Top 8 Key Players to the NHL's Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay RW Nikita Kucherov

Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

With the qualifying and round robin round play of the Stanley Cup playoffs having been completed, now we have moved on to the NHL Playoff format that we are all familiar with.

24 teams started play in Toronto and Edmonton, but eight teams have already been sent packing, including the two teams who call the bubble cities home.

What makes the NHL playoffs such an exciting tournament is how one player can have such a huge impact on the game: a goaltender getting hot and turning into a brick, a forward scoring with seemingly every shot he puts on net, or a defenseman who is shutting down the key offensive threats of his opponents. One player finding his groove at the right time could be the difference between a team advancing in the playoffs or heading home.

So who are the most important players left in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs? We'll identify the most important player on each of the eight teams left in the Eastern Conference.


Philadelphia Flyers

Shayne Gostisbehere - D

Shayne GostisbehereNHL.com

Just a few years ago nobody thought Shayne Gostisbehere would be where is now. Gostisbehere scored 17 goals in the 2015-16 season, finishing as runner-up in Calder Memorial Trophy voting, which is awarded annually to the NHL Rookie of the Year. The defenseman went on to score 13 goals in the 2017-18 season, but in the two years since Gostisbehere has only scored 14 goals for the Flyers.

There was talk of trading Gostisbehere before the trade deadline, but the defenseman has had arthroscopic surgery on both knees, which made teams hesitant to pull the trigger on bringing him. It looks like Philadelphia will benefit from their patience with Gostisbehere, as he is now healthy for the playoff run. Gostisbehere notched two assists in the only round robin game he played in, which was a win over Tampa Bay.

The Flyers are loaded on offense and defense, so it's not like they need Gostisbehere to be a top-line defenseman. But, his presence will do wonders as adds to the tremendous depth that has helped Philadelphia to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. If Gostisbehere returns to the form he showed earlier in his career, it will be extremely tough to bounce the Flyers from the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita Kucherov - RW

Nikita KucherovNHL.com

Last year's playoffs were a nightmare for Tampa Bay, as the Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. A major reason for the meltdown by the Presidents Trophy winners was the disappearance of Nikita Kucherov, the league's MVP last season. Kucherov tallied just two assists and was suspended for Game 3 after boarding Markus Nutivaara in Game 2.

The Lightning again have drawn the Blue Jackets in the playoffs, but they are already found more success than last year. Tampa Bay won Game 1 3-2 in quintuple overtime, with Kucherov notching two assists in the victory. Prior to last year's playoff dud, Kucherov had scored 29 goals in 62 playoff games, so there's no question he can produce when the spotlight is on. With Kucherov engaged and creating scoring opportunities, it's going to be hard for the Lightning to be beaten four times in a seven-game series.

Washington Capitals

Braden Holtby - G

Braden HoltbyWashington Capitals G Braden Holtby Nick Wass/AP/Shutterstock

It would be easy to tag Alex Ovechkin as the most important player on the Washington Capitals, but the Capitals will need one player to step up even more this year. Goaltender Braden Holtby has had a rough go of it since leading Washington to the Stanley Cup two years ago. The goalie has averaged three goals per game allowed in each of the last two years, which just isn't going to cut it in the playoffs.

Holtby has shown some promise early in these playoffs at least, with his goals against average below two after two round robin games. The goaltending position got a little more complicated for the Capitals during the shutdown, as backup Ilya Samsonov was injured in an off-ice incident in Russia. That leaves rookie Vitek Vanecek as the backup, which means the Capitals likely won't pull Holtby if he is struggling, unless absolutely necessary.

Boston Bruins

Travis Pastrnak - RW

Travis Pastrnak Boston Bruins RW David PastrnakMaddie Meyer - Getty Images

The only thing that has slowed David Pastrnak down this year has been the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 70 games this year, Pastrnak potted 48 goals and dished out 47 assists, but he somehow wasn't named as finalist for this season's NHL MVP. Pastrnak certainly has something to prove, especially after two of the three MVP finalists have already been bounced from the playoffs.

The Bruins really struggled in the round robin, losing all three games to drop them to the fourth seed after finishing the regular season with the highest point total. It's no coincidence that Pastrnak didn't record a point in any of the three round robin games. Pastrnak has already started off Round 1 with a bang, recording a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win in overtime over the Carolina Hurricanes. If Boston wants to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, they'll need Pastrnak to channel his regular season form.

Carolina Hurricanes

Dougie Hamilton - D

Dougie HamiltonNHL.com

The Hurricanes took a serious hit in January when Dougie Hamilton suffered a broken leg. At the time many thought Hamilton's season was over, but we also had no idea how hard the COVID-19 pandemic would hit this country, pausing the NHL season for four months. Prior to the injury, Hamilton had scored 14 goals and was credited with 26 assists in 47 games.

Hamilton was able to return to the ice for Game 1 of Carolina's series against Boston, logging nearly 27 minutes of ice time in the double overtime loss. While Carolina does have a solid group of defenseman with guys like Jaccob Slavin and Jake Gardiner, they don't provide the same type of offensive skills that Hamilton does. If Hamilton is able to return to form quickly, the Hurricanes will push the team that swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

New York Islanders

Adam Pelech - D

Adam Pelech NHL.com

Much like Carolina, the New York Islanders have an injured defenseman returning who could make all the difference. In early January it was announced that Adam Pelech would miss the rest of the season due to an achilles injury. Luckily for Pelech the playoffs were delayed until August, allowing him extra time to recover.

Prior to Pelech getting injured, the Islanders were 28-11-3. Once Pelech as sidelined, the Islanders were just 10-13-7, and 0-3-4 in the seven games prior to the league shutdown. Had action not have been paused, the Islanders likely would have missed the playoffs.

The return of Pelech couldn't have come at a better time, as he'll be helping to try and slow down Alex Ovechkin and the potent Washington attack. Now that Pelech is bak to pair with Ryan Pulock and steady the blue line of the Islanders, New York has a lot better shot to upset the Capitals and move on in the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Seth Jones - D

Seth JonesColumbus Blue Jackets D Seth JonesAaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

The third, and final, returning defenseman on this list is Seth Jones. The seventh-year pro took a puck to the ankle in a game against Colorado in early February, resulting in a fractured ankle. Including the game Jones was injured in, Columbus lost seven straight games and won just three of their final 15 contests before the NHL shutdown.

The impact of Jones (when he is healthy) is immeasurable. In the five overtime thriller against Tampa Bay in Game 1, Jones was on the ice for 65 minutes. Jones gives the Blue Jackets a sense of calm on defense, something that was obviously missing when he was injured in February. Columbus can now field one of the best defensive combinations in the NHL, with 20-goal scorer Zach Werenski pairing with Jones on the blue line.

Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price - G

Carey Price YouTube.com

If Montreal is going to have any shot of taking down the top-ranked Philadelphia Flyers, they'll need goaltender Carey Price to stand on his head. Price and the Canadiens have already taken down one team from Pennsylvania this year, as Montreal defeated Pittsburgh in four games in the qualifying round, with Price allowing just 1.67 goals per game and saving nearly 95% of the shots Pittsburgh took in the series.

With the Canadiens being rather limited on offense, they'll desperately need Price to stand tall and keep them in the game. Having to carry the load isn't anything new for Price though, as he has led the NHL in minutes played in each of the last two years. While Philadelphia has a solid offense, with nine players scoring at least 10 goals this season, Price has shown before that he can take over a series and will his team to victory.

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Goff has a 5-3 O-U record on his passing yard props at Ford Field this season. While his average line at home on DraftKings is 247 yards, his average result is 277.1 passing yards. Prior to throwing for 250+ yards against the Jets at the Meadowlands in Week 15, he was 2-3 on his passing yards props on the road. His average line on DraftKings on the road was only 10 yards fewer heading into Week 15 yet he averaged a full 50 fewer yards per game (227). This shows a clear pattern that he is much more successful at hitting the over and much more efficient when playing in front of his home crowd. There are countless examples of patterns you can spot using this brand-new prop tool that are even more eye-popping than Goff’s numbers.

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Stay tuned for our future article on even more in-depth tips and tricks.

2022 World Cup Best Bets, Team Props, and Futures
2022 World Cup Best Bets, Team Props, and Futures

Picking up where they left off in 2018, the French National Team led by 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe have found their way back into the finals as they look to be the first back-to-back World Cup Champions since Brazil’s dominant runs in 1958 and 1962. Standing between that incredible feat for the defending champions is Argentina, who currently have their superstar, Lionel Messi, in top form. Messi is finding ways to create passes no one can see and he’s done it multiple times, assisting three goals (tied for the most) throughout the tournament. The legend is also scoring goals of his own and is tied with Kylian Mbappe (5 goals) for Golden Boot honors in this year’s World Cup. Regardless, soccer fans around the world are in for a treat on Sunday at 10:00 AM EST as two of the best players in the world face each other for their country’s World Cup glory.

After winning Group D, France defeated Poland in the Round of 16, England in the quarterfinals, and a strong Morocco team in the semis to advance to the Final. On the other side of the bracket, Argentina won Group C and dispatched Australia in the Round of 16. Messi and the Argentinians were then tested in the quarterfinals, needing a penalty shootout to defeat the Netherlands after blowing a late two-goal lead. Finally, Argentina played perhaps their best match of the tournament against Croatia in the semi-finals, winning 3-0. Now the stage is set for a blockbuster finale between two powerhouses featuring some of the top players in the world.

Note (from FanDuel Sportsbook): No team will play at home during Qatar's World Cup. For betting purposes, FanDuel explains that: “Home Team refers to the team listed first, Away Team refers to the second team listed.”

Argentina (-104) vs. France (-112)

Argentina Keys To Victory

Lionel Messi has played incredibly for Argentina throughout this World Cup. He is leaving opposing defenders in the dust, taking on multiple players at once, dragging them away from his teammates, which is opening up the field for his fellow goal scorers. Every time Messi has the ball at his feet, there seems to be more than one threat. Messi is playing just as well as he always has in 2022. He’s served his team as a playmaker and as a goal-scorer in Qatar. He’s also had some help from Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez who’s scored a handful of goals in this World Cup (including two in Argentina’s decisive victory over Croatia). If Alvarez and Messi are able to link up while on the attack, the depleted French defense and midfield could be in for some trouble.

France Keys To Victory

One of the biggest headlines heading into this World Cup Final is the return of French striker Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid star and winner of this year’s Ballon D’Or hurt his hamstring in one of France’s first practices soon after arriving in Qatar. He flew back to Madrid where he immediately completed his recovery work which was set at three weeks from the time of injury. Right now, Benzema is flying back to Doha and could be starting for France in the final. At the moment, France’s HC Didier Deschamps has declined to comment on whether or not he will be including KB9 in the starting lineup. France’s ball movement has been excellent throughout the tournament, but their key to victory against Argentina will be efficient defense. Over the last few games, France’s defense seems to have slowed down. Not only will they need to stop Messi, but they will need to turn defensive stops into counterattacks. Mbappe and Olivier Giroud (four goals thus far in the tournament) will need to be electric on offense and test the Argentinian keeper. Antoine Griezmann may be an x-factor for France as he has three assists in this World Cup and was inches away from scoring against Morocco.

Conclusion

It’s only fitting that Lionel Messi will finally hoist the World Cup trophy in his last World Cup match. Expect him to score a goal and lead his team to victory in a tightly contested battle.

The Pick: Argentina (-104)

World Cup Final Best Prop Bets

Kylian Mbappe: To Score Or Give Assist (+100)

Mbappé has been relatively quiet over France’s last few games. Still, he is the main wing on France’s team who is capable of breaking down defenses through his skillful technique and ridiculous speed. He currently is tied with Messi for the most goals in the 2022 World Cup. If he isn’t able to score in this game, then expect him to at least make an assist. For France to win this one, the 23-year-old will need to have a big game.

Lionel Messi: Anytime Goalscorer (+190)

Messi has stepped up his performance big time this World Cup. If you have watched Argentina play in this tournament, you know how crucial of a role Messi has played in the team’s success. He is tied for the most goals in the tournament with Mbappe and has a great chance of putting the ball in the net at some point during Sunday’s big match. This is a particularly great prop to target since Messi takes all of Argentina’s penalty shots and has converted four-of-five throughout the tournament.

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Calling every sports fan across the globe! The best month for all things sports is here: December. NFL and CFB are getting into the thick of things — I mean, we are finally not seeing Alabama and Clemson in the CFP, not to mention both the NBA and NHL are underway and college basketball just tipped off!

Despite all of these different sporting events going on, the World’s biggest Sporting event is down to the Semifinals, the World Cup.

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