The Biggest Early Surprises in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

The Biggest Early Surprises in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It happens every year: A week into the NHL playoffs, and fans are reeling in some cities and rocking in others. The lights are out already in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles is in a pickle, and the San Jose Sharks look like the best hockey team on the planet.

    There are 16 playoff teams writing their stories, several of which contain some major surprises. Rising tides include rookies and forgotten men, while some veterans have stepped into elevator shafts.

    Here are the biggest surprises so far in the 2014 playoffs.

Rick Nash: Impact Player in the Postseason

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    Chris Szagola

    What Happened? Rick Nash is showing up in a big way for the New York Rangers in this year's playoffs. Three games into their series with the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash has four assists. 

    What's Next? The series has a long way to go, and Nash has an excellent chance to add to his career playoff totals. Entering this year's postseason, his career stats were two goals and six assists in 16 games played.

    What Have we Learned? Rick Nash has had very little postseason success in his career, and if he can continue his stellar play, the Rangers may go far this year. His 18 shots in four games ranks inside the league's top 10 and suggests he's getting plenty of chances.

Shawn Horcoff, Superstar!

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    What Happened? Shawn Horcoff is leading the charge for the Dallas Stars offensively in their series against the Anaheim Ducks. Horcoff now has four points after a two-point night on Wednesday.

    What's Next? Dallas was down 2-0 in the series heading home, but the Stars have tied it up. It's now a best-of-three series. 

    What Have we Learned? In the playoffs, NHL coaches rely on veterans. Horcoff has been in the NHL since the turn of the century but played in obscurity with the Edmonton Oilers. He's been given a chance to shine and is taking full advantage. 

Do You Know the Way to Tampa Bay?

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    What Happened? The Tampa Bay Lightning were swept by Montreal in four straight games. They lost their starting goaltender and could never recover. Ben Bishop's late-season injury spelled an early exit for the Lightning.

    What's Next? The Montreal Canadiens have a few days off before they meet their next opponent. The possibility of meeting the archrival Boston Bruins is exciting for NHL fans.

    What Have we Learned? The Lightning needed better backup goaltending, and in a short series, a couple of calls against your team can have an enormous impact. The Lightning overcame so much during the regular season that losing in four straight has to be a tough pill to swallow.

Pittsburgh Power Outage

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    Gene J. Puskar

    What Happened? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are goalless so far in their playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Crosby is a minus-three, and the Penguins unraveled Wednesday night late in the game.

    What's Next? During the regular season, a four-game drought by these players would be notable. In the postseason, with the team struggling against a lesser opponent, it's a major story.

    What Have we Learned? The Penguins are a strong team built for a deep playoff run. The biggest surprise so far is the lack of goal scoring by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They are two games from elimination; the time for goals is now.

Experience Is Overrated

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    What Happened? Nathan MacKinnon had an impact rookie season in the NHL. As the playoffs dawn, he is unfazed by the extra pressure. He's having fun, as reflected by this quote in a National Post article transcribed by The Associated Press reporter Pat Graham:

    “Everybody’s having a blast because we’re winning.”

    He has seven points in three games, including this incredible goal.

    What's Next? The Avalanche have work to do in their series against Minnesota, but the rookie status associated with MacKinnon no longer applies. As if to add an exclamation point to the story, TSN reports that he has been named a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

    What Have we Learned? The Avalanche have an impact player in MacKinnon. The spotlight of the playoffs is drawing the best out of him, which bodes well for his future in the game.

Shark Bite

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    Raffi Torres
    Raffi TorresEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    What Happened? The Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of elimination. They are big, strong, skilled and built to play great defense and wait for offensive opportunities. The San Jose Sharks are blowing them out of the water with offensive weapons on every line. Three games into the series, 11 different Sharks have already scored a goal or more.

    What's Next? San Jose now has a three-game lead and can close out the series Thursday night in Los Angeles. Even the most loyal Kings fan has to agree this series is all but over. 

    What Have we Learned? The Sharks have found a way to overcome the Kings' effective combination of size, skill and defense. The answer: They come in waves, every line offering the opposition a difficult offensive player to defend. NHL clubs looking for a way to overcome big, fast teams like the Kings may want to adopt the San Jose model.