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Melrose: The Kings chase for the final playoff spot

by Barry Melrose / NHL.com

The second half of every NHL season is full of exciting races, important questions, and major surprises, but the second half of the 2014-15 season might be more interesting than most. Many teams are in the mix, though I think the Eastern Conference is probably going to see the same eight teams we have in the postseason field now make it in April. Out west, though, there's a ton of mystery, and it almost all revolves around the defending champions.

The Los Angeles Kings are on the outside looking in as we return from the All-Star Break and while they're only one point back of the surprising Calgary Flames, there is plenty of reason for Kings general manager Dean Lombardi to start getting concerned. L.A. is going to be a very interesting team to watch because everyone just expects the Kings to turn it on and take a run at the Cup even if they've been inconsistent all season. That may happen, but one of these years it won't. The Kings can't just sit back and expect to be there.

There will be many deals as we approach the trade deadline in which teams will try to bolster their rosters for a playoff run, but the Kings look to already be getting started. L.A. has looked like it might need a shake up, and Lombardi might have delivered it Monday when Mike Richards was placed on waivers. He's a very well-known player and a very solid postseason forward, but he hasn't quite looked like the guy that helped the Kings win two Stanley Cup championships. You're starting to see the shoes drop in L.A.

At the same time, Calgary isn't the only team L.A. has to worry about. I still sort of believe in the Dallas Stars. They have a ton of firepower and have started to play well of late. The Stars would have to get very hot to catch the last postseason spot, but I think they can do it, or at least make it interesting. Between the Stars and the Flames, the Kings could very well end up as one of the odd men out.

HANGING UP THE JACKETS

In a season of almost endless bad news, the Columbus Blue Jackets got more of it Monday when they announced goalie Sergei Bobrovsky will be out 4-6 weeks. You hate to say it, but at this point, his season might be over. That's tough to hear for president John Davidson and the Columbus fans, but there is plenty of reason to stay optimistic about the francise. This is a great young team that has just had an insane amount of bad injury luck. Injuries are a part of sports, but the injury report for Columbus has just been scary all season long. It seems like every good player, from Dubinsky, to Hartnell, to Bobrovsky, has missed a significant chunk of time.

Bobrovsky's latest injury might be the last nail in the coffin, and that's unfortunate, but hopefully this will be the last time the Blue Jackets are sellers at the deadline. They can pick up more building blocks and draft picks to put around Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno, and Jack Johnson. They can get Bobrovsky and their other injured guys up to 100% for next season, and maybe they can become a powerhouse in the NHL.

This is frustrating if you're a Jackets fan, but you just have to take your lumps and realize Columbus fought through injuries as long as it could, but there was just too much to overcome. Now the Blue Jackets will get another strong piece in the draft and they're still a team that competes. The Blue Jackets still work their butts off and they already have playoff experience. Despite a rocky 2014-15, the future is still bright in Columbus.

AND SPEAKING OF COLUMBUS

I mentioned my love for the state of Ohio last week, but I do want to take a minute to point out how great a job the Blue Jackets organization and the city of Columbus did hosting the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend. Not only did all of the events go off well, but the way everything was put together was tremendous.

I've been to plenty of these weekends and sometimes the geography of the city just doesn't let you make it easy for everyone who is coming to town. That wasn't the case here. Everything in Columbus was close together. You could walk from your hotel to get a great steak, then you could walk to the fan fest, and then you could walk to the arena. Everything was set up well.

It was a tremendous weekend all around, and the game itself was as entertaining as we could hope. A record number of goals, and the local boys putting on a show for the home crowd? It doesn't get better. This past week was a good foot forward for the NHL and the city of Columbus.

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