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The Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin © DEVINEPORTRAITS


The unusual suspects While not entirely unaccustomed to sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Capitals sit at 116 points with only five games remaining in the schedule, thirteen more than the second-place Stars. If they maintain their pace,


they’ll set a franchise record for most points in a single season, a feat that will be thanks in no small part to the exceptional performances of team captain Alexander Ovechkin, goaltender Holtby and centreman Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ovechkin has notched 45 goals and 21 assists, while Holtby has amassed a league-leading 47 wins and Kuznetsov has tallied 75 points in only his third season. The prob- lem, as any Caps fan will attest, is that the team is known for failing to live up to expectations in the postseason. To get his team to shed their underachieving baggage, head coach Barry Trotz - who’s never made it past the second round him- self - will need his secondary players to chip in on a nightly basis. The Stars have been rising for the


better part of the past three seasons, but few pundits predicted their cur- rent second-rung placement on the league points ladder. They owe


80 The American


much of their success to the stellar play of their captain, Jamie Benn, who’s putting the finishing touches on a career-best season. His 40 goals and 47 assists are enough to earn him the second place in the points derby. The Stars’ output has been further bolstered by centreman Tyler Seguin’s 33 goals and 40 assists - eighth in the scoring race - but it’s the blue-collar work ethic that sets the Stars apart. The team-first, eve- ryone-does-his-share system is the cornerstone of coach Lindy Ruff’s hockey philosophy, and it’s built for postseason success. If the stars align - mind the pun - Benn and company will be extremely difficult to beat this spring. The Blues have clearly bought


in to head coach Ken Hitchcock’s defense-first, steady-does-it system of play, and although it hasn’t pro- pelled any of the team’s players to the top of the NHL points standings - Vladimir Tarasenko is fourteenth in scoring, with 36 goals and 31 assists - it has enabled the club to win con- sistently both at home (23-12-4) and on the road (23-11-5). Like the Stars, the Blues win by


committee, and this will need to continue in the playoffs if the team is to have any chance at a deep run.


One of the Blues’ regular season strengths is being able to rely on a dependable netminder tandem in the form of Jake Allen and Brian Elli- ott, who have inked 46 and 39 starts respectively throughout the regular season. However, history shows that goaltending duos rarely translate into the postseason. The Blues will look to one of their goalies to estab- lish himself as the starter. The Panthers will no doubt do their best to further the unex- pected in the postseason. Since veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo returned to the sunshine state in 2014, the Panthers have been on an upswing, but the team has had only two postseason appearances over the past decade and a half, and its roster - despite having a handful of veterans, namely Jaromír Jágr, Wil- lie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen - is on the young side, so wins won’t come easy. The overachieving Islanders


are sure to add to the unusual. The Isles have been entertaining fans on Long Island for a few seasons, play- ing a run-and-gun system that pro- vides edge-of-seat entertainment. Their return to relevancy sustained a setback last season, when they fell just short of the playoffs, but the team has since returned to its win- ning ways. Captain John Tavares leads the team with 29 goals and 32 assists, and exemplifies the don’t- take-no-for-an-answer mentality of the young club. The Islanders are unlikely to sweep any series, but goalie Jaroslav Halák will keep them in every game. If these storylines don’t offer enough potential for playoff specta- cle, there are still seven other teams to add to the fray. Don’t you just love this time of year?


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