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NHL Power Rankings: Top 20 Players Impacting the Playoff Races

Tom SchreierCorrespondent IFebruary 17, 2011

NHL Power Rankings: Top 20 Players Impacting the Playoff Races

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    As teams draw closer to their 60th games, the NHL community knows it's crunch time.

    There are only eight teams from each conference that will advance and multiple talented teams will be on the outside looking in.

    While it will be a team effort that will bolster a squad's playoff chances, individual players will have a significant say in how far their team will go in the postseason.

    The following 20 players will have the biggest impact on their teams' playoff success.

20. Phil Kessel

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Phil Kessel has been heckled by the Toronto faithful for his lackluster play lately, and GM Brian Burke is feeling the pressure.

    However, the Wisconsin native has taken his game to the next level lately. He has three goals and six points in his last two contests.

    Kessel will have to be playing at full speed if the Leafs, which are six points out of a playoff spot right now, will make it to the postseason for the first time since the lockout.

19. Shane Doan

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Coyotes currently sit atop the Pacific—by one point—and have a chance to get back to the postseason with good seeding this year.

    It will be a dogfight to the finish, but if the 'Yotes can make the playoffs, their experience last year will improve their chances of advancing past the first round this season.

    Doan needs to let his teammates know what this means for him and his career in order to get them to perform and propel his team into the playoff picture.

18. Dustin Brown

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Kings are a playoff-caliber team currently on the outside looking in now.

    Their plus-25 point differential suggests that they belong in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

    Players in LA will look to their captain to show up and lead by example in order to get this team where it wants to go.

    The next few weeks will be a test of character for the 26-year-old Brown.

17. Henrik Lundqvist

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    King Henrik is 1-3-1 and has given up three or more goals in his last five games.

    He needs to play better if the Blueshirts are going to make a serious playoff run.

    Lundqvist has a good team in front of him and should return to form down the stretch.

16. Brent Burns

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Brent Burns is finally having that breakout season Wild fans have been waiting for since Todd Richards implemented his offensive system in Minnesota.

    With 14 goals, Burns is one goal away from his season-high total.

    When he hit 15 in 2007, his team won the division. That mark should be a good omen for the Wild, which currently sit on the playoff bubble.

15. Carey Price

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Carey Price responded after losing his starting position last year.

    He leads the league in games played and is second in wins, shots against and saves.

    He is going to see a fusillade of rubber as the playoff race heats up and needs to continue to play well in order to keep Montreal in the playoff race.

14. Patrick Kane

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Like the Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks are a playoff team that is on the outside looking in.

    If this team is going to advance to the playoffs in the Western Conference, Patrick Kane must be on top of his game.

    Hockey enthusiasts in the Windy City know that Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will be on top of their games, but Kane, who has missed 10 games this season, must be firing on all cylinders for this team to have a chance at repeating.

13. Alex Ovechkin

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    With only 21 goals this season, Alex Ovechkin is having a down year when the Capitals need him most.

    Tampa looks like the best team in the Southeast and Carolina and Atlanta are potential playoff teams.

    Ovie needs to set individual accomplishments aside—the Russian will not hit the 45-goal mark for the first time since being drafted first overall in 2004—and turn it up for his team.

12. Tim Thomas

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    A year after losing his job to Tukka Rask, Tim Thomas has the best save percentage and goals-against average in the league.

    Boston is a bona fide Stanley Cup contender if Thomas continues to play this well for the rest of the season.

11. Steven Stamkos

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Steven Stamkos has a chance to top his career-high of 51 goals and reach 100 points for the first time this season.

    Lightning apparently strikes twice in Tampa.

    If this guy continues to play like he has been thunderstruck, nobody can stop this storm.

10. Derek Stepan

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik have been playing well, but it has been critical for the Rangers to have secondary scoring.

    Rookie Derek Stepan has been doing just that all season long.

    If this guy steps up in the limelight, the Blueshirts are going to be tough to beat.

9. Jeff Skinner

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Hailing from Markham, Ontario—the hometown of Steven Stamkos—Jeff Skinner has the ability to push the Hurricanes, a borderline playoff team, into the postseason.

    If Skinner is on top of his game down the stretch, Carolina will have a chance to be a disruptive late seed in the playoffs.

8. Logan Couture

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    With the lack of production from the Heatley-Marleau-Thornton line, Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe have had to pick up major slack for the team.

    The Sharks are currently in contention for the Pacific thanks to Couture's play.

    The rookie—who played 25 games and the playoffs last year—will have a major impact on whether the Sharks repeat as Pacific Division champs.

7. Brad Richards

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Brad Richards has matched his goal total from last year at 24, and he could eclipse his career-high mark of 26 that he set the year he won the Cup with the Lightning.

    The Pacific is collapsing and Dallas is in jeopardy of not only relinquishing the division title, but losing a spot in the playoffs.

    Richards needs to get others involved and propel his team into the playoffs.

6. Shea Weber

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If the Predators want to make more than just a playoff cameo this year, Shea Weber, who leads the team with 35 points, needs to be a leader both on and off the ice.

    This team has a real chance to capture lightning in a bottle by advancing past the first round and keeping butts in the seats of the Cellblock.

    The team, which is in the bottom third of the league in power play, needs Weber to quarterback the extra-man attack proficiently to get much-needed scoring when presented with a favorable opportunity.

5. Mike Fisher

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    With 14 goals, Mike Fisher not only has a chance to become the team's leading scorer, but he could also have a big impact on hockey in the Music City.

    Fisher has been to the playoffs seven times with the Senators and brings valuable experience to a young team in Nashville.

4. Ryan Miller

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    After a brutal start to the season, Buffalo is in position to make the playoffs.

    The team does not have much firepower and will rely on Miller to make big saves in order to cap off their recent run.

3. Vincent Lecavalier

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Once considered a potential NHL poster boy, Vincent Lecavalier has not scored more than 30 goals in a season since netting 40 for the Bolts in 2007.

    If the team captain is going to be the face of the franchise in the team's new era, Lecavalier must make an impact down the stretch.

    Next year, he will be on the wrong side of 30, and the Bolts look like they are serious about contending this year. He must make the best of this opportunity.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    The city of Philadelphia will forever love Sergei Bobrovsky if the rookie netminder can take this team back to the Finals.

    As far as skaters go, this team is as stacked as it gets.

    Bobs better be on his game down the stretch.

1. Sidney Crosby

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    This is quite simple.

    If Sid the Kid bounces back from his head injury and lights it up, the injury-ridden Penguins have a chance to win the Cup.

    If he isn't 100 percent, this team will be sent home early.

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