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Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens, RW
On the surface, Gallagher is merely a rookie role player for the Montreal Canadiens. However, he has that extra bit of flavor to his game that could make a difference. There are great expectations for stars like Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller and Michael Ryder, but the shifty Gallagher will go to the dirty areas and make big plays when it matters most.
He scored a key goal in the Canadiens' season-ending victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs that earned them the division title. Look for Gallagher (15 goals, 13 assists, plus-10) to play a key role for the Canadiens throughout the series.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens, D
Those who aren't Canadiens supporters tend to get riled up at the thought of Subban because he is an agitator who will try to milk penalty calls from the officials. However, he is a superb skater and a game-changing defenseman. He scored 11 goals and added 27 assists and was plus-12 this season. He is also underrated in the defensive aspects of the game. He is a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, D
He is the most creative offensive defenseman in the NHL, and he helps raise the Senators' game to a higher level. It was assumed that he was done for the season when Pittsburgh Penguins hooligan Matt Cooke stepped on his Achilles and tore the tendon, but Karlsson made a remarkable recovery and returned to play the last three games of the season. He looked sharp and strong in his return. Karlsson can change the pace of any game with his skating, stick-handling, shooting and passing.
He set up the Senators' game-winner in the season finale against the Bruins when he made a wicked cross-ice pass to defense partner Marc Methot, who was able to whip a strong shot on goal. Jean-Gabriel Pageau jumped on the rebound for the game-winner.
Karlsson (six goals, eight assists in 17 games) then made a key defensive play on Brad Marchand that kept the Bruins from tying the game. He is a huge difference-maker in the series.
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators, RW
Alfredsson is the face of the Senators franchise, and if the team had fallen out of the playoff race as a result of its numerous injuries, Alfredsson could have been traded. But he remained with the Senators and he is still a vital performer, even if he is 40 years old. Alfredsson scored 10 goals and 15 assists this season, and he will provide leadership in this series.