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NEW YORK -- Brad Richards spent the last two games of the Rangers’ playoff run last spring in the most undesirable spots imaginable for an NHL player, let alone a well-respected veteran.

Having already suffered through the indignity of being relegated to the fourth line, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was then forced to watch helplessly from Boston’s TD Garden press box as the New York Rangers’ 2013 season came to an unceremonious end in the team's second-round series against the Boston Bruins.

Richards doesn’t like to talk about last year, but you can bet that painful experience was on his mind heading into the Rangers’ playoff set against the Philadelphia Flyers this week.

And judging by his performance in Thursday’s series opener at Madison Square Garden, he won’t have to worry about spending any more time watching from above.

“I really don’t need to talk about last year,” Richards said. “I’ve had lots of good years. I don’t need to talk about one bad one.”

The 33-year-old center led the way for the Blueshirts to take Game 1 against the Flyers, 4-1. He scored the go-ahead goal and picked up two assists in a critical third period that was the difference against their Metropolitan Divisional foes, who have now lost nine consecutive games at MSG.

[+] EnlargeBrad Richards
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsBrad Richards tallied three points in the Rangers' Game 1 win on Thursday night.
With Flyers rookie Jason Akeson in the box for a double-minor high-sticking penalty, Richards snapped a 1-1 tie at 8:22 of the third period, beating Flyers goaltender Ray Emery after the backup netminder’s otherwise-solid effort for the majority of the game. Richards then crafted a beautiful feed to hit center Derek Stepan back-door for another man-up marker less than a minute later.

“One goal was huge, but to be able to go back out there and get the other one, obviously that won us the game,” Richards said.

Richards, who was a prime buyout candidate last summer (and still might be with the whopping cap penalties his contract poses), has delivered an inspired response to last season’s letdown. After posting the ninth 20-goal season of his career, Richards started his 2014 playoffs strong with a three-point night against the Flyers.

“It’s huge. And he’s been doing it pretty consistently in big games this year when we need it,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “It’s great to see him step up and you can tell the way he’s hungry for more. And we’re going to need more out of him, too.”

Vigneault had to be encouraged by more than just Richards’ superior play. His team controlled the game against the Flyers, gaining the territorial edge early and dominating from a puck-possession standpoint throughout.

The Rangers, who finished among the top six NHL teams in both Corsi and Fenwick ratings (according to ExtraSkater.com), asserted themselves at home and didn’t deviate from their strength. This is no longer your John Tortorella Rangers. Instead, this is a Blueshirts squad that derives its identity from playing a style that exploits their collective speed and skill.

“When we play fast, when we go north-south quick, we are tough to handle,” Vigneault said. “That’s what we did tonight and that’s why we were able to have a pretty good game.”

Flyers coach Craig Berube wasn’t happy with what his team put forth, particularly after the first period. The forecheck faltered, their top line was ineffective, and their discipline clearly went out the window in the final frame.

“I didn’t feel we skated well enough in any of the periods,” Berube said.

Even after being outplayed through two periods, the Flyers did have a prime opportunity to take the lead and flirt with stealing Game 1 when McDonagh took a high-sticking penalty early in the third period.

That penalty put the NHL’s most dangerous power-play road unit (25.2 percent success rate during the regular season) on the ice with the game tied at 1. However, the Flyers were held without a single shot on goal, which prompted a boisterous response from the New York crowd.

The ineptitude extended beyond special teams as well. Both Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, the most potent tandem on the Flyers’ top line, finished without a shot the entire night.

"They didn’t produce. They didn’t shoot pucks. They didn’t get shots on net. They didn’t attack," Berube said. "We weren’t getting enough action at the net."

Berube didn’t treat Akeson with kid gloves, either. When asked about the rookie’s costly mistake, he was blunt in assessing the game-changing power-play that resulted when Akeson lost control of his stick and cut Hagelin in the mouth.

“He’s got to be better with his stick.” Berube said.

Akeson played a solid game -- only the third of his NHL career -- but he won’t remember it that way. After the game, he said his teammates tried their best to pick him up after the devastating gaffe.

"They all had my back and they were all saying that it’s a seven-game series and you’ll forget it [easily]," Akeson said. "That’s the beauty of this sport. There are six more games that we can win. It’s not down to one game. We are just going to look forward to the next one."

That will be this Sunday, which will again be at MSG. Will Emery be back between the pipes for the injured Steve Mason? Mason appears to be making progress in his recovery from an upper-body injury sustained last Saturday, though his status for Game 2 remains uncertain.

Regardless of who is in net, the Rangers will be ready.

"Philly is going to come hard," said Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, who scored the Rangers' first goal. "We have to try and play the same way."
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NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers took Game 1 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, knocking off their Metropolitan Division foes 4-1 after tallying a pair of power-play goals in the third period.

Flyers rookie Jason Akeson made a costly mistake when he was slapped with a double-minor high-sticking penalty in the final frame.


With the game tied at 1, both Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored on the man advantage, beating backup netminder Ray Emery, who was stellar for two-plus periods of play. Carl Hagelin boosted the Rangers’ lead to three goals later in the period. Richards finished the night with a goal and two assists.

Emery replaced starting keeper Steve Mason between the pipes for the Flyers. Mason missed Game 1 with an upper-body injury sustained last Saturday. His status for Game 2 is uncertain.

Tilting the ice: The Rangers wrested momentum early in the first period after a clutch penalty-killing performance that had the crowd at MSG going wild. With one of their top penalty killers in the box after Ryan McDonagh was whistled for high sticking less than a minute into the third period, the Rangers held a potent Flyers power play at bay, denying Philadelphia a single shot on the man advantage. The Flyers led the NHL in the regular season with a road power-play success rate of 25.2 percent.

Pay day: Addressing one of the team’s most glaring deficiencies all season long, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren acquired Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald at the NHL trade deadline last month, hoping to add some depth and skill to the team’s porous defense. He apparently liked what he saw from MacDonald in the final five weeks of the regular season because he inked the 27-year-old to a six-year, $30 million extension earlier this week. MacDonald paid dividends for the Flyers on Thursday night, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead 7:28 into play with a shot from the left point. It was the Flyers’ first shot of the night, as they surrendered the territorial edge to the Rangers in the first period. New York outshot Philadelphia 14-6 in the opening frame.

Decisions, decisions: Rangers coach Alain Vigneault went with skilled, two-way forward Jesper Fast on Thursday instead of snarly winger Daniel Carcillo. Will that hold for the rest of the series? With the series expected to only increase in nastiness, Carcillo may become a more appealing option. The former Flyer just happens to be an elite antagonist, his game tailored to the type of black-and-blue series so common in the playoffs.

Up Next: The Rangers will host the Flyers again in Game 2 on Easter Sunday before the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 Tuesday.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Antti Niemi gets the start in goal Thursday night for the San Jose Sharks, who will also welcome the return of Raffi Torres to the lineup for Game 1 of their first-round series with the rival Los Angeles Kings.

Head coach Todd McLellan had been noncommittal over the past few days about his starting goaltending but revealed after Thursday's skate that there was never any debate internally.

"Niemi's our guy," McLellan said.

Meanwhile, the lines from the morning skate:
Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Matt Nieto
Tomas Hertl-James Sheppard-Tommy Wingels
Raffi Torres-Andrew Desjardins-Martin Havlat
On defense:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Jason Demers
Brad Stuart-Justin Braun
Scott Hannan-Dan Boyle

The skinny:
--Havlat being on the fourth line certainly created a bit of buzz at the morning skate. At least to start Game 1, McLellan feels rookie winger Nieto is a better fit on Couture's line. Mike Brown also took some line rushes on that fourth unit instead of Havlat, so I suspect the Sharks coaching staff will debate between Havlat and Brown for that spot. Havlat, though, can also be spotted on the second power-play unit if he's in the lineup.
--Pavelski stays on Thornton's big line, where he scored most of his 41 goals this season. This will be a continuing storyline all series as far as whether McLellan puts Pavelski back as a No. 3 center or not. But for now, he starts the series on the top line. Pavelski still takes a number of strongside draws while playing on that line, so it's not as if the Sharks wouldn't use his faceoff skills, even if he’s playing wing.
--Rookie Hertl starts on the third line but eventually you figure he might be back with Thornton and Burns at some point in this series if he shows that he's becoming comfortable in his return. He played the last two regular-season games after missing most of the season with a knee injury, which required surgery.
--Torres, who hasn't played since March 8, played only five games this season after also needing knee surgery. I doubt he's 100 percent, but at this time of year you play with what you have. He was an effective player for the Sharks last spring, particularly on the forecheck; we'll have to see how long it takes him to get up to speed.

As for the 2012 Cup champions, everything was as expected at the morning skate:
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Tyler Toffoli-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Trevor Lewis-Jordan Nolan
Defense:
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr-Slava Voynov
Willie Mitchell-Alec Martinez

Richards had a down year in the regular season, but his track record suggests this is when he steps up.

"Mike Richards is our most experienced forward in the playoffs," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said after his team's morning skate. "He plays his best at this time of year."

Let's drop the puck; this series should be sensational.

"A lot of similarities" between the teams, Sutter said. "The last few years, playoffs, regular season, both teams are very close."
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PITTSBURGH -- One of the characteristics of the Pittsburgh Penguins in recent playoff losses has been the under-the-skin factor.

As in, they've let teams get under their skin, fallen out character with retaliatory penalties and become engaged in stuff away from the play.

And while the Columbus Blue Jackets aren't the the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins' chief nemesis in this matter (head coach Todd Richards went to great lengths to insist they were going to play their game, not the Flyers' game), they are a team that loves the physical play and their identity is tied up in a physical forecheck.

In Game 1, skilled Penguins defenseman Kris Letang found himself called for a retaliatory slashing penalty in the second period after a particularly hard hit by Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner. The Blue Jackets did not score on the ensuing power play but they did score one goal with the man advantage.

Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma wasn't too pleased with the Letang play and acknowledged as much Thursday, a day the Penguins took off with Game 2 set for Saturday in Pittsburgh.

"He got a message," Bylsma said. "That's something he's got to be better at. And that's something we have to be better [at] as a group."

Skilled players are always going to be targeted, especially in a playoff series, the coach added, and it's up to teams to be prepared for that kind of physical play and accept it as part of the process.

"You have to expect it and deal with it," Bylsma said. "We know it's coming. We have to be better at it in our reaction."

Former NHL defenseman Phil Bourque, a Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, had an even more blunt assessment of the issue for the Penguins.

"I don't think I can sugarcoat this," Bourque told ESPN.com. "It's got to stop.

"There needs to be a line in the sand drawn that this cannot continue, whether you're playing the Columbus Blue Jackets or anybody else in the playoffs. The retaliation stuff is the stuff that's going to bite you right on the backside. You're going to lose games, you're going to lose games, which [is] going to lead to losing [the] series."

The longtime broadcast analyst speculated that the Blue Jackets will see a reaction like Letang's and increase their efforts to get under the Penguins’ collective skin as this series progresses.
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PITTSBURGH -- At the beginning of the season, Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson met with his players and talked about opportunity. Not just the opportunity of doing something special this season, but of big-picture opportunities; as in, how many opportunities do players get in their career to be part of something unique, meaningful?

Davidson played in 301 NHL games and in 1979 was with the New York Rangers when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals.

He imagined those kinds of experiences would be within his grasp again and again.

He never made it back to the finals and in fact appeared in only 10 postseason games after that.

"You just don't know," Davidson told ESPN.com.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, a team still searching for their first-ever postseason victory after dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 4-3 count on Wednesday, are a team that has had precious few moments like this in their history.

This is only their second trip to the postseason, and they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first one. Wednesday night marked the first time they actually held a lead in a playoff game.

So much of the discussion surrounding the Blue Jackets, who earned the top wild-card in the Eastern Conference with a strong second half, has been about seizing the moment, taking it in.

"You've got to embrace the opportunity to play for the big prize, the Stanley Cup," Davidson said.

While they might be a team short on experience -- 11 players in Wednesday's Game 1 had never played in an NHL playoff game and there were a handful of others whose playoff experiences numbered in the single digits -- rest assured, win or lose, the Blue Jackets are soaking up every minute of this trip to the playoff dance.

Perhaps no one is doing more soaking than veteran forward Derek MacKenzie. At 32, he is the senior member of a youthful Columbus team. He has been with the team since 2007, and Wednesday marked his first-ever playoff game as an NHLer. That kind of drought brings with it a lot of introspection, wondering and downright despair.

"I think, personally, there was a time you question whether what you're doing is good enough to help the team get to the playoffs," MacKenzie told ESPN.com. "I think there were some times when, yeah, we felt like it's a long shot or we needed a break. I think the mentality going into this year was, we stick to the game plan and do what we're supposed to and we're going to get there. The way last season ended kind of was a big eye-opener, especially for some of the young guys, and they did a great job stepping up this year.

"Being part of this organization for seven years, you always hoped that you could get to this point, but things happen along the way and you're never sure who's going to be standing there at the end. So, I feel pretty fortunate that I made it through some of the darker days."

They all have their stories, whether it's the top draft picks, such as Ryan Murray or Ryan Johansen, who had a breakout year leading the Blue Jackets in scoring by a wide margin, or veterans who have been cast off by other teams. They have come together in the face of years of disappointment and failure to try to create something different.

Mark Letestu, for instance, began his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins but was traded early in 2011 to Columbus.

"Any time you get traded, you feel like you're not wanted or you're being cast off somewhere else, but I chose to just look at it positively," Letestu told ESPN.com. "At the time, Columbus was a struggling franchise, last place at the time, so I knew I was going somewhere that I knew I was going to get a chance to play and I had a chance to establish myself as an NHL regular. So the move for my career's been great. Now that we've got ourselves back in the Stanley Cup mix, it couldn't have worked out better.

"I think most guys here are eyes and ears open; we're trying to soak it in as much as possible. I think we did a good job of that last season with the drive for the playoffs and just coming up short. And this year [we] seemed to learn it and got done early, understood the situation and executed. So hopefully guys are eyes and ears open here, learn as much as they can, so in the future we have experiences to draw back on," said Letestu, who finished the season playing his best hockey and picked up a goal in Game 1 on the power play.

Davidson uses a building metaphor, the setting in place of a series of bricks in constructing a team capable of making the playoffs and being a threat.

It requires patience and commitment from the top on down.

Ownership is committed and Davidson -- who came over from St. Louis, where he helped get that franchise back on track after some lean years -- hired Jarmo Kekalainen as his GM.

"He's sturdy," Davidson said of Kekalainen. "We've had a roller-coaster year. There's a lot of roller coaster in a young team. And if you don't have that steadiness, you don't have anything."

Kekalainen said he's pleased for the franchise and the city to be rewarded for their patience through difficult times.

But it's the players who have bought in and made things happen that Kekalainen feels most pleased for.

Head coach Todd Richards is likewise a sturdy fellow, and his team plays a fast, sturdy game that was on display Wednesday night when they out-hit the Penguins by a large margin.

In the two years Davidson's been with the team, he has heard not one complaint about Richards or his staff, which is unusual, given the decisions on ice time and roles that invariably leave some players disappointed or angry.

"He's a straight shooter," Davidson said of his coach.

MacKenzie is, to follow the building imagery, the cement that helps bind those bricks, and his hard-nosed play and his perseverance have resonated in the locker room.

In Game 1, he scored a short-handed goal that at the time gave Columbus a 3-1 lead.

"He's invested a lot," Davidson said. "He's one of the real quality people on the club."

MacKenzie said it's been a lot more fun this spring being around Columbus.

"It's been fun playing at home," he said. "Certainly, again, in years past, you had to explain why you didn't make it or why you didn't get there to a lot of people. Columbus is a great hockey town, an educated hockey town. It’s been nice just going to the zoo with the kids and the odd fan showing their excitement.

"We've been promising it for a long time, and now it's finally here."

Patrick Roy does it again

April, 17, 2014
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Roy-alty in Colorado: The Avalanche begin their first-round series with the Wild Thursday night. From Elias: Patrick Roy is only the third rookie coach in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to lead his team to a division title a season after that team finished last in its division. The others: Kevin Dineen (Panthers in 2011-12) and Bruce Boudreau (Capitals in 2007-08). Neither team won a playoff series in those years.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Flyers, Game 1

April, 17, 2014
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At a glance: After much anticipation, the puck is finally set to drop on what promises to be a compelling first-round matchup when the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Thursday night (7 ET).

And there will be no need to wait until later in the series for hatred to fester, given the animosity that already exists between the two bitter Metropolitan Division rivals. The big story of the series so far is the Flyers’ loss of starting goaltender Steve Mason, at least for Game 1. Backup goalie Ray Emery will start for Philadelphia as it tries to spoil the Rangers’ playoff home opener at MSG.

Super sub? Emery will be the man between the pipes for Philly, and here’s why that’s not such a bad thing for the Flyers: The 31-year-old has posted a 7-2-0 record in 10 career games against the Rangers and has ample playoff experience in previous years with the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks. And though he did not make any postseason appearances last spring, he still has a good idea of what it takes to win hockey’s ultimate prize. Let’s not forget, after all, that his name is on the Stanley Cup alongside his 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks teammates. Of the team’s confidence in Emery, coach Craig Berube said: “Ray’s won a lot of big games. He really enjoys the challenge.”

How long Emery may be holding down the fort remains to be seen. In Thursday’s pregame press briefing, Berube said that Mason is “doing better” with the upper-body injury he sustained Saturday and will join the Flyers in New York on Friday. Whether he will be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon has not yet been determined.

Emotions in check: It’s no secret that the sort of contempt between these two teams will make for a heated, emotional series. But for the Rangers to prevail, they’ll need to remain disciplined. Why? The Flyers boast the league’s best power play on the road with a dazzling 25.2 percent success rate.

Mac attack: The Rangers will have top defenseman Ryan McDonagh patrolling their blue line for the first time since he suffered a left shoulder injury on April 1. McDonagh said he has “no restrictions” with his shoulder and is eager to jump back into the lineup after sitting out the past five games. McDonagh and his defensive partner, Dan Girardi, will likely draw the task of trying to contain the Flyers’ top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. He’s proved himself up to the challenge before. Said Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds: “He’s one of the toughest guys to play against. He just has a poise about him.” Asked whether the Flyers will make an increased effort to finish their checks against him, knowing that he is coming off an injury, Simmonds said: “You don’t want to harm anyone, but we have to do our jobs and be physical.”

Ducks' Andersen stays cool under pressure

April, 17, 2014
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ANAHEIM -- Frederik Andersen is a rookie no more.

OK, officially he still is, but the young goalie for the Anaheim Ducks looked and played like a seasoned veteran Wednesday night, stopping 32 shots in his first NHL playoff appearance to help the top-seeded Ducks to a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal.

Andersen, the first Danish goalie to appear in an NHL playoff game, earned the start over veteran Jonas Hiller and fellow rookie John Gibson with consistently stellar play while compiling a 20-5 record during the regular season.

Andersen said he never felt nervous playing in such a big game at Honda Center, even when the Stars turned a four-goal deficit midway through the second period into a one-goal disadvantage with about six minutes left in the game.

"You can’t let nervousness get to you," Andersen said. "You’re [in trouble] when you do that."

His teammates have been impressed by Andersen ever since he beat the Stars in his NHL debut back in October, but they saw him take his coolness to another level as he took the ice Wednesday.

“It’s really good for a young goalie to get out there and play his first playoff game and be so relaxed in net," Ducks forward Patrick Maroon said.

When the Stars scored two goals about 90 seconds apart late in the second period to cut the four-goal lead in half, Andersen didn’t seem to bat an eye as he turned away Jamie Benn on the doorstep with 40 seconds remaining in the period.

"He made some big saves at crucial times," Ducks winger Corey Perry said. "When he’s standing tall and playing big, that’s when he’s at his best.”

The Ducks missed a golden opportunity to retake a three-goal lead early in the third when Teemu Selanne stole the puck behind the net from Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen and fed Maroon in front, but he missed the net. Not long after, the Stars pulled within one on a goal by Tyler Seguin, drowning out the excitement inside the arena.

But the Ducks could still count on Andersen, who came up with two big saves in the final 2½ minutes, the last with the Dallas goalie pulled from net.

"That’s what happens when you go down 4-0, the coach probably told them how they were playing," Andersen said. "I think it’s a good lesson [for us], playing with a lead. Good thing we won anyway."

The Ducks had two players leave the ice with injuries, including captain Ryan Getzlaf, who was hit in the face with a slap shot by Seguin with 16 seconds left in the game. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Getzlaf would need stitches near the corner of his mouth, but expects him to return for Game 2 on Friday.

Anaheim left wing Matt Beleskey, who also had a goal and an assist in the opener, left in the third period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

Rapid Reaction: Ducks 4, Stars 3

April, 17, 2014
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ANAHEIM -- The Anaheim Ducks nearly took their unfinished business too lightly Wednesday night.

After building a four-goal lead midway through the second period against the visiting Dallas Stars, the Ducks were forced to hang on for the final six minutes before pulling out a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal at Honda Center.

The Ducks have been dispatched in the first round of the playoffs in three of their four appearances since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, despite having home-ice advantage, and they seemed overly intent on not going home early this spring. Even their marketing department has unleashed the battle cry, "Unfinished Business," after getting eliminated in the first round last season as the second-seeded team.

Anaheim, now representing the top seed in the West for the first time in franchise history, made a statement early on Thursday night, scoring three unanswered goals in the opening period.

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, part of the Ducks' Stanley Cup championship team along with Teemu Selanne and Francois Beauchemin, were among those who brought their A-games for Anaheim, as Getzlaf had a goal and an assist and Perry assisted on Getzlaf’s first-period goal. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau rolled the dice by giving rookie goalkeeper Frederik Andersen his first career playoff start and he responded with 32 saves.

Dallas, making its first playoff appearances since 2008, came out blazing but the Ducks quickly threw cold water on their hopes as Erik Cole turned the puck over in the offensive zone, leading to a 2-on-1 by Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri. Bonino lifted a brilliant pass over diving defenseman Aaron Rome and onto the stick of Palmeiri, who guided it into the net with his backhand.

A blocked shot by Getzlaf about 11 minutes later led to another odd-man rush by Anaheim and this time left wing Matt Beleskey fired the puck off the chest of Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen and, before Lehtonen could locate the runner, Getzlaf had swooped in and slapped it into the net for a 2-0 lead.

The Ducks then ended an 0-for-11 streak on the power play when Patrick Maroon made a nifty cross pass through the legs of defenseman Jordie Benn and onto the tape of Mathieu Perreault, who stuck the puck into the open side for a 3-0 lead.

Another power-play goal by the Ducks with just more than nine minutes left in the second period proved huge as the Stars scored twice in the final 3½ minutes of the period to cut the deficit in half and another by Tyler Seguin with just more than six minutes left to trim the deficit to 4-3.

The Ducks persevered, however, as Andersen came up with some big stops down the stretch.

The victory didn’t come without its physical downfalls for the Ducks. Getzlaf took a slap shot off the face with 16 seconds left and hurried off the ice, and Beleskey, who scored the fourth goal for the Ducks, left with a lower-body injury in the third period and did not return.
Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise talks playoff jitters, beating Semyon Varlamov and meeting Ilya Bryzgalov before Game 1 of his team's series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Derick Brassard will play Game 1

April, 16, 2014
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers center Derick Brassard left practice early for the second consecutive day, though he insists he will be ready to play Game 1 of the team’s first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Brassard left Tuesday’s practice with an apparent back issue and did not partake in the latter portion of Wednesday’s session. Recently recalled prospect J.T. Miller filled Brassard’s absence, centering Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello during line rushes at the end of practice.

Brassard said he could’ve remained on the ice but wanted to play it safe.

“I could’ve skated the whole practice It was just a precaution for tomorrow,” Brassard said. “I feel 100 percent for tomorrow."

The 26-year-old Brassard, who centers one of the team’s most effective forward lines, said there is no doubt he will be ready to go Thursday.

“There’s no question in mind,” Brassard said. “It’s just a precaution. I think the day off I kinda had yesterday, to get off the ice, I think it really helped me to be 100 percent. I'm gonna try to help the team win some games.”

Asked if the issue was caused by one particular play, Brassard said it was rather one of the lingering ailments that just about every player deals with throughout the course of a grueling 82-game season.

“Not at all. You go through a season and you battle injuries. Everyone does around the league. It’s a long season, and I think that's why we got those two days off,” Brassard said. “Three days ago I was not 100 percent, but the past two days I think I’m 100 percent and that's what counts. I want to be ready to help the team tomorrow.”

While the Rangers seemingly avoided what could’ve been a very costly loss -- they are already without top-six forward Chris Kreider, who is sidelined indefinitely with an injured left hand -- the Flyers were not as lucky.

Starting goaltender Steve Mason has been ruled out with an upper-body injury. Backup netminder Ray Emery will start for Philadelphia on Thursday.

“Honestly, for us it doesn’t really matter if it's Mason or Emery. They’re both really good goaltenders,” said Brassard, who played with Mason while the two players were with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. “Steve had a really good season, and I think Emery is a goalie that has shown in the past that he can play in the playoffs, so for us, we focus on how we want to play. We want to play our game and it doesn’t really matter who is in net for them.”

Where have you gone, Ohio?

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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video Ohio's NHL Drought: The Blue Jackets are in Pittsburgh Wednesday night for Game 1 of their first-round series. Not only are they looking for their first-ever postseason win, but state pride is also on the line. The last playoff game won at the major league level by an Ohio hockey team was on April 22, 1979, when the WHA Cincinnati Stingers beat the New England Whalers in a preliminary-round game.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault seemed to backpedal a bit Tuesday from his statements earlier this month, when he questioned prospect J.T. Miller's commitment after sending the 20-year-old back to the minors.

Vigneault did not backtrack on the message itself, but bristled about the notion that those comments were “pointed” remarks aimed at Miller. Vigneault said those comments could have been made about any player at that stage of his career.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Miller
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesJ.T. Miller is back up with the Rangers, and could make his postseason debut.
“I would say those comments might have been interpreted by you as pointed," Vigneault said. "I would say to you that 95 percent of young players have to figure it out. They get help from coaches -- their minor-league [coaches] and they get help from their NHL coaches. Until they figure it out, they’re either gonna figure it out and become good NHL players, or they’re not and they’re going to be good minor-leaguers.”

“That comment made to him I could have made to any young player,” Vigneault added.

The amount of times the Rangers have shuttled Miller back and forth between the big club and the team’s AHL affiliate this season, however, has not been typical of the normal development process for a talented young player within the Rangers organization.

So it’s fair to say Miller might feel he has something to prove during his current stint, recalled to potentially serve as a playoff replacement.

“Once that happens, you try not to worry about the past. You just try to worry about the task at hand," Miller said after practice Tuesday. “You try to just focus, play well, and play my role and try to bear down on things off the ice.”

Miller led the Hartford Wolf Pack with 15 goals and 43 points in 41 games this season, and Vigneault thinks he can fill an offensive hole in the Rangers’ lineup if needed. Vigneault said he would have no problem playing Miller at center, his natural position, even though he has played on the wing in the past while up with the Rangers.

“We feel if one part of any line goes down he has the potential and skill set to be able to come in for an amount of time to fill that spot,” Vigneault said.

That time may come sooner or later, depending on Derick Brassard's status for Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. Though Vigneault sounded optimistic the 26-year-old will be able to play, Brassard left practice on Tuesday with an apparent injury and did not return.

Will Miller make his postseason debut at some point soon?

“It’s something you always wish you can be a part of,” Miller said. “It’s very special for me. I’ve just got to stay ready.”
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers can breathe easy knowing they will have defenseman Ryan McDonagh back in the lineup when their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers begins. But the first day of practice leading up to Game 1 finished with questions about one of the team’s key forwards.

Top-six center Derick Brassard left the ice Tuesday in apparent pain while the team was doing special-teams work at its practice facility and did not return. Coach Alain Vigneault did not provide an update on the 26-year-old’s status.

[+] EnlargeDerick Brassard
Perry Nelson/USA TODAY SportsDerick Brassard appeared to hurt himself during Tuesday's practice.
He did seem optimistic, however, that Brassard will be available when the puck drops to begin the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I would say yes,” Vigneault said.

Brassard has been a critical component of one of the Rangers’ most productive lines, a trio that also includes Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. The three players have combined for nine points in the last four games heading into the postseason. The Rangers are already without one of their top-six forwards with Chris Kreider sidelined indefinitely with a left hand injury.

Balance up front will be absolutely vital against a Flyers team heralded for its forward depth. Philadelphia boasts one of the most dangerous top lines in the NHL with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell, and also has the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read and Vincent Lecavalier. The Flyers have seven players with 20 or more goals, including defenseman Mark Streit.

But Philadelphia has an injury concern of its own, with starting goaltender Steve Mason's status for Game 1 unknown. Mason left the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday with an upper-body injury after a second-period collision and did not return to the game. Though Flyers head coach Craig Berube sounded confident immediately afterward that Mason would be ready to go by Thursday, that optimism has waned in recent days.

Mason did spend a limited amount of time on the ice with the Flyers on Tuesday but did not speak to the media. Berube told reporters in Philadelphia that he's not sure if Mason will play.

With the Rangers already enjoying an overwhelming edge in the goaltending department with former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, Mason’s potential absence could have significant ramifications. However, backup Ray Emery has done quite well against the Blueshirts in the past, with a 7-2-0 record and two shutouts in 10 career appearances against New York.

Regardless of who is in the lineup for both teams, this series is guaranteed to deliver the type of saltiness and snarl that makes playoff hockey so compelling.

The Rangers and Flyers split their four games in the regular season. And given the teams' prior history -- no playoff meetings since 1997, but an abundance of high-intensity, hate-filled regular-season games -- that will only make the intensity more palpable.

“A team you don’t see all that often, sometimes it takes a little longer to build the animosity,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “We’re very familiar with each other. I don’t think we need to build any of that up. It should be a good start.”

The Flyers possess one of the better power plays in the league, a unit that ranks first in the NHL with a 25.2 percent success rate. So no matter how often frustrations escalate, the Rangers must focus on trying to keep their reactions in check.

“I think discipline is going to be key, because they have a really good power play,” said veteran center Brad Richards, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. “I think our power play can be dangerous also, so I think both teams are going to want to keep those power plays on the bench.

“After that, it’s a matter of how high you want to raise your level with every game,” Richards said. “We’ve learned that in the past here, and for guys that have been to the playoffs, they know that. Every game gets faster. Every game gets harder. Hopefully we can ride that momentum and get better as the series goes on.”
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Barry Trotz might need a new phone battery by the end of this week.

Text messages and voice mails have been flowing in since the announcement Monday that he was no longer going to coach the Nashville Predators following 15 seasons (17 years) with the organization.

Lots of those messages were from rival coaches, and the volume of people reaching out certainly touched him.

"I'm going to spend the whole day returning texts and phone calls," Trotz told ESPN.com Tuesday. "I need to hire an assistant."

Not really, but he is seriously thinking about hiring representation. When you're coaching the same team for 17 years, you don't need an agent. But now he's entering the open market, and he's likely going to need someone to handle what he hopes is some level of interest.

Humble to the bone, he wasn't sure what to expect on that front. The reality is that he's the hottest candidate on the coaching market. Teams looking for a head coach would be absolutely crazy not to look at him.

"We'll see if there's anything out there that makes sense," Trotz said. "I want to work with someone, not for someone, to do something special. I want to be part of something meaningful. I want to win a Stanley Cup. But I'm not just going to take the first job offered. It has to be right."

Media and fans in Vancouver and Toronto have already identified Trotz as a target for coaching jobs in those cities, to which Trotz quickly shot down any line of questioning on those fronts out of respect for the coaches who are still employed in those respective markets, John Tortorella and Randy Carlyle.

"I don't wish anybody getting fired," said Trotz. "As coaches we work hard; emotionally it takes its toll. You don't want to ever see a coach let go."

Personally, I feel Vancouver would be a better fit if there's an opening, when you consider the Canucks will likely go younger with a rebuilding lineup, and Trotz's track record on that front speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, Trotz has been offered a job in the Predators organization if he doesn't find another coaching gig.

He made it clear that while Preds GM David Poile "treated me with nothing but class," he wants to be behind a bench, not a desk.

"I want to coach," said Trotz. "I'm looking forward to getting an opportunity that is right."

One question that Trotz will no doubt be asked as opportunities arise, after spending 17 years in a small market where there was one traveling beat writer, is can he handle a bigger market?

"I've coached in the playoffs with the Predators in places like Vancouver. I've been in the league 17 years, I think I could handle it," Trotz said. "Probably not 10 years ago, but now, yes. I've had everything thrown at me for 17 years. I know how to handle people. We're in the people business, from dealing with players and media, I'm good with people. I think I can handle that, if that were to come. Right now, there's nothing open, so I'll sit and wait and see what happens."

On the family front, the timing is good for a new home. His kids have all grown up and are all out of school, other than his 13-year-old son with Down syndrome.

"I'm looking forward to spending some time with the little guy," Trotz said of his son. "My family is in a good place. If we're moving, we're OK with that. Another adventure."

And wherever he lands, he'll remain true to himself.

"Any place I go, I'm going to be me," said Trotz. "I'm going to be involved within the community. I'm going to work my butt off for that NHL team. That's the only way I know. That's how I'm wired."

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