It's time for the fantasy playoffs to start in earnest. If you're reading this column, you've still got something to play for this season. It doesn't matter if you're in first place or just eked out a playoff position -- you've just got to be in it to have a chance to win.
At this point in the season, it's important to control the things you can control. Know your roster deadlines and don't miss them. Keep an eye on warmups for any last-minutes scratches -- they're not common, but most of the players in the league have 60-plus games of wear and tear on them, and injuries are just part of the deal. If there's a slumping player on the fringe of your roster, let them go. Kevin Shattenkirk's best months this season are gone, so don't hesitate to upgrade.
You'll want to play the matchups as best you can. If you've stacked multiple players from the same team, now's not the time to hedge your bets. Ride the momentum as much as you can, and hope that your opponents -- real or in fantasy -- aren't the ones with the hot goalies. Most of the players I'm suggesting this week have been in this column with hot runs previously in the season. There's not as much need to go for long-shot options, as you'll want players who can perform consistently in a significant role, with the occasional burst of offense.
Andrew Copp has fit in nicely since he was traded from the Jets to the Rangers, to the tune of two goals and five assists in seven games with his new team. With Ryan Strome (lower body) out, Copp's gotten a look on the second line alongside Artemi Panarin. I like Copp because he could still see top-six minutes even once Strome is back -- he's got way more upside than Dryden Hunt, who has also seen time on the second line at times.
Sean Durzi keeps popping up on my radar. He's picked up a goal and four assists in his last six games, and he's added some non-scoring numbers too with 11 PIM and 20 blocked shots in that span. The rookie defenseman has been forced into a top-pairing role with the Kings battling a bad run of injuries on the blue line. Durzi's all-around production has been similar to what you get out of Drew Doughty, who's been out for nearly a month, albeit with a little less offense.
All my instincts told me to be cautious with Erik Haula on the Bruins' second line, but we're throwing caution to the wind in the fantasy playoffs. He's racked up four goals, six assists and a plus-9 rating in his last six games. I'd like him more if he saw power-play time regularly, but skating between David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall at even strength in the last six weeks has served him well. Barring a shakeup in the Bruins' forward groupings, I can trust him to finish out the season.
If Joel Eriksson Ek is still on your waiver wire, don't let him sit there throughout the playoffs. He's already locked in his first 40-point campaign, and a three-point effort Sunday versus the Capitals gave him three goals and five assists in his last seven contests. Ideally, he'd be the center between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, but he's not on the ice with them outside of power-play time -- not that that's stopped him from playing well. He also adds sandpaper with nearly two hits a game and solid play in all situations.
I was cautiously optimistic Mathieu Joseph's move from a limited bottom-six role in Tampa to a more solidly middle-six position in Ottawa would pay off. It took him a while to get it going, but a pair of games against the Red Wings unlocked his potential with three goals and four assists in his last two outings. He's more of a deep-league add than an option in standard formats, but he'll also chip in with physical play. The 25-year-old's on 26 points in 64 contests this season, and he's added 99 hits and a plus-10 rating. While he's not seeing the same forays onto the second line Nick Paul saw with the Senators, Joseph's looked pretty good on the third line.
If Clayton Keller's broken leg has damaged your forward depth, consider this the last call to add his former teammate Dylan Strome. I talked a bit about Strome ahead of the trade deadline, and I'll reiterate that I'm glad he stayed with the Blackhawks -- and by extension, alongside Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. This isn't a deep team, but the top line has been hot since the start of March. Strome's got 11 goals and 11 assists in 16 games in that span. He'll only help you on the scoresheet, but that's a nice boost to get for free at this time of year.
There haven't been many reasons to be interested in the Flyers, but Joel Farabee's recent play should be turning heads. The natural winger has moved into the top-line center role -- somebody's got to do it with Claude Giroux in Florida. The results at the faceoff dot haven't been pretty for Farabee, as he's won just 28.4 percent of his draws this year. That hasn't stopped him from racking up five goals, five assists, 24 shots on net, 13 PIM and a plus-2 rating in his last 10 outings. If he manages to pick up center eligibility to close out the season, the extra roster flexibility is one more mark in his favor.
Nico Hischier has been wrongly slept on for much of the fantasy season. Maybe he took offense to it -- he's picked up three goals, nine assists, 17 shots and 10 hits in his last nine games. His goal Sunday versus the Islanders got him to the 50-point mark. It's a measurable step toward becoming a solid top-six forward in the league after a handful of inconsistent seasons due to injuries. If Jack Hughes (undisclosed) has to miss time after leaving Sunday's game early, Hischier's the one picking up the slack, right in time for fantasy managers to benefit.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau has often played his best in the playoffs -- no one tell him that the playoffs I'm talking about don't include a Stanley Cup at the end. He posted a hat trick and an assist against the Devils on Sunday, and he's earned 16 points in his last 19 games. What's past is past, so I don't care that he started the season slowly as long as he finishes it with solid scoring and physicality.
In net, this is the time of year I'm looking to stream goalies a bit more. I'll cut a defenseman near the end of the week if I have a chance to challenge the goaltending categories. Unfortunately with netminders, we don't get a choice who starts -- if I did, I'd be pushing for more of Chris Driedger instead of Philipp Grubauer and more Anthony Stolarz over the slumping John Gibson. Driedger's bounce-back has been a little more sudden. He's won two of his last three games, allowing four goals on 96 shots in that stretch. Stolarz has, for some reason, played in just eight of 22 games since the All-Star break, posting a 2.08 GAA and .931 save percentage over that span. Gibson's numbers in the same stretch are a hideous 4.59 GAA and .865 save percentage. These two teams don't have very good defenses, but Driedger and Stolarz have shown quality in favorable matchups and could be solid streaming options if they get more starting nods.
One final note: as much as we may want to think of ourselves as managerial geniuses, a lot of our successes and failures in fantasy come down to luck. Again, control what you can, and accept what you can't -- there's no way to know if your top scorer is going to suffer a season-ending injury in the first round of your playoffs. Making the right moves at the right time is what got you to this point, and a few more good decisions will get you to glory as long as the bounces go your way. Much like the real-life game, fantasy hockey is often decided on thin margins. Good luck this week and let's see what we can do in the next round.