Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013: The 10 Most Exciting Players to Watch in 2nd Round
Through slightly more than three weeks of Stanley Cup playoff action, hockey fans have been treated to a multitude of thrilling performances. Gut-wrenching overtime battles, bullying defenders and elite offensive threats have thrived on the game's greatest stage since the opening round commenced.
Players at the center of these memorable moments have gained attention while leading their respective franchises. In a tournament filled with uncertainty and surprises, there's only one sure thing: a champion will be crowned next month.
These standout performers are doing everything to ensure they're the one hoisting the Cup when the curtain closes. Here's a look at players who, in the pursuit of professional hockey domination, have entertained onlookers throughout the postseason.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
The 24-year-old center is growing into his new-found role of superstar before our eyes. Logan Couture, the No. 9 overall draft pick in 2007, tallied 37 points and led San Jose in scoring (21 goals) during the regular season.
Many viewed him as an X-factor for the Sharks' postseason fate. So far, he's risen to the occasion as San Jose has accumulated a 6-2 playoff record.
Couture owns five power-play goals through eight games, becoming the third player in franchise history to accomplish that feat in a single postseason. He scored game-winning goals in both Game 3 and Game 4 of a Western Conference Semifinal showdown against reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles.
Couture is playing with a new level of confidence and could quickly become a household name if San Jose is able to advance.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
The 25-year-old is four seasons removed from his only Stanley Cup title and seems to be well-aware of that fact. Crosby is tied for the NHL lead in scoring (six goals) and third in points (12) through eight playoff games, playing like a man possessed.
He is the most vilified and revered player of his generation, so you can always expect plenty of eyes on the Penguins captain. Crosby has recovered from a broken jaw to get back on the ice quicker than most expected without missing a beat for the Eastern Conference's top-seeded team.
David Krejci, Boston Bruins
David Krejci is in the midst of a career-altering playoff campaign. The 27-year-old center totaled 33 points in 47 regular-season games, but has kicked things up a notch this month.
He's accumulated nearly half of that tally in just 10 playoff contests. Krejci leads the league with 16 points and 11 assists.
His hat trick in Game 4 of a first-round clash with Toronto built a series cushion the Bruins ultimately needed. Krejci scored a trio of goals on the road as Boston seized a 3-1 series lead.
It was one of three games in which he racked up three points against the Maple Leafs. Despite playing alongside a slew of stars, no one is shining brighter than Krejci right now.
Colin Greening, Ottawa Senators
If you haven't paid attention to the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators, the inclusion of Colin Greening probably seems like a head-scratcher. The 27-year-old center hardly made a blip on the radar with 19 regular-season points, but he's saved the Senators in the second round.
Greening is a tenacious, physical defender who helps set the tone for an amazingly young Ottawa squad. Suddenly, he's also a serious scoring threat.
Greening notched the game-winning score Sunday night to top Pittsburgh in double overtime and breathe new life into the underdog Senators' Stanley Cup hopes. He has a goal in all three games against the Penguins and plays with passion that any hockey fan can appreciate.
Keep tabs on the unproven Senators standout, who suddenly has nine shots on goal in the past two contests.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick catapulted to fame when he captured the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy and led Los Angeles to its first NHL title. Now a known commodity, he continues to keep the Kings in the hunt for a repeat.
The 27-year-old American netminder has two shutouts this postseason, helping Los Angeles surge to a six-game win streak that beat the St. Louis Blues and buried the Sharks. Quick kept San Jose off the scoreboard for the first 89 minutes of the Kings' Western Conference Semifinal matchup.
Aside from the eye-popping stats, his style of play makes him a joy to watch. Quick often pushes the boundaries of conventional goalie approach by creeping beyond the crease, and he tends to get riled up more than most of his counterparts.
Quick can be seen shoving a glove in the face of an opposing player after the whistle, and he's continued to display that competitive streak throughout a fiercely competitive second-round series against San Jose.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
The superstar forward skates like a freight train and finishes near the net with a lethal blend of skill and power. He currently ranks second in the NHL with 14 playoff points and is tied for the league lead in assists (11).
Evgeni Malkin hasn't been afraid to get in opponents' faces throughout the postseason, helping to keep the heat off teammate Sidney Crosby. He bullied Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares at times during a six-game, opening-round series win over the New York Islanders.
The Russian keeps opponents back on their heels with his relentless attacking style and elite passing abilities. Remember, it was Malkin, not Crosby, who claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy when Pittsburgh won the 2009 Stanley Cup.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist is quite possibly the only New York star safe from the ire of fans at this point. The Rangers have slid into a 3-0 series hole against Boston, but key issues lie far beyond the man in net.
The 31-year-old goalie willed New York past Washington in the first round with a pair of shutouts in Games 6 and 7. Against the Bruins, he's tallied 104 saves in three games.
An overwhelmed Rangers attack and historically horrible special teams play has left Lundqvist on an island far too often through two rounds of playoff action. He may not be able to carry an underachieving New York team back to the Eastern Conference Finals, but this squad doesn't sniff the playoffs without his consistent effort.
Lundqvist is truly one of the masters of the position he plays and ranks among the current crop of NHL greats. He is the defending Vezina Trophy winner and listed among three finalists for this year's award.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Since the "C" was sewn onto his Sharks uniform, Joe Thornton has transformed into a more complete and consistent player. The 33-year-old center is a locker-room catalyst and led San Jose in assists during the regular season.
He has been extremely active throughout the playoffs.
Thornton owns eight assists through eight games, including a highlight-reel effort Tuesday night against Los Angeles in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. He helped out Brent Burns on the game's first goal and was one of the most motivated players on the ice.
The performance compelled former NHL star and current NBC Sports Network analyst Jeremy Roenick to say it was the best game he's ever seen from Thornton. The veteran is hungry for a taste of a championship, and his play has propelled the Sharks to impressive playoff results.
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
The 32-year-old center led one of the league's most revered franchises to the playoffs for a 22nd straight season. Henrik Zetterberg keyed Detroit's first-round success against Anaheim, particularly during the latter stages of a tight series.
He scored the winner in overtime for Game 6 and notched his third goal in a two-game span with another goal in Game 7. Zetterberg and the Red Wings currently lead NHL regular-season points leader Chicago 2-1 in the second round.
He tallied two assists in a Game 2 road win. Zetterberg slices through defenses with precision and always seems to find a way to make the opposing goaltender work.
He has put at least four shots on goal in Detroit's last five matchups.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
This mountain of a defenseman is the unquestioned leader of a surging Bruins squad. Zdeno Chara has been among the game's best blueliners for years, as evidenced by Norris Trophy accolades, and he refuses to slow down.
The 6'9" intimidator dished out four assists in a Game 4 first-round victory over Toronto, setting a new record for franchise defenseman. As usual, he is one of the savviest screen-setters in the sport.
Chara kept Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer occupied when Patrice Bergeron buried a game-tying goal in the final moments of Game 7. He notched a goal and an assist in the following contest, a Game 1 overtime win over New York.
Chara competes with persistent passion and does whatever is required to secure a win for Boston.
Young players, take note. Play the game like this guy.