is ready to defend his Stanley Cup.
The captain of the defending champion enters the opening round of the playoffs on a roll. Crosby earned a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy on Sunday when he scored twice as part of a five-point night against the New York Islanders
. His 51 goals are a career-high; his 109 points -- including 12 in four games last week -- earned him a tie for second place with Alex Ovechkin
in the NHL scoring race.
Crosby has 15 points in his last five games despite being blanked in Pittsburgh's 1-0 loss at Atlanta on Saturday. There's no question that he's ready to begin the job of bringing another Cup back to Mellon Arena.
Five up --
Five other players who've are hot going into the playoffs:
Nicklas Backstrom --
Ovechkin gets most of the attention in Washington, but Backstrom very quietly finished off his first 100-point season on Friday night with his third three-point game of the week. His 101 points include a career-high 33 goals, including a pair against Atlanta on Friday.
Jimmy Howard --
Detroit's rookie goaltender capped a memorable first NHL season by going 3-0-0 in the last week of the season, including a 1-0 shootout victory at Columbus followed by a 3-2 overtime victory at Chicago that denied the Hawks first place in the West. He went 13-0-2 in his last 15 games and ended up with 37 victories and a 2.26 goals-against average.
Henrik Sedin --
The Vancouver Canucks
' first Art Ross
Trophy winner won the scoring title with flourish -- he set up four goals, three by twin brother Daniel, in the Canucks' season-finale on Saturday night. Henrik proved he could score without Daniel (during his twin's 18-game absence with a broken foot) or with him (Daniel still had 29 goals and 85 points, including 5 goals and 7 points last week).
Martin Brodeur --
Whatever slump Brodeur might have been in appears to be over. He went 3-1-0 last week while allowing just five goals and earning his League-leading ninth shutout, Sunday's 2-1 win over Buffalo was his 45th of the season, another League high.
Evgeni Nabokov --
Brodeur needed win No. 45 to break a tie with Nabokov, whose goaltending helped San Jose earn the top seed in the West. He went 3-0-0 last week and stopped 95 of 100 shots, capping his week with a 3-2 shootout win over Phoenix on Saturday.
And two non-playoff participants ...
Eric Staal --
Carolina's captain ended the season with 5 goals and 4 assists in three games, including a 3-goal, 2-assist effort in Carolina's home finale against Montreal, which were looking to clinch a playoff spot at the time.
Steven Stamkos --
The Tampa Bay Lightning
missed the playoffs, but not because Stamkos didn't produce. The No. 1 selection in the 2008 Entry Draft completed his second NHL season with 5 goals and 7 points in the Bolts' last four games to become the third-youngest player ever to reach 50 goals. He earned a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy by matching Crosby with 51.
Five down --
Five players who aren't:
Jaroslav Halak --
Halak went from brilliant one week to ordinary the next -- and that's something the Montreal Canadiens
can't afford against the Washington Capitals
when the playoffs start this week. Halak went 0-1-2 while allowing 11 goals on 102 shots -- and was barely good enough to get the Canadiens into the playoffs.
Jonathan Quick --
Quick carried the Los Angeles Kings
to their first playoff berth since 2002, but he's not playing well as the playoffs begin. Quick was 0-0-2 last week, allowing five goals on 43 shots, and is 0-3-3 since his last victory on March 22.
John Madden --
Chicago could have used some scoring from Madden, who went without a point in the Hawks' last nine games and hasn't scored a goal in his last 14, during which he went minus-3.
Kris Letang --
The Penguins can't afford to have Letang's offense disappear in the playoffs the way it did down the stretch in the regular season, He went without a point in Pittsburgh's last 11 games and has no goals in his last 30.
Valtteri Filppula --
The Detroit Red Wings
have been sizzling down the stretch, but it's not because of any offensive help from Filppula. He went without a point in the Wings' last six games and was minus-6 in that span.
Injuries, news and notes
Ottawa's hopes took a hit last week when forward Alex Kovalev
was sidelined with a torn knee ligament that will require surgery. Defenseman Filip Kuba
, out since late March, had back surgery last week and won't be ready for Pittsburgh. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik
sat out Sunday with a lower-body injury sustained the night before. Matt Cooke
also sat out Sunday with a possible concussion. However, the Penguins hope to get forward Chris Kunitz
(upper body) bad for the playoffs. ... Buffalo forward Drew Stafford
left Saturday's game with a concussion, didn't play Sunday and may not be ready for the start of the playoffs. ... Boston defenseman Mark Stuart
had finger surgery last week and the team says he's likely to miss the first two games of the playoffs. Another defenseman, Andrew Ference
, missed the Bruins' two weekend games with groin problems that have bothered him all season. ... Colorado center Matt Duchene
left Friday's game with a torso injury and sat our Sunday. The Avs hope their prized rookie will be ready for the playoffs. ... Vancouver forward Ryan Johnson
will miss at least a month with a broken foot sustained last week ... Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist
sat out Saturday's game with an upper-body injury, but the Predators expect him to be ready for Friday's playoff opener.
Buffalo's Thomas Vanek
returned with a bang. He missed six games with a lower-body injury, then scored four times against Ottawa on Saturday in his first game back. The Sabres sat center Tim Connolly
(foot) and forwards Jochen Hecht
(upper-body) and Patrick Kaleta
(thumb) for the final weekend but hope they'll be ready to go against Boston. ... Phoenix center Robert Lang
hopes to be able to play against Detroit this week after missing the last month of the season with a lower-body injury.
Still out --
Chicago will start the playoffs without defensemen Brian Campbell
(broken collarbone) and Kim Johnsson
(concussion). Neither is expected to play in the first round. ... Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg
had surgery on his right arm and wrist last week and likely won't play again until the fall ... Montreal will be without forward Glen Metropolit
and defenseman Paul Mara
in the playoffs due to shoulder injuries. ...
The week ahead --
It's vacation time for the bottom 14 in the regular-season standings. But for the top eight teams in each conference, it's time to grow those playoff beards and dream of skating with the Stanley Cup.
This year's first-round schedule is about as player-friendly as possible. There are no back-to-backs in any series and no long breaks.
Games to watch:
Ottawa at Pittsburgh (April 14) --
The Penguins open defense of their Stanley Cup by facing the Senators in the first round for the third time in four years (7 p.m. ET, Versus/CBC).
Detroit at Phoenix (April 14) --
Playoff hockey returns to the desert for the first time since 2002 when the Coyotes take the ice (10 p.m. ET, Versus/TSN). The problem -- they'll be facing the defending Western Conference champion, who closed the season on a major roll.
Nashville at Chicago (April 16) --
The United Center will be full -- and loud -- as the last of the eight first-round series gets under way (8:30 p.m. ET, TSN2/Versus joins in progress).
Boston at Buffalo (April 17) --
The Bruins, who play a lot of Saturday matinees, should be right at home when the puck drops at 1 p.m. (NBC/CBC) at the HSBC Arena for Game 2 of their series.
New Jersey at Philadelphia (April 18) --
The Flyers come back up the New Jersey Turnpike for Game 3 (6 p.m. ET, TSN) -- their first home game since ending the regular season with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Rangers to make the playoffs.