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Ten players critical to playoff success

Ten players critical to playoff success

Ten players critical to playoff success
Mike Chen / Special to

Predicting the playoffs is generally an exercise in futility. There's just no way to accurately factor in injuries, weird bounces or unsung heroes (see: the guy they call Dubie on Long Island). However, for most teams, there's always at least one player that must rise to the occasion in order for there to be any success.

We're not talking about the role player who becomes a reliable scorer in the postseason; no, these are the top 10 players who must meet or exceed their regular-season standards in order for their teams to achieve their goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

10: Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild. With Gaborik out for November and December, the Wild struggled for any true consistency. When he came back — and he did so with a vengeance — the Wild surged forward and even challenged Vancouver for the Northwest crown. Gaborik's the true meaning of the word catalyst, and even with players like Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, Minnesota's hopes center solely on Gaborik.

9: Johan Holmqvist, Tampa Bay Lightning. Since Nikolai Khabibulin left the Bolts for big bucks in Chicago, the rotating door in Tampa's crease has revolved at an unhealthy pace. The duo of Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis is better than the John Grahame/Sean Burke disaster of last season, but they still lack consistency. Expect Holmqvist to get the first push for Tampa, but that's where expectations end. Holmqvist can look like Patrick Roy circa 1993 or he can look like Tommy Salo circa the 2002 Olympics. Lightning fans better hope for the former.

8: Jason Arnott, Nashville Predators. Last season, the Predators got pushed around by the tougher, bigger San Jose Sharks. This season, the opponent is the same, but the acquisition of Arnott was designed to specifically address the need for size up front. He will set the tone against the Sharks, even more so than Peter Forsberg or Paul Kariya.

7: Marty Turco, Dallas Stars. Quick, how many points does the top scorer fro the Dallas Stars have? If you guessed 59 — yes, 59 — then you know why Dallas desperately needs Turco to exorcise the ghosts of playoffs past and step up to the challenge.

6: Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators. It's the same old story in Ottawa — is their goaltending good enough to get them past the first round? This year, Bryan Murray instituted a defensive-minded scheme that took the team a while to buy into. At the same time, supposed No. 1 goalie Martin Gerber nose-dived at the beginning of the season. Rather than try and land a big-name goalie, the Sens stuck with their guns and named Ray Emery their man. Now it's up to him to show that their decision was right.

5: Brendan Shanahan
, New York Rangers. The Rangers offense during the regular season was mostly driven by Jaromir Jagr and his Czech-mates. However, the postseason is all about grit and determination, and that was the very reason Shanahan was brought in. Shanahan brings the veteran leadership and scoring depth the Blueshirts so desperately needed; without him going at top speed, the Rangers are a one-trick pony.

4: Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers. Welcome to the playoffs, Kovy — it's a whole different game here. Kovalchuk's immense talents and questionable work ethic have been the subject of Bob Hartley's ire a number of times. Marian Hossa should have no problem rising to the challenge, but will the pressure — and the hitting — cause Kovalchuk to wilt or blossom?

3: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins. All eyes will be on Sidney Crosby's playoff debut, but Fleury is the key to success for Pittsburgh. If Crosby falters, you've always got Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal or Gary Roberts or any number of Pittsburgh's weapons to pick up the slack. If Fleury falters, though, it will be a short postseason for the Penguins.

2: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver's forwards, other than the Sedin twins, won't really strike fear into the hearts of many teams. Despite the team's disciplined defensive play, their entire playoff hopes lie solely on Luongo. His MVP-worthy year must carry over into the postseason in order to rescue the Canucks' meager attack.

1: Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings. As the Dominator goes, so do the Red Wings. Hasek's groin stood the test of the regular season, but it is still an unknown factor that could snap — literally — at any time. If Hasek stays healthy, the Red Wings can go deep. If his groin bothers him, it's a crapshoot.

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