 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings' Carter ready for Game 1

VANCOUVER -- Their playoff series hasn’t started yet, but already the Los Angeles Kings are leading the Canucks 1-0 when it comes to welcoming back key forwards from injury.

While the Canucks were talking about missing top goal scorer Daniel Sedin for Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday night because of a concussion, the Kings were preparing to welcome back Jeff Carter from a bone bruise that kept him out the last five games of the regular season.

“Good to go,” Carter said after joining teammates for a third straight day Wednesday.

That’s welcome news for a Kings team that has improved offensively since his arrival in a blockbuster trade with Columbus that reunited Carter with fellow former Flyers forward Mike Richards.

The Kings were dead last in scoring before Carter arrived, but averaged more than three goals in the 21 games after his arrival, which would be top-four in the NHL for the entire season. Carter only has six of them, and just nine points overall, but he balanced out the top six and created more room and less checking pressure for Anze Kopitar’s top line.

“I think I filled a hole, kind of balance things out maybe, shifted guys into roles that probably suit them well,” Carter said. “Just a little bit of balance.”

That balance will be important after the Canucks created a shutdown line with the trade deadline addition of center Samuel Pahlsson, who is expected to go head-to-head with Kopitar.

"[Carter] definitely adds a threat all over the ice at all times and we all know he can score some big goals and we need him to do that for us," Kopitar said. "It spreads everything out and maybe those guys can't; just key on the top line because it spreads the scoring around and that's what you need in the playoffs if you want to go deep."

Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Kings, who are missing Brad Richardson after undergoing an appendectomy Monday, try to avenge a six-game, first-round loss to Vancouver two years ago:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
 
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Likely Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick is in goal, with Jonathan Bernier backing up.   
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Quote of the Day

It's a date that's been circled on my calendar, so it's kind of nice to have it here and get it over with (Thursday). This is a little bit of the closing of the book on the move. That's kind of how I'm looking at it.

— Stars forward Jason Spezza on returning to Ottawa for the first time to face the Senators