The road to the Stanley Cup is almost halfway done. There are only five remaining teams as the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks head into Game 7 to determine who goes on to the Western Conference Finals.
It might be a cliché, but physical play trumps skill in the playoffs more often than not.
By physical play, I mean players who will run you into the boards—or through the boards—at any opportunity. The goal is to wear down your opponent and intimidate them.
At this stage of the playoffs, there isn't room on the roster for a stereotypical enforcer who can only intimidate with his fists.
Instead, teams intimidate by pounding their opponents at every opportunity with bone-rattling hits.
In no particular order, here are 10 of the best physical players from the remaining playoff teams.
6'2" 207 pounds
Playoff Hits: 49
Penalty Minutes: 30 minutes (two misconducts)
If you asked the average NHL fan who the most prolific hitter in the NHL Playoffs was this year, I doubt even most Canucks fans would say Maxim Lapierre. With 49 hits through 13 games though, he is the top hitter.
Lapierre delivers heavy checks, but he isn't leveling people with highlight-reel hits like others on this list.
6'4" 220 pounds
Playoff Hits: 26
Penalty Minutes: 31 minutes (one major, one misconduct, one game misconduct)
Milan Lucic's size, speed and aggression make him one of the best hitters in the game. Unfortunately, as shown by his penalty minutes to date, his aggression is sometimes a detriment.
Lucic is also one of the few remaining players who might actually drop the gloves and fight in a playoff game.
6'3" 215 pounds
Playoff Hits: 43
Penalty Minutes: 6
Alex Edler has been standing up in the neutral zone and leveling opposing wingers who try to beat him to the outside.
No discussion of Edler's hitting ability would be complete without mentioning his absolute destruction of Drew Doughty in last year's Kings/Canucks series.
6'4" 225 pounds
Playoff Hits: 20
Penalty Minutes: 6
Another defenseman playing huge physically for the Lightning, Mattias Ohlund has been playing smart, puck-moving hockey in the playoffs as part of the Lightning's 1-3-1 system, but he isn't adverse to throwing a big hit either.
Here is a highlight reel of his hits from the 2010-11 season that NHL.com put together.
As a side note, remember Edler from one slide back? Ohlund was Edler's defense partner and mentor when they were both Canucks. It shows in their similar hits.
6'3" 240 pounds
Playoff Hits: 46
Penalty Minutes: 4
The most physical player for the Sharks, Douglas Murray shows up every game and delivers bone-rattling hits. He leads the NHL in playoff hits by a defenseman—and most impressively—he doesn't take penalties for these hits, only accumulating two minor penalties in 12 playoff games.
If the Sharks advance and play the Canucks in the Western Conference Finals, he is one player who could potentially shutdown Ryan Kesler with some big hits in what could be an epic physical battle.
6'1" 198 pounds
Playoff Hits: 45
Penalty Minutes: 22 (two fighting majors)
Aside from being a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman, at least according to Don Cherry, Kevin Bieksa is one of the nastiest defensemen in the playoffs (which is at least partly why Cherry likes him).
He'll hit you hard, either legally or illegally.
With slashes, crosschecks or elbows, Bieksa will do whatever it takes to clear the front of the net or win a puck battle in the corner.
He is always in the middle of a scrum after a whistle, and unlike most players, Bieksa is perfectly willing to drop the gloves to back it up.
He leads the NHL Playoffs with a pair of fighting majors, first schooling Victor Stalberg after he felt Stalberg crossed the line and then fighting Troy Brouwer after the Blackhawks took exception to an Edler elbow.
6' 192 pounds
Playoff Hits: 23
Penalty Minutes: 2
Niklas Kronwall might be remembered as the Scott Stevens of his generation.
Like Stevens, Kronwall has a reputation for brutal open-ice hits, and he does it without taking penalties.
Here are a few of his recent highlights from the second round:
Kronwall on Ryane Clowe: Clowe would miss the next game with an upper-body injury.
6'9" 255 pounds
Playoff Hits: 24
Penalty Minutes: 8
Zdeno Chara is a behemoth. Luckily for opposing players, he usually uses his long stick and reach to strip you of the puck before you get within hitting range. When he does hit you though, look out.
Chara is also getting a reputation as a dirty player, largely due to this much-pubicized hit on Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens that went without a suspension.
6'2" 202 pounds
Playoff Hits: 42
Penalty Minutes: 6
Ryan Kesler isn't the heaviest hitter.
He isn't the biggest player on this list either.
Kesler is however the player with the most drive and determination in the NHL right now.
He'll hound the player with the puck relentlessly, hitting and checking them until he can steal the puck and create a scoring chance.
If Kesler has the puck, it is almost impossible to knock him off it—just ask Shea Weber (Norris Trophy nominee) or Jonathan Toews (Selke Trophy nominee).
Unlike most players on this list, Kesler is not only one of the best physical players in the playoffs, he is also the most dangerous, as he leads the NHL in scoring, as well as being fifth overall in hits.