At this time of the season especially, the best players need to be the best performers for their teams to succeed. With less than a month remaining in the regular season, it's a good time to look at a few key players who will need to make significant contributions down the stretch for their teams to earn berths in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers: The veteran forward is without a point in three games since returning to the lineup after missing 20 games because of a bone bruise in his left leg. Before his injury, Nash had 12 goals and 21 assists in 47 games. Playing on the Rangers' top line with Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, Nash needs his presence to be felt. He experienced a relatively quiet spring last year, with only two goals and five assists in the first two rounds. Then in the Eastern Conference finals, Nash had three goals and four assists in the final four games of the series, but the Rangers still lost in seven games.
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders: A week ago, coach Jack Capuano called out his team, saying some of the younger players needed to step up their games down the stretch. Bailey, 26, has been in the NHL for eight seasons, but he's a player the Islanders need to rely on in the coming weeks. He has only one goal in his past give games. He has 12 goals and 16 assists in 67 games this season.
Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers: The boys from the City of Brotherly Love are teetering in and out of the wild-card structure. In order for the Flyers to seize a postseason berth, the goaltending tandem needs to be solid. Mason has been the go-to guy of late, and the Flyers are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games. On Wednesday, Neuvirth started for the first time in five games and proved crucial, making 24 saves en route to a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Since both masked men have played well, it's going to be interesting to see which goalie gets the most starts down the stretch and into a possible first-round playoff series.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: The veteran defenseman is underrated but has the ability to be an elite player, and the Penguins are counting on that down the stretch. He has two goals and two assists in his past five games. He's averaging more than 27 minutes per game this season and will need to have a presence at both ends of the ice if Pittsburgh can hold on to a playoff berth.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: Getzlaf needs to continue his solid play with the standings tightening in the West. He has seven goals and 12 assists in his past 18 games. But he has been held without a point in five of his seven games in March.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While the Wild continue to battle for a wild-card spot, the Wild could use some of last season's magic from goaltender Dubnyk as the team tries to keep its playoff hopes alive. He is 3-1-1 in his past five games and has allowed 10 goals during that span. He's 26-22-6, along with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, in 55 games this season.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Sure, the Avalanche need goaltender Semyon Varlamov to stand on his head as they battle the Wild for the second wild-card spot. But MacKinnon, 20, needs to create a solid stretch run to help his team reach the postseason. He has one goal and two assists in his past five games. He has 21 goals and 30 assists in 71 games this season.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: The 26-year-old forward has two goals and one assist in his past five games. The Sharks should earn a postseason berth, but Couture's consistency will be key in the final weeks of the season and into the playoffs. Missing 30 games this season with an injury should mean he has plenty remaining in the tank.