NHL Playoffs 2011: The 20 Most Important Players in the Postseason
It's a time where emotion, passion and tension are through the roof.
It's a time where pain is virtually inevitable, but completely ignorable.
It's a time where, other than hockey, nothing else matters.
It's playoff time.
For the reasons listed above, playoff time is extremely enjoyable for both the players and the fans. Even if your team didn't make the playoffs (or hasn't since the lockout...), you can't help but feel the contagious excitement surrounding the National Hockey League postseason.
Everything about hockey just becomes more fun. Now that they are truly playing for hockey's greatest prize, players give their all in every game just for a win.
Players love this kind of hockey. Many thrive in this atmosphere; heck, some have even made a career out of it.
The value and importance of players greatly increases in games like this as well. Teams need players channel their emotions and pull through. Players must give it their all every night and contribute offensively as well as defensively.
This importance is what we will be focusing on today. Here are the top 20 most important players in the postseason.
The San Jose Sharks are a fairly well-rounded team. They don't just have one star that really jumps out as the team leader, but rather a couple.
Patrick Marleau is one of those stars.
However, he hasn't been so great as of late. He and the rest of his line got off to a slow start to the playoffs.
The Sharks were a team that was talked about as a Stanley Cup contender before the playoffs began. Patrick Marleau will have to lead the team to the top if that dream is to become reality.
Surprisingly, Ray Emery has actually been quite good since his return to the NHL.
With regular starting goaltender Jonas Hillier out to injury, Emery will have to hold the fort and allow the Anaheim Ducks to keep fighting to remain in the playoffs.
A strong goaltending performance could be all the Ducks need to vault themselves into the second round of playoff action.
The picture chosen for this slide perfectly describes Dustin Brown's style of play.
Brown is the one who is demonstrating tremendous acrobatics by standing on his face in the corner.
Brown is a hard-hitting power forward who will be a major part of the Kings' offence. With the absence of leading scorer Anze Kopitar, Brown will need to flaunt the goal-scoring aspect of his game a little bit more.
Of course, that doesn't mean he should stop hitting. Brown's play style is the type that thrives in the playoffs.
It's strange having Alex Ovechkin this low on any list, not to mention one regarding player importance.
His spot isn't out of place, though. There are many more players in the league and a couple on the Capitals that have a greater importance to the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is not to suggest that Alex Ovechkin is not of importance; that would be foolish to say. However, his role is slightly diminished this year with his weaker regular season and the rise of a few other Capitals.
Chris Pronger means a lot to a hockey team. When he plays, he makes a difference. When he doesn't play, he makes a difference as well; the only thing is, it's a negative one.
When one of your top blueliners is hurt during the playoffs, the only thing you can do is wish him a speedy recovery.
While Pronger will likely be back soon, there are no promises that his game will be at the highest level or that his injury will be fully healed.
Pronger is the X-factor for the Flyers, and possibly for the rest of the league. With Pronger, the team could probably make a long playoff drive. Without him, I'm not so sure.
With Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby out, the offence in Pittsburgh has to come from somewhere.
Alexei Kovalev was brought in at the trade deadline to score goals—an aspect of their game that has struggled without their two superstars. If the Penguins want to have any chance of making a long playoff run, Kovalev has to be complete dynamite.
While the entire team will have to pick up the slack of their missing skaters, Kovalev is a player who will be depended on to put the puck in the back of the net.
Shea Weber is incredibly underrated.
Captaining the Nashville Predators, Weber plays a sound defensive game while thriving in the offensive roles of a defenceman.
If the Predators want to win their first ever playoff series, Weber will need to consistently contribute offensively and defensively, while keeping his team in line by staying a strong leader.
A hot Predators squad could spell danger for a few Western Conference teams. If Weber can get his team rolling, the Nashville Predators could be a team to watch for.
Goaltending is a bit of a question mark for the San Jose Sharks. While Antti Niemi did win a Stanley Cup last year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, he did not play a real prominent role in the team's success.
If Niemi can play a bigger role in the playoffs this year with the Sharks, the team may have a chance capture hockey's greatest prize.
Of course, Niemi wouldn't be the only Shark who would have to step it up. However, if he falters, the Sharks can pretty much consider themselves dead in the water.
So far, Roberto Luongo has successfully shaken his title of "Playoff Choke Artist" with his strong play in the first few games of the postseason. As long as he can keep that title off of himself for the remainder of the playoffs, he should be alright.
Luongo's first few playoff games this season have been very sound matches. His game looks very tight and well-polished, almost as if he has prepared himself for an extensive playoff race.
Luongo will be looked on to play consistently and offer the Canucks a good chance to win every night.
Jason Arnott's role to play is going to be huge if the Washington Capitals wish to keep playing competitive hockey this year.
Two things the Capitals had been missing in past playoff runs was experience and leadership. Arnott brings both of those desperately needed qualities.
These qualities will calm Washington players down and provide them with a veteran who has been around the playoffs before.
However, his positives are not all mental. Arnott will contribute offensively and defensively, filling the hole at center on the second line that has been vacant for so long.
Penguins Fan: "This is such a close series. I can't wait to see the Pens destroy the Lightning!"
Lightning Fan: "Damn, I just wish Stamkos would step up his game. Where has he been lately?!"
Penguins Fan: "Stamkos? Who's that?"
Of course, the above dialogue is grossly exaggerated, but it's not completely inaccurate. Steven Stamkos seems to have fallen off the face of the earth with his play lately.
After a super-strong start to the regular season, he slowed his pace and eventually lost the Rocket Richard trophy race–a race he looked like he would surely win a month before the season's end.
That slump has carried over into the playoffs. With the Penguins currently up 2-1 in the series, Stammer will have to pick up his game before it's too late.
As a Leafs fan, I absolutely hate the Sabres. Everything from them being Toronto's QEW rivals, to Ryan Miller's comments about the team, to them beating the Leafs in the playoff race–the Buffalo Sabres disgust me.
However, that doesn't change the fact that Ryan Miller is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, if not the best.
He is the main reason why the Sabres made the playoffs. If Buffalo wants to make a long playoff run, Miller is going to have to absolutely stand on his head.
After a record-setting regular season, Tim Thomas is looking to continue his incredible play right through to the playoffs.
He is the Bruins' MVP, and quite possibly the league's as well.
A big part of Boston's playoff hopes hang in the balance of Thomas' play. As long as he keeps up his great pace, there shouldn't be any problems.
While his team is currently down 2-1 in their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the momentum could have shifted Monday night with their win.
Jaroslav Halak who?
Carey Price is beginning to make fans forget about the team's incredible playoff run last season and the day that saw their beloved playoff goaltender catch a flight to St. Louis.
Well, maybe he's not making them forget, but he is certainly taking their minds off of it with his sound goaltending.
If the Canadiens can dismount the Bruins and move on to the second round, Carey Price will be owed a major thank you by the city of Montreal. In addition, the team would then likely become a threat to climb the charts to the finals.
What a season Corey Perry had.
His highest career goal total, highest power play goal total and highest point total all came in the regular season. Throw in a Rocket Richard trophy and you've got yourself an MVP-like year.
Unfortunately for Perry, none of that carries over to the playoffs. Perry has to start fresh.
So far, he's off to a great start with five points in three games.
A lack of contribution from Perry could be the difference between an early playoff exit or a Cinderella run for the Anaheim Ducks. Luckily, he's showing no signs of slowing down.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Daniel and Henrik Sedin are obviously two separate people, but because these twins work so well together and skate on the same line, I decided it was appropriate to group them together.
Two of the top players in the league, the Sedin twins are leading the charge for the Stanley Cup-favourite Vancouver Canucks.
Heck, they almost are the Vancouver Canucks. Can you imagine a Canucks team without these two?
Without them, it's doubtful that the club would be in the position they are now. The only reason they aren't higher on the list is because teams will likely have them entirely matched up against, limiting their playing space and room for creativity.
Milan Lucic was built for playoff hockey.
His rock'em, sock'em, power-forward style of game is absolutely perfect for a playoff atmosphere where grit and determination shines.
Lucic possesses the ability to get under the opponents' skin and anger them to a point of no return. That, combined with his knack for scoring goals and tenacity, will help Lucic thrive in the postseason.
With the Bruins being a Stanley Cup favourite, Lucic will play a big role for the team by scoring goals and bugging the opposition mentally.
Pavel Datsyuk is truly incredible. If you don't believe it, his most recent highlight-reel play on NHL.com should convince you.
That "Datsyukian Deke" is proof that the Russian center can essentially make something out of nothing.
That is what makes him so dangerous.
Datsyuk can change the pace of a game in about 10 seconds. Other teams have to be completely aware of where he is at all times.
Datsyuk will be a key cog in the Detroit Red Wings' playoff run—if they have one.
It begins and ends with goaltending for the Washington Capitals.
Unfortunately, goaltending could be the position the organization is the most unsure about.
While Michal Neuvirth has been great this year for the Caps, he hadn't played an NHL playoff game prior to this year. His lack of playoff experience might prove to be a factor in how far Washington travels this postseason.
I think the formula is simple. If Neuvirth performs well, there's no reason why the Capitals couldn't thrive this postseason. However, if Neuvirth struggles, Washington probably doesn't have much of a chance.
Due to the fact that the Sedin line will likely be matched up against very well throughout the playoffs, Ryan Kesler's role will increase greatly.
After a breakout year, Kesler will likely have to step up his game even further to help the Canucks fulfill the expectations set for them after their Presidents Trophy-winning regular season.
Kesler will have to follow up his 41-goal season with more goal scoring in the playoffs, as well as continuing his fantastic defensive play.
If the Canucks are going to make the playoff run everybody excepts them to, Kesler will need to lead the team in most aspects.
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