NHL Playoffs: One Player from Each Team That Needs to Step Up in Round 2
The NHL playoffs are a time when players step up and take their game to another level. For some, the postseason sets the stage for an illustrious career, while others climb from relative obscurity into the spotlight.
Every year there is always one player that the team needs to rise to the occasion and play as they did in the regular season. In some cases, some of these players are being shut down which has caused their teams' early exit. Other players need to bring their game and rise to the challenge.
This year, the playoffs have been no different; young players are stepping forward on every team. From Gabriel Bourque on Nashville to Braden Holtby with the Capitals, players are separating themselves from the rest.
Each team that has moved on to the NHL Conference semifinals has played some great hockey. While newer players are making their mark on this years' postseason, some of the bigger names have not.
That's not to say that they are playing poorly, but in the case of the eight players on the following slides, they could be playing better to maximize their teams potential.
St. Louis Blues: David Backes
St. Louis managed to dispatch the Sharks in five game and were able to rely on the talent pool their team has, as some of their top producers were silenced in the first round.
David Backes led the Blues in goals and was tied for first in points T.J. Oshie this season, and has been nominated for the Selke Trophy as a top-defensive forward this season.
While he has played well in the postseason, his numbers do not reflect the ability of the 27-year-old captain.
He has been held to just one goal in five games, and is a minus-three rating in the series against San Jose.
He is capable of much more and if he can get back into top form he will be a force to be reckoned with in the Conference semifinals.
LA Kings: Dustin Penner
The eighth-seeded Kings were able to dismantle and defeat the President Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks, in five games to advance. Relying heavily on star goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Their top line producers for the regular season made their presence felt during that series, yet one name has been absent all year: Dustin Penner.
Since his trade from Edmonton, Penner has not performed as well as expected. Penner had his lowest point season since his first season with the Ducks (where he only played 19 games).
He is in the last year of his contract, and his antics are not winning him any fans in LA. This is the same player who missed games when he hurt his back eating his wife's pancakes.
He showed, while playing for the Oilers, that he is an extremely talented player and can put up the numbers. So far in this years' postseason he has two points, one goal and one assist.
Even if he decides he doesn't want to return to LA, a good showing in the playoffs would help raise his stock for the summer.
Phoenix Coyotes: Radim Vrbata
The Coyotes were considered a surprise team this offseason when they downed the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, led by goaltender Mike Smith.
They play a very defensive style game that capitalizes on the mistakes of the other team. One player did very well in this system during the regular season but has been quiet during the playoffs.
Radim Vrbata led the Coyotes in goals this season with 35, and was only behind Ray Whitney for points.
After leaving Game 1 with an upper-body injury, it was questionable, at first, if he would return for the remainder of the series. He did play in all six games but was held to just one point, an assist, by the Blackhawks.
If Radim can get past the lingering effects of the injury and return to form, the series against Nashville could see some higher scoring games. Vrbata is the only player on either team to have more than 30 goals on the season.
Nashville Predators: Sergei Kostitsyn
Nashville is making its second Conference semifinals appearance in as many years, after they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
Much like their upcoming opponent, Phoenix, Nashville plays a conservative game, relying heavily on Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne.
The Predators finished the regular season with 104 points, as they had seven players with more than 40 points. One of whom was Sergei Kostitsyn, who has been all but completely silenced during the first round.
While his linemates, Martin Erat and Mike Fisher, have combined for four points, Kostitsyn has scored only one goal during Game 3.
Kostitsyn needs to step up his play, and while he may not be the only Predator that is not living up to his potential, he is still trailing Erat and Fisher in points.
New York Rangers: Marian Gaborik
The Rangers ended up winning a hard-fought series against the Ottawa Senators in seven games to advance to the second round.
They were led during the regular season by the play of Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. The last three players combined for 196 points on the regular season.
Marian Gaborik is a talented player, and being only four points shy of maintaining an average of a point a game during the regular season, he shows that. He led the Rangers this season with 41 goals and 76 points, yet, of the three, he has the lowest points for the first round.
He currently has one goal and two assists in the postseason and a minus-one rating. These numbers aren't horrible, but we have come to expect more from Gaborik.
If he can elevate his play in the second round, the Washington Capitals will be in serious trouble.
Washington Capitals: Dennis Wideman
The Washington Capitals battled hard to oust last years Stanley Cup winners the Boston Bruins in seven games to advance.
Relying on young goaltender Braden Holtby (due to injuries), the youngster has proven his worth.
It was by far the closest series in Round 1, and made playoff history as the first series where all seven games were decided by one goal.
With a series that close, the defense took center stage over the goal scorers.
Dennis Wideman was not one of them, however. He made the All-Star team this year for the first time in his career and was tied for third on the team for points.
So far, none of this has translated into the postseason. So far, he has one assist and has a minus-four rating for the seven game series. He was also on the ice for eight of Boston's 12 goals.
He needs to return to the form that got him the All-Star nod, in order to keep the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers, at bay.
New Jersey Devil: Patrik Elias
The Devils managed to slip past the Florida Panthers in seven games to advance out of the first round. As one of the older teams remaining in the playoffs, they have only a handful of players under 25.
Much like the Flyers, New Jersey saw output from almost every player on the roster. They have a total of 17 players with at least one point.
Of all the players who have made contributions, one of the disappointments has been veteran center Patrik Elias.
He currently has two points, both goals, and a minus-two rating for the series against Florida. He was second in the regular season in points, right behind Ilya Kovalchuk.
He is currently in a five-way tie for second in goals scored, but his performance during the regular season shows him to be among the leaders on the team, not in the middle of the pack.
If he can step up his game, the Devils have a serious chance to make it to the Conference finals.
Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov
So far the first round has been more about the great play of the goalies. In many cases, it was the netminders who ensured their team a place in the second round.
Philadelphia is a different story.
There were multiple games where five goals or more were scored by one team. It was the scoring that was the big news in the series that saw the Flyers edge out the Penguins in six games. Claude Giroux has tallied 14 points alone.
Yet if the goaltenders are the ones deciding many of the series, Ilya Bryzgalov needs to up the ante.
He had a .870 save percentage for the first round, allowing 21 goals. With the defensive-minded teams that have advanced to the second round, it will be tougher for the Flyers to put up the numbers they did against Pittsburgh.
They will need Bryzgalov to return to form and be consistent in net. Otherwise, we may just watch the Flyers have yet another early exit.