The 2013 NHL playoffs are underway, and the hard-hitting and high-paced action of the postseason schedule has engulfed the league.
With so much parity during the lockout-shortened season, the schedule has revealed some of the wildest matchups imaginable.
There is so much raw talent across both conferences, and this is already resulting in some unpredictable games. All of the talent on the ice can’t be playing well at the same time, so there are certain stars who must step up Sunday to help their team get over the hump.
The following players are under the microscope in Round 1.
Full Sunday Schedule
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders: 12 p.m. ET on NBC (Game 3, series tied 1-1)
Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild: 3 p.m. ET on NBC (Game 3, Blackhawks lead 2-0)
Montreal Canadiens at Ottawa Senators: 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Game 3, series tied 1-1)
Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks: 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Game 3, Sharks lead 2-0)
Players Who Must Step Up Sunday
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
While the San Jose Sharks are up decisively 2-0 in their first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, the team desperately needs captain and center Joe Thornton to step up huge in Game 3.
Vancouver is a dangerous team that could very easily make a comeback from two games down, but if Thornton plays the way he did in Game 2 and contributes on the power play and at even strength, the Sharks can’t be stopped.
Thornton added a goal the last game, but San Jose needs the big man to be the distributor he has become known as and help the rest of his teammates benefit from the defensive focus the Canucks are showing on him.
Zach Parise, LW, Minnesota Wilds
The Minnesota Wild spent the offseason rebuilding the franchise, and the biggest addition was Zach Parise. After falling to 0-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Parise needs to show up offensively and give his team a chance to win Sunday.
Parise has zero points through the first two games, and while still playing an aggressive forecheck in the defensive and neutral zones, the Blackhawks have effectively shut down the biggest key to Minnesota’s success.
There is no doubt that Parise needs the players around him to step up, but with the speed and gifted hands to gain the offensive zone every possession, Parise must become more selfish for the betterment of the team.
John Tavares, C, New York Islanders
The New York Islanders were expected to get swept in their first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but after a stunning win in Game 2, the Islanders look to shock the NHL once again on Sunday.
Tavares is the top offensive player for the Islanders, and the team needs the young star to step up to have a chance against a juggernaut like Pittsburgh—one that won’t take New York lightly again.
With just one assist through the first two games, the Islanders will need more from Tavares and the top line if they want to stun the Penguins in a seven-game series.