Found April 11, 2012 on Race Review Online:
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Martin Brodeur: Dance with the Devil

Martin Brodeur is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and one of the best goalies to ever play the game. Three Stanley Cups, four Vezina Trophies, Olympic Gold—Brodeur has done it all.

Approaching his 40th birthday, the question remains if Brodeur has one more Stanley Cup run in him. Brodeur has not had a bad year and the New Jersey Devils are a talented group. If Brodeur can regain the form that made him into a legend, they could make a surprising run in this year's playoffs.

Jose Theodore: Jose and the Cats

After winning the Hart and Vezina trophies a decade ago in Montreal, Jose Theodore has pretty much been a journeyman goaltender after stints in Colorado, Washington and Minnesota. This year, he found himself in Florida with a newly revamped Panthers team and chance to be their starting goalie.

Theo has been solid all year and helped to propel the Cats, the biggest surprise team in the NHL this year, to the Southeast Division title.

Despite the fact that Florida will be the favorites in this series, by virtue of the fact that they are the third seed vs. the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, the Devils finished the season with 102 points to Florida's 94, so who is actually the favorite here?

Theodore will have to beat one of the best goalies of all-time in Martin Brodeur, but both of these goaltenders on the wrong side of 35, have had resurgent seasons.

Erik Karlsson: Krazy Karlsson

With 78 points in 81 games, Erik Karlsson will likely earn his first Norris Trophy this season as the league's best defenseman. Karlsson's 78 points were by far the most of any D-man in the league this year. The next runner-up had 53.

Karlsson will have to continue his phenomenal play for the Ottawa Senators to beat Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Points aside, Karlsson will have to be good in his own end as well, against Rangers superstars Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan.

Mike Smith: Big Mike

When Ilya Bryzgalov departed Phoenix for Philadelphia, many people thought (including me) that Smith would be a huge downgrade in goal. Admittedly, we were wrong.

After backing-up Marty Turco in Dallas, Smith was supposed to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay, but failed to establish himself there.

After rejoining former Stars head coach Dave Tippett in Phoenix, this time as a starter, Smith had a career year and led the Phoenix Coyotes to their first ever (and possibly last) Pacific Division title.

The Coyotes are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they are not facing the Detroit Red Wings, the team that eliminated them in the first round of each of the past two seasons. Smith and company will need to continue to excel in the playoffs however, as he and the Yotes face a Blackhawks team who won the ultimate prize just two years ago.

Braden Holtby: The Braden Bunch

With their No. 1 and No. 2 goalies (Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth) on the shelf, the Washington Capitals will turn to 22-year-old Braden Holtby as their playoff goaltender.

When the Capitals traded goalie Semyon Varlamov to Colorado last year, it seemed logical that Neuvirth and Holtby would remain with the Caps and battle for the starting job.

However, when they signed the veteran goalie and former all-star Vokoun, Holtby found himself the odd-man-out and spent most of the season back in the AHL with the Hershey Bears.

Now, he will certainly get his shot to make a name for himself in the NHL on the biggest stage of them all—the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Holtby will face MVP Tim Thomas and the defending Stanley Cup champions, so his task will not be an easy one. Not at all.

Tim Thomas: Timmy T

Like a fine wine, Tim Thomas seems to get better with age. Last year, he won the Vezina Trophy, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. What else does he have to shoot for?

Sure, he and the B's can aim to become the first team to repeat as champs since the Red Wings did it in the late '90s, and why not? The Bruins are every bit as formidable as they were last year and have all the makings for another long playoff run.

As the defending champions, however, they will certainly have a huge bullseye on their collective chests.

Alexander Radulov: Alexander the Great

Nope, not talking about Ovechkin here, but Alexander Radulov will be a key cog for the Nashville Predators this postseason, however.

The Predators' back-end is as solid as any team in the league. From goalie Pekka Rinne to defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds will be solid defensively as they always are.

They lack however, a true offensive powerhouse, but the recently returned Alex Radulov should help. Radulov's NHL career has been a sporadic one, but he is back with the team who drafted him back in 2004 and is looking to help them make their playoff run.

The Preds advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in team history last year and are looking to build upon recent success.

Radulov's offense will be welcome to help Nashville match the high-powered weapons of the Detroit Red Wings like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Henrik Lundqvist: Hank

Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best goaltenders all season long—on one of the league's best teams. He is the front-runner to take home the Vezina in June, but there is another piece of hardware he would like to claim more.

Last year, the Blue Shirts entered the playoffs as the eighth seed and lost to the top-seeded Capitals. This season, the Rangers find themselves as the No. 1 in the east and King Henrik certainly has what it takes to guide his team on a long playoff run.

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but look for the Rangers to be a force.

Jonathan Quick: Quickness

Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been one of the league's best all year long. He will likely earn votes for the Vezina and is probably the only reason the Los Angeles Kings are even in the playoffs.

The Kings lost six games this season by a score of 1-0, and their offense will need to show up if they have any expectations of making it past the first round.

Quick will need to continue his stellar play and hope the Kings' offense comes to life, if the seventh-seeded Kings hope to upset the highly-favored Vancouver Canucks.

John Tortorella: Angry Fonzie

He may look like Henry Winkler, but New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella is all business. Sure, he's not technically a player, but Torts will certainly make his presence felt in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The New York Rangers are a very good team from top-to-bottom, and it's no accident that they are the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Their coach is a big reason why they're there.

He's outspoken, brash, and a bit controversial at times, but Tortorella is a good coach who knows what it takes to win it all from his success in Tampa Bay in 2004.

If things go south for the Blue Shirts during these playoffs, you can guarantee that Torts will be right there to stir the proverbial pot and shake things up to right the ship for his squad.

 

THE BACKYARD
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