NHL playoffs: 10 impact players worth watching

 

 
 
 
 
Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has kept him out since March 30 and he's waiting to be cleared by doctors to play in the postseason.
 
 

Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has kept him out since March 30 and he's waiting to be cleared by doctors to play in the postseason.

Photograph by: Chaz Palla, AP Photo/Tribune Review

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VANCOUVER — Ten players — five from the Eastern Conference and five from the West — who should make an impact in the NHL playoffs. One of these players just might lead his team to the Stanley Cup.

SIDNEY CROSBY, Pittsburgh: Even though he has spent the better part of the last month eating through a straw as he recovers from a broken jaw, Crosby appears close to rejoining the Penguins. Who knows, he might even play when the Penguins open against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night. And because it’s the playoffs and because he’s Sidney Crosby, it’s a safe bet he will pile up some serious points. Crosby has 90 points in 68 career playoff games.

PATRICK KANE, Chicago: Kane is one of those rare players who has scored at a higher clip in the playoffs than he has in the regular season. He seems to thrive on the big stage. Kane has 52 points in 51 career playoff games and had 28 points in 22 games in helping lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010. If the Presidents Trophy-winning Blackhawks are going to make another run at the Cup, look for Kane to be a big part of it.

PHIL KESSEL, Toronto: Remember all that talk about Kessel’s slow start this season? Well, it’s ancient history. After not scoring a goal in his first 10 games this season, Kessel finished the year with 20 goals and a team-high 52 points. He had 10 goals and 17 points in his last 10 games. Kessel is one of the big reasons the Leafs ended their nine-year playoff drought and have a chance to actually do some damage in the post-season. Kessel has been a point-per-game producer in the playoffs with 15 points in 15 playoff games with Boston, the team he’ll face in the first round.

RYAN GETZLAF, Anaheim: The Ducks are the No. 2 seed in the West, but not everyone is convinced they’re primed for a long playoff run. If the Ducks are to have post-season success, Getzlaf must lead the way. He bounced back with a solid season – 49 points in 44 games – and signed a huge eight-year, $66-million contract extension. With his big body and offensive touch, Getzlaf is the kind of player who can take over games. He has 53 points in 62 career playoff games.

BRAD RICHARDS, NY Rangers: The Rangers made a late push to get into the playoffs and Richards was one of the guys who helped get them there. He finished what had been a disappointing season with 11 points in his last six games and the Prince Edward Island native has a long history of being a clutch playoff performer with 77 points in 83 post-season games. Look for Richards and linemate Rick Nash to do some serious damage when the Rangers and Capitals begin their series on Thursday night.

RYAN KESLER, Vancouver: How far the Canucks go in the playoffs will likely have a lot to do with Kesler, who missed much of the regular season while he recovered from off-season surgeries and then suffered a broken foot. The Canucks are hoping a healthy Kesler can be a difference-maker, just like he was in 2011 when he helped Vancouver make it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. Kesler has 36 points in 53 career playoff games.

JOHN TAVARES, N.Y. Islanders: It has been four years since the Islanders selected Tavares with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft and the 22-year-year-old has led the team to its first playoff berth since 2007. He had a terrific season while flying under the radar on Long Island, with 28 goals and 47 points in 48 games and figures to be pumped about his first taste of the NHL playoffs. An impressive debut by Tavares is imperative if the eighth-seeded Islanders are going to upset the Penguins.

DAVID BACKES, St. Louis: Impact does not always mean goals and assists. Backes had only a so-so season statistically with six goals and 28 points in 48 games, but his physical presence is one of the reasons why no one was looking forward to a first-round matchup with the Blues. Backes has the ability to create havoc in front of the opposition net and has that rare combination of nastiness and skill. Backes has a thin playoff resume with seven points in 13 career games.

ALEX OVECHKIN, Washington: After scoring only two goals in his first 10 games, Ovechkin came to life and led the NHL with 32 goals this season. He also helped lead the Capitals, one of the NHL’s hottest teams entering the playoffs, back from the dead and to the Southeast Division title. Ovechkin seems motivated again and has been a consistent playoff producer with 30 goals and 59 points in 51 previous playoff games.

DREW DOUGHTY, Los Angeles: This is something of an off-the-charts pick as Doughty had a rather disappointing season with just six goals and 22 points in 48 games. But five of those goals came in the last 11 games and the 23-year-old defenceman was one of the keys to the Kings’ Stanley Cup run last season when he had 16 points in 20 playoff games. He has been close to a point-a-game producer in the playoffs with 27 points in 32 games.

bziemer@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/bradziemer

 
 
 
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Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has kept him out since March 30 and he's waiting to be cleared by doctors to play in the postseason.
 

Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has kept him out since March 30 and he's waiting to be cleared by doctors to play in the postseason.

Photograph by: Chaz Palla, AP Photo/Tribune Review

 
Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player Sidney Crosby's broken jaw has kept him out since March 30 and he's waiting to be cleared by doctors to play in the postseason.
Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, right, passes the puck as Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, April 26, 2013 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
New York Rangers center Brad Richards celebrates his second of three goals against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, April 19, 2013. New York won 8-4. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues skates past the defence of Roman Horak #51 of the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on February 15, 2013.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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