NHL Playoffs 2011: Players Coming Back from Injury Who Will Make a Difference
In the playoffs, the true Stanley Cup Champions are crowned not because they scored more goals, stopped more shots, or played the most minutes.
They are crowned because they played through injury and never even blinked at the consequences that they may incur on their bodies. These players gave everything they had despite injury.
With the playoffs on the horizon, there are players who have been out, either extensive amounts of time or not, who will make or break a team's playoff run in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These players may not be the heralded star of the team, but these players work in the position of role players makes them the greatest asset to their respective teams. They are the players with the possibility of returning from injury that will make an impact on their team's playoff fortunes.
Alex Edler: Vancouver Canucks
Alex Edler’s return importance to the Vancouver Canuck blueline is huge. Only in the lineup for 51 games this season, he managed to score 33 points (8 G, 25 A— which, if he had played an entire season, would have been career highs in all statistical categories.
Edler’s return is important to the Canuck power play, which has managed to stay atop the league despite significant injuries to Edler and the rest of the Canuck defense at a 24.3 percent efficiency rate.
Of Edler’s 33 points this season, 17 of those came on the power play. Last season, Edler finished the campaign at an even plus/minus rating, while this season, he finished with a +11 rating despite all the time he missed and his role on the Vancouver power play.
Edler’s 6’3, 217 pound frame will be necessary to play the teams with big, strong forwards such as the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. His 14 points (3 G, 11 A) in 24 career playoff games is the second most by any Canuck defenseman on the blueline beside Christian Ehrhoff (22 point in 50 career playoff games).
Edler will be very key against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who the Canucks meet in the playoffs for the third time in a row.
Justin Williams: Los Angeles Kings
Justin Williams began the season on a torrid scoring pace with the Lost Angeles Kings this season. By the end of November, Williams had notched 22 points (9 goals and 13 assists) in the first 23 games. His pace plateaued until early March, where he scored eight points in a five game span four games before suffering a separated shoulder on March 21st versus the Calgary Flames.
His 57 points (22 G, 35 A) in 73 games are his highest since he netted 76 and 67 points in 2005-06 and 2006-07 with the Carolina Hurricanes. Williams has 25 points in 45 career playoff games, including 18 points in 25 playoff games in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he helped Carolina to win the Stanley Cup.
According to lakingsinsider.com, Williams has been given the green light to participate in practice. He will not be at 100 percent for the playoffs, but will be an added scoring help for the Kings after the loss of Anze Kopitar. His experience in the playoffs will help a younger Kings team try to get past the first round for the first time since the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jordan Leopold: Buffalo Sabres
Jordan Leopold may not been known for his scoring prowess from the blueline, but he has seemingly re-invented himself in Buffalo this season. Leopold set career highs in goals (13) and points (35) despite breaking his hand on March 25th against the Florida Panthers.
Leopold’s value to the Sabres is his playoff experience. In his first full NHL season in 2003-04, he played in all 82 regular season games and all 26 playoff games for the Calgary Flames. He added 10 assists during that playoff run. On a Sabres team with four 20 goal scorers, the team relies heavily on their defensive play and goaltending. With a healthy Leopold, the Sabres have the depth they will need to sustain a long playoff run along with a healthy Ryan Miller.
There is no timetable for Leopold’s return. His broken hand does not require surgery so there is the chance that he may be able to return for late in the first round of the playoffs.
Jaroslav Spacek: Montreal Canadiens
With 54 career playoff games under his belt, Jaroslav Spacek is a sight for sore eyes for an injury-riddled Montreal Canadiens blueline. Returning for the final two games of the regular season, Spacek was inserted into a Canadiens blueline that has lost Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges long-term as well as Alexandre Picard day-to-day.
Despite the help that has been brought in to fill the holes in on the blueline, including James Wisniewski, Paul Mara, and Brent Sopel, the return of Spacek is welcome news because of his playoff experience with the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He contributed 14 points (3 G, 11 A) in 24 games that post-season as well as 16 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2007. Spacek also returned from injury during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and contributed 4 points (1 G, 3 A) in 10 games.
The NHL veteran of 834 career season games has much more to provide for the Canadiens beside experience and offense. His experience adds to a blueline full of playoff experience - Hall Gill 98 playoff games, Roman Hamrlik 90 playoff games, Brent Sopel 64 playoff games, and Paul Mara 32 playoff games.
For the Canadiens, Spacek's return is well timed because they will need all hands on deck against their hated rivals the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Mike Grier: Buffalo Sabres
Out day-to-day since March 26th with a sore knee, Mike Grier’s possible return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup would be something much appreciated by head coach Lindy Ruff. The Sabres bench boss said Grier’s experience and penalty-killing ability is a well needed value for the team.
Grier’s 94 career playoff games, include a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Sabres in 2006 as well as historic upsets by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first two seasons.
However, Grier’s sore knee has forced him to miss the past seven games. According to The Buffalo News, there is no clear date for Grier’s return to the Sabres lineup. Though not known for scoring prowess with only 27 points (14 G, 13 A) in his 94 career playoff games, Grier, nevertheless, is one of Buffalo’s greatest defensive assets along with Cody McCormick and Jochen Hecht.
There is no clear time table for Grier's return as there is for Leopold, but again, Lindy Ruff is hoping that Grier will be able to join the Sabres in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers to counter attack the penalty killing of Mike Richards.
Niklas Kronwall: Detroit Red Wings
Though Niklas Kronwall has only missed the final five games of the regular season with a shoulder injury, it was due to the Detroit Red Wings wanting to keep their hard-hitting defenseman safe and healthy for the start of the playoffs. The Detroit Free Press reported that Kronwall was skating and confirmed that he will be ready for the playoffs this week.
Kronwall does add to an already deep defensive core with a ton of playoff experience. Kronwall's 63 career playoff games is very limited in perspective compared to playoff veterans Nicklas Lidstrom (247 games), Brian Rafalski (154 games), and Brad Stuart (108 games).
However, the big hits that Kronwall has been known to provide at key moments as well as offensive power has been a key ingredient in helping the Red Wings reach the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, as well as winning the 2008 Stanley Cup. Kronwall pitched in 15 assists in 22 games en route to the Stanley Cup that year and has accumulated 32 points (two goals, 30 assists) in 63 career playoff games.
Look for Detroit's already imposing defense to be even tougher when they play the Phoenix Coyotes for a second straight season.
Dave Bolland: Chicago Blackhawks
One of the most memorable Blackhawks performances of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs was Dave Bolland’s constant irritation of the top players of their opponents, including San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton and mostly all Vancouver Canucks. His 16 points in 22 games during the Hawks run to the 2010 Stanley Cup was key due to his relentless defensive play.
In only his third full season as a Blackhawk, Bolland has missed a considerable amount of time for the second straight season. For Bolland to return from a serious injury last season to be a factor in the playoffs (only played 39 regular season games) speaks volumes to how much of a factor he could be if he were to return for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With 28 points (12 G, 16 A) in 39 career playoff games, Bolland is turning into one of the best defensive centres in the NHL. This season, he has missed 14 games in a row after suffering a concussion on March 9th after receiving an elbow to the head by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina.
Bolland has resumed skating in the last few days, which suggests that Bolland could be back in time for the Hawks Stanley Cup defense. If the Hawks hope to have a chance at defending that title, Bolland's importance is paramount to the team's success in his shutting down the Canucks top players in the first round.
Michael Leighton: Philadelphia Flyers
The saving grace of the Philadelphia Flyers during their 2010 Stanley Cup Playoff run, Michael Leighton has finally recovered from back surgery this summer and has cleared re-entry waivers and will join the Flyers as a third goalie if either Sergei Bobrovsky or Brian Boucher go down with injury as he did with Boucher in last year’s playoffs.
If the Flyers are in need of a goalie due to injury, Leighton could once again claim the Flyers net once again especially after he went 8-3 with a 2.46 GAA and a .916 SV percent with three shutouts in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Again, as of now, Leighton is only goaltending insurance for the Flyers. Injuries are the only way Leighton will make it into the Flyer net. Then again, that is how he got in the Flyers net last year in the first place.