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NHL Insider

Sabres looking to knock out Leafs

Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 2:17 PM / NHL Insider

Juha Mikkola - NHL.com Correspondent

Sitting seven points out of the playoffs with six games remaining, the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff hopes are slim; just don't tell that to the team.

The Maple Leafs are focused on Tuesday's matchup against division rival, and current eighth seed, Buffalo. Only a handful of Maple Leafs participated in the morning skate and the coaching staff closed the dressing room from local media.

The Sabres, on the other hand, are riding a three-game winning streak and can essentially eliminate the Leafs with a victory at the Air Canada Centre tonight. They control their playoff destiny and are more focused on the teams above them in the standings than they are with eliminating the Leafs. With a victory, the Sabres can move into a tie with the seventh-place Rangers ahead of tomorrow night's matchup with New York in Buffalo.

"We have been playing well the last three months and [tonight] is an important game for us. Toronto is going to be desperate," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We haven't been looking at pushing the Leafs back. ... We said if we can win a couple we can close the gap to the Rangers and Montreal. If we can put a nice little run together we can move up the standings."
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Acrobatic Bylsma has kept Penguins thriving

Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 1:00 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"Word gets around, what your coach is like. It's part of who you are (as a franchise). Dan does a great job representing this organization and this team. We're lucky to have him as our coach. This year you can see it. People can finally see and recognize what a good coach he is, and how he gets it out of his players." -- Ray Shero

Just how has Dan Bylsma steered the Pittsburgh Penguins through a Class 5 rapid of a season without flipping the raft?

Cartwheels.

"I think the biggest thing is how positive he is and energetic," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik told NHL.com. "You get to the rink in the morning and he's got music blasting, he's doing cartwheels in (the locker room). That's not an exaggeration, either."

Locker-room gymnastics might not come from the first chapter of the Coaching 101 textbook, but Bylsma has made it work, and despite a hellacious amount of injuries, suspensions and myriad other distractions, the Penguins never have slipped in the standings and their coach never has wavered in his commitment to playing a certain way. It's why he's one of the first names mentioned when people discuss the candidates for this season's Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's best coach.
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Bruins moving forward from 2010 playoff collapse

Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 12:59 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON -- With a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs already in their pockets and only 13 days left in the regular season, the elephant in the Boston Bruins' locker room is likely to surface again in the form of questions about last season's playoff collapse.

The Bruins, who host Chicago on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2), have been able to hide from their historic flop against the Philadelphia Flyers because of the mini-soap opera that has surrounded this year's club. From a trip to Europe to Marc Savard's career threatening concussion to the Northeast Division race, and lately the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident at Bell Centre, the Bruins have given the local media plenty of drama to write about.

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Ovechkin, Arnott could return vs. Hurricanes

Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 12:30 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was not in the mood to confirm his lineup for Tuesday's home game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but his actions might have spoken for him.

There is a chance forwards Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott could rejoin the lineup for the game. Neither was on the ice with two frequent healthy scratches, Tyler Sloan and DJ King. Instead, forwards Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera skated with them Tuesday morning.

"I'm not going to say who's in the lineup or who's out of the lineup," Boudreau told reporters. "Just talking to the trainers and finding out who's healthy and who's not healthy and who's ready to go, who's not ready to go. The players will all know, but you guys will know when you see it."

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Neal adjusting game to East, Pens' style of play

Tuesday, 03.29.2011 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

It's hard to believe that a once precocious James Neal used to consider himself more of a skilled guy with great hands.

Now possessing a more rugged 6-foot-2, 208-pound frame, Neal knows he's a valuable asset in the dirty areas where only the strong survive -- along the boards and in the slot.

That's precisely what Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero had in mind when he dealt promising blueliner Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen on Feb. 21. The plan is to eventually have Neal working alongside Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
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Irbe understands what Caps' are going through

Monday, 03.28.2011 / 5:30 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"Trust me, it wasn't the most fun and it actually takes tremendous, tremendous mental strength and obviously experience to handle it. To be honest, it's very hard to ask for that from inexperienced guys because they don't have much of a history behind them of doing it." -- Arturs Irbe

Capitals goalie coach Arturs Irbe can speak to Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby from experience. Nine years ago he teamed with Kevin Weekes in Carolina to lead the Hurricanes to their first Eastern Conference championship.

"Trust me, it wasn't the most fun and it actually takes tremendous, tremendous mental strength and obviously experience to handle it," Irbe told NHL.com. "To be honest, it's very hard to ask for that from inexperienced guys because they don't have much of a history behind them of doing it."

Why is this relevant?

It's possible the Capitals will use a combination of Neuvirth, Varlamov and possibly Holtby in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. Neuvirth is 23, Varlamov is 22 and Holtby is 21. Only Varlamov has played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Capitals confident in whichever rookie goalie starts

Monday, 03.28.2011 / 5:30 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Washington forward Brooks Laich says he usually doesn't find out which goalie he'll be playing in front of until he shows up for the game. Even then he doesn't care or pay too much attention to the starting lineup.

Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby are one and the same for the Capitals -- a goalie who gives them a chance to win. The Capitals' skaters say the goalies are different in subtle ways, so the fact that there isn't a defined No. 1 in Washington makes no difference to them.

"All three of those guys, and this is honest, it doesn't change our team one bit as far as our mindset," Laich said. "Whether Neuvy is in net, Varly is in net or Holtby, I think we play a solid defensive game, don't give up a lot of chances and whoever is in net comes up with the saves when we need them."
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Emery likely to start Monday for Anaheim

Monday, 03.28.2011 / 4:32 PM / NHL Insider

Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- Earlier this season the Anaheim Ducks were in crisis mode with their goaltending position. They now have three options, each probably equally deserving of a start given the team's stellar play down the stretch. Ray Emery has been the hottest lately, though, and it appears he will be in goal when Anaheim plays Colorado Monday night at Honda Center.

Coach Randy Carlyle does not reveal his starting goalie, but Emery was first off the ice at the team's morning skate.

Emery is 4-0 with a 1.39 goals against average since he signed with the Ducks in February following a year off to rehabilitate a career-threatening hip injury. Considered to be an insurance goalie at the time of his signing, Emery is turning out to be one of the best comeback stories in the NHL this season.

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MacDonald on the spot in Detroit

Monday, 03.28.2011 / 2:17 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

DETROIT -- He's the reason Detroit Red Wings fans started chewing their fingernails in unison last week, when it was announced that veteran goalie Chris Osgood was being put on long-term injured reserve.

Without the 38-year old Osgood -- who's won three Stanley Cups with Detroit -- it means that 31-year old Joey MacDonald will back up starter Jimmy Howard until at least April 8, when Osgood will first be eligible to return.

In reality, MacDonald might be around through the playoffs if Osgood's surgically-repaired groin doesn't heal enough in time -- which leaves MacDonald just one serious injury away from starting full-time.

You can imagine the anxiety level, then, this past Saturday at Joe Louis Arena when Howard left a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period with a shoulder injury. Even Howard was worried until an MRI confirmed that it was just a minor shoulder sprain.
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Hawks facing questions as season winds down

Sunday, 03.27.2011 / 4:22 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Their forward lines were shaken up during a practice on Sunday at the United Center and questions still surround the Chicago Blackhawks as they head into the final eight games of the regular season.

Do the defending Stanley Cup champions -- currently sitting eighth in the Western Conference -- have enough experience to stave off key injuries to forward Patrick Sharp (knee) and center Dave Bolland (concussion) in their quest for a playoff spot?
 
How will they respond on the road Monday against the rival Detroit Red Wings -- after dropping a gut-wrenching 2-1 home game to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night? Is there simply too much inexperience and youth on the roster, which was shaken up last summer because of the Leagues's hard salary cap?

The answers will be revealed over the next eight games, but there is one thing that's certain -- if this team is going to make it into the West's playoff field, it needs the "core group" of Stanley Cup champions still on the roster to lead the way.
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Quote of the Day

We have to develop into a good team. We have to develop the pieces now that are a little more evident and in place to become a good team. It's not there yet.

— Sabres coach Dan Bylsma on new Buffalo players working together