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Posted On Monday, 02.06.2012 / 2:37 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - 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.
Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:44 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Penguins at Bruins

Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:40 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Barry's Mullet of the Week: Jamie Benn

Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:37 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Top All-Star Game performers

Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 11:33 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose joins CISCO NHL Live via Telepresence

Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 11:29 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Three intriguing trade candidates

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 3:08 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

My favorite moments from All-Star Weekend

Every year the All-Star Game gives us tons of great moments and the 2012 NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place was no different. A number of memories stick out in my mind, but these are the things that I'll take with me after All-Star Weekend in Ottawa.

The Alfie Lovefest: This was the best part of the weekend to me. The building was really unbelievable for Daniel Alfredsson. The standing ovation he received after he scored his first goal with 17,000 people on their feet was amazing, all weekend long he was treated so well when he stepped on the ice, and you could just see that the city is in love with him and it honors him. I know it was an All-Star Game, and it was an NHL event, but it really turned into the Daniel Alfredsson show, and he deserves it. He's been there a long time, he's been a great professional and he's been a great ambassador of our League around the world, so I don't think it bothered anyone that it turned into his show.

Tim Thomas gets No. 4: We sat down with Timmy and he let us know that he's won the last three All-Star games and he was going to play the third period in this one so he could win four. No one had ever done that before, so late in the game Timmy was only concerned with winning, even as Alfredsson's teammates tried to set him up for a hat trick in the third period. Two was enough for Alfredsson as far as Timmy was concerned. He was going to win that game and he was going to be the goalie of record four straight years.

Chara's warm welcome: Zdeno Chara learned to be a pro in Ottawa. He became a professional, he became a good player and he generally learned his craft in Ottawa and the people responded to him very well. I guarantee everybody in Ottawa wishes they still had Chara on that team, and I think he was a little apprehensive about coming back in such a high-profile role, but he was really excited about the good ovation and the good hand he got when he was announced. He may have left Ottawa, but that's part of the business, and he never badmouthed Ottawa or said it was a terrible place. Everything that came out of his mouth was about how much he loved playing there and how much he enjoyed his time in Ottawa. It was a case of handling the situation properly and at the end of the day there were no hard feelings for either side, and this weekend showed it.

The Hardest Shot:
This was really the best part of the skills competition. It's my favorite event to begin with, but when you see a record being set, that's always special, and we saw three shots break the old record in one night. It's really become the marquee event of the night with Chara and Shea Weber, and everyone's waiting to see if the record's going to get broken every year. Obviously the next step is if it's going to break 110 next year, but that was a great moment when Chara hit 108.8. It was a good, fun moment, and I think everyone will remember seeing the hardest slap shot ever taken. In addition, we were all surprised Alfie was in the hardest shot contest, too. I think most people thought high 90s would be a good showing for him since he's not known as a guy with a big shot. For him to go over 100 multiple times was pretty impressive.

The beauty of Ottawa:
Ottawa was great last weekend. It's a beautiful city and all of the scenic visuals along the Rideau Canal with the winter snow falling was very picturesque. The parliament buildings were all lit up, all the events were packed, the parties were all busy. You really have to give Ottawa an A+ for the job the city did.

Players showing their personality:
The players were a lot of fun all weekend. Marian Gaborik, in particular, for the first time really opened up and you could see his personality a little bit. He and (Henrik) Lundqvist battling back and forth on the ice and Gaborik eventually getting the hat trick was also great. Scott Hartnell's #HartnellDown campaign, when he would donate $1,000 every time he fell or scored a goal was great. Joffrey Lupul was great. There were a lot of guys having fun, and we've got to do more of that. When people see our athletes and meet our athletes and get to know our athletes, they fall in love with our athletes.

Skills on display: I also loved the skills relay on Saturday night with one-timers and pinpoint passing. That was the one drill that was what hockey players do. That's how you practice. You practice going through pylons. You practice carrying pucks through other pucks. You practice saucer passes. I thought it was a really great teaching tool for how hockey players learn their skills.

Overall, Ottawa was a great host this year and I think it gave Columbus a lot of ideas for 2013. That was one of the best parts of the weekend, too, to finally get some positive news for Columbus, which has had a tough year. Maybe this could be the start of a new period for the Jackets when they host the All-Star Game next January.

They'll just have to keep in mind that this season Ottawa gave them quite a bit to live up to.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 11:27 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: Second-Half Step Ups

Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 11:23 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose Match Up: Red Wings at Canucks

Posted On Thursday, 01.26.2012 / 5:21 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst / - Melrose Minute

Melrose: Six NHL facts at the All Star Break.

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Quote of the Day

It's cool when you think about how many great American players have played the game and the two players that were at that 18-game point streak and what they've done in their careers. It's pretty cool right now, but it was kind of overshadowed by the loss.

— Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after breaking the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Kings
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