5 Players Who Must Step Up for Their Teams to Advance in 2013 NHL Playoffs

Brad KurtzbergContributor IMay 3, 2013

5 Players Who Must Step Up for Their Teams to Advance in 2013 NHL Playoffs

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway and already we are seeing some teams exceed expectations while others have disappointed.

    While there is still time to turn that around, any team that hopes to make a deep playoff run needs certain players to come through and raise their level of play over past performances to make it happen.

    Here is a look at the top five players who need to step up for their respective teams in order to advance in the 2013 playoffs.

    While it would have been easy to just list five goalies, I tried to stay away from that oversimplification and listed only one. Instead, I identified players whose contribution tends to be a difference-maker for their particular teams.

    Feel free to mention any player you feel belongs on this list in the comments section, but please indicate why your choice belongs on the list and who you would remove from the list to add him on.

5. Jonathan Quick

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    Quick won the Conn Smythe last season as the Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Los Angeles will need a similar performance from their netminder this spring if they have any hope of repeating.

    Although the Kings are scoring a bit more than they did last season, their style of play still results in lower-scoring games that will provide little margin for error for their goalie.

    Look at Game 1 against the Blues. Quick played very well, but his only big mistake of the game in overtime ended up giving St. Louis the winning goal.

    Quick is 0-2 so far in the playoffs despite having an outstanding .940 save percentage and a 1.82 GAA. The Kings are depending on Quick to continue to play at an elite level; otherwise, they will have a very short spring.

4. Erik Karlsson

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    The Ottawa Senators are counting on defenseman Erik Karlsson to step up his game and take them deeper into the playoffs.

    The Sens had to play without their top defenseman for more than two months when a partially torn Achilles sidelined him in mid-February.

    Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman a year ago and statistics show his value to the Senators. Ottawa went 9-6-2 when Karlsson was in the lineup this season and an amazing 8-1-1 in games he scored at least a point.

    Ottawa struggled with injuries to key players this season and made the playoffs despite finishing 27th in the league in goals scored. But a talented offensive player like Karlsson, combined with continued outstanding goaltending from Craig Anderson, could push the Senators deeper into this year's playoffs.

3. Brad Richards

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    Brad Richards' inconsistent play has frustrated the Rangers and their fans this season. As a result, a team that many experts picked as favorites in the Eastern Conference struggled for much of the season and finished with the sixth seed.

    As Richards goes, so go the Rangers. When Richards scored a goal this season, the Rangers were 7-2-0, and when he registered at least a point, New York was 16-6-2. That means when Richards failed to score, the Broadway Blueshirts were just 10-12-2.

    Richards helps make the Rangers power play more effective when his game is on, as nine of his 34 points this season came with the man advantage.

    In Game 1 against the Capitals, Richards was a minus-one and registered only one shot on goal. New York scored just once and lost 3-1.

    Coach John Tortorella is counting on Richards, along with Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, to produce enough offense to get the Rangers past the Capitals and back on another lengthy playoff run.

2. The Sedins

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    Whether or not it's justified, the Sedin twins have earned a reputation among NHL fans that they can be intimidated.

    It dates back to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, when the Boston Bruins played a very physical game against the Sedins and ended up winning a championship. Both Sedins were inconsistent during the Cup Final series.

    If the Canucks hope to return to the Stanley Cup Final, they will need consistent production from their top line, which includes Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

    In addition, after a frustrating Game 1 loss at home to San Jose, the Sedins admit they need to be more aggressive when they get the puck into the offensive zone.

    “It’s all about better forecheck,” said Henrik, via the National Post. “We’ve got to get three guys in there and try to turn pucks over."

    Last season, Vancouver was out of the playoffs in the first round after losing to Los Angeles in five games. If they want to make a long run this spring, the Sedin twins will have to step up their game and be productive throughout the postseason.

1. Alex Ovechkin

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    Perhaps no player in the NHL is as tied to his team's success as Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

    This has been a tale of two seasons for "The Great Eight" and his team.

    Early in the year, Ovechkin and the Caps struggled to adjust to new coach Adam Oates' system. Ovechkin wasn't scoring much and Washington wasn't winning much, either.

    Late in the season, however, Ovechkin caught fire. In the team's last 21 games, Ovechkin scored 22 goals and 34 points as the Capitals went 16-3-2. They caught the Winnipeg Jets and won the Southeast Division title.

    The Caps need their captain to continue to play at an elite level in the playoffs. Despite all their regular-season success since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005, Washington has yet to reach the Stanley Cup Final during the Ovechkin era.

    In Game 1 against the Rangers, with his team trailing 1-0, Ovechkin scored in the second period to tie the game. The goal inspired the Capitals and they went on to win 3-1. Ovechkin didn't just score, he dominated, taking five shots on goal and registering five hits in the game.

    Washington needs more similar performances from their star winger if they hope to end their recent run of playoff disappointments.