Why key players must step up

For a successful playoff run, top performers must play like such

Updated: April 18, 2012, 3:24 PM ET
By Neil Greenberg | ESPN Insider
James NealChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Penguins are down 3-0, and a suspension will leave James Neal watching.

Six Boston Bruins topped the 20-goal mark during the regular season, but their bottom six forwards have been littering the score sheet during the first-round Eastern Conference series versus the Washington Capitals.

Brian Rolston, Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot have combined for four goals and five assists -- including all of Boston's offense in the first two games -- while Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic have mustered just one assist among them.

Yet, despite the lack of production from their regular-season scoring leaders, the Bruins find themselves up 2-1 in the series.

"The strength of this team is we are a team," Rolston said. "Obviously they would like to contribute, but they contribute in more ways than one. Doesn't make a difference if we are all pulling on the rope together."

Meanwhile, the Caps will be without Nicklas Backstrom for Game 4 and the Pittsburgh Penguins will miss James Neal in Wednesday night's elimination game due to suspensions. Marian Hossa looks to be out indefinitely following a monstrous hit by Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres.

With so much on the line in the playoffs, the contrast in situations begs the question: Does a team need its best players to be its best players to advance in the postseason and ultimately win the Cup?

Neil Greenberg is ESPN Insider's NHL analytics expert. His columns have appeared on the Washington Post website, and he is a regular guest on Sirius XM NHL Radio.