NHL Playoffs 2012: 7 Players Under the Most Pressure This Postseason
We are just under a week into the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, and some series have lived up to expectations, while others are just shocks all around. Either way, entering the 2012 postseason, there are several star players feeling the pressure not only from their home fans, but also their teams to perform to their utmost ability.
There are some players who have played up to and even exceeded the standards expected of them, while through the first three games of most series (except FLA/NJ), there is a star player on many teams behind in their series that has not.
These players are some who are under the most pressure this postseason, and they need to make changes to their game to live up to the pressure mounting on their shoulders before it is too late.
Ryan Kesler—Vancouver Canucks
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Coming off a less-than-impressive regular season in 2011-12 with just 49 points, the expectation surrounding Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler going into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was among the highest of any player in the postseason.
After a stellar playoffs in 2011, Kesler followed up a big regular season with 25 points in last year's Cup run. So far this playoffs, Kesler has just two points through three games and has yet to have a stellar game—or even period.
The Canucks heavily rely on Kesler and his secondary scoring ability to put up goals and help the Canucks win games. So far these playoffs Vancouver's Selke Award winner from a year ago has done a lot more to shame the team than to create scoring chances.
Sure, Kesler has a lot of pressure on him this postseason, but based on his past, he deserves the pressure, and it should be taken as a good thing. Kesler however, should not be taking the pressure negatively and trying to put on a circus show on the ice. But rather if he plays the same type of game he did a year ago, and some of the pressure will be alleviated.
Unfortunately for the Canucks and Kesler, he may only have one more game to prove he can handle the pressure to perform.
Ilya Bryzgalov—Philadelphia Flyers
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Although the Philadelphia Flyers big ticket offseason pickup goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is 3-0 so far this postseason, and achieved 33 victories in the regular season, much of the Philadelphia Flyers game has come down to poor goaltending in the past.
Any goaltender with the Flyers in the postseason is going to have to deal with some of the most intense pressure in sports. Philly fans are unforgiving and aren't afraid to make it known.
There were points throughout the 2011-12 regular season that Bryzgalov struggled greatly, and it brought up questions surrounding his ability to play in big games to the point that he got benched for the NHL Winter Classic against New York Rangers over the holidays.
We really got to see how Bryz acts as a normal human being over the course of the HBO series "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic," and it could have created even more pressure on the goalie to no longer just perform for the Philly faithful, but to also back up his personal life in the media and on the ice.
It may not seem fair that Bryzgalov has added pressure on his game this postseason because of the in depth look we got into his everyday life during "24/7," but that comes with the business of the NHL.
Despite being 3-0 this postseason, Bryzgalov has been far from excellent posting a 3.96 GAA and a save percentage of .868. Put simply, if the Flyers have any chance at going deep into the postseason in 2012, Bryzgalov must improve his play and cannot count on the Flyers to come back in every single game.
For the better part of history, success in the Flyers organization has always come down to goaltending, and if Bryzgalov does not live up to his big contract—the reason former Captain Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter were dealt—there will be more mayhem in Philly over the lack of the Flyers' playoff success.
The weight of the Philadelphia Flyers' chances at a Stanley Cup in 2012 rests squarely on Bryzgalov's shoulders.
Jimmy Howard—Detroit Red Wings
The 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings are the second oldest team in the NHL with an average age of just over 29, but even with some of their stars aging, the Red Wings dynasty lives on. With age and injury more prevalent on today’s Red Wings team than those of the past, much pressure to perform has been placed upon third year starting goalie 28-year-old Jimmy Howard.
Howard put up stellar numbers again in 2011-12 with 35 victories and a 2.13 GAA, but has yet to find that same type of success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Entering the 2012 postseason, Howard carried a record of 12-11 with a 2.63 GAA, good enough that one would expect him to step up this year and steal some games for the team hailing from Hockey Town USA.
Unfortunately for Red Wings fans, this has not been the case so far these playoffs as the Red Wings trail the Nashville Predators 2-1 in their best of seven series. Although two of the three games have been relatively close, the Red Wings aren't the same team they were the last two decades and will rely heavily on the play of Jimmy Howard going forward.
In order for the Wings to advance past the Preds, Howard must steal some games for the team.
Alexander Ovechkin—Washington Capitals
Since the Alex Ovechkin era in Washington began back in 2003-04, the Capitals have been under constant scrutiny due to their lack of success. In his time with the Caps, Ovechkin has made it to the second round of the postseason just twice, and has never propelled his team further. The amount of pressure on Ovechkin in the Stanley Cup Playoffs grows every year, and 2012 is no different.
With the Capitals, it is basically when Ovechkin goes, so does the team, and when he struggles, the team struggles. In a season that saw coaching changes and a lessened role on the ice by the Capitals Captain Ovechkin, he still managed to put up 32 goals on the season, but just 65 points and was a minus-eight, a far cry from his 112-point campaign back in 2007-08.
It is nearing make or break time for the Capitals, and Ovechkin is deeply involved in this. Their window to win a Cup with their current core group of players is rapidly closing, and most of the pressure to produce victories sits with Ovechkin.
Through the first two games of the Bruins/Capitals series, Ovi has just one point, and hasn't produced much apart from frustrating play. In order for the Caps to have a successful run at the Cup in 2012, Ovechkin must shed the pressures and play his game and score goals like he is paid to do.
Alexander Radulov—Nashville Predators
After being drafted by the Nashville Predators 15th overall back in 2004, Alexander Radulov was thought to be the future of the franchise. Instead of sticking it out with the Preds and realizing he could get paid millions of dollars right away, Radulov moved to Russia to play in the KHL in 2008-09.
Until the end of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, Radulov had played just two seasons for the Preds, when he came back across the pond to join the team for its playoff run.
With the offseason departure of Joel Ward, one of the Predators' best players a year ago in the postseason, Radulov has most of the pressure on a fairly defensive team to produce goals. If Radulov does not perform to the best of his ability, not only will he look stupid, but he will also make GM David Poile and the rest of the Predators executives look moronic.
It was a huge risk allowing Radulov return to the team as it could go as far as to ruin the morale in the locker room, but so far it is benefiting Nashville as Radulov has two points in three playoff games, and at times shown he can still be the star the Preds drafted him to be.
Radulov has plenty of pressure on him this postseason because if he does not perform, it is unlikely that any other NHL team will take a chance on him, and for Radulov, the KHL may not want him back as well.
Tim Thomas—Boston Bruins
Tim Thomas posted a second consecutive 35-win season in 2011-12, but the pressure remains there for him to perform to his best ability to give the Boston Bruins a shot at a second consecutive Stanley Cup title. Some say the Stanley Cup is the hardest championship in professional sports to win back to back, let alone to play for it a second year in a row.
Thomas is the Boston Bruins centerpiece. At age 38, plenty of questions surround whether the Bruins goaltender will be able to survive another three-month journey to the Cup Finals without need for rest or some sort of relaxation.
Thomas proved last postseason he can last a Stanley Cup run, breaking all sorts of NHL records in the process. Although his stats through the first two games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't on pace with those of a year ago, Bruins fans should keep faith in their Conn Smythe winning goaltender this postseason.
Thomas has had one of the most infamous journeys to and through the NHL, and if there is one player in this postseason that can handle the pressure put upon themselves, it is Thomas.
Sidney Crosby—Pittsburgh Penguins
Arguably the most talked about player in NHL history, or at least the past two years, Sidney Crosby undoubtedly carries the most pressure of any postseason participant in 2012. After playing just 22 games in 2011-12 due to post concussion syndrome from multiple hits in the early part of 2011, Crosby still managed to put up eight goals, including a hat-trick in his return against the New York Islanders, and 39 points.
Being the best player in the world is no simple gig, and regardless of the injuries in the past, Crosby will always be the player with the most pressure on him to perform at all times. The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs are no different.
Now down 3-0 in the series against the Philadelphia Flyers and putting up five points these playoffs, Crosby and the rest of the Penguins are on the brink of elimination. The Penguins were picked by many analysts as projected Cup winners in 2012, and no one is more frustrated about their struggles than the captain, Crosby.
Regardless of playing very little hockey in the past year-and-a-half, there is no doubt that Crosby will take the brunt of the blame on himself for the Penguins playoff woes, should they not mount a monumental comeback over the Flyers.
The pressure in the postseason stems further than that for Crosby, and as long as the Penguins are relevant, Crosby will always be the player with the most pressure on his shoulders in the NHL.
John Bain is a B/R Featured Columnist
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnBainSports