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Sunday, April 8, 2012
Updated: April 10, 11:08 AM ET
Five players under most pressure

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

By the end of the regular season, Kovalchuk was nearing the 800-game mark in his career and yet has played in just nine playoff games. He has never played in the second round, and after a season that saw him impress teammates and opponents alike with his selflessness and commitment to a team game, Kovalchuk is hoping this spring marks his first real playoff run.

2. Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings

The Philadelphia Flyers look like the early winners in the deals that sent Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively. Carter rejoined his old running mate in L.A. at the trade deadline but Richards, the former Flyer captain, endured a mostly disappointing offensive season and needs to step up in the postseason to prove he's still an elite player.

3. Alexander Radulov, Nashville Predators

Often referred to as the best player not playing in the NHL until being repatriated late in the season by the Predators, Radulov now has to prove he's not just a self-centered opportunist who returned only because it was the expedient thing to do for his career.

4. Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers

Can you have a playoff monkey on your back if you've never played in a playoff game? Fair question to ask of Weiss, who will be enjoying his first taste of postseason action since the Cats made him the fourth overall pick in 2001.

5. Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers

It has been a sensational year for the Rangers sniper, as he returned to the 40-goal mark once more after an off year last season. But he needs to continue that production to help erase the belief that he cannot bring his game to the next level when it matters most. In his last 16 playoff games, Gaborik has managed just four goals and three assists for seven points.