Although players like Corey Perry, Rick Nash, Steven Stamkos and maybe even Alexander Ovechkin may not be in the 2012 NHL Playoffs, it allows other players to shine and build a reputation for themselves. After-all, NHL players earn their salary in the regular season and their reputation in the playoffs.
It won’t be long until the 2012 NHL Playoffs are here, and as excited as we are here at Pucking Hockey we cannot start our series match-up predictions until all series match-ups are set in stone.
Until then, we have compiled a list of 6 players who we believe will have to be game changers in order for their team to have a deep playoff run. These players we believe will build a reputation for themselves as either great players or choking players.
The Penguins always seem to find the perfect match before the trade deadline, and James Neal has been nothing less than a perfect match for this Penguins team. The real Penguins have showed what they are all about the second half of this season and with Sidney Crosby sidelined for most of the season, James Neal and Evgeni Malkin have been picking up the slack.
It’s pretty much certain Malkin and Crosby will heat up in the playoffs leaving James Neal to fly under the radar, possibly hurting their opponents on the scoreboard.
Neal has had one of the best seasons in the NHL this year, netting 35 goals and 76 points. Proving he ‘s worth his new six-year, $30 million extension.
Expect James Neal to carry the Penguins for a deep playoff run, being the sole reason they get past the Philadelphia Flyers if they play them in the first round.
Goaltending has hurt the Flyers in the 2011 Playoffs, being the sole reason they went after Ilya Bryzgalov in the off-season.
For most of this season, Bryzgalov has struggled being pretty much the main reason the Flyers caughed up so many points in the Eastern Conference. Then he turned his game around and became the frist star for the month of March…
…Thanks to newly acquired defenseman, Nicklas Grossman.
Coming back from a “chipped fracture” in his foot, Bryzgalov played “good” but allowed 5 goals to the Rangers. Main reason for that was because, defenseman Nik Grossman was not in the lineup. Since acquiring Grossman, the Flyers netminder has rebounded becoming a brick wall instead of the human sieve.
It’s no secret, Chris Pronger’s career is pretty much over, becoming the main reason the Flyers went after Grossman and Pavel Kubina in the offseason. Two big bodies to play alongside Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen.
If the Flyers are going to have a deep playoff run, Nicklas Grossman will be the key to the Flyers defense. That’s if he comes back in time for the playoffs, he’s currently out 7-10 days with a lower body injury.
3: Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues
No one, and I mean NO ONE predicted the St Louis Blues to be one of the best teams in the NHL. Not taking anything away from the Blues offense, but the defense and goaltending is what helped them climb atop the Western Conference standings.
Problem is, Elliott doesn’t have any playoff experience, while Halak made a name for himself leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.
If Halak can get back to that 2010 form in the playoffs, expect the Blues to have a nice long run despite having a young non playoff experienced team in front of him. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock will handle that though.
Just one point away from clinching the division, the Panthers will make a playoff appearance, the first time in 10 years. Who would have thought? I know I didn’t expect this to happen. Then again I didn’t expect the Washington Capitals to choke this badly.
Behind the club’s quiet success has been Stephen Weiss. Second on the team in scoring, Weiss also leads all forwards in ice time per game.
Being the club’s top center and one of it’s leaders, the Florida Panthers’ playoff fate will rest on his shoulders. Whether they make it out of the first round or not, just getting into the playoffs has been more than overachieving.
Yeh I know, everybody and their mother knows this guy is the heart and soul of the Red Wings. Lidstrom has played a major role in Detroit’s success during the last 20 seasons.
Could this be the last we see Lidstrom in the NHL Playoffs?
If so, I expect him to play out of his mind in these playoffs. With four Stanley Cup rings, this guy can handle anything that comes in his way.
The Canucks added toughness before the trade deadline, and are lucky to have such a great one two punch in net. Reality is though, only one can show up for the playoffs.
Sure Luongo has taken a lot of abuse over the past few years, especially in the playoffs, but you can’t fault him in last years game 7. With last year’s deep playoff run experience, I fully expect Luongo to carry the Canucks deep this year.
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