The Western Conference seedings are set, and the Eastern Conference will be settled after the Ottawa game at the Bruins on Sunday. We know who the 16 teams vying for the Stanley Cup are for the 2013 postseason.
So who is facing the most pressure?
Here are 16 people facing the heat:
Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins
Bylsma’s not exactly on the hot seat, what with the Penguins having rolled through the Eastern Conference regular season. But he’s the coach with the most talent on his roster, and that means the expectations are higher than they are for any other bench boss in the NHL postseason. The pieces are all there; how Bylsma manages them will determine whether Ray Shero has constructed a Cup winner or a paper champ.
Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins
He entered the final game of the season with seven goals in 45 games, but it’s been the lack of emotional engagement that’s been the real worry for the Bruins regarding their power forward. From Bud Barth of the Telegram:
Certainly, the fact that Lucic didn’t play during the lockout has taken a toll. Since he is a big body, conditioning is crucial to his game. He got off to a decent start — two goals in his first three games and 3-5-8 totals in his first 11 — but when the schedule became tougher, so did the road to offense for Lucic, who often looks tired.
… Other theories have been thrown out there — like this being Lucic’s first season with a wife and baby, and the fact that he just signed that lucrative extension, which will make him the highest-paid forward on the team next season (at $5.5 million) and second on the club only to defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Maybe one or both of those changes have played with his mind. The one thing that’s certain is that Lucic needs the physical edge to his game to excel, and the Bruins need a maximum performance from Lucic to have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
They don’t need Lucic to be an offensive juggernaut. They just need him to be a difference maker again.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
He probably can’t replicate the 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage of his rookie postseason without a Dale Hunter system in front of him. But the 23 year old is the key to the team’s postseason hopes, even beyond star talent like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom – especially when it comes to the Capitals’ penalty kill, which is by far the weakest facet of their team.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
His newfound maturity has led to a Norris caliber season and the Canadiens to the fifth best power play in the regular season. Opponents are going to do everything they can to bring the hothead out of Subban. He’s been a catalyst for the Habs, and will need to again in the playoffs.
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs
Was it finally hitting the wall? Was it the Don Cherry kiss of death? Whatever the case, Kadri went from a Hart Trophy dark horse to a player with one goal in his last 12 games. How far can they get without his offense?
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
The defensive wunderkind for the Sens returned to the lineup after a miraculous recovery from a sliced Achilles and apparently hasn’t missed a beat. His first foray into the playoffs last season resulted in one goal in seven games in a loss to the Rangers. They’ll need more from him this time. And hey, no “I missed all that time with the injury” excuses, Wolverine …
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Nash was no doubt thrilled to hear about a “second season” for teams that qualify for the “playoffs”, having only spent four games in the postseason during his Columbus Blue Jackets career. The Rangers’ best forward at 21 goals in 44 games, Nash was brought to New York to add that bit of offense the team seems to lack in tightly played postseason games. This is his time.
Evgeni Nabokov, New York Islanders
Nabby has played more playoff games (80) than defenseman Thomas Hickey has played regular season games (39). Any Sharks fan can tell you the pattern: Nabokov will look unbeatable one game, human the next, and never makes that one key save the team needs in a series-changing moment. But he’s been every bit the MVP John Tavares was for New York in the regular season. He’s the key to the Isles scoring an upset.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
The pressure on Keith is two-fold. First, he’ll need to withstand the physical beating teams will attempt to lay on him and the Chicago defense, as Vancouver and Phoenix in the last two postseasons. Second, he’ll need to help turn around a Blackhawks power play that struggled to 19th in the regular season. Hey, maybe the Hawks become special teams juggernauts in the playoffs. Anything can happen. Maybe we’ll even see a female referee one day.
Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks
Boudreau has had great regular seasons before. But he’s never had a team advance past the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As he told the Washington Times: “You know what, I feel that there is a little bit of pressure because I don’t want to get a reputation and keep that reputation,” he said. “I’d be foolish not to think that. That would eat at me.”
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
When Kesler’s in beast mode, the Canucks become a Cup contender. Now that he’s healthy and making a successful shift to the wing with Derek Roy at center, Kesler could be a huge factor in establishing a scoring threat beyond the Sedins.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
His first run through the playoffs was short-circuited by injury. The Blues’ ice time leader (25:06) plays in every situation and leads a blue line that needs to be at its best in a series against San Jose Los Angeles. A goal would be nice, too, considering he hasn’t scored since March 7.
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
Could it be anyone else? Everyone’s favorite postseason scapegoat followed two seasons of productivity (15 goals in 32 games) with five games without a point last postseason. He has one goal since March 28. Good times.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
After an inconsistent season following his Conn Smythe campaign, Quick had a strong April to propel the Kings into the postseason. Last time he backstopped the Kings in the playoffs, he left with a Cup ring, the MVP and a fat new contract. So what’s the encore?
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
In the first Red Wings’ first postseason without Nicklas Lidstrom since 1991, it falls to Kronwall to be the leader on the backline, as it has throughout the season. Can he be the 15 points in 22 games player he was the last time the Wings won the Cup?
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
The big gamble paid off for Minnesota, as Parise and Ryan Suter arrived and turned the Wild into a playoff team. Parise, who scored in the Wild’s clinching game, has solid postseason stats but was never a difference-maker in a series for the New Jersey Devils. If the Wild are to pull off the upset in Round 1, it’ll take Parise matching the playoff heroics of players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.