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NHL Insider

Playoffs at stake when Rangers visit Islanders

Friday, 04.12.2013 / 7:17 PM / NHL Insider

Dave Lozo - Staff Writer

"I don't even think we're close to playing our best yet. We've had some good results the last three weeks, but we all feel like we can still get better."
-- Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic

It was April 2007 when the New York Islanders and New York Rangers last played a meaningful, late-season game -- and even then, it was far more meaningful to one side than the other.

The Rangers needed two points in their final three games to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Islanders were in a far more desperate situation, sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points back of eighth.

Despite squandering a 2-0 lead that night at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders emerged with a 3-2 victory as Miroslav Satan scored the only goal in a shootout and goaltender Wade Dubielewicz made 36 saves.

Predators stuck in unfamiliar territory as spoiler

Friday, 04.12.2013 / 4:17 PM / NHL Insider

John Manasso - Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators remain alive mathematically for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but in reality, they know that for 2012-13, the race has all but ended for them.

Thursday, when the team announced three key forwards needed season-ending surgery, it was a tacit nod to the inevitable. With one win in their past eight games and the injuries mounting, the Predators entered Friday in unfamiliar territory: 13th in the Western Conference, six points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, with seven games remaining.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz was asked if he might reconsider the team's chances if it were to defeat the Dallas Stars on Friday at Bridgestone Arena then win in regulation against Detroit here Sunday.

"No, I think realistically there's a very, very slight chance," he said. "Teams [in front of the Predators] are playing each other so everyone's getting points. To be realistic, [making the playoffs] is probably not the case. Even though if you rattle all your wins off, the other teams are playing each other so points are being given. We may be able to catch a team like the Wings because we're playing them twice, but we may lose ground on another team we're trying to catch."

Hawks, Wings meet for final time as division rivals

Friday, 04.12.2013 / 3:51 PM / NHL Insider

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It's not the oldest rivalry in the NHL, but the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have spent the majority of their storied histories practically joined at the hip.

They've battled as Original Six foes, bloodied each other in Stanley Cup Final series and butted heads as Norris and Central division rivals in the Western Conference. They've both been on top of the hockey world and both have brought up the rear -- sometimes at the same time -- and the two have played the most head-to-head games in League history.

Friday night's matchup at United Center (8:30 p.m. ET) will be the 725th meeting between the Hawks and Wings -- the 364th in the Windy City -- and fans on each side are as passionate as any others in sports. That's what makes this particular game so interesting.

Therrien's team concept drives Canadiens to playoffs

Friday, 04.12.2013 / 1:30 PM / NHL Insider

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

Team concept.

They are two words Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has used together on countless occasions throughout this incredible turnaround season that has seen his team go from the worst record in the Eastern Conference to becoming the third NHL team to clinch a spot in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though many coaches have attempted to instill a team-first concept, Therrien has done it in a way that makes every one of his players accountable not only to him, but to each other.

"It doesn't matter who you are or who you think you are, you're held to a standard that the entire team is held to," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said earlier this season. "If you're not going to buy into it and do what's asked of you in accordance with the team, then you're not going to play. He's shown that and he's delivered that and he's stayed true to it and he's been fair with it."

Conacher finds quick chemistry on Ottawa's Kid Line

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 3:23 PM / NHL Insider

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- Chemistry between linemates can be a strange thing. Success can be found in the oddest of places.

One example is the Ottawa Senators' Kid Line -- rookies Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg and Cory Conacher. In three games together, the trio has combined for six points and been the Senators' most consistent despite the team's losing streak growing to six games.

The line was created last week when Conacher arrived in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and coach Paul MacLean was just hoping to find a comfortable spot for him to adjust to a new environment.

"We felt that would be a good fit for Conacher to come in and ease into our lineup," MacLean said. "We could play them against other team's third lines as opposed to their first or their best lines, their top two lines. We could play them against the bottom two lines and give him an opportunity to get comfortable with our team and how we play. That was the thought process to begin with."

What he created so far has developed into so much more.

Canadiens use balance to produce elite offense

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 2:52 PM / NHL Insider

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

For an opposing coach perusing the Montreal Canadiens lineup before facing the NHL's fifth-ranked offense, devising a defensive game plan could be a difficult task.

Unlike the four teams ahead of them in the NHL's goals per game rankings – Pittsburgh, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto – the Canadiens do not have a clearly identifiable star on offense, nor do they have a discernible top line. Montreal does not have a single player among the top 35 scorers in the NHL but each of their top three lines can produce, making them a match-up nightmare.

"You can see why they're a high-scoring team," Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said Tuesday night after his team blocked 34 of Montreal's 76 attempted shots in a 3-2 win at Bell Centre. "They come in waves and they've got great balance and very good defensemen that move the puck well."

Capitals, Hurricanes see seasons swing in a month

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 2:50 PM / NHL Insider

Ben Raby - Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Ask members of the once-struggling Washington Capitals when their season turned around, and there are a myriad of answers.

One theory is that a players only meeting after a 2-8-1 start helped steer the team in the right direction (the Capitals are 19-9-1 since).

Others point to the Capitals’ two-game sweep against the Winnipeg Jets, March 21-22, in which they outscored their opponent 10-1 at MTS Centre and gained four points on the then-Southeast Division-leaders.

There is also the thought that a comeback win against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 14 not only saved Washington’s season but also put a serious dent in Carolina’s once promising campaign.

Consider that the Hurricanes entered that game having won six of seven (including a 4-0 shutout of the Capitals two nights earlier) and were 10 points clear of Washington for first place in the Southeast Division. Exactly four weeks later, the teams meet Thursday at Verizon Center, this time with the Capitals 10 points ahead of the Hurricanes.

"It's definitely surprising," Capitals forward Eric Fehr said of the 20-point swing between the teams in less than a month.

Brodin earning place among elite young defenders

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 2:18 PM / NHL Insider

Dan Myers - Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- By any measure, Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin is having a solid season.

Throw in the fact he's a 19-year-old, and what Brodin is doing is almost unprecedented.

Though his offensive numbers won't blow anyone away, folks who have been around the NHL a long time are amazed at the things Brodin does on a nightly basis -- not because they show up in the box score, but because they've helped put the Wild back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs chase for the first time in five years.

Brodin has two goals and seven assists this season, not eye-popping numbers. But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear why people in Minnesota believe they have one of the game's truly elite young defensemen.

Young, in this case, is not subjective: Brodin is the youngest defenseman in the NHL.

Maple Leafs impressed by younger Kessel's success

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 1:34 PM / NHL Insider

Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer

With four goals in a home-and-home series against the New York Rangers this week, Phil Kessel helped the Toronto Maple Leafs capture three out of a possible four points.

But regardless of what Kessel does over the next few days, the week likely belongs to his younger sister, Amanda.

Three weeks after capturing the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA Division I women's ice hockey, the University of Minnesota junior scored the game-winning goal Monday night against Canada to help the United States capture the 2013 Women's World Championship.

The championship goal brought to an end a magical season for Kessel, who won a second consecutive NCAA championship and led the Golden Gophers to a historic undefeated season.

Kings' blue line features feel-good story Muzzin

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

Curtis Zupke - Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The National Hockey League was far from Jake Muzzin's mind in the summer of 2009.

Muzzin was 19 and had just finished his third season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, but his career was set back by surgery to repair two herniated disks in his back that forced him to miss his rookie season and half his second year.

Muzzin was kind of like any other teenager, admittedly drifting into a sedentary state.

"Going into last year of training I probably hit 240 [pounds]," Muzzin said. "We didn't make the playoffs, and we were done early, and I kind of took a month off there and got a little sloppy.

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