NHL Playoffs 2012: 5 Players You Absolutely Must Watch Tonight

Robert TheodorsonSenior Analyst IApril 11, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: 5 Players You Absolutely Must Watch Tonight

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    Tonight is the night.

    After a seemingly lengthy hockey drought, which in reality was only a matter of days, hockey is back.

    The conference quarterfinals kick off tonight starting with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The most heated rivalry that is currently matched up is the showcase program for the NHL in America and Canada.

    So many storylines come to the fold in Pittsburgh, where two-time Stanley Cup champion Jaromir Jagr will return, but this time to play against his former team and try to push the Penguins out of the playoffs.

    Sidney Crosby will be back in postseason action after one-year hiatus due to injury.

    The night leads us into some Western Conference action where the Nashville Predators welcome the Detroit Red Wings, and much later the Presidents Trophy-winning Canucks will face off against a defensive stalwart in the Los Angeles Kings.

    Here are five players in tonight's action that you can't miss!

Nashville Predators: Alexander Radulov

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    The Predators have all the ingredients to make a winner this year.

    They've got the experience, they've got the goaltender, they've got the defense, and they have the depth.

    Until recently, they were only missing one thing: an elite scorer.

    Nashville was presented with a gift at season's end when Nashville-drafted winger Alexander Radulov decided to come back to America and play for his team under the circumstances that his few games back and the postseason would count for the final year on his entry level contract.

    Radulov was considered the best player in the world not currently in the NHL by many, so just being back puts him high atop the list of best players in the NHL.

    With Radulov back in the lineup, the Predators have that scorer that can push them over the top against a tough Detroit Red Wings team that is filled from head to toe with playoff experience.

    For everything that Radulov and his teammates bring to the fold as a complete team with an excellent system under a superb coach, the Predators have no excuses not to have a lengthy postseason in which your author considers them the favorite to win the Western Conference.

Philadelphia Flyers: Scott Hartnell

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    Scott Hartnell has promised blood, and blood is what he shall deliver tonight against the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The upstart gritty winger has exceeded all expectations this year after being moved off his familiar line with Danny Briere and former Flyer Ville Leino.

    Hartnell has been centered by Claude Giroux, who might as well wear a robe and funny pointy hat on the ice, as he is indeed a wizard.

    On his opposite wing is the grizzled veteran Jaromir Jagr, who is sure to grow an awesome grey beard of Scott Niedermayer proportions. Hartnell has jelled tremendously with these two men, creating instant offense and a line that is extremely hard to play against.

    Hartnell is sure to be the media darling of this series when the team returns to Philadelphia.

    He always has something to say, and it is usually hilarious. Even diehard Flyers haters have been won over by Hartnell's antics as of late and can't deny that watching this man is either exciting or a laugh riot.

Piitsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin

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    The two-time Art Ross Trophy winner and eventual league MVP is the scariest man to play against in the league.

    Big Evgeni "Geno" Malkin can do it all, and he intends to.

    Malkin, who can score, fight, hit, play defense and deke through entire teams, is looked upon as the early favorite to lead his team to the Stanley Cup Final, all without even playing a postseason game yet this year.

    The checking centers and defensemen who will be matched up against Malkin must be scared; there is no coach good enough in the world who can create an effective game plan to shut down both Malkin and Crosby.

    In fact, Malkin is all the more dangerous these days with renaissance man James Neal on his wing. If Malkin and his 50 regular-season goals doesn't beat you by himself, he will set James Neal up to do his work for him.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby

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    In a list of five top players to watch Wednesday night, it is simply impossible to only list one Pittsburgh Penguin.

    While Evgeni Malkin has opportunistically stolen Crosby's mantle as best player in the world, at least for the time being, all the media coverage in the world will be focused on Crosby.

    Sid missed all of last year's playoffs in which the Penguins took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink before finally falling to Guy Boucher's trap system in seven games.

    Crosby and Malkin are currently battling for the title of best center on their team, and in the world, they will also be vying for the Conn Smythe Trophy which Malkin won against his second Stanley Cup Final trip against the Detroit Red Wings.

Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick

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    In a game that will end early Thursday morning for those of us on the East Coast, those on the left side of our two countries will be treated to a goaltending matchup sent by the heavens.

    Top American netminder and Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick will lead his Kings on to the ice against Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks.

    Quick almost single-handedly carried his team into the playoffs, as the Kings recorded the second-fewest goals scored in the entire NHL, only a few behind the Minnesota Wild.

    If any series win in all postseason action this week is completely reliant on one man, it is without a shred of doubt: Jonathan Quick.

    To say Quick is important to his team is the understatement of the entire year. The Kings will live or die on the shoulders of their goalie, who will either lead the Kings to a competitive series or fall in what could easily be a four-game sweep.