The 10 NHL Players Who Will Face the Most Pressure in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

The 10 NHL Players Who Will Face the Most Pressure in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    The NHL playoffs are just around the corner, and the pressure is building for the league's best players. A long run in the Stanley Cup playoffs means a lot of hard work and consistency.

    For several of the NHL's stars, this season represents their best chance to win it all. A few are rentals given new life by deadline deals; others are trying to build on their established reputations.

    Here are 10 NHL players facing a lot of pressure in the 2014 NHL playoffs.

10. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals

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    The Assignment: The Washington Capitals are fighting for their playoff lives. They are using up some of Alex Ovechkin's prime seasons in an effort to make the postseason. He will need to reach 50 goals and beyond in order for the team to make the playoffs, and even that might not be enough.

    Why the Pressure? Ovechkin's incredible goal-scoring talents are being wasted with little support. The complementary players are well shy of good enough, and the Capitals are spending a lot of money every season on their best player. The longer this arrangement goes without playoff success, the more difficult the relationship will become.

    Can He Handle It? It's difficult to imagine Ovechkin being happy with another playoff disappointment. In a stunning nine-year NHL career, he has played only 58 postseason games. At some point, Ovechkin and the Capitals are going to have to come to terms with the problem. They are a bad team with a great player and would be better off trading him and starting a rebuild.

9. Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose Sharks

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    The Assignment: The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs every season since 2003-04, and this year won't be an exception. However, the organization has had little success going deep into the postseason, and that's the challenge this year. 

    Why the Pressure? Patrick Marleau has been a part of each of the last nine Sharks playoff teams, and the pressure to win several rounds this time is significant.

    Can He Handle It? The frustrations of the past have had more to do with the quality of opposition than any shortcomings from Marleau. He's a quality offensive player in all areas, including regular and postseason. The Sharks can rely on Marleau for his usual contributions.

8. Lee Stempniak, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Assignment: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Lee Stempniak at the trade deadline to add another scorer to the offense.

    Why the Pressure? Stempniak is an important addition, as Pittsburgh lacks the kind of depth at forward usually associated with a Stanley Cup-caliber team. 

    Can He Handle It? His ability to score goals is obvious, but it sometimes takes time to adjust. In Stempniak's first 10 games with the club, he's been average. His most often-used linemates in Pittsburgh have been Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, so the results should come.

7. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens

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    The Assignment: The Montreal Canadiens are surrounded by talented teams in the Eastern Conference. Their best hope in the postseason will be a hot goalie stealing games.

    Why the Pressure? It's been a long time since Montreal won it all, and Carey Price is going to be the last line of defense this spring. He delivered at the Olympics—more of the same will be expected in the playoffs. 

    Can He Handle It? Price is a quality goaltender who doesn't get too high or low. That's an ideal personality type for the position, and combined with his natural talent, he should take Montreal deeper into the postseason than the roster warrants.

6. Loui Eriksson, LW, Boston Bruins

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    The Assignment: The Boston Bruins paid a dear price for Loui Eriksson. They acquired him for his offensive ability and veteran savvy.

    Why the Pressure? Eriksson has endured a tough season, including two concussions. His current goal-scoring output has been a major disappointment. A strong postseason can save his reputation in Boston. 

    Can He Handle It? Eriksson has scored four points in his last five games and is showing signs of life. If healthy, he should be a major player in the Bruins' high-powered offense during the playoffs.

5. Jarome Iginla, RW, Boston Bruins

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    The Assignment: The Boston Bruins signed Jarome Iginla to provide veteran leadership and offense. He has delivered in both areas.

    Why the Pressure? Iginla is an older player who has spent most of his career on a middling team. He saw the Stanley Cup Final only once in his time with the Calgary Flames. This might be the last chance for Jarome to get his name on the Cup.

    Can He Handle It? Based on his late-season performance, Iginla is very much up to the challenge. Nine goals in his past 10 games suggest he's got plenty left in him.

4. Martin St. Louis, RW, New York Rangers

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    The Assignment: Martin St. Louis was acquired at the trade deadline in an effort to put the New York Rangers into good position for a deep playoff run.

    Why the Pressure? The nature of the exit from Tampa Bay—as described by Scott Burnside of ESPN—combined with a dreadful early performance in New York (one goal and three assists in 17 games) has St. Louis under the microscope. 

    Can He Handle It? The veteran should be able to handle this, but so far Ranger fans have been left to wonder what the fuss is about in regard to St. Louis. It's likely better days are ahead for him and the Rangers.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Assignment: Marc-Andre Fleury was not sharp during last season's playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He'll want a chance to redeem himself this spring.

    Why the Pressure? The last playoff game he started did not go well, as Pittsburgh lost an important game to Boston in the 2012-13 playoffs. The Penguins will need him to deliver this season as the pressure builds.

    Can He Handle It? Fleury has a Stanley Cup ring, and that is generally regarded as proof of being able to come up with the goods on the big stage. However, you can also make a strong case that Fleury is an average goalie on a very good team. This spring may be his biggest test.

2. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

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    The Assignment: The San Jose Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Joe Thornton is the face of the franchise and is expected to lead them to glory. 

    Why the Pressure? Thornton has never won the Stanley Cup, despite playing 1,200 regular-season games. There's nothing left to accomplish, save for getting his name on the trophy.

    Can He Handle It? Thornton's teams have always fallen short, both in Boston and San Jose. The numbers suggest he's a bona fide star, but until he plays on a Stanley Cup winner, the questions will remain.

1. Ryan Miller, G, St. Louis Blues

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    The Assignment: Ryan Miller was acquired by the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. The Blues have never won a Stanley Cup, but with the addition of Miller, this may be the best team in club history.

    Why the Pressure? Miller stepped into a terrific situation and a wonderful team. The expectation is a very deep run, with the ultimate goal of winning it all. 

    Can He Handle It? He was the most attractive option at the deadline, and St. Louis paid a high price to acquire him. It was a wise bet, as Miller has the resume to deliver under these trying circumstances.