Each series in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs is full of star power and skilled players, so it is difficult sometimes to choose just one to focus on. Luckily for all of our followers we are here to assist with that problem. Below is one player from each of the 16 teams participating in this year’s National Hockey League playoffs that we feel should garner some extra attention.
Marian Gaborik VS Craig Anderson
Gaborik: The success of the New York Rangers had a lot to do with the fact that Marian Gaborik recorded 41 goals and 76 points this season. The right winger was clutch for the majority of the year and the Rangers are going to need him to continue performing the same way if they want to make a long run in this year’s playoffs. There are concerns over Gaborik’s post-season play, especially since he hasn’t recorded more than 5 points in the playoffs since 2003 when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. Will the New York forward help the Rangers reach their goal of winning the Stanley Cup or will he continue struggling when it matters?
Anderson: The Ottawa netminder was having a good season until he lost a fight with a piece of chicken and a kitchen knife, causing him to miss four weeks. Everyone in Canada’s capital worried that the loss of Anderson would cause the Senators to miss the playoffs all together. Luckily for the Sens, and their fans, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner stepped in and did an admirable job at holding the fort until “Andy” was ready to return. Now that the freak injury is out of the way the pressure of the playoffs now sits atop the starting goaltenders shoulders. Anderson has only been involved in one playoff series when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche and things did not turn out so well, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Will a more offensively powered team help the Ottawa goaltender win his first playoff series or will the Rangers prove to be too tough of an opponent?
Tim Thomas VS Braden Holtby
Thomas: We might as well warn everyone now that this article is going to be full of goalies, and the next one that should be watched is Tim Thomas. The Boston netminder had a good regular season, posting 35 wins, a 2.36 GAA, and a .920 save percentage. While his numbers look good #30 definitely had his struggles during the year, especially after the White House incident. There was even one point when Tuukka Rask stole the starting job from Thomas until the Finnish goaltender went down with injury, putting Timmy back in the starting role and forcing Boston to sign Marty Turco. Tim Thomas played well down the stretch but there has to be questions surrounding his play and even his focus, especially since the Bruins will be in President Obama’s backyard when they play the Capitals at the Verizon Center during the quarterfinals.
Holtby: The Washington Capitals had a lot of issues during the 2011-2012 NHL season but none were worse than their problems in net. Their goaltenders, much like their entire team, struggled for the majority of the season until the last month or so, but then the injury bug hit. First Tomas Vokoun went down with a groin injury on March 28th, forcing Michal Neuvirth into the starting role. The young netminder played well until he was injured in the game against the Florida Panthers on April 5th after Marco Sturm accidentally fell on his leg. With both of Washington’s starting goalies out it is now up to youngster Braden Holtby to step in and stay strong until one of the two injured goaltenders return. There is no telling when that might be so it is up to Holtby, who has played in only 21 NHL regular season games, to stay strong in net and help the Capitals advance to the semifinals, which is no easy task against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Stephen Weiss VS Zach Parise
Weiss: It has been 12 long year’s since the Florida Panthers last made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Stephen Weiss has been around almost the entire time. The now 29 year old center began his career with the Panthers during the 2001-2002 season, two years after Florida was swept by, guess who, the New Jersey Devils. #9 has seen many of his friends and former teammates move on from the Cats and find success in the post-season, including Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell, who both won the Stanley Cup last year with the Boston Bruins. Weiss always stayed loyal to the Panthers, even when GM Dale Tallon gave him the option to leave if he wanted to. The Toronto, Ontario native told Tallon that he wanted to see this thing through and have success in Florida. He didn’t have to wait long. Stephen Weiss will finally get his first taste of the post-season and many fans have one major question on their minds; can Stephen play to the level required to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Parise: There is little doubt that Zach Parise knows how to perform in clutch situations. If anyone needs evidence just go look up his tying goal in the gold medal game against team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics. The reason Parise is a player to watch in the series against the Florida Panthers is because no one else in the media has talked about him. It seems all of the knowledgeable hockey analysts only want to talk about Kovalchuk, Elias, and Brodeur. Nobody can fool us because we know that the New Jersey left winger can be more dangerous than anyone else on the team when he is on his game. If Parise plays to the level he is capable of the Devils will definitely give the Panthers trouble in the quarterfinals.
Sidney Crosby VS Ilya Bryzgalov
Crosby: We are just as tired of hearing about Sidney Crosby as everyone else but he is a player that needs to be watched in this years Stanley Cup playoffs. It has been two years since #87 has played in the post-season because of concussion issues but he finally seems healthy and ready to lead the Penguins through a long playoff run. That’s only if he can survive a first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. There is so much bad blood between these two clubs that we honestly would not be surprised if the Flyers took a couple of runs at Sid the kid during the best of seven series. If that happens expect Crosby and the Penguins to get frustrated and retaliate, which is exactly what Philadelphia wants. Will the Pittsburgh center be able to keep his cool against a tough Flyers team or will the broad street bullies get inside Sidney’s head?
Bryzgalov: The master of the universe definitely had a problem being the master of his crease for the majority of the season, but thankfully for the Flyers going silent with the media and focusing on his game changed all that. Bryzgalov’s play was nothing short of outstanding during the last two months of the regular season, especially in March when he broke the Flyers franchise record for the longest shutout streak. The one thing fans in Philadelphia need to worry about now is the fact that the Russian goaltender has never really been that good in the playoffs. Does that have to do with the teams that played in front of him or is Ilya just a good regular season goalie? We will have the answer to that question soon enough.
Roberto Luongo VS Jeff Carter
Loungo: If the Canucks make it to the finals again and lose who would be surprised if their fans broke into the locker room and personally kicked Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver? Here is a better question, should the Nucks start Cory Schneider? Well it seems the organization does not think so since they already announced that Luongo will be the #1 goaltender for at least the first game against the LA Kings. We would have to imagine that the Canucks have “Lu” on a very short leash and if he struggles early they will not think twice about sticking Schneider between the pipes. How great would it personally be though for the 6 foot 3 goaltender to shut down the Kings and silence his critics. We will all just have to watch and see if that happens, or see if Cory Schneider can steal Luongo’s spotlight.
Carter: Poor Jeff Carter. First he is traded out of Philadelphia for partying too hard, then he is shipped out of Columbus because that relationship didn’t work, and now he is stuck on a playoff team in Los Angeles with his drinking buddy Mike Richards. Life must suck for the former 30 goal scorer. In all seriousness the Kings went out and picked up Carter to help out their struggling, underachieving offense. In 16 games with LA the big center from London, Ontario registered just 6 goals before going down with a bone bruise in his right foot. Carter claims he is ready to go when the puck drops on game one against the Canucks tonight at 10:30 PM EST. Is #77 really 100% or is he rushing back into the lineup because it’s the playoffs?
Brian Elliott VS Patrick Marleau
Elliott: If anyone predicted that Brian Elliott, the Ottawa outcast, would finish the season with the best goals against average and save percentage in the league they should win an award. Elliott’s play helped the St. Louis Blues earn the second best record in the Western Conference and their first Central Division championship since 2000. Jaroslav Halak will be getting the start in game one though because the Canadian born goaltender went down with a “very minor” injury on April 5th. We expect to see Elliott before the conclusion of the Blues/Sharks series so that is why he is one of our players to watch.
Marleau: It seems like Marleau is targeted every year during the regular season and the playoffs, and why not? There is nothing wrong with expecting one of the longest tendered Sharks to elevate his play and help lead his team on a long playoff run. The San Jose left winger played well during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, leading his team to the Western Conference finals, but it just was not enough. Patrick Marleau is once again being called upon by his team to produce but in a different situation. San Jose will begin the post-season in 7th place in the West without home ice advantage for the first time since 2007. Can number 12 answer the call or will St. Louis force the Sharks to make a quick exit from the 2012 NHL playoffs?
Mike Smith VS Patrick Kane
Smith: Hey look, it’s another goaltender! When the Phoenix Coyotes announced that Mike Smith would be the #1 goalie many believed that their post-season days were numbered. Smith silenced the critics by putting together a fantastic season and leading Phoenix to their first ever divisional championship. The issue with the Kingston, Ontario born netminder is that he has only played a total of three playoff games when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Smith will have to prove to his teammates, critics, and fans that he can carry his excellent regular season play into the post-season.
Kane: For the majority of the regular season Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville did not know what position to stick Patrick Kane at. Number 88 played on the wing, then center, went back to the wing, and finished the season in the middle. The reason for all the positional change? Coach Quenneville wanted to get the 2007 1st overall draft choice to play to the level he did in the 2009-2010 season. While Kane finished with the lowest point total in his young career the Hawks are hopeful that the playoffs will help wake him up. Quite frankly Chicago needs Pat Kane to play like he has in the past if they want to have the same success they did in 2010 when they won Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Shea Weber VS Nicklas Lidstrom
Weber: The Nashville Predators have gone all in for the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, and a big reason for that is Shea Weber. The Predators captain is on his way to becoming a restricted free agent on July 1st and Nashville wants to do everything in their power to persuade him to stay. The 6’4″ defenseman is not the only important player on the roster that is heading to the free agent market. Ryan Suter, the Preds other top D-man, will become a UFA on the first day of July. As the captain of the Predators it is up to Weber to keep his fellow teammates calm and lead them to their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Can Shea Weber help his club live up to the expectations created by those in the hockey world or will Nashville fail to make a long post-season run and look drastically different next season?
Lidstrom: The captain on the other side of this series is one of the best defensemen to ever play in the National Hockey League. Nicklas Lidstrom has played in 20 consecutive year’s of playoff hockey, all with the Detroit Red Wings, and has won four Stanley Cups. The future hall of famer is a key part to the Wings success in the post-season, which makes him an obvious player to watch during the quarterfinals and beyond (if Detroit can get by the Predators). There is a very real possibility that this is the final year Nicklas Lidstrom plays in the NHL, so he will want to do everything he can to help the Red Wings win the Cup.
Once the quarterfinals are finished we will select more players to watch from the clubs that advance to round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Please keep checking back with Sunshine State Hockey for full coverage of the 2012 National Hockey League post-season.