The calendar has flipped to April and the playoff races are heating up; with only a few games remaining, I wanted to introduce a new segment called the Weekend Warriors.
Next year it will be mostly focused towards fantasy, but with most leagues headed into their fantasy finals, we will look at players that could impact the push to the playoffs.
Teams with two games this weekend: Ducks, Flames, Blackhawks, Avalanche, Stars, Red Wings, Oilers, Wild, Canadiens, Devils, Rangers, Flyers, Sharks, Canucks
Forwards to watch:
Jarome Iginla, Flames W
The former Hart Trophy winner and captain of the Flames needs to have a big weekend as the Flames make-or-break weekend is here.
The Flames open up their weekend with a head-to-head matchup vs the team they are trying to catch in the standings, the Avalanche.
Iginla has been cold of lately with, one goal in his last six games and one goal in his last 11. Numbers those are not acceptable in both fantasy and a team fighting for their playoff lives.
Iginla needs a big weekend for the Flames, who have two big matchups vs. the Avs and Blackhawks.
Johan Franzen, Red Wings C/W
No one is hotter than the Mule; the power forward has nine goals and 15 points since his return from knee surgery.
The Red Wings have a pivotal matchup vs. Nashville, a team who he has scored 11 career goals in 27 games, and out of conference matchup vs. the goalie-deficient Flyers.
The red-hot Franzen should continue his current run as he gains momentum towards another huge playoffs (51 career playoff points in 63 games).
Marian Gaborik, Rangers W
The Rangers winger reached the 40-goal mark for the second time of his career this week, but more importantly has played 70 games this season.
Now comes the time of year that the Rangers paid full price for this off-season, and with two games against the Southleast basement dwellers, Gaborik is poised to have a big weekend.
The Rangers play on the road vs the Lightning (25th in the league in GAA, 3.03) and the Panthers (20th in the league in GAA, 2.86) and Gaborik had seven points in his last six games, and look for it to continue as the Rangers need these four points against inferior opponents.
Defensemen To Watch
Kevin Bieksa, Canucks
The 28-year-old defenseman had a career year last season and has not been able to stay healthy this year including missing 27 games due to a lacerated leg.
Now finally healthy, the mobile defenseman is playing 22 minutes a game as the Canucks have secured their playoff position.
The kid with the rocket shot (539 career shots) will be important this weekend and going forward for the Canucks back line.
Andrei Markov, Canadiens
With games against two of the top scoring teams this weekend, Flyers (2.87 goals per game) and Sabres (2.86 goals per game) it was hard to argue that the goaltender might be the biggest person to watch for the Canadiens, but the improve play of Markov will be more important.
With Montreal’s loss to Carolina on Wednesday it has brought them down to the pack of the five teams vying for the final three East playoff spots.
The 31-year-old defenseman has been steady force on the back line for a team torn between two goalies.
Markov has 12 points in his last 14 games but best of all he is a +11 in those games. This all was after missing two games due to a lower body injury, the Canadiens will need their top d-man at his top shape as they push for the playoffs.
Dan Boyle, Sharks
The 33-year-old defenseman seems to not be slowing down in the most important part of the season. Boyle has six points in a four-game point streak as he climbs the scoring ranks for defensemen (15G-41A-56P).
The power play is where he has done most of his damage with six power play goals and 23 power play assists and special teams will be important in the Sharks two games on the road this weekend against the Wild and Avalanche.
Goalies To Watch:
Craig Anderson, Avalanche
The career backup has finally been given the reigns and has thrived this season for the surprised Avs but has almost already doubled his career high in games played (67).
He seems to have hit a wall by winning only one of his last seven games, in those game he has an awful 4.25 GAA and even worst .857 save percentage.
With games against the Flames, as mentioned before the team chasing them, and high scoring Sharks (3.14 goals per game).
For the upstart Avalanche to even make the playoffs, they need their top goaltender to get back to the goalie that has won a career high 36 games.
Martin Brodeur, Devils
The greatest goalie that has ever played needs to be on top of his game this weekend as the Devils try to chase down an Atlantic Division crown.
Brodeur has come on some hard luck lately only giving up 10 goals in his last four starts, but only one win to show.
In comes to Newark the also struggling but high scoring Blackhawks followed by one of the hottest team in the NHL, Carolina Hurricanes.
For the Devils to take one of the top three seeds in the East they need the great Marty Brodeur to prove he is not wearing down.
Antti Niemi, Blackhawks
The 26-year-old Finnish net minder has seemed to be the choice for the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks, but it is really by default.
Money bags Huet gave up seven goals in his only start in the last couple of weeks, while Niemi is coming off a 21 save shutout vs. the Wild.
So this weekend with games against two teams with more on the line (Devils and Flames) it will be impertinent for the rookie goaltender to secure his spot as the top goalie on one of the NHL’s top teams.