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Top Shelf: Ducks roll, Waddell’s dilemma, Philly’s form and oh, Alex

Jonas Hiller's hot play of late has the Ducks on the playoff bubble. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jonas Hiller's hot play of late has the Ducks on the playoff bubble. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)


Instead of giving one single point all the playing time, let’s provide fourth-line minutes to a few thoughts on a variety of topics.

• I thought Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray did a good job at the trade deadline and that was before his team looked like it was going to make the playoffs.
    
Murray re-tooled on the fly, showing the conviction to follow through on a long-term game plan rather than pulling the goalie in an effort to squeak into the post-season this year.

But Anaheim has been racking up the points recently, anyway, thanks to some good goaltending from Jonas Hiller and strong play from front-liners Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

The fact the Ducks still drip Stanley Cup residue and can have either Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on the ice basically at all times makes Anaheim a less-than-desirable first round draw.

• What to make of the Atlanta Thrashers? On one hand, it’s easy to write off their second-half success as nothing more than a team with no pressure on it sneaking up on some squads. And really, Rich Peverley? C’mon.

It’s still hard to know what to make of Kari Lehtonen, which tells you something in and of itself. Ilya Kovalchuk has been unbelievable for a couple of months, but still presents a dilemma in that he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2010. And as good as he’s been of late, it’s hard to believe Slava Kozlov – who turns 37 in May – has many more 75-point seasons left in him.

If GM Don Waddell dwelled on those points, a summer rebuilding project would be the obvious tact.

But one intangible to consider in this Thrasher uprising is the notion coach John Anderson’s message and tactics may just now be getting through to the boys. It always takes time for a new bench boss to mold a team, especially during Year 1 of his NHL career.

Then throw in very productive play from Todd White, 31 goals from 21-year-old Bryan Little, the fact Tobias Enstrom is once again bearing fruit on the blueline and that 18-year-old defenseman Zach Bogosian is frequently logging 20 to 25 minutes of ice time a night and you can see how a little legitimate optimism is sneaking in.

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And Rich Peverley? Hey, who knows?

• What label can you stick on the Philadelphia Flyers? Are they true contenders or more like a dark horse with an obvious spring in its step?

The Flyers – a final-four team last year, don’t forget – have essentially been an island unto themselves this season, nestled behind the East’s frontrunners and above the teams that, at one point, anyway, wondered if April would be a month of golf.

Goalie Martin Biron has been playing very well of late and showed last year as a playoff newbie that he’s not about to let post-season pressure push him around. Their scoring depth is well documented, while the overall competency of their blueline is not.

If there’s a reason to really believe in Philly, it’s Mike Richards. He has the kind of game that can define a playoff run. Remember how Brenden Morrow just took the Stars by the throat last year? Richards, much the way Keith Primeau did with Flyers teams in the recent past, just has that light-the-way potential.

• I guess if you’re going to rip Alex Kovalev for his frequent trips to outer space, you’ve got to give the guy credit when he puts up six goals and eight points over four games for a team fighting to secure a playoff berth.

And Kovalev’s exploits on a line with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay may still be the second-best news item in Montreal, next to the confident play of Carey Price these days.

The bad news for the Habs? Four of their final six games are on the road, where they tend to roll over.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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