NHL Stars Failing to Meet Expectations in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMay 8, 2013

NHL Stars Failing to Meet Expectations in 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Nothing in the Stanley Cup playoffs ever goes as expected.

    Just a week into their 2013 edition, the defending NHL champions are tied in a series with a team they swept last year. The consensus Cup favorite is struggling to shake off a No. 8 seed that is in the postseason for the first time since 2007. The playoff scoring lead is held not by Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby; it's held by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Evgeni Malkin.

    For five struggling stars in particular, however, Lord Stanley's unpredictable nature isn't going over so well.

    Under the shining, pressure-laden spotlights of markets like New York, Toronto and Montreal, they're finding it difficult to duplicate their regular-season production and live up to expectations—and those shortcomings are hurting their teams, too.

    We examine five NHL stars underperforming in the playoffs—and how they can turn their play around as the first round grinds on—on the coming slides.

Brad Richards

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    Brad Richards has never quite lived up to the superstar label pinned on him by many Rangers faithful upon his summer 2011 arrival.

    While he posted a respectable 34 points in 46 games this regular season, the '11' stuck in the goal column demonstrates just how much he struggled to find a scoring touch. 

    Those woes have carried over to the postseason but have now spread like cancer to the rest of his stat line. The 33-year-old center has zero points in more than 61 minutes of playing time in Games 1, 2 and 3, accumulating just seven total shots and recording a minus-one rating.

    Richards' invisibility certainly hasn't helped the Rangers, who trail the Washington Capitals two games to one entering Wednesday.

Mikhail Grabovski

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    Common scapegoat Mikhail Grabovski is among several Toronto Maple Leafs not making the best impressions in their first playoff appearances.

    Grabovski had a mediocre 16 points in his 48-game regular season—along with a minus-10 rating—but has taken his negative impact to another level in the postseason.

    The 29-year-old center has just one point (an assist on James van Riemsdyk's Game 2-sealing goal) and a miserable minus-four mark in the first three games of the Leafs-Bruins series. He was a minus-two in both of Toronto's decisive losses so far.

    Grabovski isn't alone in the Leafs' doghouse, however. Joffrey Lupul, despite his two goals to date, is also a minus-four, and young Nikolai Kulemin ranks third-worst league at minus-five in his first career NHL playoff series.

Ryan Suter

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    The Minnesota Wild have fallen to the brink of elimination at the hands of the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.

    A lot of the blame can fall on top defenseman Ryan Suter, who has been far from impressive in his first postseason action with Minnesota.

    Suter is averaging a league-high 32:08 of ice time through the first four games of the series—almost three-and-a-half minutes more than second-place Erik Karlsson—but has yet to register a single point and is a minus-three.

    For a 28-year-old defenseman with 28 assists and 32 points to his name in the regular season, Suter's two-way play must improve dramatically if the Wild hope to stay alive.

Jonathan Toews

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    For all of the Blackhawks' regular-season and playoff successes, one factor has not held steady throughout it all—Jonathan Toews.

    Chicago's captain lit it up, along with many of his high-profile teammates, from January to April, tallying 23 goals, 48 points and an incredible plus-28 rating.

    Toews production has fallen off sharply since, however, despite the Hawks' comfortable first-round series. The 25-year-old center is still trying to work the goose eggs out of his scoring columns and plus/minus rating—for now, his leading stat is actually penalty minutes, having taken two costly minors.

    When Chicago last won the Cup in 2010, Toews had a whopping 29 points in 22 games. If they want to bring it home again this year, the 'Hawks can't afford for their captain's slump to last much longer.

Marc-Andre Fleury

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    As no-name forward Casey Cizikas rushed after a loose puck, curled toward the net and banked the ugliest game-clinching goal in recent memory off Marc-Andre Fleury's goal stick on Tuesday night. Announcer Joe Micheletti summed up the event's significance in one simple sentence: "The Penguins have a goaltending problem."

    Over the past two regular seasons, Fleury has gone 65-25-4 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA.

    Over the Penguins' last two playoff "runs," Fleury has gone 4-6 with a .860 save percentage and 4.11 GAA.

    There's a slight difference there.

    Most career playoff games allowing at least 6 goals (Active goalies): T1. Fleury and Luongo - 4; T3. Brodeur, Emery, Bryzgalov, Quick - 2

    — Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) May 8, 2013

    With veteran backup Tomas Vokoun just waiting for his opportunity and head coach Dan Bylsma refusing to reveal his Game 5 starter yet, Fleury's miserable, pressure-induced slump may finally have cost him the starting job.

    UPDATE: Wednesday, May 8, at 2:15 p.m. ET

    According to Kevin Allen of USA Today, Bylsma has announced that Vokoun will start in place of Fleury for Game 5. 

    ---End of Update---