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NHL Playoff Hockey: Flyers vs Penguins

 MARCH 29: James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 29, 2012 in Uniondale, New York.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tonight, NHL Playoff Hockey Eastern Division game one with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers begins.

Dallas Stars fans might be disappointed not to see their home team in the playoffs after they battled and lost a spot in the lineup, but they won't be disappointed to see some former Stars players on the ice tonight.

Flyers

On February 16, 2012, Philadelphia Flyers acquired acquired #2 defenseman Nicklas Grossman from Dallas in exchange for a 2012 2nd rd pick (from LA) & 2013 3rd rd pick (from MIN).

Nicklas Grossman

For the Flyers, former Dallas Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman, who signed a three year extension on April 6, 2012, returns after a knee injury on April 1, 2012, with a hit from Pittsburg's Joe Vitale ( who will likely be the only Penguins rookie in the Game 1 lineup). Grossman was traded to Philadelphia this season (2011-2012) and during the regular season accrued 74 GP with a +5.

“Grossmann said he is 100 percent. #Flyers,” tweets beat writer Sam Carchidi.

Grossman, 6'4" and 230 lbs, was acquired from Dallas after the Flyers captain Chris Pronger would be lost for the season due to post-concussion syndrome.

This dominant 27-year-old defender has blocked so many shots since he first pulled on his orange jersey, that old-school fans have been wondering if he might be distantly related to Brad Marsh, says Sean O'Brien at Yahoo! Sports.

Penguins

On February 20, 2011, the Stars receieved defenseman Alex Goligoski for both James Neal and Matt Niskanen from Pittsburgh.

James Neal

For the Penguins, James Neal, who had 40 goals, 80 GP, and led the league with 18 power play goals, returns after missing the last two regular season games with an "unspecified body injury". On the Pens team two seasons now, Neal signed a six year $30 million dollar deal in February 2012.

“It’s good to get back out there, get the legs going, get the timing back and get ready for playoffs,” Neal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ll be ready to go.”

Neal, was Dallas' second-round selection (33rd overall) in the 2005 NHL draft. He appeared in 59 games for the Stars this season, scoring 21 goals and 18 assists for 39 points, per Mark Stepnoski at ESPNDallas.com.

Trivia

James Neal almost didn't make the NHL post-season All-Stars due to being listed as his original left wing position. Neal switched to right wing this season. Emails shot out to members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association who had voted for Neal as a left wing, says Shelly Anderson at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Along with the league's major awards, the All-Stars will be announced June 20, 2012, in Las Vegas.

Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen played 45 games for Dallas in 2011 with six assists and 30 penalty minutes. In 2008-09, he led the Stars defensemen with 35 points (six goals, 29 assist). He was the first-round pick, 28th overall in the 2005 draft.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette reports today that it is unlikely Niskanen will play tonight.

Niskanen just completed a session on the ice at Consol Energy Center with conditioning coach Mike Kadar" says Dave Molinari, "and has not practiced with his teammates since being injured in Boston eight days ago."

Most in Pittsburgh problably thought the addition of Matt Niskanen in the trade including James Neal as a "throw in," but Niskanen has proven his mettle, as Stars fans knew he would.

Niskanen brings both dependable defense and a solid offensive game. He deserves some recognition for his solid play that many, including myself, did not expect, says Pat O'Mahoney of SB Nation Pittsburgh.

The Eastern Conference game 1 at the Consol Engery Center, Pittsburgh, in at will begin at 7:30 eastern time, 6:30 central, on NBC Sports Network.

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