These players could hold the key to how their teams perform after a truncated 48-game regular season
ERIK KARLSSON - Ottawa’s star blue-liner missed 31 games with an Achilles tendon injury and immediately made an impact upon his return. He assisted on both goals in a 2-1 victory over Washington that clinched a playoff spot for Ottawa. If last year’s Norris Trophy winner displays his usual form, the injury-riddled Senators may just keep up their surprising ways in the post-season.
(Nick Wass/The Associated Press)
RYAN KESLER - The Vancouver Canucks have a much different look when Kesler is in the lineup. He has battled foot, shoulder and elbow problems over the last year but when healthy, gives the team some real punch with his physical presence and scoring ability. The Canucks are hungry for another crack at the Stanley Cup after falling just short two years ago. A healthy Kesler might just get them back to the final.
(DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press Images)
EVGENI MALKIN - Pittsburgh finished first in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to several top players, including Malkin, Sidney Crosby and James Neal. Malkin, who nursed an upper-body injury late in the season, is usually a point machine at playoff time. The Russian forward had a whopping 36 points in 24 games during Pittsburgh’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
(Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)
ALEX OVECHKIN - After a sluggish start to the season, Ovechkin carried the Washington Capitals to the Southeast Division title. The Russian sniper found his scoring touch and was a force late in the season. The Capitals have fewer points than some teams below them in the standings but get the No. 3 seed as a division winner. If Ovechkin continues his current scoring pace, Washington could be a tough foe this spring.
(Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)
JONATHAN QUICK - The young netminder stole the show last year and guided the Los Angeles Kings all the way to a Stanley Cup victory. His numbers are down a bit this season but he’s quite comfortable in the post-season spotlight. Quick posted three shutouts and had a sparkling 1.41 goals-against average in last year’s playoffs.
(LM Otero/The Associated Press)
JAMES REIMER - The young netminder is a big reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs are making their first post-season appearance in nine years. He handled the starting job with aplomb this season, despite constant rumours that Toronto was seeking an upgrade in net. Reimer’s steady play gave the Maple Leafs a much-needed confidence boost and has Leafs Nation primed for some long-awaited playoff hockey.
(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
RYAN GETZLAF - The Anaheim forward didn’t coast after signing a lucrative long-term contract extension in the middle of the season. Getzlaf averaged over a point a game and helped lead Anaheim to the Pacific Division title. He also knows what it takes to win. Getzlaf led the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2007 and added Olympic gold for Canada three years later.
(Bill Boyce/The Associated Press)
JONATHAN TOEWS - The anchor of the Chicago Blackhawks showed again this season why he is one of the most dynamic players in the league. The team captain is a natural leader who guided the Blackhawks to the top of the overall standings. Toews maintained his usual point-a-game pace this year and helped Chicago become a top favourite to win the Stanley Cup.
(Brian Kersey/The Associated Press)
P.K. SUBBAN - The young defenceman has helped turn the Montreal Canadiens into contenders again. Subban is averaging nearly a point a game and logs plenty of ice time each night. He’s also not afraid to throw his weight around. Subban is known for the energy and excitement he brings to the team. The Bell Centre crowd might ride that wave and give the Habs a boost on home ice.
CHRIS STEWART - The St. Louis Blues don’t have a lot of household names on the roster - just a lot of solid players who get the job done. Stewart has stepped up this season and has become one of the leaders on a team that is no pushover. He has come into his own in his third campaign with the Blues and led the team in scoring.
(Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)