If depth was a Chicago question mark, this hard-working 20-year-old winger nicknamed "Man Child" helped provide an answer. Playing a skilled, yet physical two-wsy game on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Saad steadily blossomed into a scorer and Calder Trophy candidate, finishing fifth among all rookies with 27 points, and second with 26 takeaways. ''He improves every single game,'' Toews told the <italics>Chicago Sun-Times</italics>. ''I think that's what says the most. You can talk about his skill all day, how fearless he is in the puck areas .?.?. but he's one of those guys that's determined to make a difference every night.''
2 of 16Bruce Kluckholn/NHLI via Getty Images
Ryan Suter's 19-year old defense partner has learned well from the Norris Trophy candidate, emerging as the possible rookie of the year. The 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Brodin is an excellent skater who has impressed with his savvy stickwork and defensive skills. In the playoffs, he'll be expected to assume big minutes (he led all rookies with 23:12 per game) while facing top lines. The first round will offer a quite a challenge from the deep, talented Blackhawks. Can Brodin live up to expectations? He'll have to for the Wild to have a shot at the upset.
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After an NHL record 764 games without a postseason appearance, he'll get his first taste of playoff action as the Blues open against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, a real test for the St. Louis defense corps. After his deadline trade from Calgary, the fleet, smart and durable shutdown defender was credited by coach Ken Hitchcock with helping to ignite the Blues on their 12-3 stretch run.
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Last season's playoff MVP got off to a slow start and there was concern that his surgically repaired back was bothering him. "Mentally, it's just been a grind for him this year," Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford told the <italics>LA Times</italics>. Quick came on down the stretch (6-3-1, 2.25 GAA, .917 save pct. in April) and now looks ready to defend LA's Cup. With the Kings' offense sputtering of late, he'll need to be sharp.
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The late-March addition of the undrafted college free agent out of Western Michigan helped stabilize Detroit's defense and spark its transition game. DeKeyser quickly earned the trust and confidence of coach Mike Babcock, who has described the 22-year-old as "a defensive defenseman who makes a first pass and can really skate.'' DeKeyser seemed unfazed by the pressure of the Red Wings' battle to keep their now-22-year run of playoff appearances alive and should continue to play his smart, steady game moving the puck and killing penalties. As goalie Jimmy Howard told the<italics> Detroit Free Press,</italics> "The one thing that has impressed a lot of us is he's not getting nervous and just coughing it up out there. He's under the bright lights of the NHL and he's holding his own.''
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At 42, he's the NHL's grand old man and this may be your last chance to see the Finnish Flash in action. He's on a one-year deal and retirement has been on his mind since 2007. After a strong start this year, his production dwindled in March and April and he finished with 12 goals and 24 points. The Ducks hope that resting him during the final week reinvigorated him. He's said that the compressed schedule wore him down. If his jump is back, he'll give Anaheim another scoring threat to go along with the sage experience that comes from his 20 years in the league and winning the Cup in 2007.
7 of 16Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images; Keithy Strakocic/AP
The venerable Iggy, who produced 11 points in 13 games as a Penguin after his deadline trade from Calgary, gets his first playoff action since 2009 and possibly a shot at lifting the chalice for the first time in his 16-season career. He'll likely skate on a line with Crosby, who was having an MVP-caliber season when he went down with a broken jaw on March 30. Expect Iginla to play inspired hockey. The big question about Crosby is how sharp he'll be after his layoff (he reportedly lost weight) and how well he'll hold up during the grueling march through the postseason. (He'll be wearing a face shield at least for a while.)
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If you haven't watched him much, here's your chance to see why he was the hyped first overall pick in the 2009 draft. His steady emergence as a bona-fide MVP candidate is at the heart of the Islanders' first playoff appearance since 2007. Tavares finished third in goal-scoring, with 28, while providing the Isles with clutch play and inspirational leadership. The heavily favored Penguins will surely focus on stopping him, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that challenge in his first appearance in the postseason spotlight.
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At 24 and in his fourth NHL season, the two-time 30-goal scorer (he netted 21 this season) has developed a solid two-way game and become one of the Sharks' leaders. "He just does it all," team captain Joe Thornton told <italics>The Oakland Tribune</italics>. "Blocked shot or a penalty kill -- anything. He just continues to get better." Regarding those blocks, Couture finished second to Ryan Callahan of the Rangers among the league's forwards. If the Sharks are to get anywhere this spring, Couture will be in the thick of that effort.
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The matter was supposed to be settled, with Schneider, 27, taking over as the No. 1 and the often-assailed Luongo relegated to back-up duty (and subsequently longing for a trade). Schneider was hot (11-3-1, with four shutouts and a .942 save percentage) when he went down with undisclosed injury that sidelined him on April 22. Back came Luongo, who closed the campaign with two losses, including a 7-2 stinker against the Oilers. "If Schneids is healthy, Schneids is going to play," coach Alain Vigneault told the <italics>Vancouver Province</italics>. "If not. I've got total confidence in Lui." Questions now are: how healthy will Schneider be (he was day-to-day at the start of the playoffs), and if the Canucks must rely on Luongo, how deep can they go?
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One of the key, rugged components of Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup championship team, Lucic struggled through a woeful season in which his ice time was cut and he was yanked off the power play. The former 30-goal scorer put up seven goals and 19 points, and endured a stretch of 26 games from Feb. 26 to April 13 during which he scored all of twice -- while playing lethargically. The reasons for his slump remained a mystery -- lack of conditioning and confidence were cited as possibilities -- but there were signs in Boston's final games that Lucic is returning to form. The B's sorely need his stick, his physicality, his fire and his fists if they are to make a deep run.
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The Leafs' propensity for getting bottled up in their own end of the ice while being peppered with shots will put plenty of pressure on their starting goaltender. And then there's the matter of Leafs Nation's hunger for some postseason success after a string of seven empty springs. But if anyone's up for the challenge, it's Reimer, 25, a Masterton Trophy nominee for "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." He's fought off injuries and competition for the job, finishing the season with a career-high four shutouts and a top-10 save percentage (.924). As for his exactly zero games of postseason experience, that doesn't bother him, either. "I expect to go out there and just try and stop that little black puck," he told the <italics>National Post</italics>. "As far as I know, it's the same size. I don't think they change it for the playoffs."
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On Feb. 14, the 2012 Norris Trophy-winner was off to a flying start (10 points in 14 games) when his left Achilles tendon was sliced 70 percent by a skate blade attached to Pittsburgh's notorious Matt Cooke. After surgery, Karlsson wasn't expected back until training camp, but he miraculously returned on April 25, just in time to bolster Ottawa's sagging playoff push. The swift, puck-moving blueliner immediately juiced an offense that had plunged from fourth to 27th in goals per game, posting two assists in 27 minutes of ice time. He logged the same amount two nights later and has pronounced himself pain-free and ready to go. His presence makes the Senators a formidable dark horse.
14 of 16Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
The netminder began to hear boos as the wheels came off the Habs down the stretch. It didn't help that Montreal's defense became an error-prone mess, and the loss of physical blueliner Alexei Emelin surely hurt, but Price hardly barred the door in April, going 4-6-1 and being pulled from two consecutive starts. Now the heat will really be on. Price is 8-15 lifetime in the playoffs. If he's not consistently on his game, the Canadiens' surprising season will end early.
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The Blueshirts' leading scorer (21 goals, 42 points, +16 in 44 games) has made one playoff appearance during his 10-year career, and that was in the relative obscurity of Columbus. This time it'll be under the hot spotlight of Broadway, but Nash has said he welcomes pressure and sorely wants to experience postseason success. Big and supremely skilled, he's the go-to guy on a team that struggled most of the season to live up to expectations but came on late in the stretch. "You sit back on the bench and see how big he is and how quick he can pull the puck off the wall and take it to the net, sometimes you're just in awe," teammate Derek Dorsett told <italics>The New York Times</italics>.
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Will the season's great resurrection story continue in the playoffs? After being pronounced a shell of his former self, Ovechkin roared back to life, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy with a league-leading 32 goals. Much credit has been given to coach Adam Oates for switching Ovechkin to right wing in an attempt to freshen his game, but the sniper seems to have undergone a dramatic attitude adjustment and is playing with his old verve. Now, can he lead the Capitals past the second round for the first time in his eight-season career?
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