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Duff: Things I think as playoffs draw near

by Brian Duff
The following are the opinions of this writer, and this writer only, and in no way represent the beliefs of those at the NHL Network. Any similar opinions expressed by other sources between now and the playoffs are purely coincidental.

Before we go any further, let me say this.

* I believe that Jonathan Bernier will be the Kings' starter when the playoffs begin. And how bizarre would that be given that Jonathan Quick is sitting on 39 wins, fourth best in the league.

* If Brian Elliott provides slightly above average goaltending, the Ottawa Senators, presumably in the 5-spot in the East, will win their first round matchup vs. the Atlantic Division runner-up.

* The Senators will enter the postseason having won 10 in a row, or at worst 9 of their last 10. They've currently won 5 in a row and have dates with Carolina, the Islanders, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo (whom they own) remaining.

* Tuukka Rask will win the Vezina Trophy … next season. He hasn't played enough games to win it, or the Calder this season, but it's hard to envision him not being the No. 1 guy in Boston next year, and he is very capable of stealing games this postseason if the Bruins make it, which they should. If you're thinking this comment flies in the face of something I wrote about Tim Thomas recently, you're partially right.

I acknowledged in that piece that Rask is phenomenal. I just really believed (maybe hoped more than believed) that a Bruins' late-season push would happen with Thomas in goal. It hasn't, and it's getting harder to imagine him not being pressured into waiving his no-trade clause for a better opportunity elsewhere next season. Since I'm open to hope, I hope he ends up in Philadelphia. And I hope his determination and passion returns to prominence in 2010-11, making him an instant fan favorite among the Orange Crush.

* Are the Red Wings still in the hunt for a ninth-straight Central Division crown?

Six points back of Chicago with six games to go (the Hawks have 7). One is hot (and faces Columbus three more times), the other is not, and just for kicks, the two will meet on the season's final day, in perhaps - a matinee on Madison - for all the marbles.

Can you imagine that?

* Could it be that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are waiting to deliver one last regular-season classic before a potential playoff rematch?

The Penguins host Washington Tuesday night. Crosby sits on 47 goals, Ovechkin on 46. They wouldn't both get 50, on the same night, for the other, and the whole hockey world to see, would they?

* 87 and 8 are two of just 12 players right now who have reached at least 30 goals in each of the past two seasons. Entering play on Tuesday, I looked at 34 players this season who I felt would have a good chance of hitting 30 by the end of play April 11.

Last year, 39 players attained that level.

If my projections are correct, 17 players (Stamkos, Gaborik, Burrows, Kopitar, Samuelsson, Hornqvist, Backstrom, J. Jokinen, H. Sedin, Kane, Stewart, Weiss, Penner, Moulson, Latendrese, Stempniak and Knuble) will end up as 30-goal men this season who weren't there a year ago, and 14 of them will be first-timers to 30 (Gaborik, Kopitar, and Knuble the exceptions).

These names and numbers remind us of how difficult it is to build a team, how signing players to long term deals may or may not benefit your franchise, and how much good fortune is involved in players being able to maintain their productivity year over year.

Of last year's 39 players who topped 30 goals, 22 of them seem destined to not repeat the feat. Eric Staal, Marian Hossa, Thomas Vanek, Evgeni Malkin, Simon Gagne, Jonathan Toews, Johan Franzen, Brad Boyes, Jason Arnott, Pavel Datsyuk, Jason Spezza, Alexander Frolov, Daniel Sedin, Patrik Elias, Mike Green, Shane Doan, Henrik Zetterberg, Devin Setoguchi, David Booth, David Backes, Bryan Little, and Scott Hartnell. Many of them have been injured. Many have other reasons. But as frustrating as this season may have been at times for each or all of them imagine how their GM's and coach's feel, having built and projected based on what was expected to happen.

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