NHL Playoffs 2012: The 5 Most Dangerous Players Remaining
Few sports offer single players a better opportunity to dominate a playoff series and dramatically change his team's odds in their favor like hockey does.
One of the main reasons the Stanley Cup playoffs are so entertaining is that unlike the other professional sports, playoff seeding means very little. A No. 8 seed has taken a No.1 seed to Game 7 seven times. Home-ice advantage can be taken away very easily.
As human beings, it is in our nature to root for the underdog. We want to see the little guy win, because that's what we all are, right? The little guy.
One player can change a series in the blink of an eye. Here are the five players left standing in Lord Stanley's playoffs who are most capable of being that series-changer.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
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One of the most telling stats in hockey is plus-minus. When a player starts to get his plus-number high, it is a strong indicator that he's playing great team hockey. He is putting himself in the correct positions on the ice and making plays for his linemates.
Dustin Brown, Kings captain, is a scoring facilitator. Those terms seems almost contradictory, but when used to describe Brown, they form a perfect marriage.
Brown is leading the NHL with a plus-eight. He has the ability to score in a variety of ways. This stat is showing us a preview of what Brown might be getting ready to do, and that is dominate.
This kid is uber-talented, and one of the league's hardest hitters to boot. With his intensity level rising and the Kings rolling, Brown might be about ready to explode.
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
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Zach Parise is starting to find his rhythm versus the Flyers. He is a scorer by nature, but was dormant against the Florida Panthers in the first round.
Parise has four points so far against Philadelphia, adding another goal Thursday night in Game 3. Parise's scoring arsenal rivals any scorer in hockey, and the Flyers might regret somehow waking this sleeping giant.
Whether it's through scoring goals, assisting on them or just making the Devils' offense flow, Parise has the skills necessary to dominate a playoff series. With Brodeur aging in net behind him, Parise knows his team must score goals.
Another thing to consider: Parise is in a contract year. After the season, he will become an unrestricted free agent. He is essentially having his own private auditions for a max-contract, which he should garner in any case. Either way, it has to be motivating, and that's kind of scary, especially if you live in Philly.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
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The Phoenix Coyotes are surprising everyone in the NHL, perhaps even themselves.
Goaltender Mike Smith is largely responsible for that, coming up huge in the playoffs. He is 6-3 with a 2.03 goals against average.
Some would argue that Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne is either better, or more integral to his team's success.
I like to think of Mike Smith as I think of NBA sharpshooters like Glen Rice or Reggie Miller, in that they're streaky. Reggie scored eight points in the final 16.4 seconds once in the playoffs. When Rice was on fire, he could hit from near half court.
When Mike Smith is playing well, he is a brick wall. When he's on, he's known for anticipating where shots will come from, who might be trying to deflect said shots and where his defensemen are at all times.
Smith is the kind of goalie who can get you into the Stanley Cup Finals. If he stays hot, watch out.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
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The Kings are such a fun team to watch lately and Quick is one big reason why. His play in net allows teammates in front of him to play a bit more aggressively.
When your team contains scorers like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, you can win a lot of hockey games.
Behind Quick's 18 saves, the Kings beat the Blues Thursday night to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Goaltenders can make or break a team in the playoffs. Every spring, a new goalie gets hot around this time of year and takes his team on a deep run, sometimes winning the cup. The Kings' offense is playing so well, Quick is more relaxed in net than ever and it's showing.
He is seeing every puck from stick to pad and is the reason I predict the Kings will win the Stanley Cup.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
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The Flyers were looking like the team to beat after taking Sidney Crosby's Penguins out in the first round. They have since cooled a bit, but they still have hockey's most dangerous weapon in Claude Giroux.
No player has more points than Giroux (15) and only teammate Danny Briere has more goals. He can turn a game around all by himself, which is why I have him pegged as the most dangerous player left in Lord Stanley's chase.
When a player is a gifted scorer, you'd expect him to use much more finesse than physical toughness. Giroux's game has weaved both concepts beautifully. He is as tough as any player and loves to mix it up on the ice.
The Flyers could be down by three goals and know that with Giroux on the ice, they still have a shot at winning.
Giroux has been shadowed by New Jersey so far. The Devils clearly are trying to make another Flyer beat them, allowing Giroux little room to operate. He is a competitor, though, and he knows he has to play much better.
“I've got to step it up,” Giroux said. “ I've got to be a better player, and find a way.”
When a player as offensively gifted as Giroux says that, you'd better watch out. He's about to go off.