This weeks column is on who’s been hauling the weight, and who needs to either get healthy or get helpful.
1: Philadelphia Flyers
Horses: Sergei Bobrovsky, Claude Giroux, and Jeff Carter have done the heavy lifting and will need to keep the harness taut the rest of the way.
Hopefuls: Kris Versteeg has just eight points on a powerhouse that provides plenty of distraction for opposing defenses since coming over from the Leafs.
2: Washington Capitals
Horses: The goaltending trio of Michal Nuevirth, Semyon Varlemov and Braden Holtby have done well at everything but staying healthy.
Hopefuls: Captain Alexander Ovechkin needs to shake the malaise that has smothered his goal scoring this season and be a force this postseason.
3: Boston Bruins
Horses: The four horsemen version of the Bruins are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic. With those four in the lineup the sky is the limit.
Hopefuls: Michael Ryder has pulled his disappearing act of late, and Johnny Boychuck seems to have snapped a season long goal scoring drought.
4: Pittsburgh Penguins
Horses: Since his return, Jordan Staal has been all you could ask and more, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang have been huge, but Marc-Andre Fleury’s career year can’t be overlooked.
Hopefuls: If you need me to tell you this, I just can’t help you. But here’s a hint: He wears No. 87.
5: Tampa Bay Lightning
Horses: Martin St. Louis is easily the team MVP for pure consistency, Vincent Lecavalier has had a very quiet injury shortened 20-goal season and looks more like the 100-point man than at any point since that season.
Hopefuls: Steven Stamkos needs to return to pre-AllStar form and begin lighting the lamp on a regular basis, and anyone who’s on the ice needs to make a better effort to strip their opponent, they rank 19th in takeaways as a team.
6: Montreal Canadiens
Horses: Carey Price is probably owed enough meals by the rest of the team for this season he shouldn’t have to open the wallet until he’s 64.
Hopefuls: Getting Max Pacioretty back would be a huge emotional boost, but having Scott Gomez come out of the witness protection program and return to the ice would be good too.
7: Buffalo Sabres
Horses: Brad Boyes has been key to this late season surge with 10 points in 16 games.
Hopefuls: The current incarnation of Brad Boyes could be huge in a post season push, a healthy Ryan Miller is an absolute requirement.
8: New York Rangers
Horses: Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky are a pretty solid base for a team.
Hopefuls: Marian Gaborik needs to stay healthy, and Bryan McCabe, Brian Boyle, Sean Avery and Dan Girardi all need to play to their potential.
1: Vancouver Canucks
Horses: The Sedins (Daniel and Henrik) are obvious, as are goaltender Roberto Loungo and forward Ryan Kesler.
Hopefuls: Its unlikely they get Alex Edler back on the blue-line, but fellow defenseman Dan Hamhuis could return come playoff time.
2: Detroit Red Wings
Horses: Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, have led the charge again in Motown.
Hopefuls: Mike Modano and Jimmy Howard need to get back to form and start contributing.
3: San Jose Sharks
Horses: Ryane Clowe and Logan Coture have been San Jose’s best, and most consistent forwards all year.
Hopefuls: Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley need to bounce back after a so-so regular season (to date).
4: Phoenix Coyotes
Horses: Ilya Bryzgalov, Shane Doan and Ray Whitney have been big, but Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle has been huge.
Hopefuls: Ed Jovanovski and Michal Hanzal back for the second season can’t hurt the Coyotes’ chances at all.
5: Los Angeles Kings
Horses: Dustin Brown leads the team in goals and needs to do even more of everything with the recent injuries. Jonathan Quick is the other remaining pillar.
Hopefuls: When Anze Kopitar went down due to an ankle injury, the load on Dustin Penner went up.
6: Anahiem Ducks
Horses: Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry have all been enormous in the Ducks’ bounce back season.
Hopefuls: Cam Fowler needs to learn to play in his own end and getting a healthy Jonas Hiller back between the pipes can’t be overlooked.
7: Nashville Predators
Horses: Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber have led the symphony in Music City.
Hopefuls: With a strong defense, the trio of Martin Erat, Patric Hornquist and Sergei Kostitsyn will need to man up in order for the Preds to advance to the second round this season.
8: Chicago Blackhawks
Horses: Since getting put in the traces Corey Crawford has worked wonders, Jonathan Toews has been, well, Jonathan Toews.
Hopefuls: The value of leading scorer Patrick Sharp to the lineup can’t be talked about enough, but Duncan Keith needs to find the pace he had last year and contribute a little more offensively.