Red Wings’ Helm a game-time decision against Wild

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The Detroit Red Wings, riddled with injuries, could get Darren Helm in their lineup against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Then again, maybe not.

According to the Red Wings’ website, Helm has been cleared to play, having missed the last eight games with a concussion. His last game was on March 4, against the New Jersey Devils, when he suffered the injury.

Based on the comments of head coach Mike Babcock, it appears the decision to put Helm in the lineup or not will be made closer to game-time on Saturday.

“I don’t know,” Babcock said, as per The Detroit News. “We’ll see in the morning after warm-up whether he’s ready or not.”

The Red Wings have been plagued by injuries this season, including to stars like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

Given their situation, and that includes a fight to make the playoffs, with the Red Wings sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference and one point back of the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets heading into tonight’s NHL schedule, Helm is eager to get back into game action.

“I’m excited to get back in, obviously,” said Helm, as per the Red Wings’ website. “I want to get back out there and get going with the team.

“A bunch of good skates, cleared by the doctor, did my concussion test, I guess you could call it, did well on that and I feel good and ready to go.”

Helm has appeared in only 29 of Detroit’s 69 games this season.

Caps hoping roster improvements can get them past Pittsburgh

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins arrive at their latest showdown looking very much like they did a year ago.

It’s the little things that might matter most this time around.

The Capitals added center Lars Eller and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk as a direct response to losing their second-round series last season, hoping the depth will help against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Penguins have a different goaltender with Marc-Andre Fleury replacing injured Matt Murray and are without injured defenseman Kris Letang.

Aside from those changes and a few other tweaks, the teams that take the ice Thursday night for Game 1 in Washington are strikingly similar to those who played for six games last spring.

“This is a unique situation — both teams have a lot of guys back,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “It’s not often with the salary cap and everything that you bring a similar team back. It makes for an interesting matchup.”

The stars are again aligned for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and the Capitals to face off against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the Penguins. Familiarity should breed quick contempt, but Washington’s changes are what players think will flip the script.

“I feel better about our team going into it this year than I did last year, that’s for sure,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “We can attack from different ways, and we can find ways to score throughout the lineup. I just think a lot of guys are playing better than they did last year.”

That’s a shout out to second-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who struggled after March last year but played an essential part of the first-round series this season against the Toronto Maple Leafs by defending Auston Matthews. Defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are also much improved after being scratched during the 2016 playoffs.

The Penguins are rolling again after eliminating Columbus, but the absence of Letang is significant after he logged 31:36 of ice time per game last year.

“Obviously they lost key player, Letang,” Ovechkin said. “It’s good for us, bad for them … (but) it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. We just have to pressure them, and we don’t have to give them any chances to get success.”

Pittsburgh exposed Washington’s lack of speed a year ago and has the potential to do so again even if winger Carl Hagelin isn’t ready to start the series. The Maple Leafs’ up-tempo style challenged the Capitals, something coach Barry Trotz called “a good warmup” for the Penguins, but it remains to be seen how his team will play faster this time.

Who’s better off after a year of no change? Watch and find out.

“I think I guess the series will show that more than anything,” Crosby said.

FLOWER POWER

Fleury went 4-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .933 save percentage against the Blue Jackets in the first round after replacing Murray because of a warmup injury prior to Game 1. The Capitals didn’t see him last year because Murray didn’t cede the net, but the Fleury has been so good there has been no drop-off.

OSHIE, PENGUINS KILLER

T.J. Oshie had five goals and an assist in last year’s series and three goals and seven assists in four games against the Penguins this season. Facing Pittsburgh’s top competition seems to get Oshie clicking.

“Typically we’re going against Crosby’s line and that’s a tough task, he’s a great player,” Oshie said. “You can get motivation from that and kind of the game within the game. Last few years, the puck found the net for me and hopefully it will be the same.”

PUT IT IN PENCIL

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan shifted his lines, putting Patric Hornqvist on right wing with Crosby and playoffs leading goal-scorer Jake Guentzel and dropping Conor Sheary down to skate with Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson. Pittsburgh again has four scoring lines with Malkin, Kessel and Bryan Rust together and Cullen centering Chris Kunitz and Tom Kuhnhackl.

“Sometimes when certain line combos have history of success together, we tend to give those lines a little bit more time to work through the challenges,” Sullivan said. “That’s something we have daily discussions about, (a) question I always ask, which combinations are going to give us the best chance to win.”

STOP, ELLER TIME

The Capitals sent two second-round picks to the Montreal Canadiens for Eller specifically for this kind of series. Pittsburgh got five goals at even strength from its third line of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel and two more from Cullen and his fourth-line mates last year, while Washington’s bottom six combined for two goals.

Enter Eller, who is a good penalty killer and should be an offensive upgrade over Mike Richards.

“I can’t wait for that challenge,” Eller said. “I think a lot of guys in here have pictured that this is a spot we could end up being in, facing this team sometime in the playoffs and now is that time.”

Related: A rebuild third line has been key for Caps

Preds announce Fiala done for year with fractured femur

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Most knew that, based on the visuals and stretchering off, the injury Kevin Fiala suffered during Nashville’s series-opening win over St. Louis last night was pretty bad.

Today, the Preds confirmed it.

Fiala suffered a fractured left femur on the play, one that will sideline him for the remainder of the year. The club went onto explain that the 20-year-old underwent successful surgery last night, and would soon be returned to Nashville.

It’s an incredibly unfortunate end to what was a promising campaign.

The 11th overall pick in 2014, Fiala scored 11 goals in 54 games for the Preds this year, and famously scored the OT winner in Game 3 of the opening round against Chicago.

Report: ‘Hawks to sign Czech League standout Kampf

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Given the success they’ve had with Artemi Panarin, it’s not surprising to learn the Blackhawks are back scouting Europe for undrafted talent.

Per TSN, Chicago is on the verge of signing Czech League forward David Kampf to a two-year, entry-level deal. Kampf, 22, is coming off a solid campaign with Pirati Chomutov, establishing career highs in goals (15) and points (31) in just 51 games played.

A two-time member of the Czech team at the World Juniors, Kampf is listed at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds and should have a chance to push for minutes in Chicago next season.

It’s unrealistic to expect similar production to Panarin, who’s emerged as one of the club’s top scorers. But the talented Russian did come over from the KHL at around the same age as Kampf — Panarin was 24 when he signed — and, like Kampf, joined Chicago after posting personal scoring highs with his club team (SKA Saint Petersburg).

It’s also worth noting that Chicago GM Stan Bowman promised significant changes this offseason, following a disappointing first-round sweep at the hands of Nashville. The Kampf signing comes after the club fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, and AHL bench boss Ted Dent.

Caps without Alzner, again, for Game 1 versus Pens

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The upper-body ailment that kept Karl Alzner out of most of Washington’s first-round series against Toronto will force him to miss the start of the second as well.

On Thursday, the Caps officially ruled Alzner out of tonight’s Game 1 versus Pittsburgh, per the Washington Post. The news comes after the 28-year-old participated in the morning skate, but was out mostly with the extras.

Alzner is now facing a near two-week layoff, having last played in Game 2 of the Leafs series on Apr. 15. He skated 26:17 that night in a double-OT loss, and hasn’t drawn back into the lineup since.

With him sidelined, the Caps have used Nate Schmidt on defense — and yielded solid results. Schmidt has good skating ability and foot speed, and he seemed to make a fairly significant difference against Toronto, as the Caps were often forced to try and match the younger and faster Maple Leafs.