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Eastern Time Blog - Day 1

Thursday, 04.16.2009 / 4:37 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By NHL.com Staff

Just a bit more from the Caps
04/16/09 3:10 P.M. ET

A couple of interesting comments today out of the mouth of Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, and this has nothing to do with his take on the goalie controversy he has now encountered/created.

Regarding Alex Ovechkin's impact for ice hockey in Washington, the coach had this to say:

"Look at the crowds. We're sold out every night. People are looking to know him everywhere he goes on the streets. I think the Frozen Four's success here had a lot to do with the way Alex Ovechkin has brought hockey into the limelight in D.C."

What about Viktor Kozlov finally scoring a playoff goal in his 22nd career game?

"I think it was probably important for Viktor and we need Viktor to play well to succeed. I was really happy for him, and you could see it on his face that he was happy. He'd much rather have not scored and us won, but maybe it bodes well…you've seen it happens so many times when a guy gets nothing and all of a sudden he's on fire. He could be the R.J. Umberger of this series, you know."

Hey, coach, isn't it amazing that the sun actually came out today and all is OK?

"Yeah, I was really surprised that the sun did come up and the world is still fine. We know they're going to play better on Saturday. We know they're a real good team, but we also know how we're capable of playing. It's a loss in the loss column, but still there's (nine) minutes to go and it's a tied game. I mean, it's not like it was a 5-1 game and geez we were outclassed and we were not ready. I think we were ready and we did a lot of real good things and we want to build on those things."

-- Dan Rosen

Pothier feels for Schultz
04/16/09 3 P.M. ET

I asked Caps' reserve defenseman Brian Pothier today if he immediately thought he would be playing in Game 2 after seeing Jeff Schultz get beaten by Brandon Dubinsky and then fall down as the Rangers' young forward scored the winning goal?

Clearly Pothier wasn't about to throw Schultz under the bus, which I actually specifically asked him not to do, but he understands what Schultz went through.

"That happens to every player in the National Hockey League," Pothier said. "At one point they make a mistake, it just so happens that it was a tough time for Schultzie. It happens. It's happened to me more times than I would like to admit. It happens to everyone in this League."

I pressed further to ask Pothier what he saw and what he thinks Schultz could have done differently?

"He tried to be aggressive and he made an attempt to play him at the blue line and Dubinksy made a nice play and took advantage of the opportunity," Pothier said.

Pothier has not been told if he is going to play Saturday, but he is hoping to get in at some point during this series. Schultz was not one of the 11 skaters who participated in today's optional practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va.

-- Dan Rosen

How about these two
04/16/09 2:55 P.M. ET

First off, Chris Drury remains day-to-day, though he did skate today in the Rangers optional. When my story gets posted I will link to it here.

There is all of a sudden a lot of talk around the Rangers about the play of the defense pair of veterans Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, two players who have been ridiculed by the Garden crowd all season.

Well, Redden and Rozsival played a very steady, smart game Wednesday at Verizon Center and earned extra ice time over the younger pair of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Rozsival 28:15 and Redden played 27:35.

"They were playing well so we played them," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "One of the key things with their game is they were willing to take a hit to make a play. They protected the puck well. We were probably successful with them getting out of our end zone when we could. Overall their game was really good, and that's why they ended up with the minutes."

As for Staal and Girardi, who early in the game were matched against Alex Ovechkin's line, Tortorella thought the two youngsters "fought it for a little bit there," but Tortorella does think he'll start Game 2 with the two of them as a pair again.

"It's to be expected when you open a series," he continued. "Redds and Rosy, I thought they really stabilized us when they were coming at us pretty hard."

It didn't help that Girardi opened the game by taking a holding penalty just 18 seconds in. He was also called for tripping 53 seconds into the third period, leading to Alexander Semin's game-tying power-play goal.

"We're going to move by it," Tortorella said. "They responded well when they've struggled. It could've (bothered Girardi), but I just think the overall speed of the game affected them a little bit. I think they'll bounce back. Redds and Rosy get 26 or 27 minutes, but that may be different Saturday afternoon depending on how it goes. I still have a lot of confidence in Marc and Danny.

"Girardi and Marc Staal are the foundation of our back end as we move forward. This is an experience. This is how you gain experience in these types of situations."

-- Dan Rosen

Welcome to the Big Top
04.16.2009  2:01 P.M. ET

Well, it appears the circus is in two places in Boston at once.

I know the Big Apple circus is in Government Square because my family went to a Thursday morning show while I headed to the morning skates. Two stops down the Green Line, Georges Laraque brought the circus to the TD Banknorth Garden with his inflammatory remarks, which began Wednesday and continued Thursday morning.

It certainly has set the stage for what should be an interesting Game 1 later Thursday night.

These teams played a highly charged, physical regular-season game last Thursday to set the tone for the playoff series. Montreal took advantage of Boston's lack of discipline to score four power-play goals before losing 5-4 in OT. But in that loss, it appears the Canadiens saw a blueprint in how to beat the top-seeded Bruins, who have more skill and depth. 

It appears they want to turn this series into a physical battle of wills, a role that has traditionally been filled by the Big Bad Bruins of yesteryear. By playing physical, the Canadiens believe they can get Boston to take foolish penalties. If that happens, Montreal believes it can win the ensuing special-teams' battle.

"I think it will be (a physical series)," said Montreal coach Bob Gainey. "There's too much invested by both teams and there are players on both teams that enjoy that type of play."

But his counterpart, Claude Julien, countered by saying you won't see the undisciplined Bruins of last week in this series.

"We crossed a line, we realized it and we paid for it," he said. We let them back in the game and that's certainly not something we are planning on doing." 

Julien also said he watched many of Wednesday night's Game 1s and insisted that the teams that stayed in control of their games were the ones that found success, a message that will likely be passed onto his team before the puck drops Thursday night.

"There were obviously some good Games on TV last night," he said. "I wanted to cover as much as I could -- that's why they give you remote controls, right? Having said that, I think the teams that had the best success were teams that were in control of their game.

"You've got to be ready for intense games, but you still have to be in control of your emotions and in control of your game. The teams that won last night, I thought, did that very well.

That's all for now. I'm going to hop on the T back to the hotel for a bit, but I'll be back here at 5 p.m. to start the coverage of Thursday night's Game 1. If you want to kill some time between now and then, make sure you check out the Cisco All-Access Pregame Show unspooling here at NHL.com at 4:30 p.m. Or, check out Boston legend Ray Bourque as he drops in on Commissioner Gary Bettman on the NHL Hour, which streams from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. right here on NHL.com.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

All quiet on the Pittsburgh front
04.16.2009  1 P.M. ET.

Not much news to report from the Penguins' skate. I guess that's what happens when you feel as comfortable as they should following their Game 1 win.

Craig Adams had his son Rhys in the dressing room. The 20-month-old was swinging an inflatable hockey stick and then chasing a puck around the players' lounge with dad and Jordan Staal. Bill Guerin also stopped by to chat with the little guy.

Rob Scuderi lost the daily end-of-practice shootout game when Brooks Orpik scored and Scuderi missed his last shot. It's a neat thing they do, and coach Dan Bylsma and assistant Tom Fitzgerald take part.

Flyers are about to take the ice. I'll have more after they skate.

-- Adam Kimelman

'Canes back on ice
04.16.2009 12:10 P.M. ET

The New Jersey Devils played so well Wednesday night in their Game 1 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes that coach Brent Sutter allowed them to sleep in Thursday morning. The Devils won't practice at their home arena, Newark's Prudential Center, until 3:30 p.m.

On the other hand, a humorless group of Hurricanes are set to go on the ice at noon. The mood around their dressing room is quiet and determined. The Hurricanes know they only need one win in Newark to turn the series in their favor and they're going to prepare today to do that Friday night in Game 2 here.

A team official was told that a list of teams that lost Game 1 and went on to win the series could take an hour or more to recount.

"How about us in the first round in 2006?" he responded. "We got bombed, 6-1, by Montreal in our building in Game 1 and then lost 6-5 in double overtime on Michael Ryder's goal in Game 2. So, went to Montreal, down 2-0, and won four-straight one-goal games, including two in overtime, one in their building and one in ours. We went on to win the Stanley Cup, so we know it can be done."

Expect the Hurricanes to have a highly educational, highly focused, upbeat practice this afternoon. Coach Paul Maurice hinted at that in his press conference after Game 1.

On the other hand, the Devils may have their second-straight optional practice. They didn't do much Wednesday morning and they may not want to mess with a good thing. This could be a day to come in, watch some video, get individual guidance, see the trainers or doctor, ride the exercise bike, lift a little weight, and call it a day.

But you never know.

We'll be back later with more.


-
- John McGourty

Live from Arlington, Va.
04/16/09 10:35 A.M. ET

I'm sitting in the little media alcove at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex right now. The Caps aren't scheduled for practice for another 30 minutes, but already there are five guys on the ice and more are streaming out of the room.

Think these guys are eager to put last night's loss behind them.

The obvious prevailing storyline today is what's the word on Jose Theodore? Will he play again on Saturday or will Bruce Boudreau turn to rookie Simeon Varlamov.

I'm of the opinion that Boudreau has to go back to Theodore. They signed this guy to be their No. 1 goalie and you have to let him be just that, especially at this time of the year. Just because he had one off night - and, yes, he was off - doesn't mean he can't find his game on Saturday and help the Caps get this series evened up before heading north to New York.

It wouldn't shock me, though, if Boudreau doesn't make any announcement on who his starting goalie is going to be today. He may want to let Theodore stew a little bit before announcing that he's going back to the 32-year-old veteran for Game 2.

Of course, there is the chance that Boudreau doesn't know yet who he will play. We'll find out soon enough, but I liken Theodore to the Caps' penalty kill. They allowed the Rangers anemic power play to score twice, so does that mean they're going to completely change who kills penalties for them.

Doubt it.

So, why change the guy in net right now?

Just my two cents. More to come later from here and, thanks to my buddy, Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record, I'll be updated on what's happening with the Rangers over at Verizon Center later on this afternoon. When word comes from Andrew, specifically on the status of Chris Drury, I'll post it here.

The Caps practice at 11 and the Rangers are at 12, and since it's about a 30-minute ride on the Metro from here to there, it's near impossible for me to make it to both skates.

If for some reason I find I'm able to, I certainly will try.

-- Dan Rosen

Beantown is ready!
04.16.2009 10:31 A.M. ET

Outside TD Banknorth Garden, there are a series of signs with key Bruin players spouting playoff slogans.

Patrice Bergeron's panel says: I want to make Boston a hockey town again."

Consider the transformation a successful work in progress.

There was a palpable excitement today as I took the Green Line in from Boyleston Street for the morning skates, which start in 10 minutes or so.

The Bruins are all over the paper, fighting for space with the Red Sox struggles on the West Coast and the start of the Celtics playoff run. They are being talked about on the radio, even non-sports stations. And, most importantly, they are being debated in every Dunkin' Donuts in this city.

Hockey is back on the radar this season in Boston. And, it brings me back to my childhood when the Bruins were the kings of the New England winter. They aren't back to that lofty position quite yet, but they are making it happen -- slowly but surely.

I did my part to get in the mood by listening to some Dropkick Murphys on the way in this a.m., with Caps and Bottles getting me suitably fired up for the morning festivities. We'll be back with all the news from both skates in a bit.

--Shawn P. Roarke

In-between days
04.16.2009 10 A.M.  ET

Just had a chance to go over my notes from last night's game, and I wanted to make two updates.

* Kimmo Timonen suffered a charley horse in his left leg on the first shift of the game when Chris Kunitz rammed into him. He managed to play 21:32, but when asked if the injury hindered him the rest of the game, he replied, "A lot."

Timonen, the Flyers' best defenseman and most indispensible player, said he should be fine for Friday's Game 2. He didn't think it was a dirty play on Kunitz's part.

"I tried to move away and his knee came straight to my leg," said Timonen. "He was trying to hit me every time. I knew he was coming. It happens."

* Speaking of Kunitz, his wife Maureen gave birth to a baby boy, the couple's first child. Zachary James Kunitz was born early Wednesday; Kunitz skipped Wednesday's morning practice to be with the family.

The Penguins will be on the ice at 11 a.m. today; the Flyers will follow at 1 p.m. I'll have all the coverage right here at NHL.com.

-- Adam Kimelman

Fair or not, it's time to question Caps' goaltending
04/16/09 12:30 A.M. ET

So now the questions start about the Capitals' goaltending, which wasn't good tonight. Jose Theodore needed to be better for the Caps to win and he was pretty shaky, allowing four goals on 21 shots, including three on 11 in the second period.

Worse yet, none of the goals he allowed came off a deflection, a rebound or through a screen.

Will Bruce Boudreau turn to rookie Simeon Varlamov for Game 2.

"Anything is possible," the coach said.

Boudreau is more concerned about overcoaching now. He knows that outside of Theodore, his team played well enough to win Wednesday night. The Capitals converted twice on the power play and managed to get 35 shots on Henrik Lundqvist.

The difference, though, was the goaltending and that's what everybody was saying before this series began.

Theodore was going to have to be good if the Caps were going to move on because it was fairly easy to assume that Lundqvist was going to be on his game.

Theodore bravely took most of the blame for the loss tonight, though Boudreau wasn't absolving Jeff Schultz of anything. Schultz got beat badly by Brandon Dubinsky on the play that led to the game-winning goal 11:43 into the third period.

Still, it's the goaltending that will keep Boudreau up through the night. He said that he didn't want to pull Theodore after the second period because it would look like he was panicking, and that's a bad sign. There was no need to pull him after Dubinsky scored because so little time remained and the game was still close.

Pulling him at all tonight would have shattered Theodore's confidence, but both the goalie and the coach better be ready to answer some questions about the shaky play in net about 11 hours from now.

"There's times when you sit there and you say that i didn't make the save that was needed," Boudreau said. "But, I'm sure he's going to bounce back. He's a professional and he's played the game long enough. I'm sure he feels bad enough.

-- Dan Rosen

Rangers thoughts after win
04/16/09 12:15 A.M. ET

It's already past midnight, so I won't offer too much more insight than what will already be up on the site soon.

Here is what some of the Rangers had to say, quotes that did not make it into any of my copy off of tonight's game, a 4-3 victory in which the Rangers stole home-ice advantage away from the Capitals:

MARKUS NASLUND

On weathering the Capitals' surges: "Yeah, weather it and we have to do a better job of staying out of the box, myself especially. We can't let them have the seven power plays. That's going to be a big part of it. We know they have talented players and the less time you give them with thepuck the better."

DEREK MORRIS

On forcing the Caps' to shoot from the outside: "They're a dynamic team. You give them all the credit in the world. They played great, but our goalie played unbelievable tonight. Yeah, we have to leave them to the outside."

JOHN TORTORELLA

On horrid start, getting outshot 14-4 in the first period: "We were nervous in the first period, as expected. I thought the building was tremendous. It's great to see the people in the building here in Washington. You're first playoff game in an away building, I thought we were a nervous club, but I thought we rebounded well in the second period. We got our legs underneath us and played a simple game and grew from there."

On special teams (Rangers scored two power-play goals but gave up two and committed seven minor penalties): Our power play has fought us the past couple of months. Our PK is going to have to be good. I'm not sure how penalties we took, but it was too many. It's too dangerous with that group they put out there. I thought the penalty killers did everything they possibly could, especially at the end those last two at the end to keep the puck out of the net. Our PP is going to have to score a big goal at a certain time to stay in there. So special teams, especially at the end, killing was very good tonight."

RYAN CALLAHAN

On weathering the Caps' early push: "It was one of the things we talked about before the game. We knew they were going to have their spurts. It's how we control ourselves and maintain ourselves during them and I think we did a pretty good job of that. (Lundqvist) came up with some real key saves during that time. It was definitely a boost for us to weather it and continue on."

On the first period: "It wasn't our best period, but at the same time we didn't let them have anything. That was a big plus for us. Always the first game of a series it tough. You come in with a lot of emotions and it's a tough period to play. We're happy that we were able to come away 0-0."

-- Dan Rosen


Home, sweet home

04.15.2009 11:51 PM

Finally, fans of the New Jersey Devils got to see their team win a playoff game at the Prudential Center.

More importantly, they got to experience it without any enemies in the building.

The Devils, who failed to win at home ice at The Rock last season in their five-game loss to the New York Rangers, picked up their first-ever victory in their new digs with Wednesday's 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. And unlike any time when the Rangers are here, Devils fans didn't have to share their building with Rangers die-hards this time.

"It was certainly a home-type atmosphere," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "It was quite a difference, obviously from last year. It felt like you were playing in your own building, and it should. It was a good thing."

They had reason to cheer relatively early, as stay-at-home defenseman Mike Mottau gave the club a 1-0 lead at 16:03 of the opening period. Mottau, a former draft pick of the Rangers, admitted it was nice for the Devils to have the building to themselves this time around.

"It was great … all the fans with the towels," Mottau said. "It gave us energy and we built off that."

Other notes from Wednesday night:

-- Zach Parise -- who brought Devils fans out of their seats more than anybody this season -- gave them a reason to cheer again when he put New Jersey in front 2-0 just 59 seconds into the second. Parise, who had 45 goals during the regular season, was asked if his tally took the wind out of the Hurricanes' sails.

"Maybe," he said. "We did a good job of controlling the play and finally got that second one. We didn't sit back after that, either. We kept going at them, and that was a big difference for us."

-- Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner has played on some pretty good teams since arriving in the Garden State in 2002, but few, if any, of those squads possessed the type of firepower that the 2008-09 version does. Langenbrunner, who gave the Devils a 4-1 lead just 29 seconds after Ray Whitney had cut the deficit to two, was asked if this is the best offensive club he's seen around these parts.

"I don't know," said Langenbrunner, who had a career-high 29 goals during the regular season. "It's so hard to tell. There's some gifted offensive players, but it's hard to tell. The game's changed since six years ago, too. It's definitely hard to tell."

-- Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward did his best to keep the club in the game, but Carolina was unable to generate much of an offensive attack against New Jersey. The Hurricanes mustered only 19 shots on goal and were awarded only two power plays.

"I think we're going to look back at that game and see him make a lot of brilliant saves that we wish he hadn't had to make," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.

"I thought Cam played well," said Sutter, who coached Ward during his junior career with Red Deer. "We had some very good quality scoring opportunities and he made some big saves for them. When they had the opportunities, Marty was big for us, too. Both teams have good goaltending and you expect goaltenders to make big saves. Cam certainly did."

While New Jersey is happy to have a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, Sutter assured the media that now is no time to celebrate. On Thursday, it's right back to work with preparations for Game 2 on Friday night.

"It's one game," Sutter said. "We're not jumping up and down, doing handstands. We're staying focused at the task at hand. The Hurricanes have a very, very good hockey team. We have to make sure that we don't drop our guard."

It sounds as if he doesn't even need to remind his players of that. They seem to already know.

"There's a veteran group in here. We know what's at stake come playoff time," Mottau said. "To build off the energy from the crowd right from the opening faceoff was really big. We've got to try to continue that in Game 2 on Friday. Tonight's over."

On the flip side, it will be up to the Hurricanes to put Wednesday's loss behind them, and quickly.

"I think it was pretty obvious that we weren't ready to play," said Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason, who played more than 21 minutes in Game 1. "They played better than we did. They came ready to play and we have to be focused for the next game. It's over with. We have to come with a positive attitude for Friday night. There's seven games in this series; there's not one."

-- Brian Compton

The playoffs have officially arrived
04.15.2009 9:01 PM ET

You know it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the goaltender is getting heckled.

Such was the case at the Prudential Center following a tally by Patrik Elias that gave the New Jersey Devils a 3-0 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Moments after the goal -- the first of the postseason for Elias and the 40th of his career -- the boisterous crowd started chants of "Caaaaam Warrrd, Caaaaam Warrrd," serenading the Hurricanes' goaltender. That was followed by brief chants of "Marty's Better!"

Truth be told, Martin Short could be playing goal for the Devils tonight. Other than a brief flurry late in the second period, Martin Brodeur hasn't been tested at all.

-- Brian Compton


Two periods down, one to go
04/15/09 9:00 P.M. ET

We've got 20 minutes left in Game 1 here in Pittsburgh, and it's looking awfully good for the home side. Pittsburgh has ratcheted up the pace and is skating right past the Flyers.

Sidney Crosby scored a power-play goal early in the first, Tyler Kennedy added a score 1:39 into the second, and that's where we stand.

The only positive for the Flyers has been the play of goalie Martin Biron, who's kept his team in the game.

The Flyers' offensive depth has been non-existent. In fact, the Penguins' line of Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Kennedy has nine shots through two periods, the same as the Flyers' big-six 25-goal scorers.

The third is under way; back with more later.

-- Adam Kimelman


Devils Break Through
04/15/09 8:16 P.M. ET

New Jersey spent most of the first period being flustered by Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, but after a number of scrums in front of the net and two fruitless power plays, defenseman Mike Mottau finally lit the lamp on a wrister through two screens, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead late in the opening frame.

The Hurricanes have had several strong chances, but New Jersey is controlling much of the pace, racking up 15 shots in the first 20 minutes to Carolina's 7, but Ward has been up to the challenge in every way, stoning the Devils on a number of close calls. If Ward continues his strong play and the Canes' offense can apply pressure at the same pace as the Devils, the future Hall of Famer at the other end of the ice will be in for some steep competition.

-- David Kalan


Sign of the night

04/15/09 7:15 P.M. ET

Just noticed a tremendous sign hanging from the upper deck façade at Mellon Arena:

THE FLYERS ARE LIKE THE TITANIC: THEY BOTH LOOK GOOD UNTIL THEY HIT THE ICE!

Bonus points to the sign-makers for having on the day of the 97th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking -- April 15, 1912.

-- Adam Kimelman


Flyers' Canadian contingent is key to Cup run
04/15/09 7:10 P.M. ET

The Flyers are a team Don Cherry would be proud of -- 15 Canadians see regular playing time on this spring's edition of the Broad Street Bullies, including Philadelphia's top five scorers. Combine this with the fact that Philadelphia was the League's most heavily penalized team in 2008-09, and it leads to a squad Grapes will be touting throughout the playoffs.

This amalgamation of skill and toughness is a Canadian hallmark and harkens back to the days of Howe, Shore and Lindsay -- only this season the names are Richards, Carter and Hartnell.  With 106 goals and 274 penalty minutes among the trio, they are the driving force behind the Flyers' attack and a nightmare for the Pittsburgh defense. They also make this team incredibly fun to watch -- the hitting, scoring and toughness make for an entertaining and successful team.  Pit them against two of the most-skilled forwards in the league in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and this is a series and team this Don Cherry fan and fellow Canadian can get behind. I suggest you do, too.

-- Deven Persaud


Together Again
04/15/09 7:06 P.M. ET

New Jersey and Carolina are less than 30 minutes from yet another playoff meeting. While the Devils and 'Canes are not the first pair of teams to come to mind on the subject of rivalries, this is the fourth time in eight years the teams have met in the playoffs.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, each matchup has been one of consequence. New Jersey knocked out Carolina en route to the Final in 2001, while the Canes dispatched the Devils during their unexpected run to the Final a year later and their Stanley Cup-winning campaign in 2006.

The teams are particularly well versed in one another this spring after meeting three times in the last month, including the final game of the season, a 3-2 New Jersey victory. Unfortunately for the Devils, Carolina won the other three meetings and enters the postseason on a blistering pace. Losses in the season's final two games aside, the Canes reeled off nine straight wins beforehand, and suffered just one regulation loss in March.

The Devils, meanwhile, have cooled off significantly after a brief hot streak following goaltender Martin Brodeur's return from injury. New Jersey limped into the postseason with eight losses in their final 13 games, but despite the slow finish, the Devils are well equipped for a deep run. The three-time Cup champs set a franchise record for wins this season with 51, and with Zach Parise pacing the team with 45 goals and 49 assists, the offense is as good as New Jersey's ever seen it.

Of course, the Hurricanes' offense has been just as potent lately. Erik Cole's return at the trade deadline has rejuvenated the team and sent Eric Staal on a torrid goal-scoring pace in recent weeks, meaning Brodeur and the New Jersey defense are likely to have their hands full.

This series has been pegged as a potential upset, but the only thing that seems certain is with two teams that appear evenly matched, a long series could be in the cards. If that happens, things will certainly get interesting between these familiar foes. After all, familiarity breeds contempt, something these two teams know all too well.

-- David Kalan


Drury out
04/15/09 7:03 P.M. ET

Just got the roster sheet handed to me and, gad-zooks, CHRIS DRURY IS SCRATCHED.

This will require more work later, but I guess John Tortorella wasn't kidding when he first called the Rangers captain "day to day" on Monday and the same yesterday before calling him a game-time decision today.

Drury did take warm-ups, but apparently his undisclosed injury is worse than I or anyone else in the media thought. To be honest, I really thought the Rangers were playing head games here.

Guess not.

So, Drury is out and Aaron Voros is in. That shakes up the Rangers lines.

Now I expect to see Brandon Dubinsky with Ryan Callahan and Markus Naslund. The third line will be Freddy Sjostrom with Lauri Korpikoski and Nik Zherdev. The fourth line will be Voros with Blair Betts and Colton Orr. Sean Avery, Scott Gomez and Nik Antropov will skate on the first line as expected.

As for the Caps, as expected Donald Brashear and Brian Pothier are scratched, meaning Boyd Gordon and Tom Poti are in.

More later...

-- Dan Rosen


Canadian weather in New Jersey
04/15/09 6:55 P.M. ET

There's nothing like a frosty winter's day to make you want to play or watch a hockey game. While Boston is suffering through moderate seasonal weather, Newark has Canada's weather: a nice little sleet storm greeted the Hurricanes as they alighted from their bus at the Prudential Center this morning.

A hungry hockey player is a good hockey player. Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice was asked why Tim Conboy, a defenseman, has been effective playing left wing alongside two skilled coaches' sons, Matt Cullen and Patrick Eaves. Cullen's dad was a top high-school coach in Minnesota and Eaves' father, Mike, is the coach at the University of Wisconsin.

"He is far more afraid of not making the play than he is the hit he's going to have to take to make the play," Maurice said. "So he will go down the boards, take the hit and get the puck out. He'll get the puck in deep and sacrifice his body at the blue line.

"He wants to play so badly and wants to be here so badly that he's not concerned with what happens to him in order to make the play."

"Conboy has done a good job," Cullen said. "He skates hard and he gets in there and bangs. He makes smart plays with the puck, he doesn't just throw it in there. He's not afraid to get into the traffic areas and he frees up a lot of pucks with his physical play."  

Five things -- Players were asked what five things they must do to stop their opponent.

Patrik Elias says his Devils must stop Eric Staal and Anton Babchuk, shut down the Carolina power play, limit turnovers and not let Cam Ward get into a groove.

Brian Rolston said the Devils must have success on their own power play, kill all penalties, score early on Ward, shut down Carolina's offense 5-on-5 and shut down Eric Staal throughout the game.

Carolina center Matt Cullen said the Hurricanes have to play solid defense and minimize chances; skate hard; shoot the puck, get as many shots on net as possible; get traffic in front of the net; and play with a lot of energy while maintaining an emotional even keel.

--
John McGourty


Big crowd, little news

04/15/09 5:23 P.M. ET

There was a larger than normal crowd outside of the Caps' locker room just about 25 minutes ago waiting for coach Bruce Boudreau to come out. When the doors finally swung open and Boudreau appeared even he said, "Whoa."

Yup, it's playoff time.

The odd thing was so many people were waiting around for Boudreau and there were so few questions. His answers were short and they weren't all that informative.

Boudreau said Boyd Gordon is playing tonight, but Donald Brashear is taking warm-ups. I'd be shocked if Brashear plays tonight. The coach also was asked about defenseman Tom Poti.

Yup, he's taking warm-ups. Let's leave it at that.

I bet Poti does play and Brian Pothier is out. Will Pothier skate in warm-ups, too?

"Maybe," Boudreau said. "You're going to have to watch it."

Yeah, we will, but it won't matter once the puck drops.

As for the excitement he feels heading into Game 1, Boudreau said it's the same as last year, only different.

"It's a different opponent that poses the same problems," Boudreau said. "We know the intensity really ramps up at this time of the year and we hope we're ready to handle it. I mean, it's what we grow up to do. When we're playing in the playgrounds and the streets we're not saying, 'It's game 30 of the season, let's win it.' We're always talking about the playoffs and winning. It's an exciting part of the year."

Rangers coach John Tortorella did not address the media at the normal 5 o'clock slot because he talked at the game arena earlier today. League rules state that the coach has to talk to the media at least once before the game at the game arena, which is why Boudreau addressed the media and Tortorella didn't.

One thing I forgot to mention earlier today was Boudreau walked into the small media room alcove at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and asked if anybody knew if Chris Drury practiced on Tuesday.

I told him I was there and yes he did. With that, Boudreau nodded his head and walked out.

See, he was curious, but clearly he doesn't read this blog...or any other for that matter.

-- Dan Rosen


Lines for Rangers-Caps Game 1
04/15/09 3:25 P.M. ET

Here's what I think the lines will be for tonight's game at Verizon Center, and this is assuming Chris Drury plays for the Rangers and both Boyd Gordon and Tom Poti play for the Caps:

RANGERS

Forwards

Avery-Gomez-Antropov
Naslund-Drury-Callahan
Korpikoski-Dubinsky-Zherdev
Sjostrom-Betts-Orr

Defensemen

Staal-Girardi
Redden-Rozsival
Morris-Mara

Goalie

Lundqvist

CAPITALS

Forwards

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov
Laich-Fedorov-Semin
Fleischmann-Nylander-Fehr
Bradley-Steckel-Gordon

Defensemen

Morrisonn-Green
Poti-Erskine
Schultz-Jurcina

Goalie

Theodore

-- Dan Rosen

Thank God it's Wednesday
04/15/09 3:10 p.m. ET

John Tortorella doesn't know what he would have done if the Rangers had to wait until Thursday to open their quarterfinal-round series against Washington.

In fact, he doesn't even want to know. It kind of scares him.

"I think if you do too much practicing and too many meetings and too much thinking…that's why I'm glad we are playing on Wednesday," Tortorella said Tuesday before the Rangers departed for D.C. "You get right into it. We don't want to overthink it. We want to execute what we want to do and we'll see where we go."

How do you not overthink it when it's the playoffs and everything is magnified?

"By just keeping it simple," Tortorella responded. "How you don't overthink it is don't overcoach it, and that's why I'm glad we are playing Wednesday. Sometimes we try to find things to do with the players when you have too much time off. It's about playing. It's instinctive. It's a spontaneous game. It's a creative game."

"I know there is a lot of talk about this, that, the other thing, what are you going to do there?" he later added. "It's about executing our gameplan. If we do that I think we have a good chance of competing and trying to find our way."

-- Dan Rosen

What a glorious day!
04/15/09 2:35 p.m. ET

Clearly, I was not the only one impressed with the beautiful spring day that greeted me as I walked into Ristuccia Arena for Wednesday's practice.

"From the weather outside, walking outside and into the rink, it's just a great feeling" Bruins coach Claude Julien said as part of his response to a question about what he likes best about the playoffs. "I look forward to it every year and we hope we can make this (playoff season) last a long time."

One of the things that will help Julien extend Boston's playoff run is to figure out how to deploy his forwards to maximum effectiveness. Judging by Wednesday's practice, it appears that the major decision he faces is whether he puts Blake Wheeler on the first or fourth line.

Yes, Wheeler did have 21 goals and 45 points this season, but Julien may want to put the more defensive minded P.J. Axelsson on the first line to counter the more get-up-and-go nature of Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. If not, Wheeler will likely start on the top line.

Wednesday, though, the rookie wasn't giving anything away, especially not the tactical leanings of his coach.

"I don't know anything, you are asking the wrong guy," Wheeler said after Wednesday's practice.

Nobody may know anything about where Wheeler is playing until the team's take the ice for the opening faceoff in Thursday's Game 1 if Julien continues to play his cards so close to the vest.

That should do it for today. Montreal practiced at home before flying to Boston in the afternoon, so we'll catch up with them at tomorrow's morning skate. In fact, we'll be at the TD Banknorth Garden at 10 a.m. Thursday to bring you all the news and color commentary from both morning skates.

Until then, I'm going to enjoy a little of this amazing spring day, decipher some more of my notes, grab a quick dinner and settle in for some playoff hockey. Fortunately, my hotel -- in the heart of Chinatown -- has Versus in its channel lineup, so the hockey gods have done right by me so far. I may be back later tonight with some more observations from this series, but if not, I'll see you bright and early Thursday. Enjoy the games!

-- Shawn P. Roarke

The end is here
04.15.2009, 2:30 p.m. ET

I figured this would be a better place to relate my conversation with Derian Hatcher this morning.

First, a personal note -- I wrote during Hatcher's first season with the Flyers that his signing was a monumental mistake and the team needed to look into buying him out. He was slow, committed far too many penalties and wasn't cut out for the new, open-style of play coming out of the lockout.

My opinion changed, though, the night of Oct. 28, 2006, an 8-2 loss to the Penguins. Hatcher went minus-3 and committed a penalty that led to a fourth goal. For a player who's been an All-Star, a Norris Trophy finalist and the only American-born player to captain a team to a Stanley Cup, it was the ultimate embarrassment. But rather than hide in the training room or avoid the media, Hatcher stood at his locker, answered all questions, and never used his dying right knee as an excuse. It showed class and grace that all players should subscribe to, and it made me a Hatcher fan.

That brings us to the 2008-09 season. Hatcher knew it was a long shot he would play this season, but he went full-bore on rehabbing his knee every day. In December, though, he realized it just wasn't going to happen.

"I talked to (GM) Paul (Holmgren) all summer about my knee. I thought for a while I could probably come back. My knee was feeling well and I think we had plans to rehab it and see what happens. Sometime around Christmas time it really went for the worst on me. I think after that it was pretty much it."

Hatcher knows his playing days are over, but said he'll wait until July 1 to make it official. Knowing he'll never play a game again is tough, but the reality of his knee -- he told me he's a strong candidate for a full knee replacement in the not-too-distant future -- made it an easy decision.

"It's just a matter that my knee can't do it. I've lost a ton of muscle mass and it's constantly swollen. It's just a matter of I can't do it and I've come to terms with it.

"Between talking to the doctors and going out there and skating and trying to rehab, you know. Anytime I apply a lot of pressure on it, it just doesn't work right, so you know. Coming to the end is never easy, but it was kind of an easy decision from the way my knee felt."

Now he'll try coaching and see how that goes. When asked what his job duties entailed, he said basically just hang out with the guys, and watch games and point out things he sees to the coaches.

"I'm not in a high-pressure situation," he joked.

-- Adam Kimelman

Happy to be here
04.15.2009 / 2:15 PM ET

Things have worked out quite nicely for Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Cole over the past month and a half.

A March 4 trade with the Edmonton Oilers has allowed Cole to chase another Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes, with whom he won the championship with in 2006. Edmonton, meanwhile, failed to qualify for postseason play.

Funny how things work out sometimes.

"I'm happy about the situation that I'm in," said Cole, who was acquired from the Oilers in exchange for forward Patrick O'Sullivan and a 2009 second-round draft pick. "At the time, I was a little surprised for sure. But I think it was an easy turnover from leaving the guys in Edmonton to coming back to Carolina and walking in the room and seeing all the familiar faces and being a part of a group of guys I really enjoyed playing with. It's a great room in here."

It's been a topsy-turvy season for the Hurricanes. It started with the firing of coach Peter Laviolette and the return of Paul Maurice, who coached the Hartford Whalers in 1996, then moved with the team in Carolina and remained behind its bench until midway through the 2003-04 season. The Hurricanes' offense kicked it up several notches upon Cole's arrival and finished the season with 239 goals -- 13 more than they allowed.

"I just think it added depth to our offense," Carolina center Eric Staal said of the trade. "We've got four lines that can go now. Erik obviously brings a lot of speed and power to our game. He's just another element to our mix and he's fit in real nice for us."

While the offense improved, coach Paul Maurice believes the Hurricanes' ability to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference was more about the team's dedication to the defensive side of things. Following the acquisition, though, Carolina won its first two games by scores of 6-1 and 9-3. They also blew the New York Islanders out of the RBC Center in a 9-0 victory on April 7.

"Probably not as much as people would think," Maurice said of how different the Hurricanes looked after the deal. "Clearly, our structure changed a little bit. You add a top-nine guy, it makes your top nine better because it balances things out. People will look at the games where we scored nine goals and say, 'Yeah, that is a better offense.' But the games that got us into the playoffs were one-goal games. That was the difference in us making it."

How potent is Carolina's offense? Well, it had nine players score at least 15 goals in 2008-09. The team that finished right below them in the East, the New York Rangers, had only six and only other reached double digits. While Cole wasn't exactly a savior, he certainly provided the Hurricanes with a well-balanced attack.

"I don't know if we were lacking (offense), but it just makes us better," Staal said. "Any time you can add a player like that, it's going to make you better. We moved a couple guys to different lines and kind of got them going as well. It's more of a balanced attack and it's made it fun, for sure."

These days, Cole is having a lot more fun that had he stayed in Edmonton. A last-minute deal on deadline day has him right where he wants to be -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Regardless of what the situation was, we felt there was probably going to be something done," said Cole, who had 15 points in 17 games after the trade. "We weren't quite sure, and it was almost like the time had passed and we realized we weren't making any trades. At the last minute, I did get traded. It was an odd day, for sure. But it's a good situation."

* Some other Carolina tidbits from Wednesday morning:

-- The Hurricanes have no real game plan as far as attacking Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. The hope is that Brodeur, who missed nearly four months with a biceps injury, will simply see a lot of rubber in this series.

"Just shoot the puck and hope that he misses it … that's all you can do," Cole said. "I think we're just trying to shoot as many pucks as we can, and hopefully we'll get some lucky bounces. You just try to get the puck on net. I think it's more up to him than as to what we're doing."

Maurice agreed.

"We've seen his act for a long time," Maurice said of Brodeur. "You just have to be hungry around the net and squeak one by him."

-- Carolina won three of four regular-season meetings between the teams. The Hurricanes took the first three games before the Devils earned a 3-2 victory last Saturday at the Prudential Center in the final game of the regular season.

"It gets thrown out the window, for sure," Cole said of Carolina's regular-season success. "Teams have ups and downs throughout the course of a regular season. It doesn't matter come this time of the year. You need to win four and then move on and look ahead. But it's going to be a tough task, that's for sure."

Maurice sounded pretty sure that Devils coach Brent Sutter and his team isn't panicking about what transpired during the regular season.

"I don't think they're worried about it, and we're certainly not hanging on to it," Maurice said.

-- The Hurricanes certainly enter this series with a lot of firepower. But the player who led the team in scoring against the Devils during the regular season was none other than veteran center Rod Brind'Amour, who had six assists in the four games.

How did that happen?

"I have no idea," Maurice said. "But these kind of games are built for Rod. He doesn't mind the grind. It's been this way forever with these guys. Both teams are just going to work their butts off from start to finish."

-- Brian Compton

Zach's a star
04.15.2009 / 1:30 PM ET

Maybe he doesn't receive the publicity like of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but make no mistake, New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise has emerged as a superstar in this League.

The humble Parise isn't interested in patting himself on the back after the remarkable 2008-09 campaign he enjoyed that saw him score 45 goals and add 49 assists. All the 24-year-old is interested in is -- get this -- getting better.

"I don't really look at that," Parise said on Wednesday morning about his terrific numbers. "I just want to make sure I'm getting better every day and giving our team a chance to win."

Parise did that this season, helping the Devils win the Atlantic Division. No. 3 New Jersey will host the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes tonight at the Prudential Center. It will mark the first time Parise will play with veteran Brendan Shanahan in a playoff game. Last year, Shanahan's New York Rangers eliminated the Devils in five games in the opening round.

It was during that series when Shanahan first realized just how good Parise is.

"I remember playing against him in the playoffs last year and I said to him when we were shaking hands afterwards, I said, 'I think you're an amazing hockey player,'" Shanahan said. "He almost looked at me that he was surprised I said it to him. I just was so impressed with his second and third effort and his desire to do the right things away from the puck.

"He just wants to be a great hockey player and I think he wants to be a winner. I don't know that all, young talented players want to be a great all-around player or a winner. I think some of them want to lead the League in goals or sign big contracts, and maybe they'll figure it out as they get older. But I think Zach has already got it figured out what he wants to be."

Parise has loved having Shanahan right next to him in the dressing room. It certainly will be nice for Parise to have someone like Shanahan to rely on at this time of year. Shanahan, 40, has appeared in 177 Stanley Cup Playoff games, tallying 59 goals and 72 assists.

"It's been great for me personally. Just to watch him in practice and his ability to score is something anyone can watch and learn from. I've been pretty fortunate sitting between him and Jamie in the locker room and the way they carry themselves in games and tough situations. I think it's going to be really beneficial for me."

Just like it's been really beneficial for the Devils to have Parise in their lineup. Hard to believe the former North Dakota star was passed up 16 times in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft before Devils GM Lou Lamoriello traded up to grab him at No. 17.

"He's just starting out in his career and it's tough to judge where he stands because he's still writing his story," Shanahan said. "But I will say that his game is so well-rounded. As a young player coming up, I probably can't name five players that I'd rather have if I was starting a franchise."

Even though the Devils were ousted in five games last year, Parise still managed to tally five points. In 25 career postseason contests, he has 18 points (nine goals, nine assists). Clearly, he's a player who rises to the occasion. If he continues to do that, one has to believe it's only a matter of time before he's mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin.

"Obviously there are a few players in his age bracket that get more attention," Shanahan said. "The real great ones make their name in the playoffs. I think that that's the kind of attention that you really want around the League. Playoffs are really how you get other players to look up to you."

* Some other Devils' tidbits from Wednesday morning:

-- Brendan Shanahan appeared in his first NHL playoff game with the Devils back in 1988 against the New York Islanders. He remembers his first shift as if it happened yesterday.

"I was so excited on my first shift, I was backchecking and I broke my stick over some guy's back," Shanahan said. "I just said, 'Oh my God. That was bad.' The referee, instead of giving me a penalty, just skated over and put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'I know you're excited, but settle down.' That was Andy van Hellemond. I always liked Andy van Hellemond. It was my first shift, and it might have been my last if he gave me the penalty I deserved on that play."

-- Nobody in New Jersey knows Carolina goalie Cam Ward better than Brent Sutter. The Devils coach had the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner during his junior career with the Red Deer Rebels.

"I've known Cam since he was 15 years of age," Sutter said. "When he was 18, 19 years of age in the Western Hockey League, there was no one better. He's a very good goaltender. He's like any good goaltender -- you've got to keep them in your crease and you've got to do things around the net as far as getting traffic. Cam's a very good goaltender. He's played as well as anybody the last half of the year, and it's not surprising to me."

-- Few people, if any, had wider smiles in the Devils' dressing room this morning than Martin Brodeur. The all-time winningest goalie in NHL history missed roughly four months with a biceps injury, but is now ready to try to lead New Jersey to its fourth Stanley Cup championship since 1995.

"It's tough," Brodeur said. "You go to the rink and there's nothing to do. But just being a part of the guys and living these experiences … it's nice to be back. I just wanted to get back into it and get back to the level where everybody is. It worked out well really early on. Even though I was winning, I didn't feel that good. Now, it's like second nature to me. Having my equipment on is like putting on my suit."

-- Brian Compton

Drury in or out?

04.15.2009 / 1:06 PM ET

OK, this is getting kind of ridiculous. There hasn't even been a puck dropped in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs yet and already there are head games being played.

For instance, according to the Bergen Record's Andrew Gross, who was over at Verizon Center this morning for the Rangers' morning skate, Chris Drury remains a gametime decision. Apparently, Rangers coach John Tortorella said that twice in his morning presser even though Drury was one of only seven players that went on the ice for the Rangers' optional morning skate.

Nobody is quite sure what his injury is. Even Drury said, "I haven't figured it out yet. I'm still waiting to be told."

Does anyone think Drury isn't going to play tonight?

Earlier today I asked Mike Green what the secret is to beating Henrik Lundqvist? He paused for a moment and I said, "Or, is there even a secret?" Green said there is, but he wasn't disclosing it.

"I don't want him to know where I'm going to shoot," Green said.

Something tells me Lundqvist already has an idea from his scouting, but Green's right. Why divulge if he has something up his sleeve.

This should be an interesting series to say the least.

-- Dan Rosen

News and notes from Caps' land
04.15.2009 / 12:57 PM ET

Alex Ovechkin was the first guy off the ice today and was out of the dressing room in approximately 18 seconds, or so I think. None of us here covering the Capitals' morning skate so No. 8 leave the ice and so none of us caught him for an interview.

Oh well. We'll definitely catch up with him after tonight's game, win or lose.

As for the rest of the Caps, here's my story on what they were saying this morning.

It looks like Boyd Gordon will play tonight to fill out their 12 forwards. Donald Brashear, who arrived on the ice late today, missed the last 14 games with a sprained left knee. Gordon missed the last 10 games with a broken finger. The other two guys on the fourth line are likely Matt Bradley and David Steckel.

Brashear didn't look great when he was on the ice just doing some shooting drills, but even so Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said both players will skate in warm-ups tonight and a decision will be made after that. Gordon, though, was off the ice when the rest of the regulars came off so that's a sign he might be playing.

Defenseman Tom Poti, who has a groin injury, said he'll also a gametime decision, but it appears that he's going to play. Poti skated this morning and was off the ice with the rest of the regulars while Brian Pothier stayed on the ice with Brashear and captain Chris Clark (wrist surgery), who has been cleared to play.

That Clark has been cleared is a bit surprising considering he told Tarik El-Bashir from the Washington Post on Tuesday that he doesn't think he'd be back until the second round. Well, the doctors cleared him and now there's a chance he could play Saturday if Boudreau decides to make a lineup change. He hasn't played since Jan. 27.

In other news, Boudreau said he has talked to his team about the Stanley Cup and even said he has shown them a video. It's in stark contrast to Rangers' coach John Tortorella, who said Tuesday that he will not do that because it's too far away and he's only thinking about Game 1.

I don't think there is a right or wrong in this case. It's a matter of opinion, really.

I asked Boudreau if the routine or the approach changes now because it's the playoffs.

"The routine? No, the routine does not change," he said. "The approach? You do a little more research. You have time. We're playing them for two weeks maybe. In the regular season you play New York today and Philadelphia tomorrow. As soon as the game is over you've got 24 hours to think of Philly. We've known since Sunday that we've got the Rangers so we've had four days to actually prepare for them, one team. All we're worried ab out is one team now."

-- Dan Rosen

What a comedian
04.15.2009 / 11:45 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- If anyone is wondering if there're nerves on the Penguins' side, Matt Cooke defused that. While Petr Sykora was being interviewed by a scrum of reporters, Cooke snuck up behind a camera man and pulled one of his cords. Apparently, that wasn't Cooke's first victim.

The other big news out of the morning skate was the absence of forward Chris Kunitz. Coach Dan Bylsma said there's no injury; Kunitz's wife went into labor late last night and he's at the hospital with the family. He also said Kunitz will be in the lineup tonight.

More to come following the Flyers' skate

-- Adam Kimelman

Welcome to Beantown!
04.15.2009 / 10:55 AM ET

WILMINGTON, MASS. -- It's a beautiful spring day here in Boston, a day that just screams playoff hockey. And, a perfect day to drive out to catch the Boston Bruins final preparatory practice before their series against Montreal starts Thursday night.

The Bruins are about 15 minutes from taking the ice for what should be a 50-minute practice and the rink lights are just coming on.

It appears that Boston coach Claude Julien is already in top-secret playoff form. According to reporters here, he was quite terse after Wednesday's practice. Then, this morning, the rink manager politely emptied the building of reporters at around 10:30 -- just after yours truly had entered -- and said the facility was closed until noon. Fortunately, it was just a false alarm and we were let after a 5-minute delay.

Marc Savard and Dennis Wideman were the first two players on the ice, joined by three members of the coaching staff. There are also about a dozen fans in the stand, watching the best free show around about to start.

I'll be back a little bit later with some quotes and whatever news comes out of the post-practice availability.

--Shawn P. Roarke


On the west coast of Pennsylvania
04.15.2009 / 10:30 AM ET

Welcome to Pittsburgh!

I drove from Philadelphia to the far end of the Keystone State in just under five rainy hours last night, but I'm just setting up at the Igloo for the morning skates. The Penguins will be hitting the ice at 10:30 a.m., and the Flyers will be out about 11:30 a.m.

I missed out on the big party last year at the Stanley Cup Final, so this is my first introduction to Mellon Arena, and the place definitely looks its age. Although it is pretty cool to see the Consol Energy Center going up right across the street.

Well, I'm going to grab a seat near the ice to watch all the fun of the skate, and I'll be back with more in a bit.

-- Adam Kimelman


Look who it is
04.15.2009 / 9:55 AM ET

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The dateline reads Arlington because I just arrived here at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Washington's beautiful practice facility which is located on the 8th floor of the Ballston Common Mall.

Yes, it seems out of place, but it's actually really very nice.

And, wouldn't you know it, there is one guy out on the ice right now for the Caps. He's 15 minutes early. He's wearing a smoky visor. He's got a bag of pucks that he just dumped out near the blue line. He's skating around a bit. No. 8 is stickered on the back of his helmet.

Morning of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and here is Alex Ovechkin, the only Capital on the ice, firing pucks at a goal no more than 30 feet away from me. He's trying to hit the top corners. Now he's out at the blue line and playing with the puck a bit. Here come the shots.

Ovechkin had 528 of them during the regular season, 56 went into the net. Still, it's not good enough. He needs to practice.

How could anyone not like this guy?

He's still the only Capital on the ice. It's amazing.

Two kids wearing No. 8 t-shirts are standing near the glass with their mother. You think they're ever going to forget this day? Not a chance.

Oh, wait, here comes someone else. It's Brian Pothier and now he's wristing pucks from the blue line and Ovechkin is trying to tip them in. More practice for No. 8.

Pretty crazy, huh?

Now the rest of the Caps are starting to come out of locker room for the morning skate.

Well, I'm here, bunkered down for a few hours and I'll be giving you some more Capitals' thoughts and information later on in the blog. Keep hitting refresh.

Until later...

-- Dan Rosen

Your response, Mr. Lundqvist?
04.14.2009 / 8:00 PM ET

"I try to play big and I'll leave it like that," Henrik Lundqvist said this afternoon. "I try to play big."

His answer was in response to a question he got regarding Alex Ovechkin's comments on Monday that Lundqvist's pads are big.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Ovechkin said about Lundqvist, "Well, he has big equipment. You have to make some traffic and go to the net. ... He's a great goalie, but you still can beat him."

El-Bashir then asked Ovechkin if Lundqvist's pads are too big and the Russian superstar responded by saying, "Oh yeah," while chuckling.

Lundqvist, who defended his pads by saying they are measured all the time by the League, wasn't taking the bait when he was asked to respond to No. 8's remarks.

"You get so many questions about so many things that you will pick out things that you like and some things will stand out a little bit more," Lundqvist said. "I don't think he tried to stir the pot. He just probably got a few questions about me and that's it."

I asked Lundqvist if he could tell me what he thinks Ovechkin's biggest weapon is. He said his combination of speed and strength. Since Ovechkin had 528 shots on goal this season, I also had to ask the goalie if he can describe No. 8's shot.

"It's heavy, but it's also very fast and that's what makes it tough," Lundqvist said.

He'll be seeing a lot of it in the next week or two.

- Dan Rosen

Not from this coach

04.14.2009 / 7:45 PM ET

One thing John Tortorella told me a few months ago when he was still an analyst for TSN and I was doing a feature story on him is that he didn't want to be critical, just analytical. He also wasn't in the business of making predictions.

Nothing has changed in his new role as coach of the New York Rangers.

A television reporter asked Tortorella today if he thinks he has the horses to go all the way this year? It was a fair question for a TV guy searching for that perfect sound bite.

"You got the wrong guy if I'm going to start predicting," the coach said. "All I'm worried about is one game and that's in Washington tomorrow night. You might as well forget about asking me about predictions because you're not getting any."

Heck, Tortorella wouldn't even say for sure if Chris Drury (undisclosed injury) is playing Wednesday night. The coach called Drury, who practiced for the first time in five days Tuesday, "day to day," but we all know it would take a catastrophe for Drury to miss Game 1.

-- Dan Rosen

I've been swayed
04.14.2009 / 7:37 PM ET

Call me a bandwagon jumper if you must, but I'm OK to admit it when my opinion has been swayed.

Thanks to some conversations with a few of the great folks who follow the Rangers on a daily basis, including TV color man Joe Micheletti, who knows way more about tactical hockey than I do, my opinion on how the Rangers have to play Washington has changed.

Monday on the NHL Network's Playoff Preview show and earlier in this blog today I mentioned how I think the Rangers might have to revert back to the defensive style they played under Tom Renney. It was more of a sit back and wait approach rather than the attack style John Tortorella has had them playing since taking over.

Now I think if the Rangers sit back against the Capitals they can seriously get burned. The fact is they are going to have to establish the puck possession game early and try to get as many shots on Jose Theodore as possible. If they can rattle Theodore early it may go a long way in deciding how they do in this series.

The Rangers, of course, agree with my new opinion. The last thing they want to do is defend all night long against the Capitals. Of course, though, they have to be reliable defensively and they must, and I stress must not overpursue.

If they get out of position, forget about it.

"We need to be reliable defensively, but at the same time we're going to need to score goals against this team in order to win," Rangers forward Blair Betts told me. "We need to be aware when their top players are on the ice, try to be hard against them and try to make them play defense."

Added goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has to be the star of the show if the Rangers' are going to win this series: "We just have to focus on playing really sharp and smart and not give up pucks in the wrong areas. They are good when you lose pucks and they're coming with speed and skill. You have to really come back hard. If you're slow coming back, they are going to take advantage of it."

-- Dan Rosen

Are you ready?

04.14.2009 / 10:42 AM ET

 
I have tried to prepare you for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past and now that we are one day away from the second season, are you ready? 
 
How does it feel Columbus, are you in playoff mode or still thanking the hockey gods for the opportunity to play for the Cup?  Can you dethrone the champs and move on to Round 2?
 
Calgary, are you OK, wondering if the team will ever get healthy?  Do you feel like a big underdog even though you team has the playoff experience and the up-and-coming Blackhawks are just sticking their toes into the playoff pool?
 
You folks on the left coast, are you prepared for the battle in California?  Only the strongest will survive and the pressure is building in San Jose.  The Ducks have the experience, the Sharks want to prove their doubters wrong and in the end, only one team can move on.
 
The St. Louis Blues are hot, the Vancouver Canucks have the goalie everyone thinks can carry them to the Stanley Cup Final, but only one team can win.  The Blues came out of nowhere and the Canucks are now expected to get on a playoff roll.  We don’t know how this will finish, but it will be fun to watch.
 
The media buzz in NYC and Washington D.C. is Avery and Ovechkin.  If I were in control of all things media, I would focus on Jose Theodore and Henrik Lundqvist.  This series will be determined by the men wearing the masks.
 
Carolina feels good, entering the playoffs on a roll with a hot goalie.  The New Jersey Devils have the experience and the goaltending to win.  If you can answer “who wants it more?”, you will have the winner of this series.
 
Boston is on Montreal’s mind and with good reason.  The Canadiens have the chance of turning their so-so season into a memorable one.  Boston is heavily favored and now must live-up to the hype.
 
For the next two weeks or so, the State of Pennsylvania is the hockey State. Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia will be a series that will become an “instant classic.”  Right out of the gate the series tone will be set and it will be fun watching it play out.
 
Round 1, aka the Conference Quarterfinals will provide us hockey fans with a taste of what is to come.  Play a shift at a time, dig deep, only the strong survive.  OT wins, shots of the posts, blown breakaways and tremendous saves are in our future and I am ready, are you?
 
If not, it is not too late to prepare.  Get into the game now and stay with it for the next two months.  The ride is great, the outcome is up in the air and right now it is a sprint -- First to 16 wins starts tomorrow.
 
Questions, comments, want to talk hockey, email me at pk@kuklaskorner.com.

-- Paul Kukla


On our way

04.14.2009 / 10:00 AM ET

One more night without an NHL game. That's all. Phew. I don't know if I could take much more.

I'll be heading to D.C. this evening after taking in Rangers practice over in Greenburgh, N.Y. this morning. The Rangers are expected to hit the ice at 11 a.m. ET for their final tuneup before opening the Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow night at the Verizon Center.

Lots of storylines permeate throughout this entire series.

Will Alex Ovechkin take over? Will Jose Theodore be good enough for the Caps? Will Henrik Lundqvist steal a win or two? Will Chris Drury play in Game 1?
Will the Rangers find a way to score some goals? What will Sean Avery do?

I said this on the NHL Network preview show last night and I'll say it again here: For the Rangers to win this series, or at least have a puncher's chance, they can not get into an up and down game with the Capitals. It doesn't work. Washington is far superior up front.

Really, and again this is only my opinion, if the Rangers are to win this series not only will they need great goaltending from Lundqvist, but they may just have to revert back to Tom Renney hockey. By that I mean a more defensive style where the defensemen don't move up as much. I say this because when John Tortorella took over he began implementing an attacking style, his 'Safe as Death' philosphy if you will. They may have to play a more structured defensive game instead.

But, listen, I'm not a coach. I'm just a guy who will be documenting this series for NHL.com. It will be interesting to see if I'm right, though.

On a side note, later today I hope to be able to give you more information regarding Drury's status for Game 1. Drury is banged up and hasn't skated in the last four days. We're not 100 percent certain if it's an upper or lower body injury, but it doesn't really matter. His status for Game 1 is iffy at best right now. Hopefully we know more later today, but with teams notoriously tight-lipped regarding injuries in the playoffs I'm not holding my breath.

Also, expect to see Ovechkin on the left wing with Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. A few games ago Washington coach Bruce Boudreau used Ovechkin with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin. It was the line that led the Russians to the gold medal at the 2008 IIHF World Championship. However, Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov has been a line for most of the season and it is very balanced. Boudreau should have it together for Game 1.

We're also not sure if Tom Poti is going to be able to play in Game 1 for the Caps, but Donald Brashear should be ready too go after missing the last 14 games due to injury. I wonder if Colton Orr is in the Rangers' lineup, will he try to square off with Brashear. Fights are limited in the playoffs, but that one could be a doozy.

-- Dan Rosen


Aggravating Avery
04.13.2009 / 2:44 AM ET

When the puck drops in the Capitals and Rangers Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, one thing will be on a lot of fans’ mind; What will Sean Avery do?

We all remember what Sean did on April 13, 2008 during the Rangers' first round playoff game against the Devils when he forced the NHL to create what many refer to as "the Sean Avery rule." However, since being reinstated back into the league and returning to New York, Avery has played a cleaner, smarter game -- with the exception being his high-stick to goaltender Tim Thomas during a commercial break.

Avery can certainly help the Rangers, as he has recorded four goals and seven assists in just 17 games with the team this season. The last time Avery faced the Capitals was when he was still a member of the Dallas Stars on October 25, 2008. He recorded a goal and an assist to go along with a two minute minor for high-sticking. All eyes will be on Avery this time and we’ll see which player shows up, the disturber, or the gamer; he may even wind up being John Tortorella’s antidote to Alex Ovechkin, we’ll see.

-- Matthew Cubeta


Funny seeing you here
04.12.2009 / 10:04 PM ET

Just days after finishing their respective regular seasons against one another, the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes are set to meet again in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The best-of-seven series gets under way later this week at the Prudential Center, as the Devils found a way to win the Atlantic Division despite missing future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur for roughly four months.

Carolina, meanwhile, surged up the standings during the second half of the standings under new/old coach Paul Maurice, who replaced Peter Laviolette on Dec. 3.

The Hurricanes enjoyed plenty of success against the Devils this season, winning three of four games. Carolina was unbeaten against New Jersey until the Devils earned a 3-2 victory in the final game of the regular season at The Rock.

"Win one, win two, what's the difference?" asked Devils' forward Zach Parise, who led the club with 45 goals and 94 points. "I think we've matched up pretty well against them and every time we've lost it's been tight the whole way through. We'll see what happens."

The Hurricanes were on cruise control until dropping the final two games of the season. Prior to that, they were riding a nine-game winning streak.

Carolina center Eric Staal (40 goals, 35 assists) is confident the Hurricanes have what it takes to advance to the second round. After all, they did take three of four from the Devils during the season.

On a side note, Carolina has won its last two postseason meetings with the Devils, including the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, when the Hurricanes eliminated New Jersey in five games.

"We knew we can beat them and we can beat them in this building," Staal said after Saturday's game. "Those are positives things to know going into the playoffs."

-- Brian Compton


Author: NHL.com Staff

Quote of the Day

Because of the way they play and their skill set I don't think they're fourth-line players, so in my mind I'm looking at one of those guys I'll have to move over to the wing.

— Capitals coach Barry Trotz on his four-player battle for second-line center