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Conklin has knack for playing outside and playoffs @NHLdotcom

If teams are looking for a chance to play outside and make a run at the conference finals, they should turn a watchful eye toward journeyman goalie Ty Conklin.

Conklin found his latest home with the Detroit Red Wings, signing a one-year deal this summer worth $750,000. The defending Stanley Cup champions are Conklin's fourth team in five seasons. Three of those clubs have played NHL outdoor games and reached the league's final four in the playoffs.

"I think probably the last outdoor game I played before Edmonton, I was probably a Squirt or something. A Squirt or a Mite," he said.

He has plenty of pro experience out in the elements now.

Conklin played in the original outdoor contest when he suited up for the Oilers in the "Heritage Classic" in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2003. He got all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with the Oilers in 2006.

After a brief stop with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who didn't play outdoors or reach the conference finals, Conklin moved on to the Buffalo Sabres. They, too, played for the chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals and were picked to host last season's "Winter Classic."

Conklin had left Buffalo by the time that game was staged on New Year's Day, yet he landed with the Pittsburgh Penguins - the Sabres' opponent on that snowy day - who advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring.

Now that he is with the Red Wings, he will be outside in the cold again at Chicago's Wrigley Field when Detroit takes on the Blackhawks on Thursday. Conklin took the loss against the Montreal Canadiens five years ago, yet bounced back with an outdoor win in January when the Penguins topped the Sabres 2-1 on Sidney Crosby's clinching goal in the shootout.

It will likely be warmer at the Friendly Confines next week than it was on that frigid day in Edmonton.

"It's a lot easier to play when it's not minus-20," the Alaska native said. "I think what gets lost a lot of times is that there's actually two points available. Chicago is not far behind us right now and they are playing as good as anybody these days.

"That's going to be an important game, and it's going to be an important two points, too."

Well, he would know.


SECOND HELPINGS: Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews doesn't believe in the sophomore slump.

After leading NHL rookies in goals last season and finishing third in points among first-year players, Toews is ready for more. Sure it took until his 13th game this season to net his first goal of the season, and he just got out of the second of two five-game droughts, but Toews doesn't believe the league has caught up with him just yet. After all, he entered the Christmas break with nine goals and 17 assists in 31 games. Not too bad.

He was a runner-up last season to teammate Patrick Kane for rookie of the year honors after posting 24 goals and 54 points in only 64 games.

"I just believe it's a mental thing that a player goes through himself, and that sometimes maybe other people convince him that that's what he's going through," Toews said of this season's struggles. "I had a slow start. Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself and a lot of people maybe associated that with the captaincy. Obviously, I denied that."

Toews, still only 20, was picked third overall by Chicago in the 2006 draft. He took over the team's vacant captain role after the Blackhawks fell just short a playoff berth.

Toews acknowledged feeling the burden of expectations.

"When everything is so exciting your first year, everything goes easy, and everything is smooth," he said. "Last year I got all the opportunities.

"This year you just expect it to be the same thing, but really you've got to earn every little bit of success that you have. So I think that first little period was tough. So it's great to finally get through that."

The Blackhawks entered this week's break with an 18-16-7 mark, leaving them in second place and seven points behind the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division race.

Toews is still growing into the role of captain of a team that also features veterans such as Brian Campbell and Martin Havlat.

"I don't think any guy in the locker room expects anything extra out of me," he said. "I always say that every guy in our locker room is a leader in their own way. It's definitely not a task that I have to tackle by myself.

"We've got a good core group of young guys who can lead in their own way, and guys that help me out in that regard. For the most part I just had to kind of worry about myself and my own game."


CARTER CLICKS: Jeff Carter started scoring early this season and hasn't let up.

If anything, he is picking up the pace.

Carter scored six of his NHL-leading 26 goals in Philadelphia's first eight games - never netting more than one in any contest. He has been just as hot lately.

As Carter stakes his claim for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star game, he has finding the net more and more. He scored eight goals in the nine games before this week's break, pushing in front of Buffalo's Thomas Vanek for the league lead in goals.

"When I grew up, my dad always taught me you can't score if you don't shoot," said Carter, who ranked third in the league with 154 shots in his first 34 games this season. "I try to put it in the net every chance I get."

Carter, the No. 11 pick in the 2003 draft, scored 23 goals in his rookie year of 2005-06 and followed that with 14 the next season when he played in only 62 games. Carter bounced back with 29 last season, a career best that could be topped within days.

"I always knew that I could score," he said. "This year I just started to play with a lot of confidence right off the bat, which has kind of helped me. I've been getting some good breaks, some good linemates, and things have been going well.

"I've never really been a big starter. I got off to a quick start and just kind of kept going. I think that's probably it. It's just a confidence issue."


CAPITAL GAINS: Andrew Gordon's latest trip to Madison Square Garden was way different from his first, but every bit as thrilling.

Not since he was 9, and in New York for his father's birthday, had the kid from Halifax, Nova Scotia, been to the building billed as the "World's Most Famous Arena." On Tuesday, he returned as a member of the Washington Capitals and skated onto the ice for his NHL debut.

"It was the first real sports stadium I'd been in," the 23-year-old forward said. "I was in absolute shock at the size of it. I was so little and everything was so big. It was funny today walking back out. I was looking around and seeing it's not that big."

Gordon skated on a line with Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich in Washington's 5-4 comeback victory in overtime against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. He took 11 shifts, totaling 7:12 of playing time, and wasn't on the ice when any goal was scored. A snowstorm in Halifax prevented his father from being there.

On his first visit, Gordon was too awed by everything around him to pay close attention to the game between the Rangers and Boston Bruins.

"I was looking around and listening to the people around me. It was the first time I ever heard an accent like that," he said. "I remember high-fiving (Mark) Messier down by the locker room on the way out. It was my first ever big-time hockey game."


PLAYING 1,000: The 1993 NHL draft class put two more players into 1,000-game club.

Jason Arnott of the Nashville Predators, the No. 7 overall pick 15 years ago by Edmonton, hit the milestone last Saturday against the New York Islanders. Anaheim forward Todd Marchant reached the mark two nights later at Vancouver. Marchant was selected in the seventh round by the New York Rangers in 1993.

Chris Gratton, the third overall pick in that draft by Tampa Bay, is closing in on 1,100 games played.

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