Only four teams remain in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL Conference Finals begin tonight at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. The Chicago Blackhawks take on the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final. The Pittsburgh Penguins will battle the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Goaltending and depth are two vital keys to a championship run in the NHL. It is also important to be able to play the physical style of game that is associated with playoff hockey. There is no easy road to the Cup. Here is my list of ten players who need to step up for their teams. If they fail to rise to the occasion, then their teams will be watching the Stanley Cup Finals.
1. Chris Kelly of the Boston Bruins. The third-line center has a -6 rating in the playoffs so far. That is the worst plus/minus rating of anyone left in the playoffs. Kelly and his linemates need to improve their defense (Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin), as they have a combined -12 rating. Kelly must also find a way to get on the score sheet. He has not recorded a goal or an assist yet in the postseason. Kelly’s saving grace has been his performance in the faceoff department. He has won 71 of 112 faceoffs taken.
2. Viktor Stalberg of the Chicago Blackhawks. Stalberg is in a 16-game scoreless drought. He was also benched for two games last round.
3. Dwight King of the Los Angeles Kings. Last year, King scored five goals in the postseason. This year, he has none. The Kings need contribution from their third line to beat the Blackhawks.
4. Tyler Kennedy of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This team is stacked. Yes, he has scored two goals, but he was a healthy scratch in the Penguins’ playoff opener. Jussi Jokinen and rookie Beau Bennett are waiting in the wings.
5. Staying with the Penguins, Tomas Vokoun. He took over Marc-Andre Fleury’s job in the first round, but he cannot get complacent. Head Coach Dan Bylsma will throw Fleury back in if Vokoun slips up against the Bruins.
6. Kings center Anze Kopitar. He is a solid player, but he has a tough task ahead of him. Kopitar must make life miserable for Jonathan Toews as Henrik Zetterberg did for the Kings to advance.
7. Blackhawks center Dave Bolland. This has probably been the worst season of Bolland’s career. However, he has started to look like the Bolland of old in the last two games. If he can contribute offensively, that may help the Blackhawks knock out the defending champs.
8. Bruins’ center Patrice Bergeron. Same as Kopitar, except he has to try to stop Sidney Crosby.
9. Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick. This guy is in the zone right now. Quick holds a goals-against average of 1.50, and a 94.8 save percentage. Both numbers are the best in their categories. Quick must remain sensational in net to shut down the potent Blackhawks offense.
10. Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask. Easily has the toughest task of them all: prevent the Penguins offense from scoring.
Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins. He has only one goal this postseason, and the Bruins need all of the offense they can get this series.
Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy. He has the worst plus/minus rating of the defensemen left in the playoffs (-5). Defense wins championships, and that is one area Leddy must improve upon.
Stats were found at NHL.com