NHL

Ranking the Most Clutch Players in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Ranking the Most Clutch Players in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    There are certain guys you just know you can count on to make a difference at a critical point in a game. These clutch performers are even more important in the playoffs.

    The NHLers most often considered clutch are the goalscorers, and there are plenty of those in this year's second season. Not all of them have had their chance to shine yet, but keep an eye on these guys.

    Game-winning goals, shorthanded tallies, clutch defensive plays and power-play points—critical measures of success in the playoffs—were all considered along with a veteran presence when creating this list of the most clutch players suiting up for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

    Click ahead to check them all out and add your own choices in the comments.

     

    All statistics are from NHL.com, HockeyReference.com and TSN.ca unless otherwise noted.

10. Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Colorado Avalanche should really get this guy signed if the first two games of the 2014 playoffs are any indication of how critical his presence might be going forward.

    Paul Stastny and rookie Avalanche teammate Nathan MacKinnon are the early runaway leaders in the points race with seven through two contests, but it's the game situations that have separated Stastny so far.

    With the favored Avs trailing the Minnesota Wild, 4-3, late in Game 1, Stastny scored from the bottom of the left circle with 14 seconds left in regulation. He one-upped himself in overtime, jumping on a loose puck and snapping it past Ilya Bryzgalov to complete the comeback.

    The pending unrestricted free agent potted the empty netter for insurance in a 4-2 win in Game 2 as well, and has three goals and four assists for seven points.

    Because he's spent his eight seasons with the Avs and missed the playoffs in five of them, he has only 17 games of playoff experience. But two of his six goals are winners. He's a clutch playoff performer in the making.

9. Jarome Iginla (Boston Bruins)

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    After spending most of his career with a struggling Calgary Flames team, Jarome Iginla took a while to get deep into the postseason again after his one long run to the Cup final in 2004.

    He was a monster in 2004, practically carrying the Flames to the final series on his back in improbable fashion by beating the top three seeds in the Western Conference. But it has been a series of first-round exits and straight-up misses ever since.

    His trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins last year at the deadline led to his first conference championship series in almost a decade, and although it ended in abysmal fashion for the Pens, who were swept by the Boston Bruins, Iginla was a bright spot with four goals and 12 points in 15 games to sit fourth in scoring on the team.

    Signing with the Bruins as a free agent in the summer, Iginla was clutch during the regular season. He tallied eight game-winning goals and scored 30 in his 12th straight (full) season.

    Remarkably, Iginla sits third among active players behind Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne in regular-season, game-winning goals with 92, tied for 11th all-time with his boyhood hero Mark Messier and one better than Wayne Gretzky.

    In Game 2 of the Bruins' first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, Iginla earned a pair of assists to pace the Bruins to a big victory that tied things up at a game apiece. He's motivated to win a Cup before his career ends.

8. Brad Richards (New York Rangers)

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Folks who aren't fans of Brad Richards will quickly note that much of his clutch playoff performing was done during a magical run to the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

    A decade has passed, but Richards has had a bit of a bounce-back season with the New York Rangers and could be primed for big things once again in the playoffs after the most disappointing of his career last spring.

    Back in 2004, Richards set an NHL record with seven game-winning goals in one playoff season. He has eight game-winners to his name in the postseason, with one of them coming in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens in the conference semifinal.

    The 33-year-old had 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games this year and started strong in the playoffs with a goal and three points to get the Rangers started with a win over the Flyers. He was pointless in Game 2 but has already surpassed his total from last year in 10 games during which he played a lot of time on the fourth line while feuding with former coach John Tortorella.

7. Teemu Selanne (Anaheim Ducks)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Finnish Flash is in his final season, and is nowhere near the player he once was, but Teemu Selanne is still capable of coming through with a key goal. The 43-year-old has one assist through two games so far, but has shown even at his age that he's a threat.

    At the Sochi Olympics, on the world's biggest hockey stage, he finished with four goals and two assists to sit tied for fifth among the scoring leaders. For that performance, he earned the tournament's Most Valuable Player honors.

    He put up just nine goals and 27 points in 64 games in the regular season—his lowest per-game average since 2003-04—but as the Ducks advance through these 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, you can bet Selanne will factor in at some point.

    Selanne is one of only 50 NHLers ever to net double-digit, game-winning goals in the playoffs, and sits sixth among active players with 11 of them. He also has two overtime winners and a pair of game-tying goals in the postseason, along with 18 power-play playoff goals.

6. Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks)

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Marian Hossa's 10 game-winning goals in the playoffs put him in the top 50 all-time and eighth among active players.

    The Chicago Blackhawks winger also has a shorthanded goal, two overtime winners and 16 power-play tallies to his name.

    During the 2013-14 regular season, he scored four game-winning goals to bring his career total to 74, which is good for 34th on the all-time list and sixth among active players. When it comes to overtime goals, he's got 11—which ranks him fifth among active players and ties him for 11th in league history.

    The Blackhawks are going to need him to step up after going the first two games in the first-round series against the St. Louis Blues without a contribution on the scoreboard and a minus-three rating, which is uncharacteristic of him.

5. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Evgeni Malkin has more game-winning goals in the playoffs with eight, but Sidney Crosby does so many things defensively that he gets the edge here over his Russian teammate.

    In Game 1, Crosby's last-second shot-block preserved a victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was effectively shut down by shadow Brandon Dubinsky but still found a way to contribute to the outcome.

    He's the all-time active leader in points per game in the playoffs with 1.286 (Malkin is second with 1.165) and has five game-winners to his credit despite being known for his playmaking ability, as opposed to his sniping skills.

    His three assists through two games aren't the hot start some might have expected from the Art Ross Trophy winner, but he has plenty of time to make an impact.

4. Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    When it comes to goaltenders, it's tougher to determine what makes them clutch. Is it their overall ability to stay calm in any situation? Is it the number of flashy saves they make? Is it how they perform while the team is shorthanded, or is five-on-five play more important?

    Ultimately, it comes down to a couple of things. One is winning, which Jonathan Quick did with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. The other is consistency and save percentage regardless of the situation. That's where Tuukka Rask gets the edge over the likes of Quick and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.

    Although Rask has just 36 playoff games to his name, having only taken over full time for Tim Thomas in the Boston Bruins nets last season, he's got a career save percentage of .928—higher than any other active starter for this year's playoff teams, including Quick and Lundvist.

    Rask was the top goaltender last spring, too. His Bruins fell short in the Stanley Cup final, but he finished with a .940 save percentage to lead the way among netminders. In Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings—a game the Bruins lost by a 1-0 score—Rask put up a .958 save percentage.

3. Johan Franzen (Detroit Red Wings)

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Most people think of Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk when they think of the Detroit Red Wings.

    But it's Johan Franzen who has consistently been their playoff performer up front. When it comes to game-winning goals in the postseason, The Mule has been the man.

    Of his 42 playoff goals, 12 of them have been winners to sit fourth among active players. That's 29 percent of them deciding games. He's also got a pair of game-tying goals and two overtime winners to his credit, along with 14 on the power play and two while shorthanded.

    Like Datsyuk and Zetterberg this season, Franzen has struggled to stay healthy. When he's been in the lineup, hes been relied upon as one of the leading veterans and finished with 16 goals and 41 points in 54 games.

    The playoffs are his bread and butter. In regular-season games, he has 180 goals and 347 points in 567 appearances—0.61 points per game. In the postseason, he has 42 goals and 80 points in 103 contests—an average of 0.78 points per game.

2, Daniel Briere (Montreal Canadiens)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dale Weiss got the glory, but it was Daniel Briere who did the dirty work to set up the Montreal Canadiens' game-winning goal in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    It's nothing new for Briere, who has 110 points in 110 career playoff games. He's one of only 35 players in NHL history to average at least a point per playoff game. That number may dip as the Canadiens move on because Briere is no longer a top-line player.

    But his reputation as a clutch playoff performer is well-deserved.

    He has 13 game-winning goals in the playoffs, three in overtime. He's also got three game-tying goals and 20 power-play goals in the postseason. He was a key offseason acquisition for the Habs for this very reason—the 36-year-old raises his game in the playoffs.

1. Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Patrick Marleau is one of those guys some people consistently underestimate.

    He's not flashy on the ice. His postgame interviews consist of cliches and passing praise to others.

    But his numbers don't lie. The veteran of 141 NHL playoff games comes through in the clutch, however unheralded he may be.

    The 34-year-old is tied for 10th all-time in game-winning goals in the postseason with 14 of them. Only Jaromir Jagr has more among active players. To put that number in perspective, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull only netted 10 more than Marleau in their storied playoff careers.

    He's tied for 20th all-time in shorthanded playoff goals with four, and tied for 24th with 21 power-play goals—which can mean life or death in the postseason. Three of his game-winners have come in overtime contests.

    A lot was made about Marleau losing the Sharks captaincy in 2009, but it allowed him to worry about his game, as opposed to an unnatural leadership role.

    This year, he netted four game-winners in the regular season and put in a backbreaking redirection goal in the dying seconds of the first period to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their opening-round series.

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