The Second Round of the NHL Playoffs kicks off tonight with the Detroit Red Wings fresh off a Game Seven victory over the Phoenix Coyotes traveling to the Shark Tank to take on the San Jose Sharks.
In the other three semifinals the Chicago Blackhawks will be taking on the Vancouver Canucks in a rematch of last year's semifinals which the Blackhawks won in six games.
Meanwhile in the East it will be the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins taking on the upstart Montreal Canadiens fresh off of one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. The Canadiens beat the President's Trophy winners, Washington Capitals in seven games.
In the final semifinal matchup the Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Boston Bruins. Both the Flyers and Bruins knocked off division rivals en route to their second round matchup—their first in the playoffs since 1978.
In every single matchup there will be many key guys that will have to step up for their teams to advance. For today I will show you one player from each team that will be key if their teams are to advance to the Conference Finals.
The Flyers are going into their series against the Boston Bruins missing two of their key players, Jeff Carter and Simone Gagne, both who are out with an injured foot. Gagne is expected to miss up to three wekes while Carter is most likley done for the year.
This puts even more pressure on captain Mike Richards to produce for an already injury riddled Flyers team. Richards lead the team in points in their first series against the Devils recording two goals and six assists in five games.
The Flyers will look to Richards for leadership, but they will also look to him to carry the load. If he is able to produce again against the Bruins like he did against the Devils then the Flyers will have a good chance at pulling off another upset and advancing to the Conference Finals.
If the Conn Smythe Trophy was awarded for a Round One MVP, Jaroslav Halak might have just won it. Crosby did have a pretty good first round too, but Halak was the main reason the Canadiens upset the Washington Capitals and will be a big reason if the Habs are to have any success against the Penguins.
Halak had an astounding performance in the team's final three games in which he stopped 131 out of 134 shots allowing just three goals in three straight wins for the Canadiens.
He will have to contend with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin this round, but if he is able to deny them like he did to the Capitals and help propel Montreal into the Conference Finals then he will be one to watch to win the Conn Smythe.
The Penguins may have struggled just a bit in their dispatching of the Ottawa Senators, but their big time players certainly weren't the ones to blame. Sidney Crosby had an amazing 14 points in the first round. Evgeni Malkin had eight points as well scoring four goals and assisting on another four.
I'm guessing many people expected Crosby to be here, but we all know he can produce in the playoffs. If the Pens are to advance to a third straight Conference Finals and possible third straight Stanley Cup Finals Evgeni Malkin is going to have to play to the caliber he did last year.
The Canadiens are going to focus mostly on Crosby which should leave Malkin open for a good amount of chances. If he can finish them the Pens have a good chance at repeating, and Malkin has a good shot at winning a second straight Conn Smythe Trophy.
Joe Pavelski led the Sharks in scoring in the first round with eight points, scoring six goals in the process. He was a big reason the Sharks avoiding a potentially embarrassing upset loss to the Colorado Avalanche as well.
With Joe Thornton continuing his usual routine to fall asleep in the playoffs Pavelski will need to have an even greater impact on the Sharks if they are to advance on to the Conference Finals.
The Sharks face a tough test taking on the defending Western Conference Champion Red Wings, but if Pavelski is able to perform to the ability he can then the Sharks should be able to advance.
The Boston Bruins knocked off the Buffalo Sabres and Vezina Trophy candidate Ryan Miller in six games in the first round with big help from rookie netminder Tuukka Rask.
Rask who led the league in GAA and save percentage during the regular season albeit playing just half of the Bruins games had a stellar first round performace for a rookie. He posted a 2.18 GAA and a .927 save percentage and did a good job in frustrating the Sabres' scorers.
The Bruins suffered through most of the year from lack of scoring, but did manage to put up a five goal effort in one game and a four goal in the clinching game.
If the Bruins are to have any chance at moving on they will need Rask to continue to play at a high level and show that he will be a great player for years to come.
The Chicago Blackhawks were able to dispatch the Nashville Predators in six game setting up a rematch with the Vancouver Canucks. The Blackhawks were led in scoring by their captain Jonathan Toews who finished with eight points in Round one.
For the Blackhawks to advance to the Conference Finals for a second straight year they are going to need Marian Hossa to produce.
Hossa, who has been on the last two Stanley Cup runner ups, was brought in for this very reason, to help lend veteran leadership to a young Blackhawks team.
Hossa has seven points in the first round, but just one goal. He will need to score more goals if Chicago wants to defeat the Canucks.
With Toews and Kane playing well so far Hossa would make it nearly impossible to contain all three if he is able to heat up.
Where did all of this come from?
Mikkael Samuelsson, who put up a solid 30 goals during the regular season, has already scored seven goals and 11 points in the Canucks first six playoff games.
He was a huge reason why the Canucks were able to knock off the Los Angeles Kings and will have to be big if the Canucks are to beat the Chicago Blackhawks.
On a team that has been led by Hart Finalist Henrik Sedin, Samuelsson's amazing play so far has been great news for the Canucks.
The Canucks, who have been looking to the Sedin Brothers and Roberto Luongo in net, have a new weapon now in Samuelsson and will make it that much harder on the Blackhawks and Annti Niemi.
I wasn't entirely sure just who to put for the Red Wings. Being an East Coast guy I wasn't able to catch a ton of the Red Wings' first round games against the Coytotes, but I did as much research as I could.
With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg playing to their caliber the Red Wings will look elswhere for the player that will help them make it to the next round.
That player is their captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom has had a good playoffs so far scoring seven points. But it is on the defensive end where he will have to play great. With Jimmy Howard getting his first taste of the playoffs the defense has had to be great to make it easier on Howard and make sure he isn't getting pelted with shot after shot.
If the Wings are to advance to their third straight Conference Finals they will need Lidstrom to keep up his strong play. It's hard to believe the guy is already 40 with the way he is playing right now.