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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 Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 7:22 PM

NHL.com - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

LAK @ DAL - 8:21 of the second period



At 8:21 of the second period in the Kings/Stars game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Andrei Loktionov's leg and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Los Angeles.

According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body , in any manner, the goal shall be allowed."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected Lightning linuep

The Lightning's possible lineup for their first game in Pittsburgh since that Game 7 on April 27:
 
Steve DownieSteven StamkosTeddy Purcell
Ryan ShannonVincent LecavalierMartin St. Louis
Nate ThompsonDominic MooreTom Pyatt
Brett Connolly - JT WymanAdam Hall
 
Pavel KubinaEric Brewer
Victor HedmanBrett Clark
Bruno GervaisBrendan Mikkelson
 
Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:29 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Despite cold, Bolts have warm memories in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill far below that -- yes, there was snow, too -- the Tampa Bay Lightning received a bitterly cold greeting when they arrived in Pittsburgh for Sunday night's game against the Penguins.
 
Not that they needed it. At least for a while longer, the Lightning are likely to retain very warm memories of Pittsburgh when they make their infrequent visits there.
 
Last spring, the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Penguins in their Eastern Conference opening round playoff series. They won each of the final two games in Pittsburgh, in a pair of couldn't-be-different contests -- a free-wheeling 8-2 decision in Game 5 and a tighter-than-tight 1-0 win in Game 7.
 
Sunday's game was the Lightning's first in Pittsburgh since that series, which marked only the second time in franchise history that the Penguins lost a playoff round in which they led 3-1. Tampa Bay went on to sweep favored Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then took eventual Stanley Cup champions Boston to seven games before losing the Eastern Conference Final.
 
The Lightning didn't have a morning skate in Pittsburgh after winning in Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night behind Steven Stamkos' NHL-leading 37th goal. They will finish up a three-game, four-day road trip that began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Still, the Lightning are 3-0-1 in their last four road games.
 
Stamkos has five goals during a six-game scoring streak, but he isn't the only Lightning player who is streaking. Martin St. Louis has six goals and 11 assists while scoring in 10 of his last 12 games, and Vincent Lecavalier has 10 goals and 23 points over 21 games.
 
While the Lightning's stars are leading a 7-1-2 surge over their last 10 games, star Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and seven assists as the Penguins have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10. Malkin had his third 5-point game of the season Saturday, netting a goal and setting up four others during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg.
 
An admiring Guy Boucher, the Lightning's coach, said Sunday that Malkin looks “gigantic” at ice level the way he is playing these days -- much like former Penguins star Mario Lemieux did during his prime.
 
Forward Ryan Malone (upper body injury), a former Penguins player, was expected to play during this road trip after being out since Jan. 21, but Boucher said he will remain out for precautionary reasons. The Lightning don't want to take a chance that Malone will have a setback.
 
While Dwayne Roloson was in net during that first-round playoff series last season, Mathieu Garon made 27 saves while beating Buffalo and is 6-0-2 in his last eight, so Boucher plans to start him.
 
While the Lightning won't have long to experience the cold of a February day in Pittsburgh, they'll be back in less than two weeks -- on Feb. 25 -- to finish out the season series. The teams split the two games in Tampa, with the Lightning winning 4-1 on Nov. 17 but the Penguins earning a 6-3 win on Jan. 15.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:24 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

McDonagh returns after injury scare

NEW YORK -- Ryan McDonagh gave the Rangers and their fans a scare Sunday afternoon, but it was only a brief one.

The defenseman left Sunday's game against the Washington Capitals after his left leg buckled during the second period, but returned almost immediately after being helped to the locker room.

The non-contact injury occurred as he scored his fifth goal of the season at 13:21 to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. McDonagh used a toe drag to move around a sliding defenseman, then crumpled to the ice in pain after releasing the shot.

McDonagh was back almost immediately, however, taking a shift about two minutes after leaving.

McDonagh has stepped up in a big way this season with top defenseman Marc Staal missing the first three months of the season. McDonagh is second on the Rangers and 12th in the League in ice time at 25:19 per game playing alongside NHL ice time leader and All-Star Dan Girardi.

The Rangers are currently carrying seven defensemen, but have been using Stu Bickel at forward with Ruslan Fedotenko out with an injury suffered Thursday.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:09 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Sharks-Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The projected lines for tonight's game between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center:

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Winger Evgeni Grachev and defenseman Ian Cole are expected to be healthy scratches but Hitchcock indicated that the flu bug is going around the team and all active players will dress for the pregame skate. Russell missed Saturday's game against Colorado with the flu. Wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) are out, as are defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and center Jason Arnott (shoulder). All are on injured reserve. The Blues put D'Agostini on IR Sunday morning.

SHARKS

Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Winger John McCarthy is expected to be the healthy scratch. Winger Martin Havlat (lower-body) winger Tommy Wingels (upper-body) and defenseman Jason Demers (lower-body) are on injured reserve.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:07 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Despite streak Babcock looks for more

DETROIT -- Yes, the Detroit Red Wings have rattled off 19 straight wins at Joe Louis Arena since last losing here on Nov. 3 to the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't mean all of the wins have been pretty, especially the last few in the stretch. Since beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-0 on Jan. 16 to set a new team record for consecutive home wins, they've eked out wins by just one-goal margins in three of the past four wins at Joe Louis Arena -- including two by shootout.

On Friday night, win No.19 came by shootout in a game the Wings were largely outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks -- with Detroit looking slow and a little tired for long stretches. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock hopes that trend changes on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) -- when they try to tied the NHL record with their 20th straight home win.

"We've got to play way better than we have played," Babcock said. "Our energy level this last little bit hasn't been as good and our goal to just skate and play the kind of game we want to play at a high level hasn't been there. We've found ways to just grind out games with good goaltending and defense, and yet we think we can be better than we've been … and we have to be."

Is he concerned about the recent trend?

"No, it's just the ebbs and flows of the year," Babcock said. "You're not always as good as you can be, and that's why you grind it out. The next morning, like [Detroit general manager]Ken Holland always says, you look in the paper and you've got two points and it's a Picasso. You find a way to do it and keep grinding. If you can win when you're on a down cycle, that's a great thing."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:33 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kindl excited to play against childhood idol

DETROIT -- Jakub Kindl isn't just eager to get on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena  because it will be his fourth straight start on the blue line.

His giddiness on Sunday morning also wasn't because the Detroit Red Wings have a chance to become just the third team in NHL history to win 20 straight home games. It was a more personal reason, stemming from his childhood growing up in the Czech Republic as a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr -- who plays right wing for the Flyers' top line.

The 25-year old Kindl has never played against Jagr, so Sunday's game will be special for him.

"I'm excited because I've been dreaming of one day playing against him," said Kindl, who owns a signed copy of Jagr's autobiography that came out in the late 1990s. "Here I am and the dream finally came true. I'm playing one of the best hockey players born."

Kindl's favorite Jagr memory is when he helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"When they won in Nagano '98, I think I was about 10," Kindl said. "I was watching it in the school. We were skipping class to watch the finals. It was the biggest [deal], so I'm really looking forward to tonight."

Even if he winds up in a one-on-one situation against the skilled 6-foot-3, 240-pound Flyers forward?

"If I get the chance to be out there against him, I've just got to be good defensively because he's a very strong guy on the puck, especially one-on-one," said Kindl, who's 6-3, 216 pounds. "I've got to watch out if I get a chance out there."

Kindl doesn't know if he'll get to meet Jagr after the game, but does plan to request one of his sticks.

"I've never met him," Kindl said. "I'm going to request a stick, but it feels kind of awkward for me. I'll do my best, though, because I think there are going to be a lot of guys asking him for his stick, too. I'm going to have to find a way."

Detroit also has Czech-born forward Jiri Hudler playing right wing on the second line.

"Huds knows him better than I do," Kindl said. "He played against him in Russia [KHL] a couple years ago, and he knows him better. I think they played on the national team a couple times, too."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:09 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

For Now, Pens' Jeffrey Just Winging It

PITTSBURGH -- It's not the easiest thing to do -- change from one position to another during an NHL season -- but, at least for now, Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just winging it.
 
In every sense of the word.
 
Jeffrey, a center most of his career, is currently seeing time as a right wing mostly on the Penguins' third line, which is centered by the recently acquired Cal O'Reilly. Jeffrey was on a line with No. 2 center Jordan Staal and left wing Steve Sullivan when he scored a goal during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.

With the Penguins overloaded with centers now that two-way star Staal is back after missing 15 games with a left knee injury, coach Dan Bylsma felt that Jeffrey's proven versatility would allow him to adjust to the move.
 
"I think it's a bigger move when wingers go from left to right wing, that's not as big a move as from center to wing," said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. "But Dustin Jeffrey has played  a full season at wing in Wilkes-Barre (AHL). For that reason, there was a possibility he could play wing up here because we have so many center men. We've had some injuries so we've needed him to play center, but the possibility of him playing wing has been brought up for a long time."

Currently, the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Staal, O'Reilly and Joe Vitale at center, with Jeffrey in reserve. Right wing Pascal Dupuis has filled in at center. And that group doesn't include No. 1 center Sidney Crosby, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby skated again Sunday in advance of the Penguins' optional morning skate.
 
Jeffrey has 3 goals and 2 assists in 20 games during a season in which he wasn't a full-go until mid-January after having knee surgery last year.
 
"While he hasn't played there this year and moving to wing is an abrupt change, he's had a fair amount of experience doing it," Bylsma said. "He knows the wall play, he knows the details of playing wing, so it's not a drastic move for him. I think his best season points-wise in the American Hockey League was at wing. He's a smart player and he understands the game really well."
 
Jeffrey, who realizes that a player's versatility can greatly aid his chances of remaining in the NHL, seemed to make the adjustment rather easily after practicing at wing for several days.
 
But, despite scoring  against the Jets, Jeffrey believes the Penguins need to tighten up defensively – especially when they play Tampa Bay and the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos on Sunday night. Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals.
 
"We were almost trading chance for chance, and that's not how we're going to have success," Jeffrey said. "Obviously, we needed some secondary scoring; we got some. … But we can't let up that many goals. Especially against a good team; they're not going to let us score eight goals a game."
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Quote of the Day

I was going nuts and I saw [Subban], he was going crazy, and the ref had no idea where to go. [Subban] was skating to me, and I was skating to him and the ref was right in between us and I don't know, I kind of hit him pretty hard, I thought, but those were some emotions and I'm pretty sure he understands that.

— Montreal forward Alex Galchenyuk on the celebration following his OT goal against Ottawa in Game 2