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And then there were two: the Calgary Flames from the West and the Tampa Bay Lightning from the East are the two teams who will be battling for the Stanley Cup. Calgary defeated Vancouver, Detroit, and San Jose to get this far, while Tampa defeated the Islanders, Canadiens, and the Flyers to make the Finals. Throughout each team’s respective playoff run, there have been some heroes, and of course, some “zeroes.” In this article, we’ll take a look at the “players to watch” for each team, starting with the Western Conference champions, the Calgary Flames.

1) Miikka Kiprusoff, G: Kiprusoff has stolen many a game in these playoffs, but at the same time, one could argue that he has cost the Flames a couple along the way as well. This “inconsistency ” cannot last any further, as if he’s not on his game for all 60 (or more) minutes, Calgary is in BIG trouble. Also, Tampa Bay presents a new challenge for the Flames, as their speed can be matched by no other team, at least out of the West. Will Kiprusoff be able to deal with their speed?

2) Shean Donovan, W: Donovan is arguably the Flames’ top two-way player, and can score goals if he gets hot. However, he’s not hot very often, and is one of the team’s streakiest players overall. No one can criticize his defensive play, but given the fact that Calgary has problems scoring from beyond the Iginla line, he will have to step it up in the offensive end.

3) Andrew Ference, D: Ference has been logging the most icetime for Calgary on most nights, facing each opponent’s top players. Will fatigue be a problem, given that he has extremely minimal playoff experience aside from this season? One could argue that many Flames have virtually no track record except for this year, but how many of them log upwards of 28-30 minutes per game (in regulation time)?

4) Martin Gelinas, W: “The Eliminator” lived up to his billing once more in the 3rd round, scoring the goal that eventually eliminated the Sharks from the playoffs. Overall, he has been a solid scorer throughout most of the postseason, playing with Iginla and Conroy on the top line, but he’s not there very often anymore. He will be counted on to continue to score the big goals, but will he be able to do it from the second line?

Wildcard- Chris Simon, F: Simon returned from injury a couple of weeks ago, and hasn’t missed a beat, returning to the top line, bumping Gelinas down to the second unit. Throughout the postseason, he has provided a strong physical presence, but has also taken penalties at inopportune times. In order to remain effective, he has to be able to contain his emotions, or he could wind up being a liability in the end.

Now, we move on to the Eastern Conference champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

1) Dave Andreychuk, W/C: This one is obvious, as he holds the unofficial record for most games played without winning the Stanley Cup. Given that he is in his 40’s already, this will likely be his final “kick at the can,” at least in the Finals. He will also be expected to contain Iginla’s line, something that no team has been able to do in these playoffs. His faceoff prowess will also be heavily relied on in this series.

2) Martin St. Louis, W: St. Louis somewhat struggled in the Flyers series, and is currently mired in a slump that sees him with just 2 goals in his past 10 games. He does lead the league in assists though, with 12. A big question for him, besides rebounding from his slump, will be whether he can handle the Flames’ physicality. He did manage to survive the Philly series, but how banged up is he?

3) Pavel Kubina, D: Like Ference from the Flames, he has consistently logged the most icetime for the Lightning game in and game out. At the end of the Flyers series though, some of his “weaknesses” were exposed in the defensive zone. Will he be able to keep up his overall stellar play for one more round, as Tampa’s defence isn’t that strong after him?

4) Vincent Lecavalier, C: Like St. Louis, Lecavalier did not have the greatest of series, at least on the scoresheet. Overall, he’s only had one good series, and that was the 4-game sweep of Montreal. How will he deal with the checking line of the Flames, will he continue to work hard, or take dumb retaliatory penalties like the one in Game 7 vs the Flyers?

Wildcard-  Jassen Cullimore, D: He was able to return for Game 7 vs Philadelphia, but was used sparingly. Tampa Bay is not denying that his wrist injury is not fully recovered, so how effective can he be, especially when he’ll be seeing the Iginla line most of the time? If he can play close to his potential, he will be a huge boost for the Lightning.

So, there you have it, the players to keep a close eye on when you’re watching potentially the final set of NHL games in the next year or so, depending on the status of the CBA. In order to be successful, the players listed above will have to play a largely instrumental role for their teams in this round. Every player will be giving it 120% on every shift of every game one way or the other, as this chance may never come again for some of these players. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a great series to watch.

Questions/comments? E-mail me at [email protected].