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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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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:23 PM

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

Flames control their playoff destiny

CALGARY – Whether or not the Calgary Flames make the playoffs is up to them.
 
Currently on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture, the Flames have five of their remaining 10 games against teams they are chasing, or chasing away, in the race.
 
And with little help on the out of town scoreboard of late, Calgary is more than happy to handle the dirty work.
 
“We have to worry about ourselves in here,” Curtis Glencross said. “You’re watching every night, you’re watching to see what’s going on around the league. The ultimate goal at the end of the night is we come in here and do our part and that’s all we can ask for.
 
“We’ve got to go one period and one game at a time.”
 
The Flames will see both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars twice before the season closes and will go head-to-head with the Los Angeles Kings once. All three teams currently sit ahead of Calgary in the standings, though a win by the Flames over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night at Scotiabank Saddledome can change all that.
 
In the jumbled playoff picture the Flames, currently 11th in the West, trail the Phoenix Coyotes by one point, while two points separate Calgary from the Kings and San Jose Sharks. The difference between the club and both Colorado and Dallas sits at three. 
 
“We can wake up tomorrow morning and the standings will be completely different and then the next day wake up again and they’ll be completely different again,” coach Brent Sutter said. “Worry about yourselves and take care of yourselves – it’s what you can control. If you’re doing what you need to do, you’ll get to where you need to get to.”
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 2:13 PM

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

Flames getting healthier with Stempniak return

CALGARY – The return of forward Lee Stempniak has allowed Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter to shuffle the deck.
 
Missing 21 consecutive games with an ankle injury, Stempniak is set to return to the Flames in the midst of their playoff push Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, skating alongside David Moss and Blake Comeau.
 
“For me to come in, I’m excited,” Stempniak said. “I can’t wait to get back and I think it’s a great way to jump into it.
 
“It’s tough being out. The hardest part is mentally, knowing you can’t be out there and being patient and doing all the little things right to make sure you get back on time. I think emotionally, you’re really excited to be back. You want to be in there and make a difference when you can.”
 
The shake-up moves Moss back to center, a position he’s rarely played since returning from his own injury earlier in the month.
 
“Wherever (Sutter) wants me to play,” Moss said. “It might not last. Last game I was playing left wing, center, right wing so tonight it’s the middle and I’m looking forward to it.”
 
The line gives Sutter another trio that he can be comfortable with in all situations as the Flames look to make ground in a difficult Western Conference playoff chase.
 
“It gives you another line that you can put together that has some experience and give us a little size there with Mosser moving to center,” Sutter said.
 
With Stempniak returning to the lineup and Lance Bouma (upper-body) and Tim Jackman (shoulder) nearing return, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Calgary’s sick bay – currently inhabited by seven players.
 
“We get one guy back so it’s encouraging,” Sutter said. “It’s an encouraging day, just being able to slowly get through this and get this guys back that can provide us with some experience.”
 
Projected lineup

Alex TanguayMatt StajanJarome Iginla
Curtis GlencrossOlli JokinenTom Kostopoulos
Lee StempniakDavid MossBlake Comeau
Greg NemiszRoman HorakGuillaume Desbiens
 
Jay BouwmeesterDerek Smith
Mark GiordanoScott Hannan
Cory SarichAnton Babchuk
 
Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 12:06 PM

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

Letang in lineup for Penguins

PHILADELPHIA -- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will play today against the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m., NBC).
 
Saturday was Letang's second game back after missing more than two weeks with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms, and in the third period he took a hard hit from New Jersey's Eric Boulton. However, it appears he's healthy enough to be in the lineup today.
 
Also expected to play is forward Arron Asham, who sat out Saturday with what Dan Bylsma called an illness.
 
Bylsma also said Marc-Andre Fleury will start in net against the Flyers.
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 11:43 AM

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

Talbot, Lilja out for Flyers against Penguins

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers will be shorthanded when they play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins today (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
 
Forward Maxime Talbot and defenseman Andreas Lilja both will be out of the lineup because of injuries sustained during a game Saturday against the Boston Bruins.
 
Talbot is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, believed to have occurred during his second-period fight with the Bruins' Johnny Boychuk. Jody Shelley, the only extra forward on the roster, will play for the first time in four games.
 
Lilja sustained a throat injury when he was hit in the neck by a puck during the first period.
 
To replace Lilja in the lineup, the Flyers recalled defenseman Brandon Manning from Adirondack of the American Hockey League. In three games earlier this month, the 21-year-old had no points, a plus-two rating and four shots on goal.
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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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