After previewing the Eastern Conference players that need to step up in the playoffs to give their team a better chance to win the Stanley Cup yesterday, today the focus shifts to the Western Conference, where the winners of the last four Cups (Los Angeles and Chicago) reside.
Dallas Stars: Patrick Sharp
With Tyler Seguin still sidelined, the three-time champion and first year Dallas forward needs to lead the way for this group that has yet to experience team success. Sharp has been through these battles numerous times in the past and if he can up his game – as he did in Chicago – the Stars have a chance to emerge in the West.
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott
Elliott wasn’t even the lead dog in St. Louis all season, but Jake Allen is still on the road back to the ice, so everything falls on Elliott’s shoulders this season. If he’s ever going to cement himself as a No. 1 in this league, this is Elliott’s shot. The Blues are sleepers and their goalie needs to have a coming out party in this year’s playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks: Not Toews and Kane
If Chicago is to win the Cup again this year, they’re going to need the guys that have contributed all year to keep doing the same in the playoffs. Calder Trophy favourite Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Teuvo Teravainen have all been steady contributors all season and if they maintain that going forward, the Blackhawks could make it four Cups in seven years.
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty
Alternating Stanley Cup wins with Chicago over the last four years, the Kings know what it takes to get the job done and Doughty is essential to making that happen. Outstanding in both ends, the standout defensemen can shift the fate of games in numerous ways and if this team gets hot, watch out.
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
This situation is similar to what Elliott is facing in St. Louis, as Frederic Anderson actually played a couple more games than Gibson this season, but is currently sidelined, leaving the reins to the American. The 22-year-old can make this his job for the next five years with a strong outing in the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
“Big Joe” has enjoyed a bounce back year for the Sharks and will need to maintain that strong play if San Jose has any chance to move forward in the playoffs. The former first-overall pick might have bought himself a few more years (if he wants them) with his play this season, but those fond thoughts will evaporate if he lays an egg here.
Nashville Predators: James Neal
Neal broke the 30-goal plateau for the first time since his 40-goal campaign in Pittsburgh this year and if the perennial playoff disappointments from Music City USA are going to move forward, he needs to be a constant scoring threat from the outset. Scoring has always been an issue for the Preds in the past and Neal has to do his part to ensure that doesn’t happen again this year.
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise & Ryan Suter
Minnesota’s big money acquisitions from a couple years ago are the keys to the Wild pulling off an upset in the opening round and perhaps pushing forward. Parise is the team’s best offensive player and Suter is their horse on the blue line. Both need to elevate their games if this team is to have any shot against Dallas.