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The Opening Faceoff: Playoff dynamite

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com

See me ride out of the sunset
On your color TV screen
Out for all that I can get
If you know what I mean
Women to the left of me
And women to the right
Ain't got no gun
Ain't got no knife
Don't you start no fight
'Cause I'm T.N.T., I'm dynamite
and I'll win the fight
I'm a power load
watch me explode
I'm dirty, mean and mighty unclean
I'm a wanted man
Public enemy number one
Understand
So lock up your daughter
Lock up your wife
Lock up your back door
And run for your life
The man is back in town
So don't you mess me 'round
'Cause I'm T.N.T. I'm dynamite
and I'll win the fight
I'm a power load
watch me explode

-- T.N.T., AC/DC

If ever there was one band that perfectly encapsulated the raw power and savage beauty of hockey, especially postseason hockey, that band is hard-rock heroes AC/DC.

AC/DC's extensive catalog, featuring over-the-top guitar riffs, thundering bass lines, pounding back beats and vocals that cover the gamut from high-pitched wails to guttural groans, is the perfect soundtrack for a game that, at its apex, is played in a fast-and-furious manner.

Plus, the boys in the band look like hockey players, even though they hail from that Australia. Come on, think about it.

Can't you see guitarist Angus Young as a whirling dervish, a Theo Fleury type. Brian Johnson's got a little Ryan Smyth in him, and it's not just the hairdo. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has got a little Brendan Witt in him, playing his guitar with that same economical, yet aggressive, style that Witt uses on the ice. Bassist Cliff Williams pounds away on his bass the same way Alex Ovechkin pounds pucks at opposing goalies. And Phil Rudd, the drummer, runs the whole AC/DC sound with a primal aggression that calls to mind the way Scott Stevens played the game. 

As the season enters its final sprint, CTN has started to see more and more playoff-hockey style games being played across the NHL. What is playoff-style hockey you ask? It is the no-quarter-given, no-quarter-asked style that permeates the winner-take-all portion of the NHL season. It is the blood-pounding, body-sacrificing, win-at-all-costs atmosphere that defines players.

Those that can handle the crucible of physical and mental stress tend to flower as the winter turns to spring and the games become more important. Those that can't fade into the background as the both the temperature and the stakes climb throughout the spring.

Anyone that has read one entry of Crashing the Net knows which players appeal to CTN's sensibilities. That's right, the players that flower in the hand-to-hand battles that dominate late-season games, the players that will accept nothing less than a win, no matter the cost to body or spirit.

And AC/DC's T.N.T captures that mindset brilliantly. These postseason performers will win the fight and they are power loads. They will explode with brilliant performances in the postseason and, in the process, become Public Enemy No. 1. And, the hockey world will love them for it.

This week, the Opening Faceoff looks at 25 men that have the potential to live up to AC/DC's T.N.T image. 

The Opening Faceoff

To keep the list manageable, CTN only considered players from the top nine teams in each conference.

Not every one of those teams is represented and some team have several entries, like the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, who used a collection of sandpapery players to pry the Stanley Cup away from the Ottawa Senators.

The players that made this list are the ones, in CTN's mind, that either have a skill set and a mindset that is ideally suited for the playoffs or they have the capacity to not only take their game to a higher level, but change its very nature to answer the difficult questions presented through a long postseason run

Clearly, there are more than 25 players in the NHL who have the ability and willingness to embrace the postseason grind and become larger than life with their performances. CTN would love to hear some of your nominees and publish the in next week's Penalty Box segment. So, put your list together and send it to roarkeblog@nhl.com. CTN looks forward to hearing from you.

Here is CTN's list, in alphabetical order:

Stu Barnes is the Dallas Stars' best faceoff man and penalty-killing forward.  Watch Stu Barnes highlight video
Stu Barnes, Dallas -- Nearly a third of Barnes' 28 playoff goals have been game-winners. He is also the Stars' best faceoff man, capable of winning those big defensive-zone draws at the end of close games. He is the team's best penalty-killing forward.

Alex Burrows, Vancouver -- Burrows has not only found his scoring touch, but also the ability to deliver clutch goals. He has three shorthanded goals and three game-winning goals. Additionally, he is a natural agitator, capable of winding up an opponent and forcing a loss of focus. He has a little Claude Lemieux in him, which is meant as a compliment.

Todd Bertuzzi, Anaheim -- Healthy throughout this season, Bertuzzi is starting to slowly return to the board-banging, hard-cycling game that defined the early portion of his career in Vancouver. When he is playing that style of game, he is almost impossible to handle and wears on opposing D-men, especially in a long series.

Sergei Brylin, New Jersey -- Simply put, this man is never flustered, appearing almost robotic in carrying out his duties. He has not been utilized as aggressively by new coach Brent Sutter, but Brylin has the skills and temperament that come to the fore in the postseason. He can kill penalties, he plays the role of a shutdown winger and he can be effective on the power play. Brylin is also a nice faceoff insurance policy from the wing in crucial draw situations.

Cleary
Dan Cleary, Detroit -- It took Cleary a few years and a few teams to final figure out his game, but he found that match in Detroit, playing for a coach in Mike Babcock who understands him and deploys him in situations where Cleary can succeed. Babcock likes his players to play the game "greasy," and Cleary has embraced, adding some sandpaper to his arsenal and going to the net strong. When he returns from his broken jaw -- likely with about five games left in the regular season -- he should be like a lion let out of a cage.

Mike Commodore, Ottawa -- All this mop-topped defenseman does is play deep into the playoffs. In his first run, he lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, authoring one of the most exciting coming-out stories in a long time. Two years later, he reversed that Game 7 result, winning a title with Carolina. Now Ottawa has gone out and procured his services at the deadline, hoping he has another long playoff run in him. CTN isn't going to bet against this fundamentally sound, physical defenseman.

Kris Draper, Detroit -- This veteran is the personification of the type of player you want come playoff time when the devil is in the details. Draper does all the little things right, making for the perfect big picture. There is nobody the Wings would rather see in the faceoff circle with a big draw on the line. He kills penalties and is a checking-line whiz, as well. And he can score the big goal with stunning regularity. Plus he is physically durable and mentally unflappable. In essence, he is the perfect playoff warrior.

No stage, however large or small, rattles the New York Rangers' Chris Drury's focus. Watch Chris Drury show his on ice focus
Chris Drury, Rangers -- Drury has won every where he has gone because he has the focus that only the true greats can generate. No stage, not the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old or the Stanley Cup Final as a 20-something, is big enough to rattle Drury's single-minded vision. His mental acuity allows him to process any situation, no matter the import. And that is before we even talk about his all-world skill set.

Paul Gaustad, Buffalo -- Gaustad has grown up on a Buffalo team that has gone deep into the playoffs on a regular basis. He has learned his lessons well from the more veteran players on the roster and is now ready to begin assuming his own leadership role. His high-energy, relentless forechecking style is perfect for the game usually played in the postseason. Defenseman hate to see him bearing down as they clear the zone as they know they will pay a cumulative price throughout the series.

Jarome Iginla, Calgary -- Go back and watch the 2004 Calgary-Tampa Bay Final series and check out everything that Iginla did in that series. He did everything but win the actual trophy. Then check out the fight between him and Vincent Lecavalier late in that series. CTN rests his case.

Mike Komisarek, Montreal -- This young man hits everything that moves. That willingness to bang bodies pays dividends in a long series, wearing on opponents and slowing them down in their willingness to chase after 50-50 pucks or venture into the high-traffic areas of importance in the offensive zone. Komisarek is like a body puncher in boxing, using shots to the body to take away the legs of his opponent in a long series. He also is fearless in blocking shots, a skill that comes in unbelievably handy when it comes to playoff success.

Laperriere
Ian Laperriere, Colorado -- Laperriere is that classic skilled agitator that can turn a series on its head with a well-placed word or a well-timed hit. But Laperriere is more than just your run-of-the-mill, fourth liner. He has a modicum of offensive skill and has a penchant for getting those garbage goals that often spell the difference in low-scoring, tight-checking playoff hockey. Remember the success Jeff Cowan had for Vancouver last season, scoring a pair of clutch goals? Laperriere is capable of doing the same.

Martin Lapointe, Ottawa -- Every coach he has had has raved about this player's leadership abilities. Ottawa's Bryan Murray thought so much of him that he went out at the trade deadline and swung a deal to bring him in to an already veteran-laden, playoff-tested group. That alone should speak to how valuable Lapointe is. He is one of those rare players that is able to keep his head in even the most dire situations, lending a calming influence that all successful teams must have. He is simply, the calm in the storm. That calmness also translates on the ice where he usually saves his best performances for the biggest games.

John Madden, New Jersey -- The Devils' shutdown center plays every game like it is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Therefore, actual playoff games don't seem to faze Madden, who brings a narrow focus to bear every time he steps on the ice. He had 16 points in the Devils' 24-game run to their last Cup. This year, he is on pace for his best-ever offensive season. But Madden's true value rests in his ability to shut down the No. 1 center and the emotional intensity he brings to that room every night.

McLaren
Kyle McLaren, Sharks -- A classic shutdown defenseman, McLaren is not shy about using his body to intimidate opposing forwards. Like Komisarek, McLaren has the ability to wear on opposing forwards as a series drags on. He also is not shy about blocking shots, putting his body in front of at least one goal-bound shot per game. But McLaren also has some offensive acumen and has topped the 20-point plateau four times in his career.

Willie Mitchell, Vancouver -- The Canucks signed Mitchell as a free agent before the start of last season because they wanted a solid defensive presence that could protect and keep clean the area around Roberto Luongo's crease. Some of Mitchell's effectiveness has been compromised by injury, but when healthy, he is a consummate defensive defenseman. His inspired play in Minnesota's improbable run to the Western Conference Finals in 2002-03 is the textbook example of what Mitchell can bring to a postseason run.

Travis Moen, Anaheim -- Ask any Western Conference forward who they fear having to face off against across a series of games and Moen will be at the top of many lists. He is unrelenting in his commitment to shutting down opposing top lines and is also an aggressive and accomplished penalty killer. A prairie farm boy, Moen plays the game with a simple North-South intensity that seems ideal for the conservative playoff game. Now, he has developed an instinct for scoring the clutch goal, which makes him a scary proposition for sure.

The Ducks' Chris Pronger is one of the NHL's fiercest hitters. Chris Pronger video
Chris Pronger, Anaheim -- You enter the offensive zone with speed at your own peril when Pronger is patrolling the ice. That maxim was made clear throughout Anaheim's run to the crown last year. Yes, some of his hits were viewed as over the top -- including two offenses that merited suspensions -- but he is a true game-changing hitter that can turn a contest on its ear with the application of physical force. Tellingly, Pronger can also change a game in the attacking zone. In each of the past two seasons, Pronger has played to a virtual point-per-game average.

Gary Roberts, Pittsburgh -- The veteran Penguin forward has been sidelined since Dec. 29 after breaking his leg. But he is nearing a return to playing form and the Pens hope to get him back for what they envision to be a long playoff run. Roberts knows what it takes to make a long run, having gone on epic playoff journeys with the Flames and Maple Leafs. He understands the physical, emotional and mental toll a deep spring run will exact and he has aced the test. Now, he can impart his knowledge to the young Pens.

Jason Smith, Philadelphia -- Look at Jason Smith's face. Look at the two black eyes, the nick along the bridge of the nose. Notice the past wounds that have turned into telling scars. Smith's face is one that screams about the price to be paid to get to the Promised Land. Now picture that face with a playoff beard, thick and unmanageable, and you have an idea of the face that will give more than a few Eastern Conference snipers poise as the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs play out.

Ryan Smyth, Colorado -- The New York Islanders mortgaged the future at last year's trade deadline, obtaining Smyth from the Oilers with the belief that the player owned the unique combination of physical and mental skills necessary to not only get the Islanders into the playoffs, but propel them deep into the tournament. That plan did not pan out as the Isles lost in the first round. But the team's assessment of Smyth was spot on. They don't call him Captain Canada for nothing, after all. His crease-crashing ways result in the dirty goals that become the currency of playoff success.

Maxime Talbot, Pittsburgh -- A relative newcomer to the postseason, Talbot has not played enough second-season games to develop a playoff reputation yet. But when you watch him play the game now -- legs churning, mouth engaged -- as one of the Penguins' energy guys and you see a player that can influence a series. Talbot's playoff Q rating goes up even more if he remains an option to play on Pittsburgh's top two lines. Regardless, the high rate at which is motor idles favors his chances to break out in the postseason.

Ward
Aaron Ward, Boston -- There is a reason that Ward has won three Stanley Cups in his career. It's because he will do anything in his power to win. In 2006, while with the Carolina Hurricanes, Ward put aside concerns about a concussion and played in his team's Game 7 victory against Edmonton, scoring a goal in the process. After the game, Ward said nothing -- absolutely nothing -- would stop him from playing in Game 7. That bulldog mentality has served Ward well throughout his 78-game playoff career.

Shea Weber, Nashville
-- Weber has been a postseason star at every level. He played 54 playoff games in three years with Kelowna and scored 34 points in his last 35 postseason games there. In the 2004 Memorial Cup, he was a point-a-game player for the Rockets. He has already played for Canada at both the junior and senior levels despite being just 22 years old. So, he has the tools necessary to embrace hockey's biggest stage. It is just a matter of when he will do so. CTN thinks this year is as good as any other.


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