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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 9:41 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to / - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 15th

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

Wins to
earn 8th
8th 70 78 12 90 7

9th 71 75 11 85 9
10th 70 74 12 85 9
11th 69 71 13 83 11
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 72 80 10 91 7

9th 69 78 13 91 8
10th 70 78 12 89 8
11th 70 78 12 89 8

The skinny: On the marquis Thursday night in New York City, the Pittsburgh Penguins invade Gotham with Sidney Crosby in tow and their sights set on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have a game in hand on the Rangers and play them one more time this season.

A win tonight against New York and Pittsburgh can continue their quest for first. A loss and it almost certainly becomes a scramble for home ice with the Flyers and Devils.

Colorado, after a last-second goal Wednesday to force overtime in a shootout win at Buffalo, faces the New Jersey Devils in Newark. The Avalanche are in a playoff spot entering play Thursday, but have played more games than their counterparts in the Western Conference. After this game, Colorado will have nine remaining and while they play Calgary two more times and Phoenix once, a win gives them a little breathing room -- but not enough to feel safe.

Speaking of the Flames and Coyotes, they match up in Calgary for a pivotal game. Phoenix won Wednesday in Vancouver, and the Coyotes are chasing the Dallas Stars for first in the Pacific while trying to hold down a playoff position.

It is incredible to think the Coyotes are chasing first (and a top-three seed, while still trying to hold on to a playoff spot. That is the definition of tight right there.

The Flames continue to roll with four straight victories. Their downfall last season was not winning against teams competing for one of the final spots (like the Coyotes) down the stretch. They want to build on the momentum of their win Tuesday against the Sharks and climb back into a playoff spot.

Down in the Sunshine State, there has been plenty to shine about in South Florida this season for the Panthers. The Boston Bruins make a visit there Thursday, and they are only four points ahead of the Panthers. Florida can think about second in the conference with a win.

George McPhee, general manager of the Washington Capitals said he can't watch his team on TV because it is too hard for him. Does he watch other teams, and how do those games feel? If he doesn't watch, he'll be logging on to to follow all the action and get updates on the games in progress. You should too.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 8:00 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Alex Galchenyuk's season debut impresses scout

One of the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, returned to the lineup for the first time in 66 games on Wednesday to the delight of the hometown faithful at RBC Centre in Sarnia.

Galchenyuk, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Sept. 16 preseason game and underwent surgery in October, said he felt no pain following the game. The only pain felt was the postgame sting that accompanied a 7-1 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.

Ho totaled approximately 10 minutes of ice time and played on a line with Brett Thompson and Charles Sarault.

Despite the long absence, there's a strong possibility Galchenyuk still could be drafted among the top 10 players in the first round of this year's draft. He's ranked as a "limited viewing" player on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, but was No. 2 among OHL skaters in Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.

Playing alongside top North American draft prospect, Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Galchenyuk produced 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games last season. It was enough to make believers out of any scout who had the opportunity to watch him play. Yakupov is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.

On Wednesday, caught up with Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who provided immediate reaction to Galchenyuk's anticipated debut this season.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 11:54 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

PHX @ VAN - 18:41 of the Second Period

At 18:41 of the second period in the Coyotes/Canucks game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Gilbert Brule's body and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Phoenix.

According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body , in any manner, the goal shall be allowed."

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 11:50 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

CBJ @ EDM - 18:56 of the Second Period

At 18:56 of the second period in the Blue Jackets/Oilers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Columbus' net became dislodged  before the puck crossed the goal line. No goal Edmonton.

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 11:12 PM

By Alex Galchenyuk -  Special to / - Alex Galchenyuk draft blog

Galchenyuk: Good to be back, but best is yet to come

Alex Galchenyuk is a forward for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. The 6-foot, 198-pound forward was born in Milwaukee but is of Russian decent -- his father, Alexander, spent five of his 22 professional seasons playing in the U.S. Alex was the first pick of the 2010 OHL draft, and last season had 31 goals and 52 assists in 68 games. He had 2 goals and an assist in five games for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and returned to take part in the 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August. Despite suffering a major knee injury that nearly ended his season before it really began, Galchenyuk has maintained a monthly blog for that will chronicle his season leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Today was a pretty good day. It's been five long months, but I was finally able to play in a game tonight.

Usually I don't sleep the day before a game, but yesterday I slept good. We went to the rink this morning, did some skating, rode the bike. That's when I got really excited. Then I went home, had a pre-game nap, and then my buddy picked me up and we went to the game.

I got to the arena a little earlier than usual. Getting dressed I was obviously nervous -- and excited. I didn't know what to think. It's my first game, so my focus wasn't to go out and score three goals. I just wanted to get into the game, and try not to get embarrassed.

I got to start the game, along with my linemates, Brett Thompson and Charles Sarault. It was strange being on the ice for the anthems. Last year I played all 68 games and didn't even miss a single practice. Most of this season, I was in the press box listening to the anthem. Now I'm standing in skates on the ice. It was a pretty cool experience. Just thinking about trying to get here, waiting for this moment -- it was pretty special.

I got a real nice reaction from the fans when my name was announced for the starting lineup. It was pretty loud and I really appreciated that.

I didn't play as much as I usually would, but tonight was about getting back into game shape, getting my timing back. I talked to the coach before the game and he said how much I played would depend on how I felt. One moment I would feel tired and then the next moment I'd feel fine. Late in the game I got tired and didn't play the last six minutes.

I got hit pretty hard today once and I felt OK. I was pretty happy I got hit. It got me back to some physical play. Because of the schedule I haven't had a lot of practice time and obviously no one on my team is out to hit me hard, so getting that hit early was good.

We lost 7-1 tonight, so it was tough mentally and physically. I know I can play a little bit better. I didn't expect much, I haven't played in five months. But I think I'll be better for the next game.

I'm sore, but you're usually sore after practice or a game. My knee is OK, so that's good.

It was good to get the first game back out of the way. We play London on Friday and that game will be on national television. The focus will be different. For this game, I was just getting used to playing again because I haven't played in five months. On Friday, the focus will be to play like I want to play, be skillful. It's like getting your first goal out of the way. I got it and I don't have to worry about it anymore. I'm excited for London.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 8:24 PM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

No sign of Lidstrom return in near future

Don't look for captain Nicklas Lidstrom in the Detroit Red Wings' lineup any time soon.

Lidstrom will sit out his eighth straight game when the Wings visit Anaheim on Wednesday due to an injured right ankle. He cut short a brief morning skate at Honda Center, and there's no indication as to when he might be ready to return.

"It is discouraging and it's disappointing too that you're feeling better and it's getting up to over two weeks now," Lidstrom, who was injured in a game against Colorado on Feb. 25, told the Red Wings' website. "So it's frustrating when you want to be out there playing and you can't."

Wednesday's game will be just the 43rd of his career – regular-season and playoffs – that the legendary defenseman will miss in his 20 NHL seasons. Lidstrom admitted that he and team trainers have discussed shutting him down for a week to rest the still-swollen ankle.

"We've talked about it and I'm sure (the trainers) will talk more to the coaching staff and we'll see what the next step will be," he said. "But it's still day-to-day. It was more sore today -- that's the update, so I don't think it's good when you're sore. They want me to be more cautious with it."

Lidstrom had two separate X-rays taken of the ankle shortly after he was struck by a shot -- but in both cases, the results were negative and did not show any structural damage.

Asked if the unexpected recovery time has given way to thoughts of retirement after this season, Lidstrom told the Wings' site that: "It hasn't really come into my thought process at all. It's just one of those freak accidents that I've never really experienced in the past, so I think that's the frustrating part."
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 8:06 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

COL @ BUF -1:39 of the First Period

At 1:39 of the first period in the Avalanche/Sabres game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off the skate of Marcus Foligno and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Buffalo.

Rule 49.2  A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal.

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 8:02 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Letang might return for Penguins vs. Rangers

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's comeback might not be the only one worth watching for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Defenseman Kris Letang, the puck-moving defenseman who is a key to the Penguins' power play, practiced for a second consecutive day Wednesday – a sign that he could join Crosby in the lineup against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
Just like Crosby, this is Letang's second layoff this season with concussion-related issues. But while Letang was out for six weeks after getting hurt in Montreal on Nov. 26, he has been out five games this time.
"He's heading towards being in," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He had a good day (Tuesday) with the team, he had another good day today and we're expecting him to come to the rink (Thursday) having a good day and being ready to play."
Getting Letang back would put the Penguins at close to full strength, something that hasn't happened nearly all season on a team that has had 14 players miss at least seven games with injuries.
"I had a good practice. I stepped on (the ice) earlier and everything went well, so we will go from there," Letang said following an optional practice attended by 11 players. "We will see how I feel after the morning skate (Thursday)."
The Penguins weren't certain how long Letang would be out after a hit by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29 forced him from the lineup. It was a worrisome sign after he developed the symptoms; Crosby has been out more than three months with concussion symptoms.
Letang reports he is now symptom-free, just as Crosby is.
"Obviously I had a few symptoms after the hit. (But) compared to the first one, it's not like I waited after three days and I had bad symptoms and I was sick," Letang said. "So we were just being really careful. We were waiting for those symptoms to go away."
Letang's ability to move the puck, find the open man and keep the Penguins' power play rotation going is one of the reasons why the unit ranks sixth in the League, compared to 25th last season. However, the power play failed to convert on its first 14 opportunities without Letang and is 1 for 18 since he left the lineup.
That unit is expected to have a different look as soon as Letang returns, with Crosby and Letang on the points. In the past, Crosby has operated along the half-wall, where Evgeni Malkin has been playing this season.
Bylsma also experimented with five forwards on the power play in practice Tuesday, with Crosby and Steve Sullivan on the points and Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz down low.
Bylsma said Crosby's expert passing adds a previously unseen element to the Penguins' special teams – especially if Letang is at the other point.
"I've talked to our power play and Sid that when we go with five forwards, we're not going to go out there with the idea that one mistake is going to hurt us," Bylsma said. "We don't want to give up a chance against, we don't want to give up a puck, but we also think that those five forwards can be very effective on the power play and that's the mindset they should be going over the boards with."
Letang doesn't feel the urgency to rush back to a team riding a nine-game winning streak. But with three key games against the Rangers, Devils and Flyers this weekend, he sees no reason not to play if he is symptom-free.
When Letang returned Jan. 19 after being out since Nov. 26, it also was against the Rangers; he had an assist. He had a goal and two assists in his first two games back.
"Geno (Malkin) went down and we were playing well. Sid went down and we were playing well," Letang said. "I went down and guys were still playing really well. The guys are doing an unbelievable job right now so there's no need to rush it."
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 6:46 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Vrbata a late scratch for Coyotes

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has talked recently of experimenting with his lineup heading into the playoffs, tinkering with new options opened up by trade deadline acquisitions of Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.

That said, the roster shakeup for Wednesday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes -- which includes a new winger for struggling top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin -- is all about shaking a 2-3-2 slump over the last seven games.

"It's got nothing to do with experimenting, it's got everything to do with getting our top players to play up to their level," Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "Until they do we're going to keep trying everything we can."

That includes moving struggling speedster Mason Raymond (0 points in six games) up to the top line to try and spark Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have combined for just one assist the last eight games combined. Henrik, whose eight-game pointless streak is his longest since a November-December funk in 2003 and one game shy of his career worst from 2001, hopes the two days off after Saturday's 4-1 loss to lowly Montreal will rejuvenate a team that has looked tired – both mentally and physically – over the last few weeks.

"We're confident we're going to get out of this," Henrik, the Canucks’ captain, said. "It's just a matter of regrouping and getting ready for the stretch drive."

They've got 13 games left to figure it out, and that includes the defensive pairings, which were also shaken up after giving up way too many odd-man rushes, point-blank chances, and goals during the slide. Kevin Bieksa will play with a struggling Alexander Edler, while Bieksa's long-time partner, Dan Hamhuis, moves onto an apparent shutdown unit with steady youngster Chris Tanev, leaving veteran Sami Salo to play with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani against the Coyotes.

"When we analyze the scoring chances for and against and we see our top four defensemen in the minus category, it tells me we have to try something," said Vigneault of a theory that also applies up front. "It's pretty simple. We need our top players to play like top players. We're no different than any of the other 29 teams in the League. We've got a good team when our top players play the way they're supposed to play and, right now, for whatever reason, we've got a couple of guys who are off their game. They need to find it for us to get back on track."

Here are the expected lines -- at least to start -- as the Canucks try to do just that:

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinMason Raymond
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Alexandre BurrowsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreZack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Alexander EdlerKevin Bieksa
Marc-Andre GragnaniSami Salo

Dale Weise, who hasn't played since Feb. 26, could get back into the lineup, almost certainly on the fourth line, but it wasn’t clear who might come out.
Roberto Luongo stays in goal despite some recent struggles, with Cory Schneider backing up.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes will be without 30-goal scorer Radim Vrabata. who was a late scratch due to illness. There's no word if he'll be ready to play Thursday night, when the Coyotes visit Calgary. The Coyotes say he's day-to-day

The good news for the Coyotes is that some of their injured players are returning or will be back soon.

Steady defenseman David Schlemko, who has missed 28 games following early January foot surgery, is expected to return in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Veteran defender Derek Morris, who recently rejoined the team after missing 14 games to attend to a family illness, isn't far behind, and key forwards Kyle Chipchura (wrist) and Martin Hanzal (upper body) are both with the team on the trip through Wsetern Canada and could return soon.

"When you're in a playoff stretch drive, you need as many bodies as you can, and that depth will be a real asset for our group," said coach Dave Tippett.

Tippett hopes it helps the Coyotes get back to the February form that saw them go 11-0-1, and end a 1-4-2 March funk that included an uncharacteristically wide-open 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Monday. That loss dropped them four points behind Dallas atop the Pacific Division, and just one point ahead of a four-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Tippett isn't telling his players to avoid NHL scoreboards.

"We always keep our eyes on the standings, it's a pretty tight race," he said. "You do lots of scoreboard watching … it re-enforces the fact we have to take care of ourselves."

Schlemko will likely take the spot of rookie Michael Stone, who was good as an emergency fill in, but minus-2 against the Predators in the last game.

"Poise," Tippett said of what Schlemko adds, "A steady, veteran presence."

Here are the rest of the expected lines as Phoenix tries to win the season series (it's 1-1-1 right now) despite only scoring two goals in the first three meetings:

Ray Whitney - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Lauri Lorpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Mikkel Boedker - Marc-Antoine Pouliot - Paul Bissonnette
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav KleslaDavid Schlemko

Mike Smith will start despite needing a while to shake off a shot off the mask during the morning skate, with Jason LaBarbera, who got the surprise start against his old team the last time the Coyotes visited, backing up.

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 6:09 PM

By Jeremy Roenick -  NHL Network Contributor / - World According to JR

Roenick: Pens clicking without Sid, B's need to rally

NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.

What's clicking?

It's that time of the season, and the frontrunners are gearing up and the pretenders are fading away. There are few teams establishing themselves as teams to contend with like the Pittsburgh Penguins are nowadays.

I think Pittsburgh is the team to beat in the Eastern Conference without Sidney Crosby, so you can imagine how I feel about them with Crosby and potentially Kris Letang returning to the lineup Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). Imagine how difficult that team is going to be to beat.

I truly believe that top to bottom, Pittsburgh's core group of players is as solid as there is in the NHL.

Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 38 | ASST: 46 | PTS: 84
SOG: 277 | +/-: 12
Evgeni Malkin is the odds-on favorite to win the Hart Trophy. He's carried the team all season and has been a model of consistency. Marc-Andre Fleury has continued a very high level of play, again. Chris Kunitz has played well. James Neal is having a career season. Jordan Staal is one of the most attentive and responsible players in the National Hockey League.

You just continue to go down their lineup and they are just solid, solid players. They play strong and hard every night. And if everybody is healthy in that lineup come the playoffs, I don't know if there is a team that can beat them four out of seven games, especially when you have a world-class coach like Dan Bylsma.

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Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday