NHL Playoffs 2012: Each Team's X-Factor as Round 2 Progresses
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Obvious players elevated their game when the puck dropped in the 2012 NHL playoffs.
Flyers star Claude Giroux registered 14 points in only five games in an opening-round victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Power forward Dustin Brown led his Los Angeles Kings to the second round with superb play at both ends of the ice against the heavily-favored Vancouver Canucks.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist surrendered three goals only twice in seven games to help his New York Rangers hold off the Ottawa Senators in Round 1.
Fans expected these star players to perform night after night. Fans expected big goals and seemingly impossible saves from these elite players.
Often the players who avert the watchful eye of attentive fans account for the difference between a championship and yet another long offseason.
These players make the difference in a seven-game playoff series.
Sure, the highlight-reel goals help win championships, but the players who do the little things that go seemingly unnoticed by most spectators propel teams to victory.
Superstars sell tickets; role players win championships. Blocking shots, winning loose pucks and battles along the boards, clearing the front of the net, screening the goaltender and giving everything on every shift ultimately wins in the playoffs.
The selfless player willing to sacrifice, shift in and shift out, ensures his team comes out on top at the sound of the final buzzer.
Every team needs an unsung hero. That player makes all the difference.
Los Angeles Kings: Rob Scuderi
Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi looks to bat away a loose puck.
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Los Angeles secured a spot in the Western Conference Final on Sunday afternoon when goaltender Jonathan Quick backstopped the Kings to a 4-0 series sweep over the St. Louis Blues.
Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi greatly aided Quick's emergence as a brick wall in net.
"Rob who?" asks the casual hockey fan.
Scuderi scores a goal about as often as Halley's comet streaks through the sky. However, the 33-year-old shuts down the opponents' most prolific scorers better than almost any blueliner in the NHL.
Scuderi consistently frustrated elite scorers like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
Scuderi averages just over 20 minutes of ice time a game for the Kings. Despite only six career goals, the former Boston College Eagle earns nearly $3.5 million a year, proving his worth outside of offensive production.
He quieted the Sedin twins in Round 1 and shut down David Backes and Andy McDonald in Round 2.
Head Coach Darryl Sutter likely will use Scuderi to negate the scoring prowess of the Coyotes' Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan in the upcoming Western Conference Final.
Scuderi is plus-five and has one assist in nine games this postseason.
If he can continue to stymie opposing forwards in front of the red-hot Jonathan Quick, the Long Island native might win his second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan
Coyotes captain Shane Doan fires a puck at the net.
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If patience is a virtue, Doan's 16-year tenure with the Phoenix Coyotes organization may finally become worth the wait.
The 35-year-old long-time captain has played in 1,198 regular season games at the NHL level—74 with the original Winnipeg Jets franchise and the rest with Phoenix after the Jets relocated to the desert.
In nine playoff appearances, Doan's Coyotes have made eight first-round exits. The only exception is this postseason, in which the 'Yotes knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games in Round 1 and shocked the hockey world by beating the Nashville Predators in five games in the second round.
They now face the Los Angeles Kings, an eighth seed who upset ("upset" used loosely) their way to the Western Conference Final.
The uncontested leader of the Phoenix Coyotes, if any player deserves his name on the Stanley Cup, it's Shane Doan, simply because he's chosen to stay with the lowly Coyotes year after year after year.
With help from emerging goaltender Mike Smith and cup-winning veteran Ray Whitney, Doan and his Coyotes are ready to play in the organization's first Western Conference Final with home-ice advantage.
In 11 playoff games this season, Doan has managed three goals, three assists and a plus-five rating. His leadership has shone through, especially in the second-round series against the Predators.
Hockey in Los Angeles and Phoenix in late May? What is this world coming to?
New York Rangers: Carl Hagelin
Rangers forward Carl Hagelin protects the puck from Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner.
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After a successful career at the University of Michigan, Hagelin finished a strong rookie season for the New York Rangers, scoring 14 goals and finishing with 38 points and a plus-21 rating.
The 23-year-old has had a relatively rough postseason, receiving a three-game suspension in Round 1 after elbowing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Though he averages around 20 minutes of ice time a game, the majority spent on the first line with top forwards Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, Hagelin has managed only one assist and is a minus-one in nine postseason appearances.
The Rangers need someone, anyone, to start scoring goals, and Hagelin appears one bounce away from catching fire. If he finds a way to start producing some offense, either by finding the back of the net or connecting with Richards and Gaborik, the Rangers will be even tougher to beat.
Hagelin has looked better in the past few games, and it's hard to believe he'll be easy to stop once he gets going.
As the Rangers prepare for a Game 6 against a very dangerous Washington Capitals team, if there's one player ready to step up and push the Rangers through to the Eastern Conference Finals, it's the Swedish-born Carl Hagelin.
New Jersey Devils: Bryce Salvador
Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador battles the Flyers' Scott Hartnell for a loose puck.
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New Jersey showed the Philadelphia the door in a five-game series that paled in comparison to the excitement of the Flyers/Penguins series of Round 1.
The Devils used to be synonymous with defense. While the team still plays a defense-first system, they now rely more on forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise to lead the team offensively.
Bryce Salvador anchors a New Jersey defense that features virtually no household names. The 36-year-old averages just under 30 minutes of ice time on most nights and is often called upon to shut down the opposition's top forwards.
He's been phenomenal for the Devils this postseason, contributing two goals and four assists and he currently holds a plus-eight rating.
Salvador successfully stymied the Florida Panthers attack in Round 1 and played well mostly against the Flyers' top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr in Round 2.
Many analysts questioned the ability of the Devils blueliners, especially after the Flyers were coming off an opening round where they scored 27 goals in only six games. However, the Devils defensemen, with a little (okay, a lot of) help from 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur, effectively frustrated the Flyers for the entire second-round series.
Salvador will face either the Rangers' potent duo of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards or the Capitals' always dangerous forwards Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backström in the Eastern Conference Final, only a year after New Jersey failed to make the playoffs altogether.
Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby
The story of the 2012 NHL playoffs: Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
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With 21 NHL games to his name before the start of the 2012 postseason, Braden Holtby has almost singlehandedly taken the Washington Capitals to within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The questions surrounding Holtby are: A.) Is he really this good?; B.) How long until he cracks?
So far, Holtby has been the story of the playoffs, stealing a series from the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and outplaying Tim Thomas, last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner, in Round 1. Currently, he's keeping pace with Vezina Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist and the top-seeded New York Rangers in Round 2.
The 22-year-old has the second-highest save total of any goaltender in the postseason (behind only the Coyotes' Mike Smith), has stopped just over 93 percent of the pucks thrown his way and has played more minutes (802:54) than any goaltender this postseason.
The story is all too reminiscent of Capitals' then-21-year-old goaltender Semyon Varlamov. In 2009, the rookie netminder backstopped Washington to an opening-round series victory against the Rangers and brought the Capitals to within one game of the Eastern Conference Final, until an utter collapse in game seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins led to the team's exit.
While some fans have been expecting the breakdown of the Saskatchewan native nearly every game, he's shown no signs of faltering.
Washington fans hope this rookie goaltender's storyline doesn't parallel their last rookie goaltender's playoff saga.