Players Under the Most Pressure in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

Players Under the Most Pressure in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    The opening round series are reaching their conclusions, and the pressure on individual players is immense. Blown leads, lack of scoring and major mistakes in critical situations all have their impact on NHL players.

    Fans are booing the best players in the game? It must be the playoffs.

    Here are the 8 players under the greatest pressure in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs.

8. Antti Niemi, G, San Jose Sharks

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    What Was Expected? Antti Niemi ranked 29th in the NHL this season in save percentage. The San Jose Sharks don't need elite goaltending to win, but Niemi has to be in the range of the NHL average in order for them to win.

    What Was Delivered? Niemi's performance during the last two games has been poor. He is facing a normal number of shots—136 shots in five games—and his postseason save percentage of .882 is subpar.

    Why The Pressure? The Sharks may have a clear run to the finals if they can get past Los Angeles, but the series may be slipping away. Niemi needs to be among San Jose's best players for Game 6.

7. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    What Was Expected? The Pittsburgh Penguins pay Marc-Andre Fleury a lot of money to stop pucks. He was expected to deliver consistent goaltending during the postseason.

    What Was Delivered? Fleury has played well, with the exception of Game 4. His game-by-game performance has been in the range of expectations.

    Why The Pressure? The Columbus Blue Jackets are a stronger opponent than their history implies, and the Penguins may need their goaltender to steal a game in order to win the series. Fleury's current performance level doesn't suggest it is likely.

6. Matt Moulson, LW, Minnesota Wild

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    What Was Expected? Matt Moulson is a scoring winger for the Minnesota Wild. After coming over at the trade deadline, he posted 20GP, 6-7-13 and added another offensive option for the goal-starved team.

    What Was Delivered? Until last night, when he scored his first playoff goal for Minnesota, Moulson was largely unnoticed during the series.

    Why The Pressure? Moulson needs to score goals in order for Minnesota to win. He was more involved offensively in last night's game, delivering five shots and one goal. He'll need to keep up that pace if he's going to make a difference in the series against the Colorado Avalanche.

5. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings

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    What Was Expected? Jonathan Quick ranked 23rd in the regular season in save percentage among NHL regular goaltenders. The Los Angeles Kings expected similar production in the postseason.

    What Was Delivered? Quick has been below average in the San Jose Sharks series. His .893 save percentage ranks him near the bottom of the list of playoff goaltenders.

    Why The Pressure? The Kings are a team with lofty expectations. Quick is their franchise goaltender, but has not been dominant for some time. There's significant pressure on him to reassert himself as an elite goalie. His last two games have been much better.

4. Carl Hagelin, LW, New York Rangers

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    What Was Expected? The New York Rangers were counting on speedy Carl Hagelin to provide quality two-way play. He plays with a physical edge, and the Rangers wanted him to bring plenty of it during their series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

    What Was Delivered? Hagelin has turned into a penalty machine. In Sunday's game alone, he took three minor penalties, giving the Flyers multiple chances to score goals.

    Why The Pressure? This is a close series and the Rangers need Hagelin to play with the discipline he displayed during the regular season. If the parade to the penalty box continues, he might be sitting more than playing.

3. Erik Johnson, D, Colorado Avalanche

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    What Was Expected? Eric Johnson is a top-pairing defender for the Colorado Avalanche. He played 23 minutes a night during the regular season, and more of the same was the expectation.

    What Was Delivered? The injury to Tyson Barrie meant extra work for the entire defense of the Avalanche. Johnson's ice time in the postseason has increased to 27 minutes, including power-play time.

    Why The Pressure? The Avalanche are playing without one of their important defensemen (Barrie), and Johnson needs to play at a very high level. Colorado has a one game lead in their series against Minnesota, and the power play hasn't been any help at all. Johnson will need to assist in that area and is getting lots of chances.

2. Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

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    What Was Expected? Claude Giroux led the Philadelphia Flyers in scoring this season, finishing ahead of second-place Jakub Voracek by 26 points. He is the straw the stirs the drink.

    What Was Delivered? The offense hasn't clicked for Giroux so far in the playoffs. With the team one game from elimination, this is a major issue. His late goal in Game 5 wasn't enough to win.

    Why The Pressure? The Flyers are down to their last chance in this playoff series against the New York Rangers. Another loss and the season is over. One of the keys to the next game is Giroux's ability to hit the score sheet.

1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    What Was Expected? The Pittsburgh Penguins are an outstanding hockey team, and their leader is Sidney Crosby. He is the best player on the planet. Expectations for him include leading the league in scoring, and playing elite two-way hockey.

    What Was Delivered? Crosby has five assists in the first five games. That's a  fine total for mortal men, but Crosby's performance over his career has created monster expectations.

    Why The Pressure? Part  of the problem comes from Columbus being a difficult team to overcome. Crosby's scoring downturn is not statistically significant—he'll be fine—but it is an issue with fans. As Sean Gentile of the Sporting News details, there were some boos sent in Crosby's direction on Saturday.