15 NHL Players with Chips on Their Shoulders Heading into the Playoffs

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IApril 16, 2013

15 NHL Players with Chips on Their Shoulders Heading into the Playoffs

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs are just a couple of weeks away as this abbreviated 48-game NHL season is entering the home stretch.

    As most hockey fans know, the playoffs are different and more intense than the regular season. Checking is tighter, goalies are relied upon even more and goals are generally harder to come by.

    Here is a look at 15 players with a chip on their shoulder as they enter the playoffs. These players all have something extra to prove once the postseason gets under way either due to high expectations, past playoff failures or some combination of the two.

    OK, I cheated. I actually squeezed 17 players onto this list, although you'll see why I choose to double up on two occasions.

    Feel free to mention any players you feel I may have missed and you feel belong on this list. Please indicate why your choice has a chip on his shoulder as the playoffs start.

15. Craig Anderson

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    Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson can't seem to earn any respect around the league.

    Last year, his strong play helped the Senators reach the postseason when few experts expected them to qualify for the playoffs.

    Once in the playoffs, Anderson nearly led the upstart Senators past the top-seeded Rangers.

    In the offseason, many experts said that Anderson may lose his starting job to either Robin Lehner or Ben Bishop, but he managed to hold on to his job.

    Anderson got off to a very strong start this season before missing significant time due to a sprained ankle.

    His statistics this year have been outstanding. Anderson leads the league with a 1.53 GAA and an impressive .949 save percentage.

    Anderson is healthy again, and another strong playoff performance by the Park Ridge, Ill., native would go a long way toward earning him the respect he deserves.

14. Tyler Seguin

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    The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in Tyler Seguin's rookie year of 2010-11, although Seguin was only a bit player in that effort.

    In the playoffs that year, Seguin had three goals and seven points while playing in 13 of the 25 games the Bruins appeared in on their way to a title.

    Last season, the Bruins were eliminated in the first round, and Seguin had two goals and one assist in seven games.

    If Seguin is to take the next step in his development into a top point producer, he needs to prove he can deliver in the playoffs.

    The Bruins figure to be contenders in the Eastern Conference and need Seguin to take his game to the next level if they hope to win another Stanley Cup.

13. Phil Kessel

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    The Maple Leafs paid a heavy price when they acquired goal-scoring winger Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins.

    In exchange, the Leafs gave Boston two first-round picks (which turned out to be Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) and a second-rounder (which the Bruins use to select Jared Knight).

    Kessel had a pair of playoff appearances in Boston and has scored 15 points in 15 career postseason games.

    The Maple Leafs haven't made a playoff appearance since 2004. They will be counting on Kessel to be productive if they hope to win a series or two and go deep into the postseason.

    A strong playoff performance will also make the trade look a bit more even from a Toronto perspective.

12. Rick Nash

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    The New York Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final last season before losing in six games to the New Jersey Devils. Over the summer, they acquired winger Rick Nash from Columbus.

    Nash was considered by many to be the player who would put the Rangers over the top and get them to their first championship since 1994.

    Instead, the Rangers have struggled to score goals and are struggling to reach the postseason.

    Assuming they get there, the Rangers will be counting on Nash to have a strong showing in the playoffs.

    During his career in Columbus, Nash played in just four playoff games and scored a goal and three points. The Blue Jackets lost all four games.

    Nash has to prove he is a clutch playoff performer and not just someone who can score a lot of goals when playing in meaningless games for bad teams.

11. Patrick Marleau

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    Patrick Marleau has been a consistent point producer for the San Jose Sharks with six seasons of 30 or more goals and five seasons of 70 or more points. This season, he still leads the Sharks with 17 goals.

    In the playoffs, however, Marleau has often been invisible, including last season when he was held without a point in five postseason games.

    Marleau needs to prove he can perform at a high level in the playoffs and help the Sharks make a long playoff run. He can certainly turn around his reputation by exceeding expectations this spring.

10. Tuukka Rask

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    After the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with Tim Thomas in goal, Thomas took this season off and now, will officially not return to the Bruins as he has been traded to The New York Islanders.

    That left the Bruins in the hands of Tuukka Rask who has done a very good job so far this season. Thus far, the 26-year-old Finn has a 17-8-4 record with a GAA of 1.99 and an impressive .929 save percentage.

    But the playoffs, not the regular season, is where Rask needs to prove himself.

    In 2010, Rask played in 13 games for the Bruins, going 7-6 with a GAA of 2.61 and a .912 save percentage. Those are very average playoff numbers, and the Bruins' performance reflected it as they were eliminated in the second round.

    If Rask shines, he cements himself as the Bruins' goalie of the future, and the Bruins will likely go on a long postseason run. If he flounders, the Bruins will have to address the goaltending position over the summer, and Rask's future as the club's starter will be called into question.

9. John Tavares

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    John Tavares faced very high expectations when he was selected first overall by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL draft.

    He has improved his performance each season since then and is presently tied for third in the league with 24 goals on the season.

    But while Tavares has put up better numbers each season, his team has yet to reach the postseason.

    This year, however, the Islanders are on the brink of reaching the playoffs for the first time since Tavares joined the club.

    While the Isles' leading scorer has proven himself to be among the NHL's best during the regular season, to truly join the league's elite, he needs to excel in the postseason.

8. The Sedin Twins

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    Henrik and Daniel Sedin have accomplished a lot since coming over from Sweden and joining the Vancouver Canucks in 2000, winning league-scoring titles and being named to numerous All-Star teams.

    Their playoff highlight was helping Vancouver reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 where they fell to the Boston Bruins in seven games.

    However, in that series, the Bruins neutralized the Sedin Twins for long stretches, and many critics, including NBC's Mike Milbury, said the Sedins played "soft" hockey in the finals.

    In order to undo that reputation of not being tough enough to thrive in a physical playoff series, the Sedins need to again lead their club deep into the playoffs. In fact, only a Stanley Cup win would probably be enough to call off many of the critics.

    Either way, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have a lot to prove once the playoffs get under way later this spring.

7. James Reimer

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    Many experts questioned whether James Reimer was good enough to lead the Maple Leafs to a playoff berth this season. Rumors abounded (per Mike Cole of NESN) all season long that Roberto Luongo may be headed to Toronto to take over as the goalie in Toronto.

    Reimer has done a lot to prove his critics wrong. Thus far, he has a 16-5-5 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .922 save percentage.

    His consistent play is one of the reasons the Leafs are close to qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

    Getting Toronto to the playoffs is one thing, but if Reimer hopes to prove he truly is a legitimate NHL starter, he has to excel in the playoffs.

    As a result, the 25-year-old Winnipeg native has a lot to prove once the playoffs start.

6. Joe Thornton

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    Like his longtime teammate Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton has failed to lead the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final despite being among the favorites nearly every year since the 2004 lockout.

    Thornton is averaging practically a point per game over his career during the regular season with 1,114 points in 1,118 games. In the playoffs, however, his average dips to 0.76 points per game.

    Moreover, many have criticized Thornton's leadership abilities and his willingness to take his game to the next level in the playoffs.

    At 33, Thornton may be running out of chances in San Jose. If he doesn't play outstanding hockey and help lead the Sharks on a deep playoff run, big changes may be coming to Team Teal over the coming offseason.

5. Carey Price

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    Montreal Canadiens' goalie Carey Price has a lot to prove once the playoffs get started.

    In 2010, the Montreal Canadiens made their last long playoff run, reaching the Eastern Conference Final. The goalie for most of that run, however, was Jaroslav Halak, not Carey Price. In fact, Price started only one game during that successful run by the Habs.

    In 2011, Price was the starter, but the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Price put up solid numbers, putting up a 2.11 GAA and a .934 save percentage.

    Still, Price has yet to show he can take a team deep into the playoffs. While he is clearly established as the Habs' starting goaltender, if he wants to join the Canadiens' canon of great goalies like Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Gump Worsley and Jacques Plante, he needs to deliver a Stanley Cup to Montreal. Proving he is capable of getting them there would be a start.

4. Henrik Lundqvist

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    Henrik Lundqvist is considered the most valuable player on the The New York Rangers current team.

    Coach John Tortorella plays a conservative, defense-first style of play that results in a lot of low-scoring games. That means that Lundqvist is under constant pressure to be nearly perfect if his team is going to win.

    Lundqvist has been named the most valuable Ranger six times and has been selected to play in three NHL All-Star games. Last season, he won his first Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie.

    But until last season, Lundqvist had never taken the Rangers beyond the second round of the playoffs.

    Last year, the Rangers were the top seed in the East, but ended up losing to the New Jersey Devils in the conference final.

    Lundqvist has done everything but help the Rangers win a title or even a conference championship. He has a lot to prove this year once the playoffs get under way.

3. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider

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    These two Vancouver goalies each have a chip on their shoulders as the playoffs get started, although for slightly different reasons.

    Schneider assumed the starting goaltending position full time this season after finishing the playoffs as Vancouver's starter last spring.

    After a slow start, Schneider has come on and played quite well, but how far into the playoffs can he get the Canucks? If he stumbles, Luongo is still on the roster and available to take over, throwing Schneider's future in doubt.

    Meanwhile, Luongo has survived a season of constant trade rumors and played well, despite losing his job to Schneider. "Bobby Loo" got the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, but his play in the final was uneven. He won several games for the Canucks, but cost them some games as well.

    If Luongo gets a chance, he certainly has something to prove to his critics. But will he get that chance?

2. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has already won a Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh and helped the club reach the Stanley Cup Final on another occasion.

    But last season, Fleury looked like an amateur in a horrible series against the Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs. The numbers are almost too ugly to fathom: a 4.63 GAA and a save percentage of just .834. Philadelphia won the series in six games.

    This season, Fleury seems back on track. He leads the NHL with 21 wins and has a 2.26 GAA and a save percentage of .919.

    The Penguins have traded for players like Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray, Brendan Morrow and Jussi Jokinen in an attempt to win another Cup now.

    But if Fleury can't bounce back from last year's horrific playoff performance, all the additional talent GM Ray Shero added will be for naught. Fleury needs to prove what he did last year in the playoffs was a fluke.

1. Alex Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin has been a dominant player since he arrived in the NHL in 2005.

    Ovechkin has four seasons with 50 or more goals and has won two Rocket Richard Trophies for leading the league in goals scored. He has also won a pair of Hart Trophies as the league's MVP.

    While "The Great Eight" has been one of the league's most dominant players during the regular season, in the playoffs, both Ovechkin and the Capitals have repeatedly fallen short.

    Washington has never reached the Stanley Cup Final since Ovechkin joined the team, and the Russian sniper's performances in the playoffs have not matched his regular-season level of excellence.

    After a slow start this season, Ovechkin has again caught fire and is presently leading the NHL with 27 goals scored on the year.

    If Ovechkin fails to take the Caps deep into the playoffs, he is viewed as the next Mike Gartner, an excellent player (and Hall of Famer) who never excelled in the postseason. If he proves he can take the Caps to the promised land, he has a chance to go down as one of the game's all-time greats.