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NHL Playoff Predictions … Los Angeles will win the Cup in six games over Boston

DETROIT – Breakdown and predictions for the NHL playoffs, which begins Wednesday.

First Round
Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were the only team this season to beat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins three times; unfortunately none of those wins carry over to the postseason.
“The reality is you have to play well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you look at it in their shoes they’ve got to believe they’re in the driver’s seat. We believe we’re going to be a tough out so something’s got to give.”
Boston is as physical a team as you’ll find in the NHL that has a solid four lines, great goaltending and a strong defensive core.
“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and (Zdeno) Chara. They have them, we don’t. We have a lot of big bodies as well.”
Pick: Bruins in 6.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens
All four meetings this season between the teams have been very close, three of which were decided after regulation and another didn’t become a two-goal advantage for the Lightning, who won three of the four games, until an empty net goal in the final minute. This series will come down to goaltending and the Canadiens have a decisive edge with Carey Price. But Lightning rookie sensations, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, could help steal a game or two.
Pick: Canadiens in 5.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
If Marc-Andre Fleury can shake off his past two postseasons – 4.11 goals-against average and a .857 save percentage in 11 appearances – the Penguins should advance with ease. Pittsburgh won all five meetings with the team, outscoring Columbus 16-7. The Blue Jackets’ only hope is a strong performance from their netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky, who played in just one game against Pittsburgh this season.
Pick: Penguins in 6.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s all about home-ice advantage in this series and the Rangers have it, winning eight straight at Madison Square Garden over the Flyers. Claude Giroux has really come on strong for Philadelphia ending the season third in the league scoring race after not notching his first goal until 15 games in.
Pick: Rangers in 5.

Western Conference
(1) Colorado vs. (WC1) Minnesota
Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been quite the story all season long and should breeze into the next round in large part because of the edge in goal with Semyon Varlamov. The Wild’s Ilya Bryzgalov played well down the stretch, but has had his meltdowns in the postseason.
Pick: Avalanche in 5.

(2) St. Louis vs. (3) Chicago
This series had all the makings for a classic. It can still if the Blues, who lost six straight to end the season, get a few of their injured forwards back sometime in the series. The Blackhawks expect to have two of their key injured players back – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Pick: Blackhawks in 4.

(1) Anaheim vs. (WC2) Dallas
The Ducks’ season ended in the first round a year ago and it could end the same way this year against the offensive-minded Stars. Anaheim has a lot of questions in goal, while Dallas, which has won two of the three meetings this season, has a 33-win Kari Lehtonen between the pipes.
Pick: Stars in 7.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Los Angeles
Easily could be the best series in the opening round. The teams played a classic series last year with the Kings prevailing in seven games, with five of the games being decided by one goal. Look for more of that this time around.
Pick: Kings in 7.

Second Round
Eastern Conference
Boston over Montreal in 7 games
Pittsburgh over New York Rangers in 7 games

Western Conference
Colorado over Chicago in 6 games
Los Angeles over Dallas in 5 games

Eastern Conference Finals
Boston over Pittsburgh in 5 games

Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles over Colorado in 7 games

Stanley Cup Final
Los Angeles over Boston in 6 games

Wings recall Ouellet and Sproul

DETROIT >> The Wings have recalled defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul from Grand Rapids.

If Detroit can’t improve on it’s playoff positioning expect both to play in the regular season finale Sunday afternoon in St. Louis.

Here’s the press release:

Ouellet, 20, has appeared in 68 games with the Griffins this season, recording 16 points (4-12-16), 22 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating. The native of Bayonne, France, also appeared in three games with the Red Wings this season, registering three shots on goal and averaging 13:58 of ice time after making his NHL debut on Oct. 21 versus San Jose. Originally drafted by Detroit in the second round (48th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Ouellet skated in 223 QMJHL games with the Montreal Juniors and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada prior to turning professional, tallying 160 points (41-119-160) and 177 penalty minutes. The 6-foot, 200-lb., blueliner was also named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team and represented Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championships last season.

Sproul could become the ninth player to make his NHL debut for the Red Wings if he plays in Detroit’s season finale tomorrow against the St. Louis Blues at 12:30 p.m. (NBC/AM 1270). The 21-year-old defenseman has tallied 31 points (10-21-31) in 71 games with Grand Rapids this season and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team earlier this week. He is second among Griffins defensemen in scoring and ranks third among AHL rookie defensemen overall. Prior to turning pro, the 6-foot-4, 205-lb., blueliner racked up 153 points (57-96-153) in 172 games with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from 2010-13. In 2012-13, he won the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league’s most outstanding defenseman and was named the CHL Defenseman of the Year.

Wings’ general manager Ken Holland: “Our guys dug deep.”

DETROIT >> Ken Holland’s philosophy of making sure minor leaguers are “over ripe” before coming to the NHL really paid off.

With a roster filled with a bunch of youngsters, Detroit qualified for the playoffs a 23rd consecutive season after its 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Wednesday night.

“Establish yourself as a legitimate premier minor league player and then you prove it at the next level,” the Wings’ general manager said during a phone interview Thursday. “That’s how you get to the American League from juniors, or college or Europe. When you’re an established, top notch player, we sign you to a contract to the next level.”

One of the youngsters, Riley Sheahan, scored the tying goal Wednesday that guaranteed the Wings a spot in the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season.

Another youngster, Gustav Nyquist, leads the team with 28 goals and is tied for second in points with 48. And all that came in 55 games.

Tomas Tatar is sixth on the team in scoring with 19 goals and 18 assists, which are two goals and two points ahead of world-class center Pavel Datsyuk.

Then there’s Luke Glendening, who’s been matched up with some of the league’s elite in the closing moments of games.

“Leading the Grand Rapids Griffins last year was Tatar, Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening so when they got their call they didn’t come up here wondering if they could play they had done it at another level so the next step for them was to go to the NHL,” Holland said. “Now can you do it? I don’t know, but that time in the minors prepares them to be the best that they can be.”

These last two weeks, Glendening has played head-to-head against Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.

“You’re talking Olympic players and we found a way to beat Pittsburgh at home and we beat Boston at home,” Holland said. “We’re 9-3-2 in our last 14 games. Of the nine wins, one’s Pittsburgh, one’s Boston, two huge games against Toronto, we beat a Tampa Bay, a team that we hadn’t in a long time in regulation. Our guys dug deep.”

Prior to 2005, when there was no salary cap, the Wings had more depth than anybody because they had the opportunity to spend way more money than most of the competition.

Since 2005, just two teams have made the playoffs every year, San Jose and Detroit.

“When you have a year with a lot of injuries it probably can affect your ability to win constantly,” Holland said. “The last two years we got hit with a lot of injures. Last year, the core was in the lineup every night and it was a 48-game schedule.

“This was an 82-game schedule,” Holland continued. “The longer the schedule the harder it is to get in. You get more separation over time. We basically got a half year out of (Henrik Zetterberg), a half year out of Pav, we’re probably going to have 25-30 games out for (Jonathan) Ericsson, 15-20 games down for (Danny) DeKeyser and (Johan Franzen) was down for 25-30 games. Stephen Weiss was hurt early and he played injured at the end. We lost him for three quarters of the season. The depth of our organization, through the jobs of our scouts, Jiri Fischer and Jeff Blashill, allowed our kids to come in.”

Babcock not taking Sabres or anyone lightly at this time of the season

Despite playing the league’s worst team tonight, the Buffalo Sabres, Wings coach Mike Babcock isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We have to be prepared for tonight,” Babcock told reporters after the morning skate in Buffalo. “All you have to do is … if you watched Calgary and New Jersey (Monday) night, or Anaheim go into Edmonton, these games aren’t easy to win. They never are. They’re NHL players and an NHL team with pride that you’re playing against. You’ve got to dig in and you’ve got to play well. The biggest thing is you have to be playing well this time of year to have success anyway.”

Thanks for a 1-0 win by the Flames over the Devils on Monday, Detroit’s magic number is now three. That number is reduced by any combination of points the Wings gain or lost points by New Jersey, which has three games left on their schedule.

The Sabres have a league-worst 51 points, 14 fewer than Edmonton, which has the second-lowest point total.

“You always want to get better,” Babcock said. “I think our team has gotten better all year long and our kids are understanding more what it takes. I liked our power play entries the last game, I thought we got in the zone real well and the game before. I liked our penalty kill. I thought we could have executed better from the back end a few times in two games, so we got to do better in that area. We can’t lose F-3, F-3 can’t be impatient and dive in and give up odd-man rushes against.”

Jimmy Howard will start in goal against the Sabres, while Joakim Andersson and Todd Bertuzzi will be the healthy scratches.

The Wings are looking to extend their streak to qualifying for the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons.

“The biggest thing to me is we have good players and then there’s been a culture created and a demand and expectation for success,” Babcock said. “Ideally, our young players are getting that. I’m a big believer that when you get a young player, and four or five years later, if he isn’t a good pro, it’s on your watch. It’s your responsibility. If they don’t have enough personal drive to become a good one, then make sure they’re in someone else’s organization. But the ones that stay in yours have to be pros, have to be every-dayers, have to be consistent in their effort. Your performance isn’t always what you want it to be but your effort and your professionalism has to be and that’s something you can control and we really try to focus on those areas.

“I keep hearing about how it’s passed on and then I tell these guys I don’t believe a whole bunch of stuff is passed on,” Babcock continued. “You’ve got to re-establish it each and every year. If you think it’s there just because you put your sweater on that’s not the way it works. It’s maintaining, it’s an accountability process that goes from year to year.”

Nyquist receives second star of the month

DETROIT >> Gustav Nyquist was named the NHL’s second star of the month.

Nyquist has the second most goals in the month (12) and finished tied for fifth with points (18).

Nyquist has 11 goals in his past nine games and 22 goals in his past 27 games.

Boston’s Jarome Iginla was the first star, leading all players with 13 goals, scoring on a League-best 31.0 percent of his shots (13-of-42) to power the Bruins to a 15-1-1 record in March and the top spot in the NHL standings (110 points). He recorded 17 points (13 goals, four assists) in 17 games.

Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux is the third star. He led all players with 15 assists and 21 points during the month.

Callahan will become the eighth player this season to make his NHL debut for Wings

Mitch Callahan seems like the type of player the Detroit Red Wings need in their lineup.

“He’s hot, he can put the puck in the net,” Riley Sheahan said. “He creates havoc around the other team’s goalie. Other teams don’t like playing against him. He’s a great guy to have on the team and he brings a lot of character and I think he’s going to be good for us.”

Callahan has 25 goals, 15 assists and 51 penalty minutes in 66 games this season with Grand Rapids.

He’s the eighth player to make his NHL debut with the Wings this season.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Callahan said. “It’s nice to get reunited with these guys but at the same time it’s the NHL, couldn’t be anymore happier right now.”

Callahan lives with Sheahan and Luke Glendening in Grand Rapids.

“Coming here and seeing guys like (Brendan Smith), (Tomas) Tatar and (Tomas) Jurco, they’re familiar faces so that kind of loosened up the nerves a bit,” Callahan said. “You’re never guaranteed a career in the NHL, so this could be my only game I ever have, so I’m going to take it all in and try to remember the most I can of it.”

He’ll skate on a line with Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson.

His 25 goals this season with the Griffins are a career high. His previous high was 11 last season in 11 games.

“It’s kind of funny because you look at the all the goals, none of them are real pretty,” Callahan said. “(I’m) just screening in front of the net, working hard in front of the net. I think I got four or five where the D shot it and it hit me. Just from working hard in front of the net and stirring it up and working hard.”

Glendening, Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, Landon Ferraro, Xavier Ouellet, Adam Almquist and Alexey Marchenko are the others to have made their NHL debuts this season with the Wings.

Emmerton’s elevator ride continues

DETROIT >> For some hockey players, life is a perpetual elevator ride.

Plying their trade in the American Hockey League, these skaters, such as center Cory Emmerton, wait patiently for their chance at a call up to the big time. Often in the lineup due to an injury on the big club’s roster – the norm this season for Detroit – players are caught in the back-and-forth tide of call-ups and send-backs.

The mental anguish can be exhausting. Not knowing if you’ll be suiting up in front of 20,000 fans at Joe Louis, or 8,000 in Grand Rapids, on a near-daily basis makes life as a professional hockey player difficult.

Five times since 2013, Emmerton has been assigned to – and then recalled from – Grand Rapids. The 150-plus mile journey down Interstate 96 is one that Emmerton has become all too familiar with.

“I-96, I’ve been on that plenty this year,” Emmerton explained. “It’s been, I don’t know how

to really describe it, but it’s been up and down, really. That’s all it has been. You’re up and you’re down. You’re up and you’re down.”

The elevator ride is particularly tough, because it allows for a lot of time for self-reflection. It is not uncommon for these borderline NHL’ers to ask the questions: ‘How can I be better? Why must I always prove myself? When am I going to stick?’

It is a brutal test of mental strength, requiring thick skin and determination.

“That’s exactly what it is,” Emmerton said. “I find it’s been more a mental test. The only thing you can do is prepare yourself each day the same, no matter where you are. The biggest thing is you learn pretty quickly not to worry about it. There’s only certain things you can do yourself.”

Emmerton has had his share of time to prove his worth as a legitimate NHL player. He’s appeared in 138 games for the Red Wings since making his debut in the 2010-11 season – including 17 games this year. Offensive success, however, has been tough for the speedy Emmerton to find. He’s managed just 12 goals and nine assists in his NHL career. In his current seven-game call-up, he has not recorded a point.

With the tug-of-war between realizing his dream and being sent down to the NHL, one might expect Emmerton to be frustrated. However, his focus remains on one thing: Continuing to improve while staying even-keeled about the situation.

“As long as you take care of yourself, and do the things you need to do, the rest of it you can’t realistically change,” Emmerton said.

“You can play your best and hope that you impress some people. You play your best, and your hardest, and you hope for the best. I still enjoy everything. That’s all I can ask for.”

A strong support system is what sustains Emmerton through the rough stretches. The minor leagues are trying: Every AHL players knows he is just one step away. No one wants to be there; everyone must put forth his very best effort. The emotional toll is considerable. That is why the backup from his fiance, friends and family is so important.

“I’ve had good support along the way, so I can’t say I’ve done it all by myself,” Emmerton said. “I’ve had a lot of people there who support me, and help me out daily.”

– FRED COSTELLO

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle complains about how much Wings interfere

DETROIT >> Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle complained about how much Wings interfere.

“It seemed like there wasn’t a lot of space out there,” Carlyle said. “They had a job to do, as far as checking. I thought interference was supposed to be called in the NHL. Tonight was a clear-cut difference maker in that for us. We felt there was a lot of interference.

“You’ve got give them credit, they disguised it,” Carlyle added. “They did a better job than we did. And they got some opportunities and scored some timely goals. When you are into forecheck, they step in front of people, holding people up.”

Nyquist on Pulkkinen: “I think he’s more of a shoot-first type player.”

DETROIT >> Teemu Pulkkinen likes to shoot the puck and he won’t be changing that mindset when he hits NHL debut Friday against the Edmonton Oilers.

“I’ve been practicing that since a little kid, playing outside and when you have free time on the ice,” Pulkkinen said. “I like to shoot the puck. That’s my type of game. I want to shoot, score goals, so that’s what I like to work on.”

Pulkkinen, who was recalled from Grand Rapids on Wednesday, leads the Griffins with 175 shots on goal.

“Teemu is an interesting player, he’s obviously not very big but he skates hard, he plays hard and loves to shoot the puck,” Cory Emmerton said. “He’s got an unbelievable shot, possibly one of the best I’ve ever played with or seen. I don’t know if he’s scored an ugly goal all year. They’ve all been pretty much slap shots, blowing it by the goalie. The NHL is a different level, but we’ll see how that plays out.”

Pulkkinen leads the Griffins with 26 goals and 51 points.

“He looks like he shoots the puck so shoot the puck,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Do whatever you do, make sure you play well defensively and keep doing whatever you do that got you called up.”

Pulkkinen will play on the point on the Wings’ second power play unit Friday.

“(His shot is) just so hard, very accurate, too,” Gustav Nyquist said. “He usually shoots slap shots. I haven’t seen him take too many wristers. He likes to wind up and obviously when he gets that extra time it’s hard for the goalie to react to a hard shot like that, so he’s a really good shooter.”

Henrik Zetterberg still leads the team in shots on goal with 151, followed by Justin Abdelkader (133), Tomas Tatar (130) and Daniel Alfredsson (120).

“I think he’s more of a shoot-first type player,” Nyquist said. “From what I heard back in Finland he was a big goal-scorer back there too. He showed this year that he can score a lot of goals. He’s got a lot of goals in Grand Rapids for a first-year guy.”

Jurco out 10-14 days with a rib injury; Pulkkinen set to make NHL debut Friday

DETROIT >> Teemu Pulkkinen has finally earned himself some ice time with the Detroit Red Wings.

The Finnish-born forward is scheduled to make his NHL debut Friday against the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena.

He’ll replace Tomas Jurco in the lineup.

Jurco is suffering from a rib injury that occurred in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss at Columbus. According to Wings general manager Ken Holland he’ll miss 10-14 days and then be re-evaluated.

Pulkkinen leads Grand Rapids with 51 points (26 goals) in 60 games this season, taking full advantage of being the ‘go-to player’ with the departures of the likes of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Juro and Riley Sheahan.

“He’s got a very dangerous shot and he’s got a lot of confidence to shoot the puck,” said Jiri Fischer, who’s the Wings’ director of player development. “Off the rush, he’s not afraid to challenge defensemen one-on-one. He just wants to play well. He just wants to be better than the other guy.”

That wasn’t the case early on in Pulkkinen’s development, where he found himself a healthy scratch quite often with the Griffins last season.

“He didn’t take the next step after being the rookie of the year,” Fischer said. “I believe he thought it was going to be easier for him to get better. I think he snoozed a little bit.

“When he got called up to Grand Rapids, he didn’t earn the trust of (Griffins coach) Jeff Blashill to put him consistently in the lineup. He was basically watching in the press box for almost the entire playoffs.”

That’s when the light clicked on.

“Last year he started to work a little bit harder,” Fischer said. “He showed up in our development camp and he won the treadmill test. He showed up in great shape.”

Pulkkinen got to practice with a number of the Wings during the Olympic break.

“I like to shoot the puck, I like (an) offensive game, try to make plays and shoot the puck,” Pulkkinen said back in February. “That’s how I try to help the team.

“I’ve tried to play good offensively and defensively, so maybe I’ve been better with defense,” Pulkkinen continued. “I just want to play hard. When (the) team is winning it’s good for every player.”

This is the second time Pulkkinen has been recalled.

He took the pre-game skate prior to the Wings’ game last Thursday against Colorado, just in case another forward was ruled out prior to game time.
“Everybody wants to play in the NHL,” Pulkkinen said. “Just work hard and do the right things. You never know what’s going to happen. You have to take it step-by-step.

“I just want to have fun,” Pulkkinen added. “That’s why I’m here, enjoying hockey. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. We have a great team, so it’s been fun.”

Pulkkinen played just one preseason game in Detroit and that lasted all of one shift after he was ejected for boarding Chicago’s Michael Kostka.

Pulkkinen, who was penalized on the play, received a four-game suspension.

Pulkkinen slipped in the entry draft after injuring his shoulder and the Wings were able to get him in the fourth round, 111th overall, in 2010.

The year he was drafted he set the record for assists (36) by a rookie in the Finnish Elite League.

“Everybody talks about his shot, everybody talks about how he can score, about his dangerous shot,” Fischer said. “Well, you know what? The following year, he goes out and sets the record for most assists.”