Rod Brind'Amour vs. Richard Zednik

Updated: April 19, 2006, 11:01 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

HERO -- ROD BRIND'AMOUR
He doesn't have the offensive numbers of Eric Staal or the grace of Doug Weight. But there is no doubt that when the doors swing open on the Hurricanes' playoff season, everyone in the Carolina dressing room will be looking to veteran center Rod Brind'Amour to lead the way.

Enjoying his best statistical season since he was a member of the powerful Philadelphia Flyers in the late 1990s, Brind'Amour's contributions to the Hurricanes' franchise-best season go well beyond his 70 points.

Brind'Amour leads all NHL forwards in average ice time and regularly plays against opposing teams' top lines. He finished the season third in faceoff percentage, and his 19 power-play goals put him in the top 10. Less tangible has been his effect on a Carolina team few expected would challenge for a playoff berth, let alone finish a point out of the top seed in the East.

A fanatic for preparation, Brind'Amour boasts a work ethic that has been crucial to the team's preparation, coach Peter Laviolette said. Linemate Justin Williams has enjoyed his most productive season, and Brind'Amour has been a significant contributor. If Carolina enjoys a long playoff march, look for No. 17 to be a big part of it.

VILLAIN -- RICHARD ZEDNIK
If the underdog Montreal Canadiens are going to have a chance against the high-flying Carolina Hurricanes, it will be because foot soldiers such as Richard Zednik are getting the job done.

A member of the Slovak Olympic team, Zednik had scored 20-plus goals in each of his three previous seasons with Montreal. But this season, Zednik has struggled, tallying just 16 times, leading GM/coach Bob Gainey to make Zednik a healthy scratch on occasion. But during the Habs' stretch run, Gainey reinserted hard-skating Zednik in the lineup and the move paid dividends with a game-winning goal against Ottawa earlier this month.

It was his fourth winner of the season that drew praise from Gainey, who called Zednik a character player. Zednik, chosen with the 294th pick in the 1994 draft, has a history of strong playoff play, chipping in six points in 11 games during the 2004 postseason. Then, the underdog Habs upset Boston in the first round before bowing to Tampa in the second round.

In spring 2002, Zednik was the recipient of a Kyle McLaren forearm to the head that some thought might end Zednik's career. This spring, he'll have to be at his pesky best again if the Habs are to knock off the second-seeded Canes.