Ranking the 10 Hottest Players in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs So Far
The opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs has reached its midpoint, providing considerable excitement and drama for NHL fans. Most of the series have been closely contested, with several games needing overtime to be resolved.
This round hasn't lacked for significant individual performances by a number of players. Several have risen to the fore. Among them is a rookie forward tied for the playoff scoring lead, a captain shaking off pain to lead by example, a former 20-goal scorer rediscovering his offensive touch and a defenseman quietly leading his team in points.
The following is a ranking of the 10 hottest players thus far in the NHL divisional semifinals.
10. Rene Bourque, Montreal Canadiens
A former three-time 20-plus scorer, Bourque spent the past three seasons struggling through injuries and inconsistency. This season was his worst, managing only nine goals and 16 points in 63 games. Over the final half of the season he only scored three times.
Bourque rediscovered his scoring touch in the Canadiens divisional semifinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 32-year-old winger scored twice in Game 2, including the winning goal. In Game 3 he opened the scoring only 11 seconds into the first period. His three goals and 15 shots ranks among the playoff leaders.
It remains to be seen how long the streaky Bourque can maintain this pace. For now, he's among the playoffs' hottest scorers and a key reason the Canadiens are poised to eliminate the Lightning.
9. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
The Blues entered their divisional semifinal against the Chicago Blackhawks with several forwards sidelined or just returning from injuries. They would look to puck-moving defensemen like Shattenkirk to step up.
Shattenkirk had a career-best regular season in goals (10), assists (35) and points (45), ranking sixth overall in scoring on the Blues. He collected an assist during the Blues' 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1. He was the third star of Game 2 (another 4-3 Blues overtime win) with a three-point performance.
Three games into the series, Shattenkirk leads the Blues in assists (3) and points (4). He's also tied for second among defensemen in playoff points and tied for fourth with several others among the playoff scoring leaders.
8. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Pavelski was already enjoying a career year, finishing the season with career highs in goals (41) and points (79), leading the Sharks in both categories. It's not surprising he's already their leading postseason scorer.
He collected an assist in Game 1 of the Sharks divisional semifinal against the Los Angeles Kings. In the second game, Pavelski scored and set up two others in the Sharks' 7-2 victory, giving them a 2-0 series lead. The 29-year-old's four points not only leads the Sharks, but also ranks him among the early playoff scoring leaders.
Pavelski already has a solid record as a playoff performer (54 points in 76 games). Expect him to remain among the Sharks offensive leaders throughout the 2014 playoffs.
7. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
A free-wheeling defenseman, Johnson's 33 points this season ranked him among the Blue Jackets' top 10 scorers. He also led the club in ice time per game (24:40) and was third in power-play points (18).
Johnson has become an invaluable offensive presence for the Blue Jackets in their divisional semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 27-year-old blueliner collected two points in the Jackets' 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1. In Game 2, Johnson was named the second star, thanks to his game-tying power-play goal which set the stage for Matt Calvert's series-tying overtime winner.
Johnson scored his third goal of the series in the Jackets' 4-3 defeat in Game 3. He's now tied for the team lead in points. His three goals not only leads the Blue Jackets but also ranks among the playoff goal-scoring leaders.
6. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner, was the Canadiens second-leading scorer (53 points) during the regular season. He had a quiet start to their divisional semifinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, failing to register a point in Game 1.
The 24-year-old rebounded well in the next two games, collecting two assists in each to vault into a tie with Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher for the team's playoff scoring lead. Kukla's Korner (citing Elias Sports Bureau) reported Subban's consecutive multipoint performance was the first by a Canadiens defenseman in the postseason since Larry Robinson in 1987.
It was Subban's splendid individual effort late in the second period of Game 3 which ensured victory for Montreal. Having spun away from a Lightning defender, he swooped in from the blue line, raced around the Lightning net and dished a quick pass to Gallagher for the game-winning goal. Subban's efforts are a big reason the Canadiens hold a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.
5. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins
It was a tough season for Martin, who was limited to only 39 games by a broken leg, followed by a broken right hand playing for Team USA during the Sochi Olympics. He recently returned to the lineup for the final six games of the regular season.
Martin quickly made up for lost time in the Penguins divisional semifinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 33-year-old quietly became their leading scorer, tallying two assists in each of the three games in the series. His efforts also vaulted him into third overall in the playoff scoring lead, behind Colorado's Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon.
While the focus in this series is on Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Martin's become their most reliable offensive player. His consistency has helped the Penguins take a hard-fought 2-1 series lead over the underdog Blue Jackets.
4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Last season, Rask carried the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final. His impressive statistics (14-8-3, 1.88 goals against average, .940 save percentage, three shutouts) during that run served notice the Finnish netminder could handle the heat of the NHL playoffs.
Rask had a superb 2013-14 regular season, with 36 wins, 2.04 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and seven shutouts. The 27-year-old carried over that solid form into the Bruins divisional semifinal against the Detroit Red Wings. Through two games he's allowed only two goals, leading all playoff goalies with two or more games started in goals against average (1.02) and save percentage (.966).
Rask couldn't be faulted for the Bruins' 1-0 series-opening loss, having done all he could to give his team a chance to win. He was even better in Game 2, turning aside 34 shots backstopping Boston to a series-tying 4-1 victory. Rask is already serving notice he'll be tough to beat in this postseason.
3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
Every NHL team looks to their captain for leadership, inspiration and clutch scoring in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In his first two games of the Anaheim Ducks-Dallas Stars series, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf rose to the occasion.
Getzlaf had a two-point performance and was named third star in the Ducks' 4-3 victory in Game 1. The 28-year-old center paid a physical price, taking a puck to the jaw off a shot by Dallas' Tyler Seguin late in the game. Despite suffering facial injuries, Getzlaf still managed to attend the birth of his third child following the game.
In Game 2, Getzlaf donned a partial face mask to protect his injured jaw. He was the game's top star, once again tallying a goal and an assist leading the Ducks to a 3-2 win and an early 2-0 series lead over the Stars. Getzlaf's determined play has him the Ducks' leading scorer thus far in this series. It's also why he's among the league's respected leaders.
2. Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
In the opening two games of the Avalanche's divisional semifinal against the Minnesota Wild, Stastny turned into a scoring machine. The 28-year-old center is tied for the team and league lead in points (7) with linemate Nathan MacKinnon. He was also tied with three others for the playoff goal-scoring lead (3). Two of those goals came in Game 1, tying the game and then winning it in overtime.
Stastny entered the playoffs facing an uncertain future. He's eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, coming off a five-year, $33 million contract. Despite speculation over his future, Stastny told the Denver Post's Terry Frei he's willing to accept a hometown discount to remain with the Avalanche.
It remains to be seen if Stastny has a future with the Avalanche beyond this season. If he continues his strong playoff performance, it could ensure he stays in Colorado for a long time.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon had a well-deserved reputation as a clutch playoff performer during his junior hockey days. After leading all NHL rookies in regular-season scoring, the 18-year-old is turning heads with his stellar play in his first NHL postseason.
Three games into the Avalanche's divisional series with the Minnesota Wild, MacKinnon is tied with teammate Paul Stastny for the team and playoff lead in points (7). He is tied for the lead in assists (6) with Pittsburgh's Paul Martin and tied with San Jose's Justin Braun in plus/minus (plus-5).
NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick believes MacKinnon is a more dominant player at 18 than Pittsburgh Penguins great (and fellow Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native) Sidney Crosby at the same age. While hockey fans may debate that comparison, MacKinnon's torrid start makes him the hottest player so far in this year's playoffs.