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Neutral Zone Wrap: The Final Countdown

Evan Berofsky

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And so our regular season ride comes to an end. Don't think of this as a "goodbye"; it's more like a "well done" or a "way to hang in there this long". You have made it to this point, so why not take it all the way.

If you still invest your energy in fantasy hockey, then you might require that final push. Something to move or keep you in front until the schedule plays itself out on April 7th. We've done about all we can do to help. This is your moment in the spotlight. Get it done.

This is our last look at a couple clubs who can be of assistance, whether it be a newly-promoted player or a penalty-minute magnet. No guarantees you'll strike gold, but in reality, you should already possess the resources to clinch:

No man is an Islander, except those skaters who work on the ice of Uniondale, NY (and technically anyone who lives on an island). Frans Nielsen (nine points in seven contests, with a plus-6) has continued as a quiet leader. Josh Bailey (six-game point run) is finally meeting the potential of a former first-round selection. The young ones are progressing, but only Casey Cizikas (only four total points with minimal minutes, but averaging two hits an outing) and David Ullstrom (two goals in four, including one on the man-advantage) utilize the complete package to stay in the bigs. Sprechen sie goals, Michael Grabner (two in 19)? Travis Hamonic (six in eight, at almost 23 minutes) has been underrated for a while and is worth another look. With Evgeni Nabokov (lower-body confusion) out, Al Montoya (eight appearances in 2012) should be handed the keys to the net from here on out.

Life's a beach in Carolina, but not necessarily on the ice. Familiar faces Tuomo Ruutu (three in 11) and Brandon Sutter (four in 11) appear to be struggling, while Chad LaRose (two three-game point streaks in March) is earning some kudos. So is Jiri Tlusty (five in six, including three power-play points), who has finally displayed his skills for the right purposes. Even Tim Brent (five in eight) has been on a roll. Blueline stalwart Joni Pitkanen may have reappeared after 14 weeks, but Justin Faulk (three in three) has been the talk of the town. Bryan Allen (72 PIM, 105 hits, 174 blocked shots) and Tim Gleason (63, 121, 109) may never reach any offensive milestones but their minutes allow them to grab secondary stats.

As if their season wasn't going horribly wrong, Minnesota currently has to deal with an epidemic of injuries. Good thing captain Mikko Koivu and his so-so shoulder has returned or else all would go to hell (seriously). Kyle Brodziak (eight in six) is once again on the upswing. Cal Clutterbuck (three in six - all PPPs) can now boast a half-decent power-play resume. Erik Christensen can't really do much except score goals (four in eight, hasn't had an assist since mid-December). Jason Zucker (46 in 38 during his sophomore season) has made the leap from the NCAA to the NHL, but wait a bit to see if he sticks. With Marek Zidlicky dispatched and Jared Spurgeon dazed, veteran Tom Gilbert (only two in eight, but rocking the minutes) is receiving additional opportunities.

Once upon a time, Washington were everyone's pick for the Cup. Heck, they made some nice summer moves strengthening their depth at every position. But now, they face the reality of possibly missing the playoffs. Mathieu Perreault (five in seven) is still hanging in there, although the drop in ice time has hurt. He might not be the guy getting service from the stars, but Mike Knuble's name (four in six) has once again been mentioned. Keith Aucoin (five in eight) has never legitimately experienced success at the top level, but the odds have improved. On some nights, Dmitry Orlov (six in nine) serves as the Caps' best D-man - and then he disappears for the remainder. It's a mystery as to what happened to John Carlson the last month (two in 14, minus-10).

There's no way Phoenix should still be in contention. No real superstars, no big name in net, no money to spend. And with these supposed deficiencies, the Coyotes have often outhustled and outwitted their opponents. It's amazing how age has strengthened Ray Whitney (10 in eight) or made Radim Vrbata (first season over 30 goals) a smarter shooter. Martin Hanzal (facial laceration, sprained wrist) has been snakebitten by the injury bug, which has carried over to his lackluster numbers (nothing in seven). Antoine Vermette (seven in 11, 38 hits) has enjoyed his exodus from Columbus. Wow, and Raffi Torres (eight in 10) is more than just two fists and a shaved head. Meanwhile, Mikkel Boedker (one goal in 18) owns two left hands and little ability to hit the target.


We may have concluded this stage of the season, but there will be more to come during the next couple months. After all, there are playoff pools to be won.