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2015 NHL Draft
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Vrbata providing balance, punch to Canucks offense

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 11:30 AM / Canucks vs Flames - 2015 SCP First Round

Kevin Woodley - Correspondent

VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins called linemate Radim Vrbata an assassin after a two-goal game late in the regular season, but he is no longer a silent assassin.

With Vrbata's 31 goals leading the Canucks, it's hard to ignore the significance of his role in their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason last year. Forget unsung hero, Vrbata is the Canucks MVP in many eyes, and Higgins has noticed other teams are paying special attention to the soft-spoken sniper too.

"You look at the stat sheet and see Vrbata has 31 goals and you are going to put some good players out against him," Higgins said. "You get a little more attention playing with him for sure."

That could a good thing for the Canucks now that Vrbata is no longer playing on their top line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. After a strong start to his first season in Vancouver playing to the right of Sedin twins, Vrbata is having late-season success with Higgins and Nick Bonino on the Canucks' second line.

Tarasenko, Schwartz key cogs in Blues offense

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 11:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

Louie Korac - Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Their first conversations were brief, first on the floor of Staples Center in Los Angeles at the 2010 NHL Draft, and then again at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

A handshake was exchanged after Russia defeated Canada in the gold-medal game, with Vladimir Tarasenko telling Jaden Schwartz at the time, "See you in St. Louis."

It was the beginning of what has turned into satisfying starts to promising careers for Schwartz, 22, and Tarasenko, 23, each first-round picks by the St. Louis Blues.

"It goes by fast," Schwartz said. "It's hard to believe it's been that long. You go to college for two years, then you're with the Blues; it all just happens fast.

"When I first came in I didn't know where I'd fit in. Obviously we had a really good team when I came in and I wasn't playing as much. I had to work my way up and earn it. That's what a lot of guys have to do. Once you start playing more you realize you can play at this level. You want to contribute and be a big part of the team."

Why the Canucks will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 10:43 AM / Canucks vs Flames - 2015 SCP First Round

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

The Vancouver Canucks are poised and ready to make a run for the ages in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Making it certain that the first Canadian team in 21 seasons wins the Stanley Cup will be those twin-engines up front in Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, who have each topped 70 points this season.

There's the emergence of Bo Horvat, and the dependability of forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins, Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen.

The Canucks played meaningful games down the stretch and got it done with goaltender Eddie Lack filling in for an injured Ryan Miller.

"We were never in this position before," Henrik Sedin said. "There were a few years where we made the playoffs a few weeks before the season was over, and last year we were done a few weeks before the playoffs so it's exciting because every night every game meant something."

Around the League notebook for Saturday, April 11

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 10:19 AM / News

Each of the eight matchups for the First Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs were completely settled (opponents and home-ice advantage) on the final day of the regular season.

Two playoff spots (both in the Eastern Conference), the Atlantic Division title and the Western Conference crown also were decided on Saturday:

* The Ottawa Senators clinched their fourth playoff berth in the past six seasons with their win at Philadelphia.

* The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched their ninth straight playoff berth with their win against the Buffalo Sabres.

* The Montreal Canadiens clinched the Atlantic Division – their second division title in the past three seasons – with their shootout win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

* The Anaheim Ducks clinched their second straight Western Conference title with their regulation win against the Arizona Coyotes.

Click here to view the complete First Round schedule and broadcast information.

Question for each team in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:42 AM / 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

The field is set for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but none of the 16 teams that made it are without flaws, or at least some question marks.

Here is one pertinent question for each team that if answered properly will go a long way toward that team having a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup:

Why the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Capitals vs Islanders - 2015 SCP First Round

Corey Masisak - Staff Writer

The two teams with the most points in the Eastern Conference are the two worst puck-possession teams among the eight still playing. The four best puck-possession teams have a combination of concerns, ranging from questionable goaltending to injuries to slumping underlying numbers.

The Washington Capitals have none of those concerns. They possess one of the best goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Braden Holtby, and they have better puck-possession numbers than the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.

In a conference full of flawed teams, the Capitals lack glaring weaknesses. Because of this, they are best equipped to survive and win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

After several years as one of the top contenders for the Cup, the Capitals went through multiple coaches before Barry Trotz arrived. Trotz brought with him goaltending guru Mitch Korn, who has helped Holtby harness his considerable talent. Holtby has become a star this season and is one of the biggest reasons the Capitals could be primed to finally break through.

Why the Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Canadiens vs Senators - 2015 SCP First Round

Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

In spite of a goaltender's importance, they are rarely included in the conversation when trying to determine the best player in the NHL.

Elite point-producers have such a significant impact on their teams and are generally the only category of player considered in that debate.

But that discourse has changed this season, and Carey Price is the reason.

Blues face tough test from Wild, Dubnyk

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

The St. Louis Blues are doing it the other way around this time, but winning in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs won't be any easier as a result.

The Blues finished the regular season winning five of their final six games to climb into first place in the Central Division. It was a near 180 from last season, when they lost their last six games and fell out of first place and into a first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The reward for winning isn't much better than the price for losing was last season because the Minnesota Wild have been the best team in the NHL since Jan. 15.

The Wild are the first wild card from the Western Conference after going 28-9-3 since goalie Devan Dubnyk made his Minnesota debut on that date. Minnesota was eight points out of a playoff spot when Dubnyk debuted; they finished with a five-point cushion.

The Wild, who had 100 points for the second time in their history, were first in points among Western Conference teams with 59 from Jan. 15 through the end of the season.

Despite high expectations and strong regular seasons, the Blues have not advanced past the first round in each of the past two seasons and haven't gone past the second round since coach Ken Hitchcock was hired early in the 2011-12 season.

St. Louis' past two series losses followed the same script: The Blues won the first two games and then lost the next four to teams (Los Angeles Kings in 2013 and Blackhawks in 2014) that eventually lost in the Western Conference Final.

Why the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Rangers vs Penguins - 2015 SCP First Round

Evan Sporer - Staff Writer

Though the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the fashion most expected, the pieces are in place to make a deep run for their second championship since 2009.

Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin give the Penguins arguably the two best players on the planet. Game-changing talents, Crosby and Malkin force coaches to decide which one to use their top defensemen against. When they're healthy (Malkin recently returned from a lower-body injury), Crosby and Malkin pace the offense. Malkin is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and has 111 points in 96 Stanley Cup Playoff games. If he's at or near 100 percent, things are completely different for Pittsburgh.

Senators can build on success against Canadiens

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Canadiens vs Senators - 2015 SCP First Round

The Ottawa Senators were rewarded for their incredible late-season surge toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs with what might have been the best possible matchup in the opening round.

The Senators won their past three games against the Montreal Canadiens by a combined score of 13-5, including a 4-2 win at home on Feb. 18, the first NHL start for goaltender Andrew Hammond.

He would go on to win a few more after that.

The only playoff series the Senators have won since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 was against the Canadiens in 2013.

That five-game series got nasty right away, with Senators defenseman Eric Gryba knocking Canadiens center Lars Eller out of the series with an open-ice hit in Game 1.

The teams had no real rivalry prior to that series despite Ottawa and Montreal being 125 miles apart. They did after that, and the Senators have given the Canadiens trouble ever since winning that series.

Aside from the history between the teams, this series will feature compelling matchups at key positions.

In goal, Hammond will continue his storybook ride by matching up against the favorite to win the Vezina and Hart trophies, Carey Price.

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Quote of the Day

There's standards that this team is going to play to and there are expectations. We're going to hold these guys accountable to high standards.

— Coach Dave Lowry on Canada's junior team, the defending IIHF World Junior champions