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Neutral Zone Wrap: Playoff Primer

Evan Berofsky

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48 games simply isn't enough hockey. The average fan demands more action and wants it available right now. Lucky for them (and for the community at large) the playoffs start on Tuesday. But that spells trouble for fantasy participants, as it doesn't allow for much time to refocus and figure out who to back for this next phase. That is, unless they want to forego signing up for a playoff pool. But, c'mon, that is crazy talk.

That's why we are here to provide the resources upon which to base your postseason picks. So along with the latest news, you will find our player tiers listed below. Of course, you probably have your own thoughts as to which teams will advance the furthest and who to take. But if our material can help you out in any way, then that would be a bonus.

If you're new to the playoff setup, then here are the basics: look at the matchups and figure out who you believe will advance to the Conference Finals. From there, you can narrow down your picks mainly on these four clubs. Injuries may be lingering, so check the latest reports. But even if a player is said to be healthy, sometimes it is better to stay safe and avoid him altogether (or downgrade his position in your draft rankings, if that's your format).

Then, it is time to look at the different positions and analyze each separately. For forwards, check the numbers, the lines, and the proven producers. For defensemen, go for the point getters and the power-play performers. And in net, select the ones who you believe will make it to the end. (And that's why you won't see any netminders listed here.) For cheat sheets and other postseason advice, check out Jan Levine's column.

If you don't see someone in any of these lists, then they may have been omitted for various reasons. Some may be hurt and others could be someone who fits in between categories, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided:

(NOTE: Each section is shown in alphabetical order by player surname.)

Kings of the Rink

The best on their respective clubs, although a bunch of them will (obviously) be headed home early. Some have been to the dance many times before, while others newbies may slip to the next grouping:

David Backes, F, St. Louis; Nicklas Backstrom, F, Washington; Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Jeff Carter, F, Los Angeles; Ryan Callahan, F, NY Rangers; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Logan Couture, F, San Jose; Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit; Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Ryan Getzlaf, F, Anaheim; Mike Green, D, Washington; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Jarome Iginla, F, Pittsburgh; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa; Phil Kessel, F, Toronto; Ryan Kesler, F, Vancouver; Mikko Koivu, F, Minnesota; Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles; David Krejci, F, Boston; Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit; Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Joffrey Lupul, F, Toronto; Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh; Andrei Markov, D, Montreal; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; Brad Marchand, F, Boston; Matt Moulson, F, NY Islanders; Rick Nash, F, NY Rangers; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington; Max Pacioretty, F, Montreal; Zach Parise, F, Minnesota; Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose; Corey Perry, F, Anaheim; Dion Phaneuf, D, Toronto; Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis; Mike Ribiero, F, Washington; Brad Richards, F, NY Rangers; Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles; Bobby Ryan, F, Anaheim; Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver; Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis; Mark Streit, D, NY Islanders; Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota; John Tavares, F, NY Islanders; Joe Thornton, F, San Jose; Henrik Zetterberg, F, Detroit


The best of the rest. No sure bets, but solid potential. Reliable, but not outstanding. In other words, enough offense to supplement the main contributors:

Daniel Alfredsson, F, Ottawa; Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim; Patrik Berglund, F, St. Louis; Brad Boyes, F, NY Islanders; Derick Brassard, F, NY Rangers; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Troy Brouwer, F, Washington; Damien Brunner, F, Detroit; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Alex Burrows, F, Vancouver; John Carlson, D, Washington; Michael del Zotto, D, NY Rangers; David Desharnais, F, Montreal; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Pascal Dupuis, F, Pittsburgh; Lars Eller, F, Montreal; Valtteri Filppula, F, Detroit; Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim; Cody Franson, D, Toronto; Brendan Gallagher, F, Montreal; Jason Garrison, D, Vancouver; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Sergei Gonchar, D, Ottawa; Dan Hamhuis, D, Vancouver;  Jannik Hansen, F, Vancouver; Marcus Johansson, F, Washington; Jussi Jokinen, F, Pittsburgh; Nazem Kadri, F, Toronto; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh; Andy McDonald, F, St. Louis; Milan Michalek, F, Ottawa; Brenden Morrow, F, Pittsburgh; Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh; David Perron, F, St. Louis; Tomas Plekanec, F, Montreal; Derek Roy, F, Vancouver; Michael Ryder, F, Montreal; Brandon Saad, F, Chicago; Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Tyler Seguin, F, Boston; Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston; Teemu Selanne, F, Anaheim; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis; Viktor Stalberg, F, Chicago; Derek Stepan, F, NY Rangers; Kyle Turris, F, Ottawa; James van Riemsdyk, F, Toronto; Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NY Islanders; Slava Voynov, D, Los Angeles; Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles


Go ahead, throw away a pick by choosing one of these skaters. You may like them enough for selection purposes, but you'll regret the decision soon after:

Jay Bouwmeester, D, St. Louis; Erik Cole, F, Montreal; Martin Erat, F, Washington; Mikhail Grabovski, F, Toronto; Chris Higgins, F, Vancouver; Kyle Okposo, F, NY Islanders; Devin Setoguchi, F, Minnesota; Sheldon Souray, D, Anaheim

The Druce is Loose!

Yes, this section has been named after John Druce, who came out of nowhere to notch 17 points in 15 playoff games with Washington in 1990. The next surprise performance could come from one of these guys:

Nick Bonino, F, Anaheim; Kyle Clifford, F, Los Angeles; Cory Conacher, F, Ottawa; Matt Irwin, D, San Jose; Chris Kelly, F, Boston; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago; Brandon Sutter, F, Pittsburgh; Mats Zuccarello, F, NY Rangers

Let's briefly examine the first-round matchups in order to predict an eventual the West, Detroit (7) have surged of late and have a decent shot of upsetting a fading Anaheim (2). Don't see either Chicago (1) or Vancouver (3) having problems with their opponents. Let's give defending champs Los Angeles (5) the slight edge over St. Louis (4), even though the latter have heated up (12-3 in April).

Meanwhile, back East, Pittsburgh (1) are pretty much shoo-ins to advance. Boston (4) doesn't look too good headed in (2-5-2) but they seem to be Toronto's (5) kryptonite, having taken nine of the last 10 head-to-head meetings. It's a toss-up between Montreal (2) and Ottawa (7) with both sides enjoying turnaround campaigns, but the Habs' better overall game will prevail. The remaining battle contains the two squads no one else wants to face. Both Washington (3) and the Rangers (6) are on fire, thanks to a sudden increase in offense. The Blueshirts earn the checkmark due to their edge on the back end (and especially between the pipes).

That leaves Chicago-Detroit and Vancouver-Los Angeles in the West along with Pittsburgh-Rangers and Montreal-Boston in the East. Probably shouldn't discount my upcoming new hometown, but the Blackhawks will win easily. The Kings' experience and stronger team effort can overcome anything the Canucks can throw (but won't throw) at them. Think I'll call the Rangers in a squeaker and the Bruins in a similar conclusion.

For the Final, and for the first time since 1979, we'll get an all-Original Six encounter: Chicago-Boston. By this point, the Bruins will have run out of gas while the Hawks will keep coming in waves. The best lineup headed in will be the last club standing... Chicago in six.

Who's in your bracket?