Now without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Eastern Conference, with a fantasy slant.
New York Rangers (1)
Dark horses: Brandon Dubinsky had eight points in his last 11 games. He may not be a potential 65-point player, but he's certainly not the 34-point guy who showed up this season, tying the likes of Shawn Horcoff in scoring. He could very well be that player who posts 15 points in 18 playoff games. ... Brian Boyle ended the season with seven points in nine games and he boasts the big body that teams will often use in the postseason to plant in front of the net on the power play (see Byfuglien, Dustin).
Could let you down: Carl Hagelin is a speedy rookie who shows a lot of promise. He made a big splash this campaign, posting 38 points in 64 games while posting a eye-popping plus-21. But he is a rookie, and Torts loves to lean on his vets. He also has just one point in his last 10 games… Dan Girardi, the team's minute muncher, has just three points in 32 career playoff games.
Keep in mind: Del Zotto still shows his inexperience by suffering through cold spells. He finished the season pointless in his last four, and went a stretch in January pointless in eight. On the flip side, that means he got his production this year during some pretty impressive hot runs. ... Richards' reputation as a playoff warrior is well-founded. He has 57 points in his last 52 playoff games. ... Gaborik has just seven points in his last 16 playoff contests.
Boston Bruins (2)
The obvious: Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara.
Dark horses: Rich Peverley was better and better as the postseason wore on last year. He carried that on into this season and were it not for injuries he would have posted career highs. If you like Boston, Peverley is almost as good as the players listed above… Benoit Pouliot has shown a lot of improvement throughout the season. Granted, as the fourth overall pick in 2005 this was expected of him five years ago, but better late than never. He has 30 points in his last 58 games and shown great chemistry with Brian Rolston to give the Bruins a third scoring line down the stretch… Speaking of Rolston, he has 14 points in his last 12 games.
Could let you down: In terms of offense, the numbers weren't there for Lucic last year. He had just 12 points in 25 playoff games after posting 18 points in the prior 23. He was used in a role where offense wasn't his prime directive, and judging by the latest Stanley Cup engraving, Coach Claude Julien will probably use him in the same manner this time around, too. So while the PIM will be high, the points may be low.
Keep in mind: Nathan Horton (mild concussion) is still not skating and may not get into any playoff action at all, even if Boston goes all the way…Krejci led all players in postseason scoring last year with 23 points…In each of his last two postseasons, Chris Kelly's points-per-game average was higher than it was during the preceding regular season.
Florida Panthers (3)
The obvious: Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell
Dark horses: Mikael Samuelsson has a fantastic history in the postseason, last year aside. He had 49 points in 75 games from 2007 to 2010. He finished this campaign with 10 points in his last 13 games…Marcel Goc had 25 points in the last 40 games. He's actually outscored Versteeg in that span — Versteeg had 21 points. … Don't forget that Sean Bergenheim scored nine times for Tampa last year in 16 playoff games.
Could let you down: Tomas Kopecky has just seven points in 30 career postseason games…With one point in his last 11 games, Wojtek Wolski has disappeared. Then again, he was removed from the big line once Versteeg returned, and sticking him on a checking line is like putting Jay Rosehill on the power play. But it is what it is…
Keep in mind: In the last seven seasons, Jason Garrison has participated in exactly seven playoff games. That's all levels going back to junior. … Shawn Matthias was a healthy scratch twice down the stretch. He was pointless in his last 15.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
Dark horses: As the NHL's leading team in terms of offense despite Crosby missing three-quarters of the season, Pittsburgh has no shortage of options here. By the time your third round is complete, the bones of this roster will be picked clean. You'll be looking at the bottom of the stats sheet and wondering if Ben Lovejoy can reach back to his glory days as a seven-year-old in minor midget. … Actually, if you want a dark horse, look at Paul Martin. As long as Kris Letang is healthy, Martin isn't going to do much. So what you'll be doing is hedging on Letang's health. If Letang gets hurt, Martin is your man. Martin had 11 points in 20 games without Letang around, but just 16 in 53 with him. …Tyler Kennedy has 11 points in his last 14 games and is seeing a lot of time with Crosby.
Could let you down: Sullivan has been decent for the Penguins in the role that he's been given. And historically, his regular season numbers have been tremendous. But the playoffs? Not so much. Just 17 points in 44 career playoff games. … Staal gets pushed even further into a defensive role come playoff time, which makes sense considering he is their best option for that. But the result has been just 27 points in 67 career playoff games…
Keep in mind: Dupuis is riding a 17-game points streak. Yes, I said "Dupuis". … After beginning the campaign with just 30 penalty minutes in 73 games, Matt Cooke picked up 14 in his last nine. He was also pointless in his last five games, so perhaps he's re-turning over that leaf. … Neal missed the last two games with a lower body injury, but is apparently ready to go…
Philadelphia Flyers (5)
Dark horses: James van Riemsdyk is out with a foot injury, but could be back by Game 5 or so. He had seven points in 11 postseason games last year so if you like the Flyers to go deep he's a solid scoop in a late round. … Matt Read's six game winners and two shorthanded markers each tie him for the team lead. He's used in all situations, which is often "gold" when it comes to playoff performance.
Could let you down: This is the one team where I looked through the playoff history of every player and could find zero dirt. I feel like TMZ after checking out Wayne Gretzky. Squeaky clean. There will be one or two players on this roster who will let you down, especially if they're put out first round. But I'll be damned if I can give you a name.
Keep in mind: Briere missed the last three games with a back contusion, but was back in practice Monday. Still questionable for Game 1. But he's been a stud in the playoffs for Philly…Speaking of playoff studs — Claude Giroux has either led this team in playoff scoring, or has been Top 2, since joining the league. And that includes years in which he was a third-line rookie or sophomore. … The last time we saw Jagr in an NHL postseason, he tallied 15 points in 10 games for the Rangers. … Chris Pronger is out for the year (or longer) with a serious concussion, in the off chance that you're really behind on your hockey. Hey — how many times have you lost a playoff pool to that bubbly admin assistant who picked players based on names she knew? Well, that tidbit was for her.
New Jersey Devils (6)
The obvious: Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Adam Henrique and David Clarkson.
Dark horses: By no stretch of the imagination do I consider Travis Zajac a sure thing. Since returning for the second time from his injured Achilles, he has three points in seven games. That being said, he is playing with Kovalchuk and Parise. … Marek Zidlicky is often logging over 25 minutes per game. Although he has just eight points in 22 games with the Devils, these minute-munching power-play quarterbacks are often the players who really surge production-wise.
Could let you down: Henrique has just 10 points in his last 23 games. He's been playing with Steve Bernier and Alexei Ponikarovsky. With all due respect to Ponikarovsky's success in New Jersey, this is a mighty big downgrade from Kovalchuk and Parise. … Speaking of Poni, although he has performed well with this team, his playoff track record is spotty at best. Dismal showings with Toronto, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles — why should New Jersey be different? … Petr Sykora has 10 points in his last 31 playoff games — including a sweet gig on Sidney Crosby's line — after starting his NHL career with 59 in 84…
Keep in mind: Since the lockout, Elias has 39 points in 36 playoff contests. … In three postseason appearances with the Devils, Dainius Zubrus managed just one point in each of them. … Adam Larsson was a healthy scratch in five of the last six games and is probably not going to be in the playoff mix.
Washington Capitals (7)
The obvious: Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Marcus Johansson, Dennis Wideman, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.
Dark horses: In the 38 games that he has played since he was last made a healthy scratch, Mathieu Perreault tallied 23 points. He's a boom or bust pick. ... Joel Ward was outstanding for the Predators last season, posting 13 points in 12 games. That display is what earned him this contract with Washington in the first place. This is his "go" time. … Keith Aucoin dressed for the last 17 games and tallied nine points in them. He has 82 points in 83 career AHL playoff games.
Could let you down: Backstrom had a slow start, understandably so, upon returning from a concussion. He posted just two points in four games. And last year he managed just two assists in nine playoff games. … Wideman had just eight points in his last 28 games.
Keep in mind: Take away the one horrible playoff that Semin had (when he was Jaroslav Halak'ed), and he has actually been a pretty good postseason producer, notching 28 points in 30 games. ... Troy Brouwer's point totals have declined in each of his last three seasons (40, 36, 33) even though his games played have increased (78, 79, 82). He also has just 10 points in 43 career playoff games. In other words, take him in the first round.
Ottawa Senators (8)
The obvious: Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno
Dark horses: Kyle Turris may only have 29 points on the season, but he got those points in 49 games with Ottawa. He also tallied nine points in his last seven games and often plays with Daniel Alfredsson. … Foligno doesn't have an impressive playoff resume yet (two points in 10 games), but he plays playoff-style hockey and will finally get into the postseason as a key part of the team, rather than in a depth role.
Could let you down: Colin Greening's 37 points put him sixth on the team in scoring. But last year, in the AHL, he managed just five points in 23 games for Binghamton.
Keep in mind: I doubt that Bobby Butler gets into the lineup, but a couple of injuries and you just never know. He did have one four game stretch in February where he really clicked with Spezza, picking up six points. … Sergei Gonchar has 40 points in his last 55 playoff games. That's almost enough to make you forget that he only got five points in his last 19 contests.
- Kris Versteeg