10 - Alexander Radulov – Nashville Predators – A controversial late addition to the Predators. Radulov just may be that last addition that equals success for the Nashville Predators. Nashville has had offensive struggles this season, they have no players at that thirty goal mark. They also ranked 26th in shots per game, but had a great power play this season. Most of these stats were compiled with out the help of Radulov. He may just be that guy to score those critical game winners. With great goaltending, lets see if the controversal Radulov pick off pays off.
9 – Ilya Bryzgalov – Philadelphia Flyers - They brought him in to help forget the 2011 playoff goaltending disaster. Now it is time to see if Bryzgalov was worth the large contract he received. The Flyers are built for the long haul in the playoffs, and the only real question mark that the regular season revealed, was goaltending. Bryzgalov had his moments this season, and many times lost his starting spot to Bobrovsky. This first round series with the Penguins has all the makings to be a very physical classic series. The play of Bryzgalov will be very important. The offensive ability of Crosby and Malkin can win this series, but a great performance from Bryzgalov will help the Flyers move on to the second round.
8 – Nicklas Backstrom – Washington Capitals – Consistency has been a huge problem for the Capitals this season. The Caps have played a lot like a team that does not deserve to be in the playoffs, and at times has looked like the Caps of old. This statement is also true for many of the players on the team. Backstrom has spent most of the season injured, and has not really been himself. If Backstrom can regain his offensive power the Caps have a chance of making some noise in the playoffs.
7 – Patrick Sharp – Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks are currently faced with a offensive dilemma. The recent injury to Jonathan Toews, and his unlikely return to the playoffs has left a void on offensive. The man that must step up, and rekindle previous playoff success is Patrick Sharp. In the past Sharp has found a way to score those critical playoff goals. The Blackhawks are currently experiencing problems with offensive depth, and the loss of Toews does not help. Sharp must now take over, and lead the Hawks. His 59 points this season, that feature 26 goals must carryover into the playoffs.
6 – Jeff Carter – Los Angeles Kings – Carter was the big trade deadline catch. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded him to the Kings just days before the deadline. The Kings have not played up to expectations this season, and they are now hoping that adding Carter to the line-up will spark the offense that has been lacking. At the beginning of the season I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the Kings would struggle offensively, and be great on defense. If Carter can rekindle the past magic with Richards, and Quick can maintain his excellent goaltending the Kings could live up to their fans expectations.
5 – David Backes – St. Louis Blues – The Blues have shocked everyone in the hockey world. Many thought of this team as a good up and coming team, but no one expected this team to challenge for the Presidents Trophy. The inexperience of the Blues has some worried about just how far they can go in the playoffs. The key to the Blues lies with up and coming star center David Backes. If Backes puts this team on his shoulders it tough telling how far the Blues can go. The Blues can win if they play a tight checking style, and pound their opponents with powerful forechecking. This is where Backes comes in. He is the classic power forward that can also score. His 54 points this season are tied for the team lead with T.J. Oshie. The Blues do not feature a lot of scoring punch, they had no 40 goal scorers this season. This makes it even more important that Backes produces points. The Blues are going to have to win a lot of 2-1 games to be successful in the playoffs.
4 – Martin Brodeur – New Jersey Devils – It is tough to believe that future hall of famer Martin Brodeur is the playoff worry in New Jersey. Brodeur’s stats speak for themselves, and all but assure him of a hall of fame spot. After many unbelievable season in the NHL, Brodeur has shown signs of weakness in recent years. The first half of the season was terrible, and although his second half has improved it is still not up to what we usually expect. It is all up to Brodeur to carry this team, if he struggles the Devils will be an early exit. The Devils have not shown enough offensive power to win many shoot-out style games. If Brodeur maintains his second half success, and throws in a few games where he is brilliant the Devils might just become the sleeper team of the playoffs.
3 – Marion Gaborik – New York Rangers – What do you do? Just when you think that this guy is dead and gone, he bounces back, and has a great season. This season his 41 goals and 76 points leads the New York Rangers potent offense. The Rangers offense feature four players who have 50 points or more. If Gaborik can keep up this scoring pace the Rangers will be a tough team to deal with. The stability of Lundqvist in net leaves only the question of offense. Many worry that Gaborik will get injured or act as though he is uninterested, like many times in the past. If the Rangers can get out early in games, and Gaborik can keep up this excellent scoring pace, the Rangers should have the team to go deep in the playoffs.
2 – Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins – Crosby is the best player in the NHL, when healthy. That is the problem. Crosby was limited to only 22 games this season due to his ongoing concussion problem. This kid is amazing. If he can remain healthy, and plays with NHL leading scorer Evgeny Malkin, the Penguins will be thought of as cup contenders. The worry is, how long can Crosby stay healthy. Especially when their first round opponent is rival Philadelphia. This series is expected to be a blood bath, and Crosby’s concussion problem will likely be tested. If Crosby remains healthy the Penguins just may be hoisting the Stanley Cup again. If Crosby goes down, the road will be much tougher.
1 - Roberto Luongo – Vancouver Canucks – Luongo lead his team to their second consecutive Presidents Trophy. He has won his country a gold medal in the Olympics. With all these accolades one would think that Luongo would be a fan favorite, and supported above all. Well that is not the case in Vancouver. Luongo has struggled at times, including last year in the playoffs. His play is often criticized, and back-up Corey Schneider quietly waits in the background. The play of Schneider has many believing that he is better than Luongo. Many feel that Schneider would be the full time starter had the Canucks not paid Luongo big bucks, and given him a long term contract. I do feel that his leash will be short, and if he shows lack of confidence he will be pulled quickly. If he plays like he can, and has in the past the Canucks just may get over last years hump, and ride Luongo to a Stanley Cup Championship.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this Wednesday night.