NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Predicting the 'X-Factors' for the First Round
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The NHL playoffs are soon to be underway, and with 16 participants each drawn taut in the catapult of parity, fans will be enjoying some awesome NHL action.
When you consider the various injuries sustained, and how tight the races were down the stretch, you see it’s as wide open as ever.
There are many “favorites" to win it all and etch their names on the band of the oldest professional sports trophy of all time. There are all the superstars and big names that are supposed to perform when the stakes are at their very highest.
But nobody ever won the Stanley Cup without an “X factor,” a guy you just never saw coming in the regular season but came through when it counted.
It's not easy predicting the X factor, but that's what makes it special in the NHL playoffs. He’s the one player with a certain undefinable quality in that specific moment who somehow gets it done.
By now, of course, we all have our own lists of contenders and pretenders, our storylines and surprise upsets.
Here’s a list of surprise players who could be the “X-Factor” in the opening round of the 2010-11 NHL Playoffs.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
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Dan Ellis - With Jonas Hiller still suffering bouts of vertigo, the Ducks' goaltending situation looked shaky for most of the second half. The Ducks' big line of Getzlaf – Perry – Ryan has done some major lifting and carrying the team to the playoffs.
Going 10-3-2 in his last 15 starts, Ellis also enters the postseason having stopped 66 of 68 shots including a season-high 43 in the season finale. You can bet he’s got an extra stake in this series against his old team and could steal a game or two.
On a team with some defensive inconsistencies, Dan Ellis will have to be the difference if the Anaheim Ducks plan on making the long run.
Marcel Goc - Sergei Kostitsyn leads the way for the Predators with 23 goals, but will his regular season play translate in the tighter checking playoffs? With just two 20-goal scorers and tied for fourth-worst offense with just 219 tallies, they will need an X-Factor.
Goc has the ability to be a difference-maker in a series, but lacks the consistency with just 24 points this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
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No other team is as decimated by injury as the Pittsburgh Penguins are, and at the deadline GM Ray Shero acquired Alexei Kovalev for basically nothing. Dan Bylsma has done a remarkable job remaking the high-flying Penguins into a defensive dynamo.
Alexei Kovalev - His picture might be in the dictionary under the word enigmatic, but he still got worlds of talent, and I for one wouldn't count him out. Leagues away from his electrifying 1994 postseason self, but still plenty of dangerous with the puck on his stick.
With the big guns of the Tampa Bay Lightning have slowed a bit coming into the playoffs, many people still wonder how far they will go in the playoffs.
With Stamkos and St, Louis leading the way and Vinny Lecavalier returning to form for Tampa, the Penguins will be focusing on the top Lightning skaters.
Teddy Purcell - Purcell has surprised many this season, posting 17 goals and 34 assists, and he could net the difference-making goal or two in this series.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes
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Detroit comes into this rubber match of the series with plenty of potential but just as many question marks. With one of the elite playoff lines in all of hockey, even the Red Wings will need an X factor.
Mike Modano - He’s missed almost the entire season and is not exactly what the Red Wings initially envisioned, but he could still make the difference on the Wings’ third line. Modano’s not what he used to be, but is still a damn good hockey player who can come through in the clutch.'
The Coyotes lack the top flight names to match Detroit's offensive wizardry, and will need their depth players to rise to the occasion.
After going the distance against the Red Wings a year ago, and falling short without their leader Shane Doan, Phoenix knows how to play Detroit.
Mikkel Boedker - He played extremely well for the Coyotes in late February and his play could carry well in the playoffs. Phoenix will need his contributions to push Detroit as they did a year ago, especially if it goes to another Game 7.
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
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This series is going to be one of the most anticipated first round matchups this year, and promises to be a epic battle. In the face of such awesome hockey to be played, as a fan I hope that this series doesn't deteriorate into another USA vs. Canada bashfest.
The big bad Bruins have got size to spare and quite possibly the surprise of the NHL season in Tim Thomas. The guy has been incredible and will be tough to solve in a seven-game series, will he be the difference for the B's this year?
David Krejci – Playing alongside the hard-charging Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, Krejci can be forgotten with his efficient playmaking ability. Boston may just see a big goal from the young center, one that could sink the Canadiens in this heated rivalry.
With some serious injuries that have hampered them all season, Montreal needs Carey Price to be the "factor" that Halak was a year ago. They've got to keep to their game and stay out of the rough-and-tumble business to keep this series close.
P.K. Subban – One of the most polarizing players in the NHL today, P.K. definitely has more than what it takes to be a difference maker. If the young, volatile Subban can keep his emotions under check, he’s got the talent to make the spectacular play in the postseason.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
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San Jose has had more than their share of detractors but sports one of the deepest rosters they have ever had. A defensive makeover has changed the fabric of this team; time will tell if that translates into the postseason success they desire.
Torrey Mitchell – The promising speedster looks to be returning to the form he flashed early in his career after a leg injury. The Kings will need to concentrate on the Sharks' top two lines, leaving more room and space for the Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood line.
With the devastating injury to Anze Kopitar, the Kings need some offense in a hurry to keep pace with the San Jose Sharks.
Dustin Penner - It’s may be a bit of a stretch to call Dustin Penner a X-Factor given the trade deadline hype that surrounded his trade, but he’s been a non-factor for the Kings.
With just two tallies in 20 games as a King, Penner needs to return to his Southern Californian form for LA to have a chance.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres
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Is the recent play of the Flyers a serious concern, or is Philadelphia just resting for the playoffs? Hard to say, but that notion of the resting idea certainly doesn’t ease the Flyers fans any. How much does this team miss Chris Pronger?
Kris Versteeg – His Flyers tenure hasn’t exactly gotten off the ground so to speak, but he’s got the experience and talent to shine in the postseason. The Flyers sport a roster just as deep and ready to perform in the playoffs, and Versteeg's proven his play with the pressure on.
Buffalo is playing extremely well, so well that Ryan Miller had taken quite a few games off coming down the stretch. With lots of depth and the possibility of Derek Roy returning sometime in the postseason, the Sabres have got a good mix of players.
Nathan Gerbe - Gerbe put home two goals against the Flyers in their last matchup, and has enjoyed some success against the Flyers’ size and play. It will be a good series to watch and a tough one to play; Gerbe could steal a game for Buffalo.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
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The Capitals enter the playoffs against another quick defense in the New York Rangers, and were heavily criticized for their playoff flop a year ago. With a complete change in team philosophy, it remains to be seen if the Washington Capitals can answer their moment of truth.
Matt Hendricks - He played well during the Capitals' rough stretch of play midseason, and his play carries over well to the postseason. His type of blue-collar trenchwork and huge frame could make a surprising contribution when it’s least expected.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are also banged up, having lost Ryan Callahan, and must solider on to overcome his absence. Even with this huge loss, the Rangers have got Cinderella written all over them, playing extremely well against the Capitals this year.
Wojtek Wolski - Wolski has been in head coach John Tortorella’s doghouse, and he may see his ice time diminish in the playoffs. He’s got the tools and ability, but will need the chance to show the Rangers that he can contribute.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
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The pressure is on for the stacked Canucks as they enter the playoffs as the favorite to win it all, and rightly so. Having played dominant hockey almost all season long, the Sedin twins will have to step up in the playoffs to make it count.
Christian Ehrhoff - Ehrhoff‘s quiet and efficient defensive play can get lost in the shuffle, but he had a huge big goals a year ago in the playoffs. Could he do it again against the biggest playoff hurdle for the Vancouver Canucks?
The Chicago Blackhawks had to be lifted from their bootstraps by their leader and last year’s Conn Smythe winner to qualify for the playoffs. With a 15-12-8 record in one-goal games, the Blackhawks need someone to step up and be the difference.
Brian Campbell - Soupy can also get lost in the Blackhawks roster; playing behind Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith can’t help either. He’s got the wheels and hands, he just needs a chance to put a goal home to lift Chicago in this series.