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Posted On Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 9:08 AM

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

Melrose Place: The Detroit Red Wings

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Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 5:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

What teams are lurking in the postseason field?

Every year, there are teams in the playoffs who are expected to win and do and teams expected to be quick outs that are. But there's also another group: The Lurkers. These are the teams that might be in the playoffs or just close to the playoffs that no one is talking about, but somehow wind up on a big run when no one expects it. Sometimes these are just anonymous teams and sometimes it's the 7- or 8-seed. Whether or not people realize it, though, the potential for these teams to break through is there.

Here are the teams I think have a shot at making an unexpected run in the playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 44
SOG: 194 | +/-: -6
Washington Capitals: When all is said and done, I think Ottawa is going to be the team at the bottom of the top eight at the outside looking in, but the one that's really interesting and really scary of the teams I expect to make it is Washington. I think Washington is a better team than Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg or any of the other teams fighting for that last spot and I'll think they'll make the playoffs. Tomas Vokoun has been giving them good goaltending, Alex Ovechkin is starting to score and I think Nicklas Backstrom will be back. I think they'll end up catching Florida in the Southeast because head-to-head, I just think Washington is the better team. But I think Florida is better than both Ottawa and Toronto so I would say Washington gets three, Florida gets 7 and Toronto gets 8. I think Ottawa is out.

You can sum up why the Capitals are so dangerous in one word: talent. Washington's lineup just scares you. You look at that lineup and you wonder how they're playing for seventh. If coach Dale Hunter can get them going in the last 10 games, get the power play going a little bit and maybe they make a little trade at the deadline, they will be a very scary team. What's more, I like Ovechkin's game right now. He's flying, he's getting his chances and he's passing the puck. They're going to need great goaltending, but they've been getting the goaltending most of the time lately. If I'm the Rangers or Boston, I hope they finish third. I don't want to see them in the first round.

Patrik Elias
Center - NJD
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 53
SOG: 117 | +/-: -6
New Jersey Devils: I really like New Jersey. The Devils are scary because they're playing really well as a team. They're giving up nothing. Martin Brodeur is playing his best hockey of the year, defensively they're really settling down, Patrik Elias is playing great, Zach Parise's playing great, Ilya Kovalchuk's playing the best hockey he's played as a Devil, and now Adam Henrique is showing them they've got some other good players on the team. Anton Volchenkov is playing rock solid defense, too. I think they're a much better team than teams like Ottawa and Toronto, which are right behind them in the standings, and if we're looking at a team that no one is talking about and yet could be the most dangerous team in the East, I really like Jersey. I just really like the way they're playing.

I think you have to put Pittsburgh in that mix, too, particularly with the way Evgeni Malkin has played, but even as a lower seed I don't think the Penguins would surprise anyone as a team that can make a run. If I'm looking at the top six teams in the East, the Rangers and Boston are easily the top two, but after that I might put New Jersey right there. They're a dangerous team.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks:
I'm not too worried about Chicago. I know they're bad right now but they're like Washington. They're just too good and too talented, and I think Joel Quenneville will get them straightened out. Even with their current losing streak they won't keep losing like this the rest of the season. They'll be on the upswing come playoff time and that's what the coaches are selling in the locker room. They're saying this is the best thing that's going to happen to them. They're going to find out who they are and find out more about their team by going through a tough stretch. That's what Chicago is saying behind the scenes, and this is a team that could easily turn it around, go 13-3 in the last 16 games and be hot come playoff time. I don't know that they'll be able to pick up ground on Nashville or St. Louis, but I do think they'll be in a good position to make a run with a first-round matchup against San Jose.

Because the Central is so good, San Jose is probably going to wind up facing Chicago, Nashville or St. Louis in the first round -- right now the Blackhawks are the likely opponent -- and I don't think any of those teams is a good matchup for the Sharks. After all these seasons, I just have a tough time believing in San Jose. Chicago is so talented they'll cause some problems, Nashville is rock solid -- they get a point every night -- and St. Louis is great. There's no reason to think 7 or 8 can beat the teams above them, but the sixth team will be a dangerous one come playoff time, and if it's Chicago, San Jose and the rest of the Western Conference elite should be worried.

St. Louis Blues: I think St. Louis is a team nobody is talking about. Their home record is unbelievable, and they're built for the playoffs with their size, physical presence and their goaltending. The impact Ken Hitchcock has had on this team since he took over is really just unbelievable. Nashville is similar, but I think St. Louis is a better team and while everyone respects them, I don't think anyone really fears them.

The rest of the West ought to though. They are a tough defensive team, and the Blues are definitely capable of beating Detroit, Vancouver or Chicago in a seven-game series. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them playing for the Stanley Cup in June.
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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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Quote of the Day

I watched many times this year the series between the Russians and Canada in 1972, and he was a dominating player there. After I watched the tapes, I respect him a lot more because he turned the series around. He was the guy. In that time, he was the best in the world. It’s a big honor for me to tie him.

— Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr on scoring the 717th goal of his career to tie Phil Esposito for fifth on the NHL's all-time goals list after a 4-3 win vs. the Lightning on Sunday