NHL Playoffs: Top 10 Players Left in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The NHL has spoiled us.
For only the second time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, and the first since 1945, the final four remaining teams consist of past four Stanley Cup champions.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have proved to be the best four teams in hockey this season. Fittingly, these teams are currently battling for the right to hoist the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports.
As we all know, great teams consist of great players. From Sidney Crosby to David Krejci, and from Patrick Kane to Jonathan Quick, hockey fans around the world cannot say that there is a shortage of great players taking the ice in June.
To be a part of my rankings, each of these players had to meet several criteria. First off, the amount of points they have tallied in the postseason was my number one deciding factor. For goalies, I used GAA as the deciding statistic in this category. Also, I highly valued the intangibles that each of these players have. This includes their value to team chemistry, leadership and playmaking ability.
Without further ado, here are my top 10 remaining players in the 2013 NHL playoffs.
Just missing my list were Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jerome Iginla of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings.
Hossa has tallied 13 points through 15 games played, and has been Chicago's second-leading scorer throughout the playoffs.
Iginla has put up four goals to go along with eight assists so far in the postseason, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Carter has tallied 11 points, including six goals and five assists, en route to helping the Los Angeles Kings advance to their second consecutive Western Conference Finals.
10. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
The 35-year-old defenseman symbolizes everything that is Boston Bruins hockey: tough, mean and nasty.
Standing at 6'9", the Slovakian-born captain gives the Bruins a physical presence like none other in the National Hockey League. Not only can Chara intimidate his opponents with bone-crushing hits, but he also gives Boston valuable puck-moving abilities out of the defensive zone.
As a former Norris Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion, Chara also gives the Bruins valuable experience during the time of the year when it matters most.
A surprisingly underrated part of Chara's game is his ability to produce points. Chara currently has 11 points through 15 games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has the ability to play the point on the power play.
Alliteration aside, without Chara in the lineup, the Boston Bruins simply would not be the same team. As long as he is healthy and plays at the level he is capable of, Boston has every chance of winning their second cup in three years.
9. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
A finalist for this season's Norris Trophy, Kris Letang has proved himself to be one of the NHL's best defenseman.
Through the playoffs thus far, Letang has racked up 16 points through 14 games, giving the Penguins one of the best point-producing defenseman in the entire NHL. However, not only does Letang give the Penguins another scoring option, but he also provides his team with extremely valuable defensive skills.
Despite his team facing a tough task to reach yet another Stanley Cup Finals, it would be extremely difficult to put Pittsburgh's struggles so far against the Boston Bruins on Letang. Without Letang's presence, the blowouts that Pittsburgh suffered in Games 1 and 2 against Boston might have been even more embarrassing.
With Letang in the lineup, the Penguins have one of the best defenseman in the game donning their uniform. With him, there is every shot that Pittsburgh can overcome their 3-0 series deficit to Boston and reach their first Stanley Cup Finals since 2009.
8. Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins
I know, I know. Nathan Horton is not a household name. He is neither Sidney Crosby, nor Evgeni Malkin. He is neither Jonathan Toews, nor Patrick Kane.
So, what is Horton doing on this list?
Well, Horton is currently the second-leading scorer in the 2013 NHL Playoffs. Tallying 17 points through 15 games played, Horton has broken out to be one of Boston's go-to skaters in crunch time.
Horton, who has battled concussions in recent past, including last season when he missed out on the entirety of the playoffs due to a concussion he suffered in January 2012, has proved to be the player that has the talent to dominate his opponents when healthy.
Playing alongside teammates David Krejci, who I'll be getting to in a moment, and Milan Lucic, Horton has proved to give Eastern Conference opponents nightmares throughout these playoffs.
If Horton can continue to produce at even half the rate that he currently is producing, Boston has a terrific chance of ousting the number-one seeded Pittsburgh Penguins en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
7. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Out of all the skaters on the Chicago Blackhawks star-studded roster, maybe Patrick Sharp is the most underrated.
Hey, when you're on the same team as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, that'll happen.
However, Sharp has managed to lead his teammates in scoring this postseason. With eight goals to go along with six assists, Sharp is currently the sixth-leading scorer of the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
Along with his scoring, Sharp gives the Blackhawks valuable experience in their quest for the Cup. At 31 years old, Sharp gives a young Chicago team the locker room presence that is needed during an NHL playoff run.
If Sharp can continue his hot scoring streak and keep putting up points to compliment Kane and Toews, then expect to see Chicago battling an Eastern Conference opponent real soon for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.
6. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Boston, it's Tuukka Time.
The Black and Gold have witnessed their goalie of the future take center stage during these 2013 NHL Playoffs. Posting an outstanding 1.85 GAA through the playoffs thus far, Rask has put at ease any doubt in Boston fan's minds that he is unable to lead the Bruins to their second Cup in three seasons.
In his first full season as Boston's starting goaltender, Rask has taken the reigns from Tim Thomas as the Bruins' puck stopper.
Despite some early troubles in the postseason against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rask has settled into his position between the pipes and rebounded spectacularly against the New York Rangers and now the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As everyone knows, a hockey team can only go as far as their goalie takes them.
With Rask leading the way in Beantown, the sky is the limit for this Boston Bruins squad.
5. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Last season, Jonathan Quick was every bit responsible for winning the Los Angeles Kings their first Stanley Cup in franchise history as anybody.
Fast forward one year, and it seems like the Kings goaltender is still in that same form. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has seemingly put his team on his back and carried them into the Western Conference Finals.
Quick has posted a remarkable 1.71 GAA through these playoffs so far, compared to a 1.41 GAA he put up in last season's run to the Cup. Quick has also managed to post three shutouts since the start of the playoffs.
The UMass alum has continued to rob opponents night-in and night-out on his way to proving that he is in fact one of the elite goalies in the NHL. With Quick continuing his playoff dominance from last season, the Los Angeles goaltender is giving the Kings every chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
4. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
The reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner has lived up to every expectation set forth to him since joining the Penguins in his rookie season in 2006.
Currently the third-leading scorer in the NHL Playoffs, with 16 points through 14 games, "Geno" may arguably be the league's top player. Being able to dominate defenses with his size and speed, Malkin gives matchup nightmares to any team that goes up against him.
The second-overall pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, Malkin has as much talent and finesse as anybody in the league. In last night's overtime loss to the Bruins, Malkin was arguably the best player on the ice.
For that reason, if Pittsburgh is to have any chance of defying the odds and coming back in the series to beat the Boston Bruins, Malkin will be the driving force that allows them to do so.
3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Love him or hate him, you have to appreciate what Sidney Crosby brings to the game of hockey.
Throughout his National Hockey League career, I don't think there is any doubt that the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has been the best player in the world.
Despite his team's struggles, Crosby has still managed to put up solid production thus far in the postseason. He has tallied seven goals to go along with eight helpers in only 13 games played. Whether or not his sometimes over-dramatic style of play is needed, Crosby is the heart, soul and engine of this Penguins team.
As a former Stanley Cup winner and league MVP, Crosby has the experience and drive to be able to carry his team on his back through a deep postseason run. The only reason he is not higher on this list is due to the fact that his team has struggled mightily against the Boston Bruins.
However, if Pittsburgh is to have any chance of defying the odds and surviving the Eastern Conference Finals and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, Sidney Crosby will have to be the player who leads the way.
2. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
If you were to ask 100 Chicago Blackhawks fans who should be their team's MVP of the 2013 NHL Playoffs so far, I guarantee 99 of them would tell you Corey Crawford.
And rightly so.
Simply put, Crawford has been remarkable throughout this postseason. He was the sole reason why the Blackhawks were able to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games, as well as jump out to a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
Crawford has put up a stunning 1.70 GAA throughout these playoffs. The 28-year-old is playing the best hockey of his career at the moment, and is riding momentum in hopes of giving the city of Chicago their second Stanley Cup in four years.
Despite superstars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa grabbing the headlines all season, it is Crawford who has been Chicago's best player through these playoffs so far.
The only reason why Crawford is not number one on my list is because of the dominant play of the skater who I will be naming next.
1. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
What?! David Krejci? Who?
Let me go on record by saying that David Krejci is the most underrated player in the entire National Hockey League. And this season's postseason has served as Krejci's coming-out party.
Krejci is currently the leading scorer of the 2013 NHL playoffs, totaling 21 points through 15 games. To go along with nine goals, Krejci has also been spectacular at setting up his teammates with 12 assists.
While some may have never even heard of Krejci's name before these playoffs, the Boston forward has undoubtedly garnered the world's attention now.
As he continues his dominance throughout these playoffs, he also is paving the way for the Boston Bruins to reach their second Stanley Cup Finals in three season. Since the start of the postseason, Krejci has put his team on his back, including scoring a hat trick and overtime winner in Game 4 of Boston's Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Simply put, David Krejci has been the reason behind his team's success throughout this postseason. If Boston does in fact oust the Pittsburgh Penguins, reach the Stanley Cup Finals and hoist Lord Stanley's Trophy, David Krejci will be undoubtedly the reason why they did so.