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Posted at 03:01 PM ET, 03/23/2012

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game: Time for a hero to emerge

This feature is part of our bi-weekly look at the NHL, which appears every other Sunday on Page 2 of the print edition.

With the NHL’s postseason a mere three weeks away, the temperature is rising for the handful of teams who remain on the playoff bubble.

A good week can wrap up a berth. A bad one could mean it’s time to dust off the golf clubs.

For those teams, the time for a hero to emerge is now. Here are 10 players feeling the pressure to produce.

(Statistics and standings are through Thursday’s games)

Craig Anderson; G; Ottawa Senators
Although the Sens are in good shape, a few more wins couldn’t hurt. Enter Anderson, who is set to return Friday after suffering a freak hand injury on Feb. 23. With the Senators struggling to score –they’ve tallied nine goals in the past five games – the veteran might need to carry them over the finish line.   

Dustin Byfuglien; D; Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg has its hockey team back. But it may have to wait for the playoffs. Unless, of course, a playoff tested player like “Big Buff” puts the Jets on his shoulders. Byfuglien earned a reputation as a clutch performer in Chicago’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2010, when he netted five game winners as a forward. He can solidify that rep in the coming weeks.

 Jeff Carter; C; Los Angeles Kings
A contender for the Pacific Division title, the Kings are 10-3-0 since GM Dean Lombardi sent Jack Johnson and a first-round pick to Columbus for the unhappy 27-year-old near the trade deadline. Carter’s been good, scoring six goals in the past 10 games, but for the price the Kings paid, he needs to be great when it matters. Which is now.

Loui Eriksson; RW; Dallas Stars
The Stars are clinging to eighth place in the West, and the Pacific Division title isn’t out of reach, either. But they’ve averaged a paltry 2.2 goals the past six games. Guess who their leading scorer is? That’s right; it’s Eriksson. The 26-year-old has eight goals and 10 assists in the past 14 games.  

Jarome Iginla; RW; Calgary Flames
Time is running out for the Flames. It’s also running out for the team’s 34-year-old captain, who scored eight goals in as many games earlier this month but hasn’t tallied in the past four. The Flames missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons and have not advanced beyond the quarterfinals since their run to finals in 2004. If they miss again, big changes could be looming.

 Ryan Miller; G; Buffalo Sabres
All but counted out around Christmas, the Sabres have surged to within striking distance of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth. Miller has won 11 of his past 15 starts, including a 3-0 shutout of Montreal on Wednesday. The 31-year-old must remain hot — and beat the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday — for the Sabres to have a shot.

 Alex Ovechkin; LW; Washington Capitals
Although he remains on pace for a career-worst point total, the 26-year-old captain has certainly looked more determined in recent weeks. In fact, he’s scored seven goals in the past eight games to help the Capitals cling to eighth place. His reputation would absorb an enormous blow if Washington doesn’t get in.

 Mike Smith; G; Phoenix Coyotes
With captain and third-leading scorer Shane Doan suspended for pivotal games against San Jose and St. Louis this weekend, the typically conservative Coyotes must be even more so. And that begins with Smith, whose 2.36 goals against average and .925 save percentage are the biggest reason the Coyotes are in position to qualify for a third straight spring.

Joe Thornton; C; San Jose Sharks
Much like Ovechkin, Thornton’s legacy could be at stake in the coming weeks. The Sharks advanced to the Western Conference finals in each of the past two seasons, but it’s possible they won’t even receive an invite this season. Unless, of course, Thornton, a three-time 100-point performer, does something about it.    

Semyon Varlamov; G; Colorado Avalanche
The 23-year-old former Capital has won 10 of his last 13 starts, posting a pair of shutouts in that span, and has been the game’s first star in four of past seven outings. A hot goalie is key because the Avs’ situation is dire: They’ve got fewer games remaining than anyone in the Western Conference (six) and all but one is against a team that’s in, or fighting to get in, the playoff picture.  

By  |  03:01 PM ET, 03/23/2012

 
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