Cross Checks: San Jose Sharks


BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and agent Kent Hughes, who reps star blue-liner Kris Letang, are slated to meet here in Boston on Wednesday, a source told ESPN.com.

It only makes sense because Hughes lives in Boston and Shero is in town for the NHL's general managers meeting.

It could potentially be a pivotal meeting in terms of what transpires on the Letang front. The blue-liner has one year left on his deal, but Shero’s usual M.O. is not to wait it out. Just look at the Jordan Staal situation a year ago. After Staal, who had one year left on his deal, rejected a contract extension from the Penguins, Shero dealt him quickly thereafter.

It could be that Shero will get the ball rolling on trade talks if Letang rejects whatever offer might be coming from the Penguins' GM.

And know this, I don’t think Letang signs for any less than $7 million a season.

Wednesday’s meeting, therefore, will be a compelling discussion either way.

BRIERE BUYOUT

Daniel Briere will be an unrestricted free agent soon, with the Philadelphia Flyers deciding to buy him out.

A source told ESPN.com that Briere and Paul Holmgren met last week, at which time the Flyers' GM informed the veteran center of the team’s decision. No bitter feelings, though, as I’m told Briere feels Holmgren handled it with class.

The buyout will wipe out Briere’s $6.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers will buy out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a decision that has been met with mixed opinions within the Flyers front office.

The decision is whether to do it now or wait one more year, when they can still get a cap-friendly buyout.

Perhaps what might push the Flyers into buying out Bryzgalov now is the availability of young netminder Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings.

My TSN colleague, Bob McKenzie, reported during our Insider Trading segment Tuesday night that the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Islanders were most interested in Bernier.

One source told ESPN.com Tuesday that five teams have serious interest in Bernier, the list cut down from the nearly dozen clubs that poked around about him.

COACHING CAROUSEL

Could the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks simply swap coaches this offseason?

It’s possible.

We know Alain Vigneault will be the new Rangers bench boss, the official announcement imminent. But what about John Tortorella?

He has interviewed in Vancouver, and a source told ESPN.com that the Canucks were impressed with Torts. He is among the final four candidates for the Canucks' coach gig vacated by Vigneault. The others are John Stevens, Scott Arniel and Lindy Ruff.

The intensity that Torts brings and the accountability he would demand from players are elements that impressed Canucks brass.

Stevens would be a more cerebral coach, his defensive work on the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings not to be overlooked. Ruff is a stud candidate, of course, and Arniel is viewed by some in the industry as a guy who deserves another shot after what happened in Columbus.

Another potential candidate is Dave Tippett (whose deal is up), depending on what transpires with the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership front. If Tippett were to become available, my guess is both Vancouver and the Dallas Stars would want to talk to him.

TUUKKA’S FUTURE

Give agent Bill Zito a lot of credit. When he signed his client Tuukka Rask to just a one-year deal a year ago, some people criticized him. The gamble, though, was that Rask would excel in his first full season as Boston Bruins starter with Tim Thomas gone -- and boy, oh boy, has that been an incredible decision by Zito.

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Zito and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli talked about an extension back after the lockout-shortened season began in January, but then mutually decided it would be better to wait until after the season was over to pick it up again regarding the star netminder, a restricted free agent.

SIGNINGS

On the heals of the Penguins locking up star center Evgeni Malkin a year before he was due to become a free agent, the Detroit Red Wings and Pavel Datsyuk, while the Sharks have agreed to a five-year extension with Logan Couture worth $6 million a year.

A couple of thoughts on each deal: First in Detroit, where I wonder what the Datsyuk signing means for pending UFA center Valtteri Filppula. In a weak UFA class, Filppula can likely fetch north of $5 million on the open market, and I think that coin is too rich for Detroit. Expect the Wings and Zito, also Filppula’s agent, to meet next week at the draft though.

As for Couture, the term (five years) is reflective of how San Jose has managed to keep its top players from signing those lifetime deals that other stars get around the league, which allows GM Doug Wilson to stay out of a payroll/cap jam. Other than Couture now, not a single player on the Sharks roster has a deal that extends past five years, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both signing shorter-term deals a few years ago.

SENATORS UPDATE

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray held a brief discussion with Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean about a contract extension last weekend and is expected to sit down with his coach next week at the draft. MacLean has one year left on his deal.

Murray has chatted briefly with captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is an UFA and undecided on whether to keep playing or not. In a perfect world, Murray would get an answer before Alfredsson goes back to Sweden for the summer next week, which would give the Sens the ability to hit trade talks/free agency with the knowledge of whether or not he’s back.

But if Alfredsson needs more time to think about it, Murray said it would be no problem at all. Meanwhile, other UFAs on the Ottawa roster include Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin and Mike Lundin, none of whom likely will get a contract offer from the Senators.

THIS AND THAT

Veteran agent Don Meehan expects to meet with Rangers GM Glen Sather in New York/New Jersey the week of the draft to talk extension for star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. That’s going to be an expensive re-sign. …

The Carolina Hurricanes offered pending UFA Dan Ellis a new deal, but the veteran backup netminder informed them he was headed to market. …

Speaking of the Hurricanes, they’ve gotten calls about their No. 5 overall pick for the June 30 draft, but the intention right now is to keep the pick. …

Contract talks have been ongoing since the end of their season between the Kings and pending UFA blue-liner Rob Scuderi. The expectation is that veteran agent Steve Bartlett will meet in person with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on draft week. With Slava Voynov signing a six-year, $25 million deal Tuesday, Scuderi is now clearly the top priority. …

No surprise at all but the expectation is that pending UFA center Derek Roy, who was dealt by the Stars to the Canucks at the deadline, is headed to market. …

The NHL’s 30 GMs meet here Wednesday before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, and while Patrick Roy will be handling trade discussions for the Colorado Avalanche, Greg Sherman will represent the franchise at the meeting.
Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Antti Niemi of the San Jose SharksAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesAntti Niemi and the Sharks aren't happy about their season's end, but they still stood tall in 2013.

LOS ANGELES -- You were in the wrong dressing room here Tuesday night if you were looking for anyone to acknowledge what the San Jose Sharks achieved this season.

No, in the visitors’ room at Staples Center, there were only looks of despair and heartbreak after a hard-fought series with the Los Angeles Kings ended with a Game 7 loss.

Logan Couture sat dejectedly in his stall, looking into space as if hoping to wake up from a nightmare.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s tough,” Couture said. “It’s been a long year. We battled hard to get to where we were. We made some changes and played a good first round, then forced, I think, the best team in the league to seven games and almost beat them in their building. It’s tough to take.”

“We played our hearts out, and that’s all you can ask of each other,” added captain Joe Thornton.

This was a team that was headed absolutely nowhere in February. The Sharks couldn’t score, they couldn’t skate and they didn’t look like a team worthy of a playoff berth, which is why GM Doug Wilson took honest stock back then of what he had and decided it was time to “reset” his roster, planting the seeds for the eventual trades of veterans Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus.

They were all pending unrestricted free agents after the season, and Wilson had seen enough of his team midway through the season to know he had to get younger and faster. Years of contending had had its impact. It was time to remold the group, a process which will continue in the offseason.

But at that time, about the last thing anybody in San Jose truly believed was that they’d end up just one win away from the Western Conference finals.

“Definitely credit to the guys for turning this thing around because it was looking pretty dark and ugly for a while,” veteran blueliner Dan Boyle said.

A strange thing happened in early April after Murray, Handzus and Clowe were dealt away: The team came together and started winning games.

Feeding off a sense that nobody believed in them, the Sharks molded into a tight-knit group that felt it could prove people wrong. The team did so by upsetting Vancouver in the opening round -- in four straight games no less -- and impressed in the manner in which they took the Kings to the very end.

The loss of Raffi Torres to suspension after Game 1 against the Kings was a factor, Boyle said.

“We had to shift our lines a little bit after losing Raffi, and I think that hurt us a little bit,” Boyle said. “We had [Joe] Pavelski on the third line in the first round and that gave us a balanced scoring attack. With Raffi out, Pavs went up [to Couture’s line]. It’s not the way we were playing in the last month and a half.”

Couture acknowledged afterward that he had been playing on an injured ankle he suffered in Game 3 -- a game in which he returned to score in OT -- which required an injection every game just to play. But he refused to use that as an excuse.

“I was able to play 100 percent,” Couture said, his face buried in his hands.

Top blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic also gutted it out, confirming to me after Game 7 that he’d been playing with a hairline fracture in his right foot since Game 4, which required freezing the nerves in his foot before playing.

“But lots of guys in this room were playing hurt, just like the Kings," Vlasic said. "It’s no excuse.”

So what now? Thornton and Boyle both have one year left on their contracts. Are they part of Wilson’s roster reset, which will continue this summer? Or do both vets, or only one of them, stay on?

“It’s tough to look at the future right now," Boyle said. "We’ll see what happens this summer, but obviously we have something going well with this team."

Thornton and Boyle were both terrific in these playoffs, and you wonder just how badly they wanted this given where they see the team heading.

“It’s disappointing right now,” Thornton said. “We were just having so much fun. It’s disappointing that it has to end, because we were really enjoying this. It’s a tough way to finish.”

The Sharks know they’ve got special players in Couture, Pavelski, Antti Niemi and Vlasic, plus up-and-comers in Justin Braun and Matt Irwin. They should remain a competitive team.

But it’s a team that needs more depth, too. They didn’t get a single goal from any of their bottom-six forwards -- not counting Pavelski, who moved up a line -- in two playoff rounds. Tough to win when you’re counting so hard on your top players all the time.

All in all, though, considering how the season looked in February and March, it's hard not to feel somewhat satisfied if you’re a Sharks fan in the end. This isn’t a team that folded under expectations. It’s a team that achieved more than was expected from them this time around.


LOS ANGELES -- A titanic Californian fortnight is over, ending the way it began, with a Jonathan Quick gem.

What else is new, right?

A series that was incredibly close had to end, the reigning Stanley Cup champions raising their game one more time as if on cue to win the day.

Justin "Just Call Me Game 7" Williams provided a pair of second-period goals, and the Los Angeles Kings outlasted the San Jose Sharks 2-1 Tuesday night to cap a series that was decided by a hair.

“They’re as good as us,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said afterward, adding that the only difference was scoring the extra goal they needed.

“The series could have gone either way,” said a dejected Marc-Edouard Vlasic in a somber Sharks dressing room. “Tonight could have gone either way. We fought back all year, and it sucks to get that close now and fall short.”

Take a bow Californian puck fans, you took center stage in the second round with the best hockey the NHL had to offer.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I covered a series that featured two teams so closely matched.

“They were very close games, and they gave us pretty much everything we could handle,” veteran Kings blue-liner Rob Scuderi said. “I’m just glad we could pull it out.”

But in the end, two eye-popping trends owned the day: The home team went 7-0 in the series. And the team scoring the first goal was also a perfect 7-0.

Which is why the Sharks, to a man, spoke Tuesday morning about how badly they wanted to score first.

They played a real solid opening period, limited the Kings to only three shots on goal.

Then Sharks star Logan Couture was stoned by a beauty of a Quick glove save early in the second period, a golden chance for the Sharks to get that opening goal they so dearly craved.

But the game -- and their season, in many ways -- came unglued 2:46 into the second period when Brent Burns took an interference penalty 200 feet away from their own end, the kind coaches cringe at. On the ensuing power play, Williams poked in a rebound to make it 1-0.

Maybe knowing just how badly they wanted that opening goal themselves, the Sharks were totally unhinged after that, running around their own zone like their hair was on fire, while the Kings smelled blood and, like the champs they are, applied the pressure in waves as they sensed a chance to pile it on.

A TV timeout did nothing to calm the Sharks down.

Anze Kopitar came flying into the zone when play resumed and found Williams with a zinger of a cross-ice pass that the veteran, a two-time Cup winner, one-timed past Antti Niemi for a 2-0 lead at 7:08.

Bedlam at Staples Center, with two goals in 2:57. In reality, it was pretty much game over when you consider Quick had given up three goals just twice in the entire playoffs and only once to San Jose.

Dan Boyle sure made it interesting 5:26 into the third period when his point shot beat Quick, the Sharks then pressing for the equalizer for much of the period.

But there was that Quick guy again, extending his arm and snagging what looked like the sure tying goal from Joe Pavelski with just more than five minutes to go.

“I think the Pavelski one near the end,” Scuderi said when asked to pinpoint the save that stood out to him. “He got over and made that huge save before I could get there. I can’t tell you how that speaks volumes for the confidence in the locker room, knowing that you have a guy that can make that save when you need it.”

Niemi was very good in this series, but Quick -- last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner -- was great. That was just enough of an edge for L.A.

“Their goalie, we didn’t want him to be the story,” Boyle said. “[But] I think he was the difference in this series, in my opinion.”

The offensive star on this night, meanwhile, is no stranger to Game 7 heroics. Williams entered the game a perfect 3-0 in his career in Game 7s, tallying seven points (three goals, four assists) in those games.

Make it 4-0 in Game 7s for Mr. Clutch, with nine points. There’s a reason the guy has two Cup rings, right?

“Right place, right time,” smiled Williams. “I enjoy pressure situations. I know everyone in this dressing room does. You want to be out there first minute, final minute. You want the puck.”

The Kings now await the winner of the Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks series to continue their title defense.

It has been far from easy, the Kings falling behind 2-0 in the opening round to the St. Louis Blues and seeing the Sharks go toe-to-toe with them in the second round, but the champ is still standing.

What remains to be seen is whether having to play 13 games in two rounds, compared to only nine games halfway through their title run a season ago, will have any impact on their ability to continue their advancement.

“We’re going to need some rest here over the next few days because we need it,” Williams said.

But whatever concern there is in terms of what the Kings have left in the tank, that’s a question for another day. On this night, the Kings remained the kings.

The allure of repeating as champs for the first time since the 1997-98 Red Wings fuels this team.

“I didn’t know this until June 12 last year,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “But you don’t know what you’re really playing for until you win. You don’t know the feeling; you don’t know what it’s like until you win it.

“In previous years, when we got knocked out by Vancouver and San Jose, I didn’t truly understand what I just lost out on. Now, it’s a different perspective after you’ve won. It’s a huge motivating factor for the guys in here.”

Kings know task ahead; Couture set to go

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Last round, the Los Angeles Kings dropped the opening two games in St. Louis before returning home to tie the series at Staples Center. If any team knows what the San Jose Sharks are aiming for Tuesday night in Game 4 at HP Pavilion, it’s the reigning Cup champions.

"We could put a stranglehold on the series with a win or we could be back even with a loss," Kings captain Dustin Brown said Monday after practice. "We’ve been in their situation. We know what they’re thinking, and we’ve also been in in this situation and it’s a matter of having the killer instinct."

The Sharks essentially had their season on the line in Game 3, needing to avoid a 3-0 series deficit. They pulled through in overtime. But the work is just beginning, the Sharks say.

“We haven't accomplished anything,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said Monday after practice. "We didn't get our work done in L.A., and that put us behind the eight-ball. The fact that we win Game 3, that's great, but we still are behind in the series. The series is getting shorter. The lifeline isn't as long as it was in the past, and we just have to find a way to get even. If our intensity or urgency drops because we've won a single game, I would be disappointed in our group.”

The Kings had a six-game playoff win streak snapped with the Game 3 overtime loss.

And despite being up 2-1 in the series, the Kings haven’t been happy with their overall play.

"That’s not a bad thing,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said Monday. "That’s what good players and good teams say. Some teams are just happy to make the playoffs. If you’re always trying to find way to get better, that’s a good thing."

There remains a calmness about the Kings no matter how things are going. It’s business as usual.

"Yeah, that’s part of what makes us successful as a team,” Brown said. "Whether it’s in the postseason or the regular season, through the highs and lows, we just go about our business in the right way and getting ourselves prepared. It’s going to be even more important going into Game 4 in their building."

COUTURE STILL A GO

Sharks star center Logan Couture was given Monday off from practice, but McLellan said he’s still a go for Game 4.

Couture was the overtime hero in Game 3, missing a large part of the second period after falling awkwardly into the boards.

McLellan felt it important for Couture to rest Monday.

“At this time of the year, they're like horses,” McLellan said. "They want to run, they want to play. But the ability to get some time and rest is an advantage for both teams.”

CLIFFORD BACK

It appears gritty winger Kyle Clifford is back in the Kings lineup after being out since May 8 with an undisclosed injury.

"Cliffy is obviously a big, physical guy and he’s got a lot of speed too," Kings forward Colin Fraser said. "He can give us that emotional lift that maybe we could use right now. He’s a guy that doesn’t take a shift off, and he’s hard to play against."

Clifford skated on a line with Fraser and Brad Richardson at practice Monday.

"I think my role is just to provide energy and chip in when I can and playing with Richy and Fraser, that’s kind of our job going out," Clifford said.

KINGS GO HOME

The Kings, by the way, flew home Saturday night after Game 3 in San Jose and skated Sunday and Monday in their practice facility in El Segundo before flying back to San Jose on Monday afternoon ahead of Tuesday's Game 4. It's rare for both teams to be split up for two days in the middle of a series, although the Minnesota Wild also went home between Game 1 and Game 2 in Chicago last round.
Trevor LewisEvan Gole/Getty ImagesTrevor Lewis helped the Kings steal Game 2 from San Jose, sending the Sharks into an 0-2 hole.

LOS ANGELES -- Now we find out about these San Jose Sharks.

We find out about their character and resiliency.

Because for many a team, having two goals scored 22 seconds apart in the final two minutes of a playoff game that seemed readily in hand can be absolutely crushing.

Instead of a road split in the opening two games, it’s an 0-2 series hole.

“The thing I like about our team, maybe in the past this would have probably bothered our team a little bit more,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said after a stunning 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. “But with the group of guys we have, we can recover from this.”

It was oh so close to a tremendous victory for the Sharks, Marc-Edouard Vlasic giving the visitors a 3-2 lead 8:56 into the third period to cap a three-goal comeback for his team.

But then came a tripping call on Brad Stuart at 17:19, followed by a controversial delay of game penalty to Vlasic at 17:41 for shooting the puck over the glass -- putting the Sharks two men down.

Dustin Brown scored on a rebound during the 5-on-3 power play to tie the game, and just 22 seconds later Trevor Lewis jumped on a rebound and slid the puck into an open side on the 5-on-4 man advantage.

The Staples Center was rocking. The Sharks were stunned.

After the buzzer, they were mainly angry because they felt replays showed Vlasic’s clearing attempt touched Kings forward Jeff Carter on the way out.

When a reporter suggested the puck seemed to touch Carter, Vlasic responded: “Well there you go. He saw that, then everybody saw that,” said Vlasic, pointing to the reporter.

“What’s done is done,” added Vlasic. “It’s unfortunate. We move on to the next game.”

It’s no small call. Going down 5-on-3 that late is a game-changer.

“You go back and look at it, it looks like it changed direction,” McLellan said of the Vlasic penalty. “One thing I learned certainly throughout these playoffs, it’s not going to do me any good to get up here and whine and moan and [complain] about the refereeing. Because it’s not going to get us anywhere. We took some penalties and we needed to kill them. And we move on.”

Sharks center Logan Couture could not contain his anger.

“I don’t know man, I got the puck in the corner with three minutes left and (Slava) Voynov slashed me on the wrist at least six times. No call. They say it’s too tight to make the call. Then they call a tripping (on Stuart). It’s tough," Couture said.

Down the hall in the home dressing room, the Kings know they stole one.

But when you’re a championship team, you find ways to win games you shouldn’t have, not lose games you should have won.

“Well, we realized it wasn’t our best effort, but sometimes good teams win games when they don’t deserve it, too,” Kings star Anze Kopitar said. “We pulled it out of our behinds this time. Next time, we want to make sure we’re not in a position like this.”

Kopitar gave Kings fans a scare when he left the game for some time early in the third period after taking a shot from linemate Brown in the face.

With Jarret Stoll out for a while with a concussion, the Kings could obviously ill-afford to lose another center.

But with Rocky music blaring on the Staples Center sound system, Kopitar made his return, and he certainly enjoyed the ending despite the freshly sewn stitches in his upper lip.

“It helps take the sting away,” Kopitar said. “We hadn’t scored a power-play goal in the playoffs at home yet, and to do it twice in the last two minutes is huge."

Lewis jumped into the glass after his game winner, an exhilarating moment in the checker’s career.

“I think I almost passed out on the celebration, I got a little light-headed,” Lewis said. “But … to score a big goal in the playoffs is what you dream about.”

A dream-like ending for one team, a nightmare for the other.

But the Sharks have to focus now on the fact they did a lot of good things on this night.

For starters, they scored three goals on Jonathan Quick, which is only the second time in these playoffs that’s happened.

“I liked our game,” McLellan said. “We’ll meet tomorrow at the rink and I’ll tell our team that. …
“It was a hell of an effort tonight from our group."

For 58-plus minutes, the Sharks were the better team. They were outshooting and out-chancing the Kings, and seemed to have the puck most of the night.

“We played well enough to win,” Couture said. “We got the lead. We were all over them the majority of the game. [But they got] the penalties at the end … and they score two goals.”

But I repeat my original question: How do they respond to this soul-shattering loss?

“We’ll respond,” Vlasic said. “I thought we responded well tonight, we played 60 minutes. We should have won that game. We finally got pucks to the net and got in front of him. It’s just tough. But our group will be ready.”
Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks hitting Jarret Stoll of the Los Angeles KingsChris Williams/Icon SMIRaffi Torres' hit on Jarret Stoll has landed him a suspension, and puts the Sharks in a tough spot.

LOS ANGELES -- As expected, Raffi Torres paid the price for being Raffi Torres.

Eric Gryba got two games, Justin Abdelkader got two games, but Torres got the rest of his playoff series (three to six games) absolutely because of his repeat offender status.

If it’s Logan Couture with the same hit on Jarret Stoll, he loses one or two games, maybe even receives just a warning.

But Torres got nailed in large part because of his rap sheet. And from that perspective, I’m OK with it. You can’t reform a player with a bad habit if you don’t hammer home the message.

What’s curious though is the league’s decision to suspended him for the “remainder of the series.” Which means anywhere from three to six games.

I understand what Brendan Shanahan is saying here; he feels Torres has lost the privilege to play against the Los Angeles Kings in this series after knocking out a key player from their team.

But if I’m the Chicago Blackhawks or the Detroit Red Wings, I’m wondering why it’s fair that Torres could possibly be suspended for just four games if the San Jose Sharks come back to beat the Kings in five, and then be able to play Game 1 in the Western Conference finals.

If Torres was deemed worthy of being suspended up to six games against the Kings, why is it possible he’d sit out less time before playing in the next round?

The CBA says in Article 18.10, Timing of Suspension: “As a general matter, a Player who is suspended shall serve a specific number of games.”

"As a general matter" is legalese for "there are exceptions." And the league believes this is an applicable exception.

The question now is whether Torres appeals or not. He’s entitled to do so. Via the NHLPA, Torres must submit in writing his intention to appeal within 48 hours of the suspension announcement if he intends to appeal. So we’ll get an answer soon enough, either way.

The Sharks, meanwhile, always knew this was the risk they were taking when they traded for him. Heck, Torres took out one of their own in Milan Michalek with a high hit during the 2006 playoffs.

But Torres had shown in Phoenix this year that he was seemingly a changed player, and that was enough for San Jose to want to take that chance. And I will tell you that Sharks players have been impressed with Torres, and you could tell that with the impassioned way in which they defended him since the Stoll hit.

I think what the Sharks never counted on, however, was that his loss would hurt so much. He has surprised many with how impactful a player he has been since joining the Sharks, playing a top-six role on a line of late with Couture and Patrick Marleau.

That’s the other wrinkle in this story. This isn’t some third-line mucker/grinder that the team can live without. It’s a player who had really grown in importance on this team. So his loss for the series really hurts San Jose.

Compound that with the fact Adam Burish is out for the series via injury and skilled winger Martin Havlat also remains unable to play, and the Sharks have 25 percent of their forward group unavailable. That certainly tests the team’s depth.
Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks and Brad Richardson of the Los Angeles KingsNoah Graham/Getty ImagesBrad Richardson, top, appears he will be facing off against the San Jose Sharks again.

LOS ANGELES -- Center Brad Richardson is the most likely player to be inserted into the Los Angeles Kings' lineup Thursday night for Game 2 to replace the injured Jarret Stoll.

“If that’s the case, I’m excited to get back in there,” Richardson said Wednesday after practice. “Big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to do that.

“I’ve played in the playoffs before, got some experience last year, I can draw on those times, have fun and play hard.”

For the San Jose Sharks, head coach Todd McLellan will need to find a replacement for second-line winger Raffi Torres, whose hit on Stoll led to his suspension pending a hearing at noon ET Thursday in New York (the 27-year-old Tim Kennedy is a good bet).

“If Raffi can't play, we've got other people that we can put in,” McLellan said Wednesday. “We'll look at our lines. We'll look at how we can best use those people. There's been a number of players who have been skating and have been waiting for this opportunity. If it does come to that, we feel confident.”

Injured winger Martin Havlat continues to skate but doesn’t appear ready yet.

“I would venture to guess no,” McLellan said.

KINGS' THIRD PERIOD

The Kings were outshot 16-4 in the third period Tuesday night. But Kings head coach Darryl Sutter wasn’t overly concerned that the Kings seemed to be under siege, saying it’s natural for San Jose to have pushed like it did given the score.

“It’s playoff hockey. We take a 2-0 lead into the third period and it’s basically even till then, power play, shots, really dead even game, and then you need your goalie to make some big saves,” Sutter said. “If we were down 2-0, we’d be pushing too.

“You have to be able to manage that, and we always do.”

BEATING QUICK

The Sharks found out in Game 1 what the Blues dealt with in the previous round.

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is back to his Conn Smythe self.

“He's a world-class goalie,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said. “He played well in Game 1. We'll just keep firing pucks in and hopefully a couple can sneak by him.”

“We had some good looks,” added Sharks forward Joe Pavelski. “We had some great chances. One or two of those can go in just as easy. We didn't give up much, but their chances, they capitalized on and they got the win. We have to play that same defensive style we had and compete, and there's a few areas of the game that we can be a little faster.”

Sharks center Logan Couture said creating more traffic in front of Quick is paramount heading into Game 2.

“More traffic, more shots in succession,” Couture said. “He's aggressive, he comes out of the blue and takes a lot of the lower net away, so shoot off him and (get) rebounds …

“He's in a zone right now. He's playing great. He's seeing everything. He's compact with the puck -- it's hitting him and it's not coming off him. But we have to find a way. In the St. Louis series, they were saying the same things that I'm saying right now. We've gotta find a way to score.”
LOS ANGELES -- Raffi Torres has managed to stay out of trouble since returning this season from a suspension that carried over from last year’s devastating playoff hit on Marian Hossa.

Read full story here.

What to watch for Tuesday night

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
3:39
PM ET

Boston Bruins (28-15-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Tim Thomas (24-5-6, 1.81 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (22-15-5, 2.70 GAA)
Preview: Two weeks after the Bruins finished a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes, Carolina tries to end the series with Boston on a high note. The Hurricanes got only two of their 76 shots past Tim Thomas in back-to-back losses to the Bruins on Jan. 17 and 18. Carolina is one point out of the eighth-seed in the East, while Boston leads the Northeast division.

Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-1 Chicago
Starting goaltenders: Marty Turco (10-10-2, 3.02 GAA) vs. Steve Mason (15-12-2, 3.20 GAA)
Preview: The Blackhawks begin a six-game road trip in Columbus after All-Star weekend featured four Chicago players, including game MVP Patrick Sharp. Heading into their final 32 games, the Blackhawks are tied for seventh in the West with San Jose and Colorado. Minnesota and Los Angeles are a point behind that group, and Columbus, tied for 13th, is five back.

Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4) at New York Rangers (29-20-3), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 New York
Starting goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (23-11-2, 2.19 GAA) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (21-16-3, 2.29 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers have lost four in a row to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden and haven't won a home game against the Penguins since Jan. 5, 2009. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight at MSG since a streak from Dec. 31, 1989 to March 17, 1991. Neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin is ready to return, but the Penguins are 5-3-1 without Crosby and 2-1-0 without both Crosby and Malkin this season.

Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5) at Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky (21-6-3, 2.42 GAA) vs. Dwayne Roloson (7-3-0, 2.25 GAA for Bolts)
Preview: The East's top two teams face off for the third time this season with the Flyers looking for their first win of the season against the Lightning. The Lightning have won five straight games and are in the midst of a 12-game home stand. The Flyers have won two straight and six of their last seven games. Philadelphia leads the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since the 1986-87 season.

Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5) at Washington Capitals (27-15-9), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Carey Price (24-16-5, 2.36 GAA) vs. Semyon Varlamov (8-7-3, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have looked like a different team since getting stunned by the Canadiens in the postseason. They cruised through last season and won the President's Trophy, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Montreal. This season, the Capitals are 17th in the league at 2.71 goals per game, have been shut out seven times and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for career lows in goals and points.

Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1) at Minnesota Wild (25-19-5), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA) vs. Niklas Backstrom (15-11-3, 2.52 GAA)
Preview: After an up-and-down season, the Kings went into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the Kings now begin a 10-game road trip. The Kings are 5-8-0 in their past 13 road games. The Wild won four of five before the break and are currently tied with the Kings, but Minnesota is just 4-6-1 at home since the start of December.

Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9) at Dallas Stars (30-15-5), 8:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Cory Schneider (8-2-2, 2.35 GAA) vs. Kari Lehtonen (22-11-5, 2.57 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks and the Stars both lead their divisions, but Vancouver has dominated the series. Vancouver has outscored Dallas 11-2 in the two games. But the Canucks will now need to depend on defenseman Lee Sweatt more with an injury to Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the Canucks with 24 minutes of ice time per game and tops the defense with 32 points, is having back surgery and will be out indefinitely.

Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9) at San Jose Sharks (25-19-6), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Ilya Bryzgalov (19-12-6, 2.64 GAA) vs. Antti Niemi (13-13-3, 2.69 GAA)
Preview: The Coyotes will try to win their sixth straight away from home Tuesday night and end a six-game slide against the Sharks. Phoenix has limited its opponents to 1 for 17 on the power play during its run on the road. Veteran center Joe Thornton has two goals and three assists, and Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average in two wins over the Coyotes this season.

Contender/Pretender: Capitals, Hawks, more

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
12:29
PM ET
As the season heads into the final stretch tonight, our experts (Scott Burnside, E.J. Hradek and Pierre LeBrun) separate a few of the contenders from the pretenders:


Atlantic Division: New York Rangers

Burnside: Pretender
The Rangers will be looking to find more consistency through the final third of the season. They are just 5-5-0 in their past 10 games and will need to string some wins together if they're going to fend off Carolina (or perhaps Buffalo) down the stretch. That said, coach John Tortorella has somehow managed to keep his team afloat through injuries to top personnel such as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen, Ruslan Fedotenko and Vaclav Prospal.

The Rangers can expect to get Callahan back this week; Prospal, who has yet to play a game this season while recovering from a knee injury, may return, as well. Tortorella will have to hope it helps jump-start the enigmatic Marian Gaborik, whose production is well off last season's pace. In the end, we don't see the Rangers falling much further than seventh (they were sixth as of Monday). Come playoff time, this is the kind of team that could give a higher seed such as Boston all kinds of problems. Still, without a top center and an inexperienced blue line, we don't see this Rangers squad as a contender. Not yet, anyway.

Hradek: Pretender
I think the Rangers are moving in the right direction. They are a young, hard-working group that competes hard in all three zones. Plus, they have a top stopper, Henrik Lundqvist, who will keep them in just about every game. At this point, I see them more as a sleeper that will give an opponent a tough time. I just don't think they have enough to be considered a true contender ... yet. But they're getting there.

LeBrun: Pretender
Contenders for a playoff spot, but pretenders for the Stanley Cup. Ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against per game, the Rangers' work ethic and commitment to defense suggests a team that won't slip-slide away in the home stretch. But a Stanley Cup championship is out of reach this season because goals are too hard to come by without a bona fide No. 1 center.


Northeast Division: Montreal Canadiens

Burnside: Pretender
The Canadiens hit the post-All-Star run in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. We don't see them challenging for the top spot in the Northeast, as they have for most of the season (they are four points back of Boston), but we also don't see them falling completely out of the playoff picture.

Terrific team defense (they rank sixth in goals allowed per game and on the penalty kill) should keep them in the top eight. The Habs play six of eight at home coming out of the break and are dynamite at the Bell Centre. On the road, though, they will have to play better (their 11 road wins are tied for the fewest among the current East playoff teams). As for the postseason, we don't think this team has another Cinderella run in it. Look for the Habs to be cannon fodder for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

Hradek: Pretender
After their surprising playoff run last spring, it's tough to slap the pretender label on them. They are a well-coached, veteran group. Still, I'm just not sold the Habs will have the same kind of good fortune this time around.

LeBrun: Pretender
Like the Rangers, the Habs are contenders for a playoff spot, but pretenders for the Cup. Carey Price has been a rock in goal, but the losses of Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov on defense have been harmful. If the Canadiens want to have any chance of repeating last spring's magical run, GM Pierre Gauthier needs to get on the horn to try to land Chris Phillips or Tomas Kaberle. We don't see a long playoff run this season.


Southeast Division: Washington Capitals

Burnside: Contender
A lot of discussion about the Caps' lack of scoring punch. Alex Ovechkin has only two power-play goals (he had 13, 19 and 22 power-play goals the past three seasons, respectively) and Alexander Semin disappeared from the score sheet before being knocked out with a groin muscle injury. The streaky Semin should return with his brand-new contract in hand, and his production will be key down the stretch and into the playoffs if the Caps are going to erase last season's disappointing first-round exit against Montreal.

Still, this is a very different Caps team than a year ago. It is harder to play against, ranking seventh in goals allowed per game and second on the penalty kill. It is on pace for one of its best defensive seasons, and we think it will overtake Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division crown, which will be key in avoiding Philadelphia or Pittsburgh in the first round.

Hradek: Contender
There's a lot of talent in D.C. I think we all know that. I get the sense the Caps are stalled right now; something seems to be missing. I'll be interested to see if GM George McPhee makes a move or two before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. While they're still seeking just the right mix, I see them as a contender.

LeBrun: Contender
Well, of course they are. But they've got their fans more than worried. Last season's top-scoring team is 17th in goals per game. Shocking, quite frankly. Yes, it has improved defensively, but this team was built to score goals. A playoff berth is a given, but can the Caps finally break through? The hope is their new-found defensive game will pay dividends come playoff time.


Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks

Burnside: Contender
At the beginning of the season, we picked the Blackhawks to return to the Stanley Cup finals. Yes, there has been a dramatic lineup overhaul since June's magical Cup run. Don't care. Look for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to return to dominant form down the stretch. Corey Crawford has inspired confidence, as he has usurped veteran Marty Turco as the go-to guy in the Hawks' net. Marian Hossa has been hampered by injury but should be back to elite status by the playoffs.

Critics suggest the loss of players such as Dustin Byfuglien, who is having a Norris-worthy season in Atlanta, and Andrew Ladd will be felt keenly in the playoffs, and that may be true. But we think players such as Dave Bolland, who was so dynamic during the playoffs last season; rookie Bryan Bickell; and Troy Brouwer will answer the challenge. The Hawks may not enjoy home-ice advantage to start the playoffs, but we don't think many teams will relish facing the defending Cup champs come mid-April.

Hradek: Contender
The problem is simple for the defending champs: You can't defend your title if you don't make the playoffs. With 20 of their final 32 games on the road, the Hawks aren't a cinch to earn a spot. If they get there, however, I don't think anyone will be eager to face them in the first round. That means they're still a contender.

LeBrun: Contender
We just can't bring ourselves to believe the Cup champs will miss the playoffs. Yes, half the team is gone from last season, but the core remains strong. If GM Stan Bowman can add a piece on defense before the trade deadline, the Hawks will be a scary lower seed come playoff time. One note of concern: They're relying on rookie goalie Crawford. Then again, Antti Niemi was wet behind the ears last season and that seemed to work out just fine.


Northwest Division: Vancouver Canucks

Burnside: Pretender
The Canucks are the sexy pick to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, and there are many who think the Cup will come home to Canada for the first time since 1993. We're not those folks. Yes, goalie Roberto Luongo has been very good for the most part and the offense is intimidating, especially with Ryan Kesler having a breakout season with 27 goals, but the loss of Alexander Edler on the blue line is a big loss. Suddenly, a team that had a glut of defensemen is now looking more vulnerable.

Sami Salo should return from injury, but he is injury-prone, to say the least. The Canucks should get out of the first round (unless they face arch-nemesis Chicago), but we're still not sure Luongo has the internal fortitude to get the Canucks much farther.

Hradek: Contender
Coach Alain Vigneault's team clearly is a contender. They are well-stocked up the middle with centers Henrik Sedin, Kesler and Manny Malhotra, respectively. Can they get it done in the spring? Can Luongo take the Canucks where they want to go? Those are the big questions. We'll see if they have the answers.

LeBrun: Contender
Big-time contenders for the Cup. This is their time; their window is now. Sedin and Kesler are a strong 1-2 punch at center. Luongo is looking dynamite so far this season, but he won't silence his critics without a long playoff run. The injury to Edler is significant because he played a ton of minutes in all situations and is not replaceable.


Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks

Burnside: Pretender
After supposedly getting the playoff monkey off their backs last spring by advancing to the Western Conference finals, the Sharks have struggled through an up-and-down season that has seen them flirt with the idea of missing the playoffs altogether. We don't think that's going to happen, but we don't see the Sharks being the kind of team that can simply turn on the playoff switch and take its game to another level.

Yes, Niemi won a Cup with the Hawks last season, but he doesn't inspire much confidence for us. Then, there is the annual question of whether players such as Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley can elevate their games when it matters. History suggests they can't, and in the end it wouldn't surprise us one bit if the Sharks were one-and-done come April. That's assuming they don't fall out of the playoff picture altogether.

Hradek: Pretender
After terrific puck-mover Dan Boyle, the Sharks aren't mobile on defense. That means they get stuck in their own zone too often. That's not good. I think this group might have hit its peak by going to the conference finals last spring.

LeBrun: Pretender
The Sharks need help on defense. Rob Blake retired and was never replaced. Having said that, one interesting dynamic for the Sharks this season is they're not in first place and will go into the playoffs (if they make it) under the radar. Having the spotlight removed might make them a dangerous opponent. Cup contenders? That's a stretch at this point, but not totally out of the question.


Pacific Division: Los Angeles Kings

Burnside: Pretender
After making the playoffs last spring and challenging the Canucks in the first round (they lost in six entertaining games), the Kings seemed positioned to join the big boys at the top of the conference standings. Hasn't happened. The Kings have gone through long stretches of dispirited play and hit the All-Star break outside the playoff bubble in 11th place, one point out of eighth.

GM Dean Lombardi has had to publicly defend coach Terry Murray and shelled out $50,000 after complaining about NHL replay officials. The Kings have all kinds of cap room and assets, but we don't know if there's an impact player that will be available to move the Kings forward. We must admit, this lineup looks like it has it all -- gritty veterans, Stanley Cup experience, dynamic young players along the blue line and up front -- and yet, something seems to be missing.

Hradek: Contender. Murray's team is riding a roller coaster this season. The highs have been high and the lows have been low. I can't label it a pretender, though. The Kings have a legit No. 1 center, nice balance on defense and a pair of good young goalies. Right now, it's hard to predict which way they'll go this season. If they get into the playoffs, they could make a long run. They're contenders because they have the right mix. Lombardi is also positioned to add a significant piece if one becomes available before the trade deadline.

LeBrun: Pretender
They began the season as Cup contenders, but right now I don't think they are. Contender for a playoff spot? You bet. Los Angeles is missing a high-end piece up front. Not enough creativity offensively. Let's see what Lombardi does before Feb. 28 to help his team. The Kings entered the break on a five-game winning streak and seemingly have turned their season around. But Cup contender? Not so sure anymore.

Burnside: This week's games to watch

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
11:01
AM ET

Tuesday: Flyers at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET

The third game in a mighty 12-game homestand for the Lightning, and they host the league’s best team (at least for our money). Tampa Bay could pull within two points of Philly for the top spot the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: The Bolts start the post-All-Star weekend schedule with their third straight win.

Tuesday: Canucks at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Stars will be hoping to avenge their 7-1 loss in Vancouver shortly before the break. We wonder if the Canucks will be spending a few nights in Big D before the game as the Stars did in Vancouver? Probably not. Still, this should be a good tilt between two division leaders.

Prediction: The Stars will even the score at home.

Wednesday: Sharks at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET

The Ducks have won seven of their past 10 games and continue to impress. Goalie Jonas Hiller was solid in the All-Star Game, and he’ll have to keep up his strong play against a Sharks team that would like to create some breathing room for itself in the playoff bracket. San Jose is 4-0-1 in its past five contests.

Prediction: The Ducks will continue their strong play and defeat the streaky Sharks.

Thursday: Wild at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET

The Avs hit the break tied with San Jose for the last playoff berth, while the Wild were just one point back and have come on strong in recent weeks. This is the kind of game that’s going to hurt for the loser.

Prediction: The Avs will get their game going.

Friday: Sabres at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET

The Sabres have some ground to make up if they want to revisit the playoff tournament in April, and they’ll visit a Penguins team still missing Sidney Crosby even though the Pittsburgh captain has been given clearance to begin light workouts. There’s a better chance Evgeni Malkin will be on the ice, but either way, these are the types of games the Sabres have to win.

Prediction: Crosby or no Crosby, the Pens will be too tough for the Sabres.

Last week: 3-2.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at where teams stand at the All-Star break:

Burnside: Well, my friend, the All-Star break has arrived, the unofficial start of the stretch drive. There were a couple of interesting games to close out this part of the NHL schedule on Wednesday night, most notably here in Atlanta.

With even more bad news on the ownership front in recent days (they're suing their own lawyers), the Thrashers have been in danger of falling right out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. But on Wednesday night, Ondrej Pavelec was terrific in net and one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL buttoned up and shut out Washington 1-0. The win keeps the Thrashers in eighth place, just ahead of surging Carolina. What caught your eye last night other than the nonstop commercials for this weekend's All-Star shindig?

LeBrun: As you know, I love my Western Conference hockey, and that's really where the action was last night. The Sharks and Kings put on some kind of show, especially in a wide-open overtime period. The single point finally put San Jose back in a playoff spot at the break, a real important mental development for the Sharks. They streaked into the break with a five-game points streak (4-0-1) and I just don't see how they could possibly miss the playoffs now. They've figured it out.

Similarly, the Kings roar into the break with a three-game winning streak, and their celebration after the shootout last night was playoff-like. They needed that one badly. They're only a point out of eighth in the crazy West and, like the Sharks, seem to have turned the corner. But it won't be easy for either team; only two points separate seventh from 12th in the conference.

Burnside: Having spent some time in Denver last week and seeing the Avs turn in a solid effort against St. Louis on Monday, it was surprising to see them play so poorly against Phoenix last night in a 5-2 loss at the Pepsi Center. Once again, the Avs dropped out of the top eight.

Chatted with Avs GM Greg Sherman last week and he insisted he's comfortable with his goaltending tandem, but once again the goaltending was average Wednesday. I don't know if they can make the playoffs without upgrading that position. As for the Coyotes, there's just no quit in coach Dave Tippett's team; it looks like a squad destined for the postseason.

LeBrun: While you were in Denver, I was in Vancouver, and one of the games I caught was Calgary's big shootout win over the Canucks. The resurgent Flames enter the break on a 10-3-3 run, a stretch that began with coach Brent Sutter breaking the rest of the season into three-game segments and convincing his players all they needed to do is get four out of six points in those segments and they'd be in the playoffs. Well, they're only two points out of a playoff spot at the break, perhaps one of the most stunning turnarounds of the season.

There are other teams to jump over and it's going to be difficult, but the Flames have given themselves a shot, which is more than anyone would have predicted. Let's jump back to the East, where the Hurricanes enter the break one point back of the Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot, only three points behind Montreal. How do you see that playing out?

Burnside: I still think the Canes are the only team capable of cracking the top eight right now, but it is interesting to note that Buffalo is 7-3-0 in its past 10 games and has three games in hand on the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers, especially because of their defensive shortcomings, seem the most vulnerable. The Canadiens, hammered Tuesday by Philadelphia, aren't safe and sit just two points ahead of Atlanta, although they have two games in hand.

Then there's the New York Rangers; they're only five points ahead of ninth-place Carolina and have played two more games. It's not as jam-packed as the Western Conference, but I foresee much drama at the bottom end of the East standings. Remember last season? The Flyers earned a playoff berth on the final afternoon of the regular season in a shootout.

LeBrun: I wouldn't worry one bit about the Rangers. They were really unlucky to lose that game against Florida earlier this week, and the consistency of their effort, night in and night out, is superior to Atlanta and, to some degree, Montreal. The Rangers are in. I've always had a soft spot for the Sabres and their loyal fans, but I just don't see them getting back in. Despite their recent play, losing Derek Roy is just too big a blow.

Well, I will see you in Raleigh tomorrow morning as we arrive for the All-Star festivities. I will try to keep an open mind about the whole weekend!

What to watch for Wednesday night

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
3:38
PM ET

Florida Panthers (22-21-5) at Boston Bruins (27-15-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-0 Boston
Starting goaltenders: Scott Clemmensen 5-5-2, 2.43 GAA) vs. Tim Thomas (23-5-6, 1.84 GAA)
Preview: Tim Thomas has dominated the Southeast Division, going 10-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .949 save percentage in 13 starts against the Southeast this season. The Bruins are looking to complete a sweep of the Panthers after being shut out by the Kings on Monday.

Carolina Hurricanes (24-19-6) at New York Islanders (15-26-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Carolina
Starting goaltenders: Cam Ward (21-15-5, 2.71 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-8-4, 3.39 GAA)
Preview: The Hurricanes are hoping for another happy trip to Long Island. Over the last five seasons, Carolina has the second-best record of any team on the road against the Islanders of teams that have played at least five games there. Look for Jeff Skinner to lead the Canes as the rookie has more goals in January than any other NHL player.

Washington Capitals (27-14-9) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-19-9), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 3-2 Atlanta
Starting goaltenders: Semyon Varlamov (8-6-3, 2.22 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-12-7, 2.51 GAA)
Preview: The Capitals have scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 22. And, the Thrashers have allowed more than three goals in a game seven times over that stretch, so a trip to Atlanta could be just what heals Washington's power play ails. Alex Ovechkin has scored 30 career goals against the Thrashers, tied for the most by any player against Atlanta.

New Jersey Devils (16-29-3) at Detroit Red Wings (29-13-6), 7:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Martin Brodeur (10-18-2, 2.84 GAA) vs. Jimmy Howard (23-8-3, 2.86 GAA)
Preview: The Devils may have the worst record in the NHL, but they are playing their best hockey of late. They have won four straight and have earned a point in seven straight (6-0-1), giving them the NHL’s best points percentage since Jan. 9. Unfortunately, they have not enjoyed much success at Joe Louis Arena recently. Since they swept the Wings in the 1995 Cup finals, the Devils are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games at Detroit.

Nashville Predators (27-16-6) at Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9), 10 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Pekka Rinne (17-12-4, 2.11 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (22-8-7, 2.31 GAA)
Preview: The Canucks lead the Western Conference thanks to a strong home record. They will be looking to earn at least one point in a 13th consecutive home game when they face the Predators for the first time this season. Nashville ended its three-game winning streak when it went 0 for 5 on the power play in a loss at Calgary on Monday night.

San Jose Sharks (25-19-5) at Los Angeles Kings (26-22-1), 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 San Jose
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) vs. Jonathan Quick (21-14-1, 2.16 GAA)
Preview: The Sharks attempt to win five in a row for the first time in more than a year, but the last time they won four straight, they followed it with a 4-0 loss to the Kings. The Kings will be playing their last game at home before beginning a 10-game road trip after the All-Star break.

Monday: Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m. ET

With the Canucks winless in four and the Stars breathing down their neck in the race for top seed in the Western Conference, this stands as a big game for both clubs.
Prediction: Look for the Canucks to break the streak although it may take extra time.

Tuesday: Montreal Canadiens at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:30 p.m. ET

No love lost between last year's Eastern Conference finalists. Watch for P.K. Subban to continue to rub the Flyers the wrong way. Philly is coming off a big win in Chicago on Sunday, so there could be a bit of a letdown.
Prediction: The Flyers continue to set the pace atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Tuesday: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET

Two teams that have been up and down all season. The Blackhawks are back in the middle of the playoff pack, and the Wild are just outside the bubble. Neither team can afford too much backsliding.
Prediction: The Wild come up big on the road.

Wednesday: Washington Capitals at Atlanta Thrashers, 7 p.m. ET

The Thrashers were humbled 7-1 by Tampa on Sunday, while the Capitals have been on a tear since the end of December. The Thrashers need to stop the bleeding as they've fallen into eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are feeling heat from Carolina and Buffalo.
Prediction: The Caps keep rolling and the Thrashers keep falling.

Wednesday: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Sharks have suddenly won four in a row and began the week in the top eight in the Western Conference. The Kings, meanwhile, are looking to get on that kind of roll and will need to if they want to avoid the monumental disappointment of missing the playoffs.
Prediction: Sorry Kings, the Sharks continue to make life miserable in L.A.

What to watch for Thursday night

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
4:26
PM ET

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-4) at New Jersey Devils (13-29-3), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Pittsburgh
Starting goaltenders: Brent Johnson (8-3-2, 2.04 GAA) vs. Martin Brodeur (8-18-2, 2.97 GAA)
Preview: The Penguins take the ice without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first time since Malkin came into the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate Malkin is day to day with a sore knee, while Crosby is still recovering from a concussion. Pens coach Dan Bylsma will put Dustin Jeffrey on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. With a win tonight, Bylsma will tie Scotty Bowman for third place on the Penguins' all-time coaching wins list with 95.

Anaheim Ducks (26-19-4) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-5), 7 p.m. ET

Starting goaltenders: Jonas Hiller (23-15-3, 2.45 GAA) vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-7-3, 2.73 GAA)
Preview: Jean-Sebastien Giguere will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Toronto. Giguere helped the Ducks to two Stanley Cup finals appearances, winning it all in 2007. Giguere is also the Ducks franchise leader among goalies for games played (447) and wins (206). The struggling Leafs are coming off a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Giguere said Wednesday morning that he would consider waiving his no-trade clause if the team asked.

New York Rangers (27-18-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (22-18-6), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-1
Starting goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist (20-14-3, 2.21 GAA) vs. Cam Ward (19-14-5, 2.72 GAA)
Preview: The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 win on Wednesday night, but they are an impressive 10-2-0 this season when playing the second game of back-to-back games and haven't allowed more than three goals in the second games. The Hurricanes are sitting in ninth place in the East and trying to fight into the playoff picture, but have lost three of their past four.

Washington Capitals (25-14-8) at New York Islanders (14-23-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Washington
Starting goaltenders: Braden Holtby (2-2-1, 3.84 GAA) vs. Rick DiPietro (7-6-4, 3.43 GAA)
Preview: Looking the beat the Islanders for the ninth time in their past 10 meetings, the Capitals turn to Braden Holtby in net. Recalled from the Hershey Bears on Wednesday with both of Washington's two top goalies injured, Holtby will be making his fifth NHL start of the season. The Capitals have been held to three goals or fewer in 11 straight games and have one win in their past five games.

Ottawa Senators (17-23-7) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-11-5), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 1-0 Philadelphia
Starting goaltenders: Brian Elliott (12-16-6, 2.01 GAA) vs. Sergei Bobrovsky (18-6-3, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: Already leading the Eastern Conference, the Flyers now get to add top defenseman Chris Pronger back to the lineup. Pronger missed 13 games with a broken foot, but the Flyers went 9-4-0 in his absence and had the highest offensive production in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game. While Philadelphia is vying for the best record in the league, the Senators are tied with the Maple Leafs at the bottom of the Northeast due to a 1-6-3 stretch.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-15-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-7), 7 p.m. ET

Season series: 4-0 Tampa Bay
Starting goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson (4-3-0, 2.92 GAA) vs. Ondrej Pavelec (16-11-5, 2.49 GAA)
Preview: With the Capitals struggling this season, the Southeast Division is wide open and the Lightning are taking advantage. Steven Stamkos has reclaimed the league goal-scoring lead with 35 goals after scoring in his past three games. Also, Stamkos has a point in seven of eight career games against the Thrashers with six goals and six assists.

Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) at St. Louis Blues (22-17-6), 8 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-1 Detroit
Starting goaltenders: Jimmy Howard (22-7-4, 2.83 GAA) vs. Jaroslav Halak (17-14-4, 2.50 GAA)
Preview: The injury-riddled Red Wings will welcome back Jimmy Howard as they try to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive road loss. Howard missed two games after bruising his right knee. And with Chris Osgood sidelined by a hernia, the Wings are in talks to sign goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks (23-19-5) at Vancouver Canucks (29-10-7), 10 p.m. ET

Season series: 2-0 Vancouver
Starting goaltenders: Antti Niemi (11-13-2, 2.79 GAA) vs. Roberto Luongo (21-8-5, 2.38 GAA)
Preview: After earning at least one point in a 17 straight games, the Canucks are just 1-2-1 in their past four games. The Canucks now return home from a five-game road trip with a three-point advantage for the Western Conference lead. Vancouver has outscored San Jose 10-4 in two meetings this season, but the Sharks come into the game on a two-game winning streak.

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