Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: Most Important X-Factors on Each Remaining Team

Kevin W. RyanContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers defends against Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With just four teams remaining, the 2012 Stanley Cup champion is soon to be crowned. Out West, the Kings incredible eight game playoff win streak was finally snapped on Sunday when the Coyotes shutout the No. 8 seed Kings in Staples Center. 

While the Western Conference Finals are all but wrapped up, the drama continues to build in the East as Devils and Rangers head coaches continually call out the referees and target dirty players. 

Headed into this week's Conference Finals games, here are the most important players for each team to stay alive.

Los Angeles Kings

Most Important Player: Anze Kopitar

As the only remaining Staples Center entertainer looks to close out the Coyotes in Phoenix tonight, the Los Angeles Kings will have to turn to all-star level scoring to finalize their Western Conference Championship banner. 

It's clear they can count on Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick between the pipes, but the most important piece of their roster lies completely in offense. 

Following last game's shutout at home, the Yotes have sent a cheesy message that "anything can happen".

Whether they polish off the Coyotes or not, the Kings cannot continue to rely on their third and fourth-line scoring against three incredible goaltenders in Mike Smith, Hank Lundqvist and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. 


Instead, the Kings will look towards newly acquired forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but most importantly their prolific sniper Anze Kopitar.  

The killer combination of Kopitar, Brown and Carter anchored by Quick and Doughty on defense, the Kings have a truly championship roster to bring the first Stanley Cup to Hollywood. 

Phoenix Coyotes

Most Important Player: Mike Smith 

Smith is the most obvious candidate for any of the remaining teams in the playoffs as he's wholly carried the Desert Dogs this whole way.  

Before Sunday's 2-0 shutout in game four, Smith was 0-3 against the Kings posting a .922 save percentage and allowing eight goals.  

The Kings are 7-0 on road this playoffs and if the Coyotes can overcome this incredible road dominance and win four consecutive elimination games, it will all be on Mike Smith.  

New Jersey Devils

Most Important Player: Ilya Kovalchuk

The Devils were carried to the Eastern Conference Finals by Captain Zach Parise and his Giroux-esque style of play, while their future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur and his three Stanley Cups is fresh off his tenth win.   


The Devils' most polarizing advantage is the fact that Martin Brodeur's career will already yield him a "Top-Five Goalies of All-Time" spot in NHL history, however $100-million sniper Ilya Kovalchuk has been anything but accurate this series.  

When the Devils are awarded the coveted man-advantage, Kolvachuk takes one of the defensive positions above the face-off circle ready to rip the roof on the shorthanded Henrik Lundqvist. 

This series, Kovi has simply coasted atop the blue line launching pucks over the net instead of on the net. 

In all four Rangers-Devils games, Kovalchuk has posted a -3 rating with just two points on 17 shots. 

If the Devils can spark a more productive offensive game from Ilya Kovalchuk, the Rangers will have a tough time finalizing the now three-game series.  

New York Rangers 

Most Important Player: Henrik Lundqvist  

The New York Rangers playoff success relies solely on Henrik performace: when he stands on his head, the Rangers win. However when Hank has a bad night, the Rangers consistently fail to provide the necessary support. 

Lundqvist is the early favorite for the Vezina for this exact reason. 

The Devils created a three game series with their 4-1 win on Monday and headed into game five likely without energy man Mike Rupp in the lineup, the Broadway Blueshirts will need Lundqvist to shut down the Devils offense.