NHL Playoffs 2011: Most Important Player for Each Postseason Team

Jim MancariCorrespondent IMay 6, 2011

NHL Playoffs 2011: Most Important Player for Each Postseason Team

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    Hockey, especially in the NHL playoffs, requires a full team effort to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.

    Usually, the team that combines a strong offensive attack with shutdown defense throughout the playoffs is the team hoisting the Cup in the end.

    With several marquee series winding down, each team’s most important player will have to step up either to put his opponent away or give his team hope of mounting a comeback.

    Here are the most important players on each team still alive in this year’s playoffs.

7. Danny Briere, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are on the brink of elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins, who lead the series 3-0.

    However, that didn’t stop the Flyers last year from winning four straight games in the conference semifinals against the Bruins en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    The Flyers will look for right winger Danny Briere to continue burying pucks in the net.

    Through 10 playoff games, Briere has scored seven goals and added two assists.

    Claude Giroux’s 11 assists have also been a factor, but the Flyers hope Briere’s scoring ability can play a role in another miraculous comeback.

    If this was last season, the Flyers would have the Bruins right where they want them, but odds are the Bruins won’t let that debacle happen again.

6. Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators

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    Through the first two rounds, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has made a name for himself with miraculous game-changing saves.

    The Predators don’t exactly have typical household names like Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, but the team has jelled this season.

    The Predators trail the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in the conference semifinals, with Game 4 currently being played.

    The sharp-shooting Vancouver forwards have tested Rinne so far, but he’s done his part to keep Nashville in the games.

    He’s only allowed five goals in the three games. This series could have easily been a 2-1 Nashville lead, as the Canucks won Game 1, 1-0.

    Rinne will be a major factor if the Predators are to get past the Canucks.

5. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins

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    Patrice Bergeron has been a playmaking force for the Bruins the entire playoffs.

    He has 10 assists and two goals in 10 games.

    If he continues to create scoring chances for his teammates, the Bruins shouldn’t have a problem taking one of the next four (if necessary) against the Flyers.

    Bergeron will have to remain on top of his game if the Bruins advance, since they’d be matched up with a feisty Tampa Bay Lightning team that just swept the Washington Capitals.

4. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings have a number of players who could be considered the most important, from Henrik Zetterberg to Nicklas Lidstrom to Johan Franzen.

    However, these premier players haven’t been able to stop the San Jose Sharks, who lead the series 3-0.

    For the Red Wings, the most important player right now is Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk has nine points through the first seven games, but more importantly he has a plus/minus rating of plus-six.

    Datsyuk creates opportunities for his teammates and can also put the puck in the net. Detroit will need these skills if it has any chance of pulling off an improbable four straight victories over San Jose.

3. Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks

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    While the Sedin twins have been strong forces for the Canucks, Ryan Kesler is the most important player right now.

    Fresh off his 41-goal regular season, Kesler has found the back of the net twice in 10 games, but has a team-leading six assists in the playoffs.

    Vancouver leads the Predators 2-1. After battling with the Chicago Blackhawks for seven games, the No. 1-seeded Canucks will hope to emerge victorious in the next two games in order to enjoy some much-needed rest before the conference finals.

    Kesler’s playmaking skills will be a huge factor in whether Vancouver can cruise into the next round or has to endure another long series.

2. Antti Niemi, G, San Jose Sharks

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    There’s nothing better in the NHL playoffs than riding on the shoulders of a hot goaltender.

    Such is the case for the Sharks, as Antti Niemi has been a beast between the pipes.

    Niemi is 6-2 through the first two rounds of the playoffs, with a 2.99 GAA. He knows his team’s weapons—Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe—will put the puck in the net, so if he does his job in goal, the team should be fine.

    The upstart Sharks are on the verge of winning the series against the veteran Red Wings.

    If Niemi keeps up his hot goaltending, the Sharks can be considered serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.

1. Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Just how good is Martin St. Louis?

    The answer: incredibly good.

    St. Louis does everything right on the ice, and his teammates feed off his tremendous energy.

    He has been a balanced offensive weapon in the playoffs so far, with six goals and seven assists.

    Dwayne Roloson has been superb in goal for the Lightning, but St. Louis has been the true catalyst for this team.

    Whatever team faces the Lightning in the conference finals—most likely the Bruins—is in store for a tough challenge in trying to defend St. Louis.

    His presence on the ice alone makes Tampa Bay the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.