NHL Playoffs 2013: Players That Can Make or Break Their Team's Chances

Sean FryeFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2013

Nicklas Backstrom will play a crucial role for the Washington Capitals.
Nicklas Backstrom will play a crucial role for the Washington Capitals.Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the NHL playoffs just one day away, teams are making final adjustments to their game plans for the first round. 

With many of the first round matchups being up in the air, there are certain players that can have a big impact on their team's potential in the first round. 

Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

While the Sharks are a sixth seed playing the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks actually swept the regular season series against the Canucks. 

One of the most important players for the Sharks has been Joe Thornton. The team's captain had 40 points this season, with 33 of them being assists. 

The Canucks have one of the best defensive unit's in the NHL, only giving up 2.4 goals per game. If the Sharks want to continue their success against the Canucks, Thornton will have to continue finding his teammates on a consistent basis in order to spread the offense around. 

Defensively, the Sharks will have to continue being effective. Thornton is a great all-around player, and a big part of the reason why the Sharks gave up the sixth-fewest goals in the NHL. 

The Canucks don't have a great offense, so if Thornton can shut them down defensively, then turn that into good offense, this could be the Sharks' series to win. 

Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals 

Being the Capitals' assists-leader, Backstrom will play a huge role in getting the third-seeded Capitals out of their tough first-round matchup with the New York Rangers. 

Backstrom is third on the team in points with 48, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro. 

40 of those 48 points have been assists, a category in which he leads Ribeiro in by four. 

Like Thornton, Backstrom is a tremendous distributor of the puck, and he'll have to continue doing so in the playoffs. 

The Rangers are incredibly tough defensively, giving up the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL at just 2.3 per game. 

The key to beating a good defense is puck distribution, and Backstrom is a master at it. If he can continue to find Ovechkin and the rest of his teammates, the Capitals will be able to pick apart the defense and advance to the second round. 

Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins

The fourth-seeded Boston Bruins are the league's third-best defensive squad, giving up just 2.2 goals per game. 

However, the fifth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL's sixth-highest scoring offense at three goals a game. 

So, for the Bruins, the last line of defense will be the most important: goalie Tuukka Rask. 

Rask has been impressive this year. He's third in the NHL in save percentage (.929). Against the Maple Leafs, he's been even better. 

In two starts against Toronto this year, he's 2-0 with a .958 save percentage. 

This four-five series will be an extremely tough battle for both teams, but if Rask can continue to shut down the Maple Leafs' high-powered offense, the Bruins have a terrific chance at advancing.