Depth is so important to achieving success in the NHL playoffs, and nothing ruins depth more than injuries to key players.
Whether it's a top-six forward, a top defenseman, a goaltender or even a role player, when injuries happen in a playoff series, it forces coaches to change their lines on the fly. This isn't an ideal situation because putting players with different linemates and in different roles can upset a team's chemistry.
Due to the intense physical play we see in the postseason, injuries aren't uncommon at this time of the year, but their impact on a team's chances of winning games consistently is far greater compared to the regular season.
Let's look at the remaining playoff teams hurting the most from injuries.
The Montreal Canadiens have dealt with many injuries to important players in their first-round playoff matchup with the Ottawa Senators, which is one reason why the Habs are facing elimination at the Bell Centre on Thursday down 3-1 in the series.
Captain and top-six forward Brian Gionta will not play another game in this year's playoffs due to bicep surgery, which the team reported on Wednesday. The leadership that Gionta brings to the ice as a former Stanley Cup champion and his offensive production as a reliable goal scorer makes his absence from the lineup a tough setback for head coach Michel Therrien.
Young center Lars Eller, who suffered upper-body injuries as a result of a dangerous hit by Senators defenseman Eric Gryba, has not played since Game 1. Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported on Wednesday that he's been back on the ice, but there is no official timetable for his return from the team.
Lavoie also reported that depth forwards Brandon Prust and Ryan White will be unavailable for Game 5, which is a huge loss for the Canadiens because these veterans bring a high level of truculence, experience and solid penalty killing to the lineup.
Another key injured player is starting goaltender Carey Price, who will not play another game in the series with the Senators due to a groin problem (per Montreal's Twitter account). Peter Budaj will have to start in Game 5. He replaced Price in Game 4 and gave up the winning goal in overtime to Ottawa forward Kyle Turris.
All of these injuries have really hurt the Canadiens' depth at forward and will force the team to start its backup goaltender in a must-win playoff game. Even though Montreal has shown a lot of resiliency throughout year, it's going to take a near-perfect performance to get back in this series and overcome the absences of so many key players.
The New York Rangers haven't dealt with a lot of injuries in the playoffs, but the guys who are a little banged up play key roles in the team's success.
One of those players is top defenseman Marc Staal, who missed two months after a puck hit him in the face during a regular-season game on March 5. He made his return to the Blueshirts lineup in Game 3 of the team's first-round series against the Washington Capitals, but did not play in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Staal is not only a shutdown defenseman, he's also a fantastic offensive player with his smooth skating, puck-moving skills, powerful point shot and playmaking abilities. He also plays a major role on the power play, which has been one of New York's biggest weaknesses for most of the season.
Andrew Gross of The Record recently reported an update on Staal's status:
No update on Marc Staal or whether he'll play again in the series. Not practicing today a very bad sign for Game 5 availability.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) May 9, 2013
Another Rangers player battling an injury is depth forward Darroll Powe, but the team has not revealed many details about what's troubling him. Powe did not play in Game 4, and there has been no official update on his Game 5 status. The veteran forward brings toughness, penalty killing and experience to the lineup.
After missing the first three games of the Capitals series, veteran winger Ryane Clowe made his playoff debut on Wednesday and tallied one assist in the Rangers' 4-3 victory. Because he has battled injuries for a good portion of the season, Clowe's durability will be a concern for the remainder of the playoffs.
The San Jose Sharks did themselves a favor by eliminating the Vancouver Canucks as soon as possible because they have a few forwards battling injuries.
Veteran winger Martin Havlat picked up an injury in Game 1 of the first round and missed the other three games in the Vancouver series. The 32-year-old forward gives the Sharks much-needed secondary scoring and Stanley Cup-winning experience.
Brodie Brazil of CSN Bay Area recently gave an update on Havlat's status:
Havlat sounding unlikely to start round 2. Doesn't have timetable to begin skating again, but is able to condition on bike. #sjsharks— Brodie Brazil (@brodiebrazilCSN) May 9, 2013
Brodie also said that forward Adam Burish will not play in the Western Conference semifinals, which is a big loss for the Sharks because he adds grit, leadership, penalty killing and experience to the lineup.
The good news for the Sharks is that gritty forward Tommy Wingels will play in the series opener of Round 2 after crashing into the boards in Game 4 of the first round, per the team's Twitter account. Wingels leads the Sharks with 20 hits in the playoffs.
With a few extra days off, the Sharks hope that their players battling injuries will be able to recover in time to play in Game 1 of the next round. San Jose has relied on its top-six forwards such as Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau to carry them offensively thus far, but at some point, head coach Todd McLellan will need some scoring production from his bottom two lines.
The Washington Capitals took a 2-0 first-round series lead against the New York Rangers with two wins at home. But when the series shifted to Madison Square Garden, the Capitals were unable to prevent a determined Rangers team from tying the series going into an important Game 5 at the Verizon Center.
Making matters worse for the Capitals is the loss of Martin Erat, who, according to Mike Vogel of Capitals.com, will be out of the lineup in Game 5.
Scoring goals hasn't been an issue for the Capitals in each of the last two games, but Erat does provide the team with valuable playoff experience and much-needed depth at forward.
Another Capitals forward battling an injury is Brooks Laich, who brings truculence, scoring and leadership to the ice. Katie Carrera of the Washington Post reported how he was doing.
Brooks Laich clarified that he had a small groin procedure, not a sports hernia surgery. No timetable for his recovery.— Katie Carrera (@kcarrera) May 9, 2013
With all of these injuries to key forwards hurting the team's depth, the Capitals will need a great performance from captain Alex Ovechkin in Game 5 to avoid going back to MSG facing elimination. The superstar forward led the NHL with 32 goals scored during the regular season, but he hasn't found the back of the net since Game 1 of this series.
The Minnesota Wild would probably be in a much better position in their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks if goaltending injuries weren't a major issue. As it stands, the Wild are on the brink of elimination down 3-1.
Starting netminder Niklas Backstrom and backup Josh Harding have been in and out of the lineup over the five games of this series, which has forced the team to call up third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper from the AHL's Houston Aeros.
Backstrom played well during the regular season (led NHL in wins with 24) and was expected to play an important role in defending a Blackhawks team that scored the second-most goals during the regular season, but the 35-year-old veteran hasn't played in this series since suffering an injury in warm-ups prior to Game 1.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Chicago, where Harding will be in net for the Wild (per Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune) as they attempt to send the series back to Minnesota for a Game 6.