The 10 Injuries Having the Biggest Impact on 2014 NHL Playoff Races

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

The 10 Injuries Having the Biggest Impact on 2014 NHL Playoff Races

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    It's the final countdown for the NHL players and teams jockeying for position. Home-ice advantage is on the line for some. Others have to rack up some wins in order to simply qualify for the postseason.

    The one thing teams don't need right now is injury. Lose one key player and all your hopes can go down the drain.

    There are plenty of influential boo boos right now, potentially making a mark on the final standings for the 2014 NHL season.

    If they're out, when might they return? Will it be too late to right the ship? Are multiple injuries too much to overcome? Can getting a key player into the lineup in the last couple of weeks make the difference?

    These are all questions that will be answered in the next month or so.

    Here's a list of the 10 injuries having the biggest impact on the playoff races right now.

10. Dave Bolland (Toronto Maple Leafs)

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    In a bitter battle for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, a question comes to mind when talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    How much better would the team be with Dave Bolland?

    The former Chicago Blackhawks center was brought to Toronto to provide grit, leadership, faceoff wins and a secondary scoring touch in key moments—like, say, the last game of the Stanley Cup Final.

    But Bolland has played all of 15 games for the Leafs this season, suffering a severed tendon in his left ankle on Nov. 2 in Vancouver. Of his six goals, two were game-winners.

    The Leafs rely heavily on goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, and top scorers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul also contribute, but for the Leafs to be a legitimate playoff performer, they need every healthy body they can get.

    How the team plays down the stretch could be the difference between hosting the first round of the postseason and finishing in a wild-card spot.

9. Josh Harding (Minnesota Wild)

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    When Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding first started having problems medicating his multiple sclerosis in mid-December, the team was tied for third in the Central Division and looking like one of the up-and-comers in the NHL.

    Tossing plenty of money at free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, making trades for Jason Pominville and Nino Neiderreiter, and drafting some young players with promise, the Wild were finally reaping the rewards of the big moves designed to pay off in the playoffs.

    Then Harding's disease got out of control, and the Wild struggled with consistency. The emergence of rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper has helped stabilize the situation somewhat but the Wild certainly is not the same kind of playoff threat it was with Harding between the pipes. The Wild also picked up Ilya Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, knowing the workload might be too much for the 23-year-old Kuemper.

    Harding has just begun taking shots again but is a long way off from rejoining his teammates for game action. So the tandem of Kuemper and Bryzgalov will determine whether or not the Wild can hang onto the wild card position.

8. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)

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    The St. Louis Blues are such a deep team that the loss of Vladimir Tarasenko might not affect them too badly. But there's no question the team is minus one of its most talented shooters with the Russian set to undergo hand surgery and miss a minimum of six weeks.

    Tarasenko was having a nice sophomore season for the Blues, netting 21 goals and 43 points in 64 games. He also has a plus-20 rating, which puts him in the league's top 20 in plus/minus. Of course, he's joined in that group by three of his teammates, but Tarasenko is a special talent playing on a team that prides itself on not leaning too heavily on one or two players.

    With him out, the Blues will have to rely on others just a little more. Head coach Ken Hitchcock might play with the lines a little bit and chemistry could suffer some, putting the President's Trophy in jeopardy. 

    With a hefty cushion over the rest of the Central Division teams, though, it's unlikely they will fall past second in the Western Conference even if they stumble.

7. Stephane Robidas (Anaheim Ducks)

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    Stephane Robidas is a different kind of injury that could affect the playoff seedings.

    The former Dallas Stars defender was dealt to the Ducks at the deadline to provide some veteran stability on the back end of what is a very good—but also raw—Anaheim defense.

    Out with a broken leg suffered in November, Robidas is about to make his return to the ice. The Ducks are coming out of a bit of a rough patch that saw them lose four straight—although two of them were in shootouts—and could use some time with Robidas anchoring the top pairing in a shutdown role to help them lock up a Pacific Division title, as well as maybe secure home ice advantage in the Western Conference with a strong finish.

6. Ryan Murray (Columbus Blue Jackets)

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of their usual late-season push for the playoffs.

    They fell just short in the Western Conference a year ago during the lockout-shortened season, but they're going strong at the moment.

    Much of the upswing is due to goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is fully healthy and looking like a Vezina Trophy candidate again. But 20-year-old Ryan Murray has been a big part of the confidence displayed by the underdogs and his absence for the rest of the regular season hurts as much as his knee surgery.

    Murray has averaged nearly 20 minutes per game and had three goals and 20 points in 61 games for the Blue Jackets. The second overall pick at the 2012 NHL draft gave the Jackets a reliable back end with James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin, Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin leaving few holes to fill.

    Murray is a massive one.

5. Brooks Laich (Washington Capitals)

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    Brooks Laich can't seem to stay healthy down the stretch. 

    The Washington Capitals center/winger played in just nine games a year ago before being shut down because of a groin injury. This season he had another surgery to fix a tight adductor in the groin that will keep him out until the playoffs.

    That's if the Caps even make the postseason.

    Laich's leadership is as important as his offense and back checking skills on a line that typically doesn't get a whole lot of defensive effort from the likes of Alex Ovechkin. With the Capitals in a tight race with the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot, they will need every bit of experience and timely goal scoring they can get.

    The late-season addition of Evgeni Kuznetsov could help, but he's a different kind of player than Laich and the Caps have plenty of offensive potential already.

    Losing balance is a legitimate concern.

4. Rich Peverley (Dallas Stars)

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    The awful cardiac event that hit Rich Peverley on the Dallas Stars' bench and ended his season can affect the team in two ways.

    The traumatic experience could derail the team's playoff hopes because the players nearly lost one of their own. Or, it might be the rallying cry for a team in the thick of the hunt for one of the wild-card spots in the Western Conference.

    You might want to bet on the latter, because this Stars team is young and talented. Adding some more motivation to the mix might help the players mature more quickly.

3. Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets)

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    The Winnipeg Jets' playoff hopes are plummeting and a big reason for that is the loss of Mark Scheifele. 

    The 21-year-old was finding his groove and helping the Jets make a big push down the stretch, when he sprained his knee just before the trade deadline.

    The result hasn't been very pretty. Including the game in which they lost Scheifele, the Jets are 1-4-3 and have scored just 12 goals in the seven losses. Before his injury, Scheifele had 25 points in his previous 33 games and had the Jets in the thick of the playoff hunt, just two points out of a wild-card spot. 

    Now, they languish closer to picking in the top 10 at this spring's NHL draft, six points behind the Phoenix Coyotes. 

    Scheifele could return in the next couple of weeks, but it might be too late.

2. Daniel Sedin/Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks)

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    With just 11 games left on their schedule and five points to make up on the Phoenix Coyotes, it seems like the elimination of the Vancouver Canucks from playoff contention is days away.

    It doesn't help that two of the team's centerpieces are out with injury at the most critical time of the year.

    Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler are the straws that stir the Canucks offense. Center Henrik Sedin isn't nearly as effective without his twin brother on the ice beside him. The Canucks don't have the toughness or secondary scoring they need with Kesler on the shelf.

    It's like someone lopped off the Canucks' right hand and yanked out the heart of this team.

    Other factors—like the sudden trading of top goaltender Roberto Luongo and questionable coaching decisions by John Tortorella that led to the pre-deadline swap—definitely come into play here. But overcoming any other issues AND the loss of your two best players is too much.

1. Pretty Much Every Detroit Red Wing

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    Henrik Zetterberg is done for the season and Pavel Datsyuk is still nursing the knee injury he played through at the Sochi Games.

    Those two losses alone would crush most teams. Somehow, the Detroit Red Wings are clinging to life in the playoff race, but they are going to need a miracle to get out of this one with their 22-year playoff streak alive.

    No joke, the Wings went through a stretch during which at least one player was hurt in six straight games, and seven of eight. We're not talking scrubs, either. And this doesn't include Stephen Weiss, who is still recovering from hernia surgery.

    The top line right now is Gustav Nyqvist, David Legwand and Johan Franzen. But how long until one or more of them goes down, too? It's been that kind of season for the once mighty Wings.