Which Superstars Are Feeling the Most Heat in 2013 Stanley Cup Finals?
When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Jonathan Toews was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Patrick Kane scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime.
The following year, Patrice Bergeron ignited the Bruins offense while Zdeno Chara shut down the Vancouver Canucks' high-flying offense.
Those four did not do it alone, but they were under pressure to perform in the Stanley Cup Final.
Here are the superstars in this year's series who must play well for their teams to win.
6. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
David Krejci is not a full-fledged superstar. He is not an icon and does not have a slew of endorsements making him a household name.
When the Bruins are out of town, Krejci can walk around without being bothered. His regular-season totals are pedestrian. From October until early April, he is just another guy who is good enough to wear an NHL uniform.
But once the playoffs start, Krejci could take off his Boston Bruins uniform and put on a Superman uniform. When the brightest lights are on and the most important games are being played, Krejci is one of the Bruins' most important players.
Krejci is the NHL's leading scorer in the postseason heading into the Stanley Cup Final. He has scored nine goals and has 12 assists. He leads the postseason scoring race by four points over teammate Nathan Horton, and he's seven points ahead of Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks' leading scorer.
Krejci does not have eye-catching speed or dominating strength. His shot is not particularly hard. However, he has patience, and that allows him to wait for the perfect moment to shoot or pass.
If the Bruins are going to be successful, they need Krejci to play just the way he has been during the first three rounds.
5. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks were happy with Patrick Kane's performance during the regular season.
The talented winger helped get the Blackhawks off and running to a record 21-0-3 start with his quickness, hard shot and ability to score goals at the biggest moments. Following a 60-point season in 2011-12, Kane scored a team-leading 55 points (23 goals and 32 assists).
However, he has not played to that level for a majority of the postseason. Prior to Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, Kane had two goals in 15 playoff games. He had been held without a goal in his previous seven games.
The well is no longer dry. Kane scored a goal in Game 4 and was robbed of another by Jonathan Quick. He followed that performance with a hat trick in Game 5 that included the series-winning goal in double overtime.
Quenneville was relieved that Kane came through at a most opportune time.
"He stepped up," Quenneville told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune. "He took on the responsibility of leading the team and proving that he's a top player. He made special plays over the two games."
Kane must continue to score important goals in the next series.
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron is perhaps the most dedicated and responsible player on the Boston Bruins.
He is not afraid of pressure and has come through repeatedly when the Bruins have needed him most.
- The Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Check.
- The tying goal in the seventh game of this year's opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Check.
- The winning goal moments later in sudden-death overtime. Check.
- The winning goal in double overtime in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Check.
That's a pretty fair resume of coming through under pressure. In addition to his ability to score in the clutch, Bergeron excels at the defensive aspects of the game and is the best faceoff man (61.0 percent in the postseason) in the NHL.
Bergeron will have to continue performing at his usual impeccable level in the Stanley Cup Final.
3. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
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Duncan Keith is the Blackhawks' best defenseman.
As such, he will have to slow down the Bruins offense. It will not all be on his shoulders, but since he is going to have the puck on his stick when the Blackhawks are coming out of their own zone more than any other player, he must play well if Chicago is going to take home the Stanley Cup.
Keith is used to the responsibility of leading the defense, stopping the other team's most dangerous players and activating the attack once he crosses the opponent's blue line.
What will make it quite difficult in this series is the size and strength of the Bruins forwards. When big men like Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton start hammering away at Keith with big hits, it could take quite a bit out of his game.
Keith is not small at 6'1" and 200 pounds, but Lucic (220 pounds), Horton (229), Jagr (240) and Thornton (217) are all much bigger.
Keith has scored 11 points and has a plus-six rating heading into the Stanley Cup Final. He is averaging more than 25 minutes per game thus far, and that figure may need to increase against Boston.
He is going to have to be ready for a battle with heavyweights.
2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins soundly defeated the best offensive team in the NHL when they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now they must prepare to play the best overall team in the NHL. The Blackhawks were dominant from start to finish, and they have nearly as many offensive stars as the Penguins did. The Bruins defense cannot afford any slip-ups against the Blackhawks.
Zdeno Chara is the best defenseman on the team, and he proved it against Pittsburgh. In the final seconds of the fourth game, he stopped Evgeni Malkin's last-ditch effort to tie the score by blocking the shot with his arm (video above).
Chara is going to have to contain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell.
He not only has to do his job on the defensive end, he must provide leadership to the other Boston defensemen, and he must make a contribution on the offensive end. He has scored 11 points and has a plus-12 rating in the playoffs. He is a workhorse averaging better than 29 minutes per game, and that figure is not likely to shrink.
Chara must be on top of his game if the Bruins are going to be at their best.
1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
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No player will be under more pressure to perform in the Stanley Cup Final than captain Jonathan Toews.
He is the Blackhawks' best all-around player and one of the best and most valuable players in the NHL. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. He is an excellent defensive player and has won 53.1 percent of his faceoffs in the postseason.
However, this has been a difficult postseason for Toews. He has not been scoring. He's only found the back of the net once and has added eight assists. That puts him in a tie for 30th in NHL postseason scoring. That's not enough for a player who was mentioned as a Hart Trophy candidate for much of the season.
Toews is a great leader, a hard worker and knows how to play the game in all three zones. But that isn't sufficient. He also must score goals against the Bruins and show his consistency on the offensive end.