NHL Players Already Delivering in Crunch Time in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

NHL Players Already Delivering in Crunch Time in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Jack Dempsey

    We're now one weekend into the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we've already seen some amazing performances.

    Some superstars have yet to kick their game into gear—we're looking at you, Sidney Crosby—but other stars and lesser lights have captured our imaginations as they take their games to the next level.

    Here's a look at some of the men behind the most pivotal moments of the playoffs so far.


    All stats courtesy of NHL.com.

7. Matt Calvert: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What He's Done: Calvert made history when his second goal in Game 2 gave the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise its first-ever playoff win.


    Why It's Mattered: Calvert has been just one of many young Blue Jackets who have outworked the higher-profile Pittsburgh Penguins through the first two games of their playoff series, stealing home-ice advantage as the series heads back to Ohio. 


    What to Expect Going Forward: Calvert may not turn out to be the Blue Jackets' go-to guy going forward, but Columbus has served notice that it's not to be taken lightly. By dishing out equal servings of grit and skill, the Jackets have proven to be a handful for an underperforming Penguins squad.

6. Alexander Steen: St. Louis Blues

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What He's Done: Alexander Steen was the triple-overtime hero for the St. Louis Blues in the closely-contested first game against the Chicago Blackhawks.


    Why It's Mattered: Though the Blues finished ahead of Chicago in the standings this season, they entered the playoffs in a terrible slump and found themselves facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the first round. St. Louis needed a late goal in Game 1 to force overtime and played more than 40 minutes of extra time before Steen was able to secure the victory.


    What to Expect Going Forward: Steen started the 2013-14 season as one of the NHL's top scorers, but was sidelined by a concussion in December. His production tapered off after he returned to action in January, so his clutch goal has raised hopes that he might regain his early-season form when his team needs it most.

5: Pavel Datsyuk: Detroit Red Wings

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    Winslow Townson

    What He's Done: Datsyuk scored the only goal of the Detroit Red Wings' Game 1 win over the Boston Bruins, effectively stealing home-ice advantage away from the Presidents' Trophy winners.


    Why It's Mattered: Boston came into the playoffs as the top team from the regular season, a Stanley Cup finalist from 2013 and a winner in 2011. Detroit was the second wild-card team, but served notice with their Game 1 win that they should not be taken lightly.


    What to Expect Going Forward: As the Red Wings showed with their upset of the favored Anaheim Ducks in 2013, they're not a team that's easily intimidated. Boston's the better team on paper, but Datsyuk and his band of merry men look ready to make a loud statement in this series.

4. Tuukka Rask: Boston Bruins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What He's Done: Rask has conceded just two goals in the Boston Bruins' first two games of their playoff against the Detroit Red Wings.


    Why It's Mattered: A goals against of 1.02 and playoff-leading save percentage of .966 has only earned his team a 1-1 record so far. The Bruins' opponents will rely on tight defensive play and airtight goaltending of their own for a chance to contend in this series. Every save counts for Tuukka.


    What to Expect Going Forward: Typically ultra-reliable, Rask's regular-season numbers were among the best in the league in 2013-14, but he's not invincible. He had some distinctly shaky moments during last year's Stanley Cup Final against Chicago. The Red Wings will need to find a way to expose his vulnerabilities.

3. Ryan Getzlaf: Anaheim Ducks

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    What He's Done: The Captain of the Anaheim Ducks scored a goal, then took a puck to the face in the closing minutes of his team's Game 1 win over the Dallas Stars. After getting stitched up, he went to the hospital to watch his wife give birth before returning to the rink to score a goal, provide an assist and lead all forwards in ice time as the Ducks defeated Dallas 3-2 in Game 2.


    Why It's Mattered: It's been an eventful few days for Getzlaf. He's required to wear a shield to protect his injured face, but was determined to play once it was clear that his jaw wasn't broken. He was a team-best plus-three for the Ducks on Saturday and a force all over the ice.


    What to Expect Going Forward: At 28 years old, Getzlaf could be on the cusp of taking his game to the next level. His Game 2 performance may have been fueled by adrenaline, but he has a chance to use this year's playoffs to establish himself as a bona fide member of the game's elite.

2. Rene Bourque: Montreal Canadiens

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What He's Done: With three goals in three playoff games, Rene Bourque is on the road to the best playoff of his career and is tied with Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog for the playoff goal-scoring lead.


    Why It's Mattered: Bourque broke open the Montreal Canadiens' series against the Tampa Bay Lightning almost single-handedly. He was quiet in Montreal's Game 1 win, but picked up two key goals to help the Habs build a four-goal lead in Game 2. Sunday in Montreal, Bourque scored his third goal just 11 seconds into the game, serving notice to Tampa Bay that a potential comeback attempt would be unwelcome at the Bell Centre.


    What to Expect Going Forward: Bourque has never scored more than 10 goals during three-regular season campaigns in Montreal, and he has limited playoff experience. At 32 years old, it would be extraordinary to see him lead the Canadiens on a storybook playoff run. More likely, his hot streak will burn out—especially if Montreal has a long wait before starting Round 2.

1. Nathan MacKinnon: Colorado Avalanche

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    Jack Dempsey

    What He's Done: Two games into his NHL playoff career, Nathan MacKinnon is tied with his teammate Paul Stastny—leading the postseason playoff race with seven points.


    Why It's Mattered: Though Stastny has three goals including the Game 1 overtime winner, MacKinnon gets the nod for being clutch because he set up that game-winner and is plus-five in the series compared to Stastny's plus-two. Also, because he's 18 years old. Playoff stars don't usually have 1995 birthdates.


    What to Expect Going Forward: It's already clear that MacKinnon's not content to be the second-best thing to come out of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Two games into the playoffs, he's dramatically outplaying his town's now-elder statesman, 26-year-old Sidney Crosby. MacKinnon was a big-game player in the juniors but any further achievements this year will be icing on the cake.