As playoff races heat up, some players appear ready to step up

Melrose: All-Star Game couldn't have turned out better (0:42)

John Buccigross and Barry Melrose discuss the success of the NHL's 3-on-3 All-Star tournament. (0:42)

Hot and not

EkholmMattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators
Ekholm was a big part of the Predators' pre-All-Star surge, entering the break on a five-game point streak as the Preds went 4-0 on a Western road trip.

CrawfordCorey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Crawford, a notable All-Star snub, entered the break on a low note, giving up three goals on 16 shots and being yanked after the first period in a 5-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Which players are poised for post-All-Star breakouts?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: A year ago, eventual Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson collected 33 points after the All-Star break to lead the Ottawa Senators on a whirlwind race to the postseason and his second Norris nod. Who do you think has that kind of late-season charge in them this season? It could be Karlsson again, of course, but I am thinking about a guy like All-Star James Neal of the host Nashville Predators. Neal has three goals in his past seven games leading into the break, and is a historically streaky goal-scorer. The Preds won four in a row before the break to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth, and I think Neal could be a catalyst to a post-All-Star surge into the playoffs. Who are you guys thinking about as we head into the final third of the season?

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: Scotty, what about a player like Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban? Once again, Subban showcased his personality during All-Star festivities and continues to be one of the more entertaining players in the league, both on and off the ice. Unfortunately, the Canadiens were spinning around the drain prior to the break, and Montreal desperately needs a big-time surge out of the gate. Subban was actually booed at Bell Centre recently, which should be unheard of, but Montreal fans want their team to clean it up and start playing motivated hockey. Subban needs to be the guy that sparks the team. He posted one goal and three assists in the two games prior to the break, and he will need much more of that if the Canadiens are to turn things around.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: That's an easy one: Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid. While it may be a little too late to see a McDavid-led charge back into the playoffs for the Oilers, I don't think it's too late for McDavid to reclaim his spot as the best young player in the game. He's raring to go, and that pent up energy should make for a fast start for McDavid, who could return as early as Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was just starting to show what he is capable of when he sustained a broken collarbone in early November, and I fully expect a huge finish from the game's next superstar.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Put me down for Ryan Getzlaf. The Anaheim Ducks captain has had a brutal first half, but we all know what type of player he really is. He's been a Hart Trophy candidate the past few seasons. I'm betting that both Getzlaf and his team rise up over the final 30-plus games and play the kind of impactful hockey we're used to seeing from them. What will be interesting on that end is where Getzlaf fits in terms of Team Canada's World Cup plans. He was a no-brainer before the season started, having been a part of two Olympic gold medal squads. There's no question, though, that his struggles this season have given Doug Armstrong and his staff pause. A strong finish to the season could help Getzlaf get back in Armstrong's good graces.

Around the league

  • The goalies who played in Sunday's All-Star Game will be hoping to avoid any hangover effect related to any struggles during the weekend.

  • A spokesman for the Illitch family, owners the Detroit Red Wings, said investment in the area surrounding the Red Wings new arena is set to hit $1.2 billion, including hotel, office and residential spaces.

  • It was confirmed Sunday that Gary Bettman has signed a contract to remain NHL commissioner through 2022. Bettman took the job in 1993.