Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 4/9/12
Crosby

After a Stanley Cup win in 2009 and Olympic Gold in 2010, Sidney Crosby was quickly on his way to becoming the best hockey player in the world.

However, concussions sidelined the Penguins captain for virtually all of 2011 and into 2012.  Now, unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers, he is back.  Crosby returned to action on March 15th and hasn't looked back.

In just 22 games this season, Crosby amassed 37 points.  The Pittsburgh Penguins are already one of the deepest teams in the league with James Neal coming off a career year.  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is as reliable as any goalie in the league.  Their blue line boasts Kris Letang, one of the NHL's best two-way defensemen.  Oh and let's not forget Evgeni Malkin, who will likely walk away with the Hart Trophy in June.

With a healthy and effective Sidney Crosby, the Penguins will be a very, very tough team to beat.

 

After 2460 regular season games in the books, the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here!

Gone from last year's playoffs are the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference.  They will be replaced by the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and Ottawa Senators.

Only the Anaheim Ducks did not make the playoffs from last year's Elite Eight in the West, while the St. Louis Blues went from being a non-playoff team all the way up to the second seed and the Central Division Champions.

There will certainly be some great first round match-ups this year, with some very intriguing story-lines.  Here are a few players who will be key to their teams' success and will no doubt feel the heat if their teams fail.

Sidney Crosby: The Comeback Kid

 

After a Stanley Cup win in 2009 and Olympic Gold in 2010, Sidney Crosby was quickly on his way to becoming the best hockey player in the world.

However, concussions sidelined the Penguins captain for virtually all of 2011 and into 2012.  Now, unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers, he is back.  Crosby returned to action on March 15th and hasn't looked back.

In just 22 games this season, Crosby amassed 37 points.  The Pittsburgh Penguins are already one of the deepest teams in the league with James Neal coming off a career year.  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is as reliable as any goalie in the league.  Their blue line boasts Kris Letang, one of the NHL's best two-way defensemen.  Oh and let's not forget Evgeni Malkin, who will likely walk away with the Hart Trophy in June.

 

With a healthy and effective Sidney Crosby, the Penguins will be a very, very tough team to beat.

Roberto Luongo: To Luuu or Booo?

 

Roberto Luongo has a very impressive resume.  From Olympic Gold in 2010, to several all-star appearances, and he even served as the Vancouver Canucks' team captain for a short stint.

However, the Stanley Cup playoffs continue to be Luongo's Achilles Heel and questions of whether he has what it takes to win a Stanley Cup will surround him until he hoists Lord Stanley's prize.

For the second consecutive year, he and the Canucks claimed the President's Trophy, ensuring them home ice throughout the playoffs. 

Last year, they lost to the Boston Bruins in game seven in their home arena.  What will this year have in store for Lu and the 'Nucks?

When things are going well, "Luuu" chants can be heard throughout Rogers Arena but if Bobby Lu falters, even slightly, Canucks fans will quickly turn those "Luuu" chants into boos.  They may even riot for good measure.  The Canucks also have a very capable backup in Cory Schneider. 

Nicklas Lidstrom: Saint Nick

 

Nicklas Lidstrom will go down in history as one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.  His four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies speak for themselves.  As long as he is the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, they will remain a competitive team.

However, at the age of 41, has "father time" began to show itself to St. Nick?  His 23 points this season were his lowest offensive output in over 15 years and he missed several games due to injuries. 

Whether this is the last run for Lidstrom or not, he is one of the best captains in the game today and will rally his team to be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs.

 

 

Jeff Carter: King Jeffrey

 

A few seasons ago, Jeff Carter had 46 goals and 84 points with the Flyers.  After failing to fit in with Columbus, he was once again dealt to the Kings to be reunited with his former captain Mike Richards, who was also experiencing a tough season.

He's been banged up lately, but Carter, Richards, and the Kings offense will need to show up, score some goals, and not put 100% of the onus on their all-star goalie, Jonathan Quick.

Daniel Alfredsson: Team Alfredsson

 

 

At 39 years of age, time may be running out for Daniel Alfredsson to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

He and the Sens came close five years ago before being defeated by the Anaheim Ducks.

This year's Ottawa Senators exceeded expectations, especially after getting off to a dismal 1-5 start to begin the year.

Ottawa's long-time captain will have to rally the troops and overcome enormous odds as a seventh seed to make a long run for the Stanley Cup.  

Their first test will be the top-seeded New York Rangers.

With 59 points on the season, Alfredsson showed he still has gas left in the tank, but how much?

Ilya Bryzgalov: The Russian Tiger

 

Ilya Bryzgalov made headlines last December with his off-the-wall comments during HBO's 24/7 series.  This spring, he and the Flyers hope that he will make headlines with spectacular play in goal.

He will face a tough test however, in the stalwart Pittsburgh Penguins.  The $51 million goalie will certainly have his mettle tested in his first ever playoff series as a Flyer.

 

His counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury has won the Stanley Cup and knows what it takes to go all the way in the playoffs.  Bryz will have to out-duel the Flower if he hopes to lead his team there as well.

Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott: The Dynamic Duo

 

The St. Louis Blues have a goaltending controversy.  Typically that's a bad thing, unless it's because you have to decide between two of the best goalies all season long.  

Ever since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the Blues bench, they have become a defensive powerhouse.  Jaroslav Halak had an epic run in Montreal two years ago before being dealt to St. Louis and Brian Elliott has revitalized his career after an abysmal stint in Colorado last year with an all-star appearance.

The Blues lept over Chicago, Detroit, and Nashville to capture the Central Division crown, but now face a Sharks team who is hungry to finally make a name for themselves in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Anttii Niemi: Anttii Up

 

Just two seasons removed from leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the promise land, goaltender Anttii Niemi enters his second playoff run as a Shark.

 

The regular season was somewhat disappointing for the Fish as they failed to capture the Pacific Division title and wound up in the seventh seed. 

They did edge out Dallas and Colorado to even make the postseason and took the last two games from their rivals in L.A. to move up to seventh.

 

Niemi will have to be good as the Sharks will face the best defensive team in the league in the St. Louis Blues.  Whether Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott gets the nod in goal for the Blues, Niemi will have to be up to the challenge.

Patrick Kane: Raising Kane

 

Just two seasons removed from leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the promise land, goaltender Anttii Niemi enters his second playoff run as a Shark.

The regular season was somewhat disappointing for the Fish as they failed to capture the Pacific Division title and wound up in the seventh seed. 

They did edge out Dallas and Colorado to even make the postseason and took the last two games from their rivals in L.A. to move up to seventh.

Niemi will have to be good as the Sharks will face the best defensive team in the league in the St. Louis Blues.  Whether Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott gets the nod in goal for the Blues, Niemi will have to be up to the challenge.

Jaromir Jagr: Moves Like Jagr

 

Last summer, when Jaromir Jagr announced his intent to return to the NHL after a three-year stint in the KHL, many people thought the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a natural fit as he won two Stanley Cups there in the early 90s.

However, Jagr instead chose to take his talents to the City of Brotherly Love and play for the Penguins' biggest rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Now he will face-off against against his former club in Pittsburgh in the battle of Pennsylvania where no brotherly love will be shown whatsoever.

54 points in 73 games this season certainly is not bad, but at 40 years old, Jagr is not the force he once was.

Sure, there are younger, more pivotal players in this series (Crosby, Malkin, Giroux, Hartnell), but the Jagr storyline is certainly a juicy one and this series has all the makings of a first-round classic.

 

 

 

 

 

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