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Morrow, Brown lead Western hit parade

by Mike G. Morreale

There are times in the heat of battle when a big hit can provide the impetus a team needs to begin a momentous charge.

Take, for instance, Dallas left wing Brenden Morrow.

In Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series last season against San Jose, Morrow had, perhaps, the biggest hit of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he unloaded on Milan Michalek late in the third period of a 1-1 game. Morrow, who was credited with 19 hits in the game, went on to score the game-winning goal 9:03 into the fourth overtime to send Dallas to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

Morrow might have been considered the king of the NHL hit parade last season. Not only did he finish fourth in the League with an average of 3.2 hits per game in the regular season, but he also was third in the playoffs with 5 hits per contest. Morrow was the only player to finish among the League's top five in the regular season and playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, who finished second in the League with 258 hits in 2006-07, topped the NHL last season with 311 pops in 78 regular-season games.

Here is a look at some of the big hitters within Western Conference:

1. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles -- The No. 13 pick of the 2003 Entry Draft has improved each season and, in the process, given emerging star Anze Kopitar the necessary room to create scoring chances each shift. In 2005-06 Brown had 14 goals, 14 assists and 175 hits. He improved his offensive numbers the following season, posting 17 goals and 46 points to go along with his 258 hits. In 2007-08, he had career highs with 33 goals, 27 assists, 60 points and, of course, a League-leading 311 hits. It's interesting to note that despite Brown's aggressive approach to the game, the Kings were the second-fewest penalized team in the NHL last season, with 11.6 penalty minutes per game.

2. Brenden Morrow, Dallas -- Morrow, the fifth player to wear the "C" since the Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993, certainly made up for lost time after collecting 104 hits in 40 games in 2006-07. The human missile had 260 hits in 82 regular-season starts last season and undoubtedly will play a major physical role on the club's top line with Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen in 2008-09. Morrow also had five fighting majors last season and 105 penalty minutes. In addition to his ferocious demeanor away from the puck, Morrow has become a prolific offensive force, as evidenced by his 32 goals and 74 points in the regular season and 9 goals and 15 points in 18 playoff games.

3. David Backes, St. Louis
-- The 24-year-old Backes, the Blues' second-round selection (No. 62) in 2003, recorded career highs in goals (13), assists (18) and points (31) last season. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 216-pound forward finished fifth in the League with 240 hits in 72 games. On July 1, Vancouver signed Backes to a three-year offer sheet, but St. Louis matched, meaning Backes will remain in St. Louis through 2010-11 and likely will see second or third-line duty.

4. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary -- In addition to consistently producing on offense and leading the team in ice time (26:25) each game, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman is a physical presence in front of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Over the past three seasons, Phaneuf has accrued 159 points and 594 hits in 243 games. The 194 body checks thrown last season ranked No. 16 in the League. Phaneuf also tied for the team lead with 88 blocked shots.

5. Stephane Robidas, Dallas -- The 5-foot-11, 189-pound defenseman joins teammates Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott on the Western Conference hit list and with good reason. Robidas traditionally has packed plenty of pop along the blue line in his eight NHL seasons. After collecting 195 hits in 2005-06 and 197 in 2006-07, Robidas amassed a career-high 220 in 82 games in 2007-08. He finished in a ninth-place tie with Alex Ovechkin for most hits in the NHL last season, when he also notched career highs with 9 goals and 26 points. Robidas really came into his own during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, averaging 25:31 of ice time following injuries to Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher.
6. Steve Ott, Dallas -- No, do not adjust your computer -- Ott has earned mention as the third Dallas player to make the cut on the Western Conference hit parade. After compiling just 41 hits in 19 games in 2006-07, he had 182 in 73 starts last season to finish No. 19 in the League. He also led his team with 147 penalty minutes and likely will play a key role as a third- or fourth-line forward this season.

7. Brent Seabrook, Chicago -- Seabrook was one of the more versatile performers for the Blackhawks in just his third season in the League, leading his team's defensive unit with 23 assists and finishing tied with Duncan Keith in points (32). He also was a bit ornery, totaling 90 penalty minutes and 167 hits in 82 games while averaging 21:29 of ice time per game. He is among the team's top three defensemen with Keith, his partner last season, and newly acquired Brian Campbell in the mix.

8. Dan Hamhuis, Nashville -- He wasn't nicknamed "Hammer" by Predators fans for nothing. It's expected Hamhuis, who has a propensity for using the hip check on more than one occasion over the course of a game, will receive even more playing time this season after leading the team in minutes per game (22:43) in 2007-08. In his last three seasons with Nashville, the defenseman has registered 85 points and 397 hits in 243 games; he had a career-high 162 hits in 80 games last season.

9. Ruslan Salei, Colorado -- The 33-year-old defenseman can play a key role in just about any facet of the game, including the physical side, when he puts his 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame to good use. Salei, who was acquired from Florida in February, finished with 162 hits and 135 blocked shots in 82 games. The veteran of 11 NHL seasons, who had 24 assists and 30 points last season, averaged 22:26 of ice time. Salei also chipped in with five points in 10 playoff games. Salei also topped the Panthers with 192 hits and 147 blocks during the 2006-07 season.

10. Greg Zanon, Nashville -- The Predators defenseman not is only one of League’s finest body checkers, but also one of the best shot blockers. He was led the Predators and was eighth in the League last season with 176 blocked shots, and he was second to teammate Dan Hamhuis with 162 hits. Zanon had 189 blocked shots and 91 hits in 2006-07, his first full season in the NHL.

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