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Defense is arguably the toughest position to predict – especially for the playoffs. You never know if a team is going to go in shutdown mode or completely overhaul their powerplay. Often times, success will come out of unexpected performers like last year’s Dustin Byfuglien and Dennis Wideman.
Lubomir Visnovsky had the pleasure of being the top scoring defenseman this season and as hot as the Ducks are going into the playoffs, it would be tough not to back him. However, Lubo’s one knock would be that he hasn’t played in a playoff game since the 2001-02 season with the Kings. Don’t expect playoff inexperience to play a part here but Nashville doesn’t exactly create an easy opponent. Nicklas Lidstrom has been one of the most consistent playoff performers throughout his career and could easily be considered the top defenseman available. Ehrhoff quarterbacks one of the deadliest powerplays in the playoffs and a similar case can be made for Dan Boyle who had 14 points in 15 playoff games last season. If you like Lidstrom, you have to like Rafalski, who has been a superb playoff performer in his time with the Red Wings.
This second tier is comprised of regular season studs but may not be facing the most optimistic playoff matchups. The Anaheim-Nashville series will be grueling but if anyone can come out on top, it’s Shea Weber. The Coyotes may be the biggest underdog in the West but his regular season cannot go ignored; however, be wary of his 5 points over the last 18 regular season games. Wisniewski enjoyed a career year with the Habs this season but it may be a stretch to count on him to take the Habs to the second round. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were no doubt solid playoff performers last season but they have a mountain to climb in the first round.
Tier three is kicked off by Kris Letang who had a stellar first half but fell like a rock amidst all of the Penguins’ injuries. Add that to the first round matchup vs. Tampa and I wouldn’t be counting on him. Tomas Kaberle historically hasn’t been a top playoff performer but also hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2003-04. His teammate, Zdeno Chara may refocus his efforts on providing stellar defense as he has in the past and he’s also likely to meet distractions on the road. Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty emerge as another solid returning West duo but only back them if you like the Kings. Cam Fowler gets tacked on at the end because he finished the season strong but so far is a complete playoff unknown.
Tier four consists of more unknowns and breakout candidates but inherently much more risk. Mike Green is expected to (conveniently) return from his concussion in time for Wednesday’s games and will likely fill a void on Washington’s blueline. What Green doesn’t fill for the Caps, John Carlson certainly could. P.K. Subban finished the regular season on a tear and could easily find himself on the top powerplay for the Habs – but goals won’t come easy for Montreal altogether. If Pronger does end up dressing for any of the first round, he could be a steal given that he finished atop last year’s playoff defensemen in scoring and has traditionally been a postseason force.
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