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Superstars stepping up for final fantasy stretch

by Bill Dean
Teams are heading down the stretch with one thing on their minds. For a contender, it's a playoff berth. For the few teams out of the playoffs, it might be the thought of a high draft pick or a late surge that will spoil a contender's chance at a playoff appearance. Now is the time for stars to play like stars and lead their teams. Here's a look at some of the hottest players over the last month.

The Chicago Blackhawks know what is needed to succeed in the playoffs and two of their key players are leading the way. Linemates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been the two hottest players over the last month. Ranked first and second, respectively, since Feb. 8, Toews and Kane have combined for 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists), 9 points on the power play, 91 shots and a plus-12 each. They're tied for second in plus/minus and Toews has the points lead over the month's span with 22 points, compared to Kane's 20. Kane is riding a seven-game point-scoring streak while Toews had a nine-game streak from Feb. 18 to March 5. The duo, along with Patrick Sharp, is leading the surging Blackhawks at just the right time.

Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins is the third among forwards in scoring over the same span, with 8 goals, 9 assists, 41 penalty minutes, 32 shots and a league best plus-13. He's been skating with David Krejci and Nathan Horton to form a potent, bruising line. The Bruins are winless in their last three games, but Lucic has been one of the lone bright spots as they fight for the top seed in the East.

Toronto's Phil Kessel also has been heating up. Since joining Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin on the Leafs' top line, Kessel has 16 points, seven of which are on the power play (tied for first). He has 58 shots which is sixth in the League since Feb. 8 and is attempting to lead the Maple Leafs into the playoffs for the first time in six years.

One of the best defensemen in the past month has been Minnesota's Brent Burns. As the Wild fight for a playoff spot, Burns has done his best to lead the team to some wins. With 11 points, he is second behind St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo's 12 points. Also over that span, Burns has 28 penalty minutes and 38 shots on goal. If you can trade for him it would help your playoff chances as his offensive acumen can change a game.

Top Pick-Ups (owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! Leagues)

1. Steve Ott, C, Stars (18 percent) -- Ott finds himself on the third line in Dallas yet always makes his presence felt. Not only does he contribute in penalty minutes (164), but he has a scorer's touch with 10 goals and 26 points. He also finds time on the power play, with 8 points on the man-advantage, and he gets his fair share of shots (104) on a team with stars Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson and Brenden Morrow. He has 21 penalty minutes in the last four games, so if you need help, it doesn't hurt to add this bruiser.

2. Tyler Kennedy, LW, Penguins (14 percent) -- Kennedy, along with linemates Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz, has had to take on a bigger part of the team's offense due to injuries to stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He's done an admirable job, with 33 points and 188 shots. In the last six games, he has 4 points, 22 shots and is a plus-3. With new additions James Neal and Alex Kovalev on the top line with Mark Letestu, the pressure should be off the Staal line, allowing them to face second- and third-pair defensemen.

3. Martin Erat, RW, Predators (11 percent) -- One of the hotter players in the NHL, Erat has 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) in his last 24 games and is a plus-4. He is on the top line with David Legwand and Joel Ward and enjoys a lot of time on the power play (13 points). For the season, he has 40 points, 99 shots and is a plus-13.

4. Andrew MacDonald, D, Islanders (10 percent) -- The young defenseman generally is paired with Travis Hamonic (11 points, plus -5 and 62 penalty minutes since Feb. 5) to form quite a formidable duo. MacDonald has 8 points in his last nine games, is a plus-7 with 2 points on the power play and 12 shots in that span. He has 26 points on the season and contributes in penalty minutes (35) and power-play points (12).

5. Al Montoya, G, Islanders (23 percent) --
Montoya has been an excellent addition as the Isles have had a hard time keeping healthy goalies. In 11 games, he is 6-2-2, with a 2.02 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. The former Ranger and Coyote has looked great in the crease and would be a nice addition for your fantasy team.

Offensive Schedule Strength
RANK TEAM 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20
1 vs. MIN Off vs. COL Off vs. PHX Off Off
2 vs. SJS Off Off @DAL Off Off @PHX
3 @TOR Off Off @MTL Off @OTT Off
4 Off @CBJ Off @NSH Off @TOR Off
5 Off @FLA Off @ATL Off @DAL Off
6 Off @OTT Off Off Off Off vs. NYR
7 Off @MTL @DET Off @NJD Off Off
8 Off Off vs. WAS @CBJ Off @NSH Off
9 Off Off vs. STL Off Off @LAK vs. CGY
10 Off vs. NYI Off Off vs. MTL Off @PIT
11 Off @BUF vs. TOR Off vs. NYI Off Off
12 Off vs. CAR Off Off Off vs. ATL vs. NSH
13 Off Off @VAN @CGY Off @EDM Off
14 Off vs. LAK Off vs. BOS Off vs. DET @BUF
15 @CHI @DAL Off vs. MIN Off vs. STL Off
16 Off vs. SJS Off vs. CHI Off vs. PHI Off
17 Off @NSH Off vs. STL Off vs. ANA Off
18 Off @CGY Off @EDM @VAN Off vs. CHI
19 Off vs. BOS Off vs. DET Off @MIN vs. NJD
20 Off vs. ATL Off @OTT vs. WAS Off @CBJ
21 Off vs. WAS Off vs. TBL @NYR Off @MIN
22 Off vs. PHI Off vs. TOR Off vs. NYI Off
23 @VAN Off Off @SJS Off vs. CBJ vs. MTL
24 Off @NYR Off Off @CAR @FLA Off
25 Off Off @ANA @LAK Off @SJS Off
26 Off vs. PHX Off vs. COL Off Off @ANA
27 Off @NJD Off vs. PHI Off @BUF Off
28 Off Off Off vs. PHX Off vs. COL Off
29 Off vs. PIT Off vs. NJD Off vs. TBL Off
30 vs. TBL Off @CAR @FLA Off vs. BOS Off

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