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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Players you can expect to impact the postseason race

With the race for playoff berths so tight in each conference, there will be several players who have a major impact on whether or not their teams are playing hockey this spring, or playing golf.

From where I stand, these are the players I expect to be having a major impact down the stretch.

Eastern Conference

Alex Ovechkin and Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals: This is why Ovi is supposed to be great -- this time of year. They need him as a leader and a scorer. Vokoun was brought in this offseason for this specific reason. They traded away Varlamov, the young goaltender, so Vokoun would be the guy that does it. That means this is the time for both of these guys to show what they're worth.

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 22-13-2
GAA: 2.45 | SVP: 0.920
This offseason, Washington thought Vokoun's international experience and the battles he had been in prepared him for this even though he has limited experience in the NHL's chase for the postseason after all those years in Florida. Am I in love with him? Do I think he's one of the all-time greats? No, but I do like having a veteran goaltender. I like having a guy I know isn't going to have trouble sleeping at night, someone who isn't going to have to listen to Dr. Phil during the day to calm himself down. This is why you got a veteran goaltender. Now you've got to live with your choice.

Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: All season these guys have been the main force for Toronto. This is when you find out if your players and your team are great. It's easy to play when you know you're in the first spot or you're out of the playoffs. But every night, when your season is on the line and you're fighting for the playoffs and these two points might get you in and these two points might get you out, that's when you find out who's great. I think Kessel, Phaneuf and Lupul have been those guys all year long for Toronto and I think they're going to determine whether or not Toronto makes it into the playoffs.

Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, Florida Panthers: Florida is very similar to Toronto in that it's really been a group of three that's been the driving force. This line has been their top group offensively, it's been their power play all season long and they're going to be the guys Florida needs going down the stretch. Other guys have to do their jobs, of course. They'll need good goaltending and good defense, but those three have been their whole offense all year long and they need to continue to be.

Western Conference

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: This is his race. Period. If L.A. gets in, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be the best goalie in the Western Conference, because they just don't score many goals. He's shown that he's a guy that can do that, though. The Kings only have 120 goals for; that pales in comparison to Detroit or Vancouver. A defensive team like St. Louis has more goals. Phoenix, which has never been a big offensive team, has more goals. The Columbus Blue Jackets have more goals. For the Kings to make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick is going to have to be great. Plain and simple.

Ray Whitney
Left Wing - PHX
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 51
SOG: 123 | +/-: 19
Mike Smith and Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes: I think right now the Tampa Bay Lightning are wishing they had held on to Mike Smith, and I also think Ray Whitney is just a great story. Whitney is leading the team in scoring despite being one of the older guys. He's still a force on the power play, he's still quick and he's still the smartest guy on the ice every night. I think he's a real leader for Phoenix and he and Smith, who has been tremendous lately, will need to keep playing well for the Coyotes to make it into the postseason.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Just like Jonathan Quick in L.A., it's going to come down to Kiprusoff this time of year. Most nights that Calgary wins, it's Kipper who's the first star. He just got his 300th win and he's playing as well as he's played since he became a Flame, so he's obviously the key up in Calgary.

Kari Lehtonen, Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: With Brenden Morrow out, your best players will have to be your best players and in Dallas that falls on these guys. They'll need to help Lehtonen out so he can go back to being the best goalie in the League like he was earlier this season, and Ribeiro and Benn will need to start putting the puck back in the net.

Whoever is in goal, Chicago Blackhawks: If you look at the records of Corey Crawford or Ray Emery, they're simply not getting the job done. Whether it's one of those guys or it's somebody out there they go get, the goalie is going to be the key, and I'll be surprised if the Blackhawks don't go out there and get somebody at the deadline. The obvious choice might be Evgeni Nabokov from the Islanders, but with the way he's played lately, his price is going up every day. There aren't very many options out there for Chicago, but they need to be careful as the cost gets higher with his play. Still, whomever it is in net is going to be a key component for Chicago down the stretch and in the playoffs.
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POSTED ON Friday, 02.10.2012 / 4:36 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Sam Gagner

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POSTED ON Friday, 02.10.2012 / 12:05 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Reimer, Eberle and Yandle

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: NHL Trade Deadline

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 4:24 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: Coaches Injuries

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POSTED ON Monday, 02.06.2012 / 2:37 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Caps, Stars most likely to ascend into playoffs

With roughly 30 games left in the season for each team, playoff races are about to heat up pretty quickly -- and for several teams their place in the postseason is far from safe. Some teams will have to worry more about dropping out than others, and to me the difference between the standings now and the standings in April will be pretty slight -- but there will be a difference.

In the East, I think the only team that's going to drop out of playoff position is Ottawa. I think the Senators will get knocked out and the Washington Capitals will take their spot. Ottawa looks like it's in a free fall right now and it's come back to Earth. Other teams are starting to catch them and I think with Alex Ovechkin back in the lineup -- and when Nicklas Backstrom gets healthy -- the Capitals are only going to get better. Ottawa had its moment in the sun with that great stretch before the All-Star Game, but I don't think they've got the horses to finish the race.

Another team that may have to watch out for Washington is Florida, which is barely ahead of the Caps in the Southeast Division. Florida lost a tough game Saturday against Tampa Bay, which hurts them and they're going to be a team fighting right to the end. If you look at Washington and Florida you'd have to say Washington is the better lineup, but Florida, even when things have gotten tough this season, has managed to get back in first place. I think the Southeast is something we're definitely going to be watching and it'll be a heck of a race right to the end. Right now the difference is just one point, so I wouldn't be surprised if they flip flop by the end of the year.

That said, I do think Florida will make it even if they don't win the division. They're a better team than Ottawa. Their special teams are a little bit better and I think Ottawa has hit its top watermark. I really see the Sens struggling until the end of the year. Also, you see teams like Winnipeg that are six points out and you think it's nothing with so much time left in the season, but in the era of the three-point game it's not easy to climb past teams. For example, Tampa Bay is playing great right now and they've barely picked up ground on the eighth spot.

The other difference for Florida will be that the Panthers used to have a lot of guys who have lost their entire career. Now you've got guys that have won -- guys like Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. They will take the lead and they will teach the other guys to expect to make plays -- not to expect to fail, but to expect to succeed. Those guys will make a difference in the dressing room and they'll have the puck on their sticks at key times.

The West is very similar to the East, in my opinion. The only difference I see is I don't think Minnesota makes the playoffs. I think they're struggling right now and have a lot of issues. They just don't score enough, they have a lot of injury problems and I just don't think they'll be able to hold on. The team I would pick to get in is Dallas. Dallas has games in hand on the nearest competitors and while it's going to be a battle, I suspect they'll be the only team to make the jump.

I think LA's fine -- I like the way they're playing now. Obviously, Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago are better than anyone else in the West, so I think those teams are all safe barring something drastic. That leaves Minnesota as the weak link and I just think if you look at Dallas defensively, the goaltending and the fact that Jamie Benn is back and has made a big difference already, I just think it adds up to the Stars taking Minnesota's spot.

I do think there will be some movement up top in the West, however. I think the team that will wind up with the best record in the conference is Vancouver, because they don't have to play as many good teams as anyone in the Central. The Central teams will beat each other up and the Northwest is not nearly as strong, so it will be hard for a team in the Central to win first. Vancouver will get a tough matchup maybe once out of every three games, whereas in the Central the only break you get is Columbus. I do think Detroit will hold onto the division title. They're the best team and they walked into Vancouver and looked pretty good last week. The other teams in the division are solid, but I don't think anyone is playing as well as Detroit right now. Still, the Central is a gauntlet. I suspect that will give Vancouver the opening to slip into the top spot come playoff time.
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POSTED ON Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:44 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Penguins at Bruins

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POSTED ON Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:40 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Mullet of the Week: Jamie Benn

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POSTED ON Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:37 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Top All-Star Game performers

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POSTED ON Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:33 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose joins CISCO NHL Live via Telepresence

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For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory