Ovechkin, Hasek, Jagr in the spotlight as NHL playoffs set to begin

UNDATED – The Canadian Press hockey writers Bill Beacon and Pierre LeBrun choose 20 players to watch in this year’s NHL playoffs:

Eastern Conference

1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington. The big 22-year-old, who set an NHL record for left wingers with 65 goals this season, is in his first playoffs and seems to be at his best when in the limelight.

2. Jaromir Jagr, New York Rangers. There is talk that he may be headed to Avangard Omsk in Russia next season, but will a long run in the playoffs convince the five-time scoring champion to stay?

3. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey. He no longer has the league’s best defence in front of him and his team doesn’t score much, so the Devils will go only as far as he can take them.

4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. Last seasons’ MVP missed 28 games with an ankle injury and returned last week to a Penguins team that had rallied around its other star – Evgeni Malkin.

5. Carey Price, Montreal. Last spring, he came out of junior to lead Hamilton to an AHL championship. Can the gifted 20-year-old goalie do the same after one NHL season?

6. Jason Spezza, Ottawa. With captain Daniel Alfredsson injured and possibly out, the Senators No. 1 centre will have to carry the load.

7. Scott Gomez, New York Rangers. The stocky centre had 14 points in 11 playoff games for the Devils last season, but now will play against them in the first round.

8. Cristobal Huet, Washington. A potential free agent this summer, he won his last nine starts to help put the Caps in the playoffs after being acquired at the Feb. 26 trade deadline from Montreal.

9. Martin Biron, Philadelphia. The big goalie has never started an NHL playoff game, but goes into the post-season riding two consecutive shutouts.

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10. Saku Koivu, Montreal. The Canadiens captain is nursing a fractured bone in his foot and may not be fully fit when the playoffs start.

Western Conference

1. Dominik Hasek, Detroit. The 43-year-old goalie has made Red Wings fans nervous with injuries and inconsistent play this season. Does the former superstar have one more great playoff left in him?

2. Joe Thornton, San Jose. The star centre had another monster season but his critics say he’s not the same come playoff time. Is this the year?

3. Peter Forsberg, Colorado. He’s been dynamite in the Avalanche lineup since his return to the NHL last month. But can he stay healthy for a playoff run?

4. Marty Turco, Dallas. The Stars goalie erased some of his playoff demons in last year’s playoff loss to Vancouver. Can he duplicate that effort against Anaheim?

5. Corey Perry, Anaheim. He led the Ducks with 29 goals despite missing the last 12 games through injury. He could return mid-round or not until the second round.

6. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota. He doesn’t get nearly as much attention as his older brother in Montreal but the younger Koivu is key part of a Wild team that excels on the PK.

7. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary. By his own Vezina standards, the Flames goalie had an up-and-down year between the pipes. Do we see the old Kipper come playoff time?

8. Shea Weber, Nashville. He’s the Dion Phaneuf you never hear about because of where he plays.

9. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit. Key part of Red Wings blue-line but has been injury prone. Can he stay in one piece for this run?

10. Jose Theodore, Colorado. Has regained some of his 2002 Hart Trophy form. Can he keep it up?