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Thursday, April 14, 2011
Capitals, Canucks make Melrose look good

By Vince Masi

On SportsCenter, NHL analyst Barry Melrose predicted the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks would meet in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams got off to a good start Wednesday night, with the Capitals beating the Rangers 2-1 in OT and the Canucks beating the Blackhawks 2-0. On top of that, here’s the case for Melrose being right:

• The Capitals are the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season. The last team to do that in the East was the New Jersey Devils, who were the top seed in three straight years from 1997-99.

• Washington has revenge on its minds. In each of the Capitals last three postseason appearances, their season has ended at home in Game 7. Last year, Washington was the Presidents' Trophy winners, but lost 2-1 in Game 7 to the Montreal Canadiens.

• The Capitals have taken a more defensive approach, going from the highest-scoring team in last season to 19th this season. Conversely, they were fourth in goals against this year after being 19th last year. The 2.33 goals against per game were their lowest in a single season in team history.

• While Alex Ovechkin was held to career lows in goals (32), power-play goals (7) and shots on goal (367), he’s playing well at the right time. Since March 1, Ovechkin’s 1.38 points per game is the highest among any player in the Eastern Conference. And since 2008, no player has a higher point per game in the postseason than Ovechkin’s 1.48.

• The Canucks have all facets covered. During the regular season, they were first in goals scored (258), first in power-play percentage (24.3), first in goals against (180) and third in penalty killing (86.2).

• Daniel Sedin led the league in points with 104, one year after his brother Henrik did, making them the first set of brothers to win the Art Ross Trophy for the most points in consecutive years.

• The emergence of Ryan Kesler. Everyone knows about his defensive abilities, but he’s taken his offense to the next level. He scored 41 goals, becoming the first American-born player to score at least 40 goals for a Canadian team since Keith Tkachuk scored 50 for the Winnipeg Jets in 1995-96.

Roberto Luongo
Luongo
• Roberto Luongo is heading to the postseason in the finest form of his career. In 60 games, Luongo posted a 2.11 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. The only goalie to post those numbers in a 60-game season since save percentage became an official stat in 1983-84 was Dominik Hasek in consecutive years of 1997-98 and 1998-99.

But it will be tough. The top seeds in each conference haven’t met for the Cup since 2001 when the Colorado Avalanche beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games. Plus, no first-time President's Trophy winner has gone on to win the Cup.

Melrose says the Canucks will win the Cup. If so, they will be the first Canadian team to take home the Holy Grail since the Canadiens in 1993.