The 10 Best Scorers of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Many different factors go into an NHL team's quest for a Stanley Cup championship. Strong goaltending, solid defensive play, a robust penalty kill and roster depth are among the crucial elements for success.
Ultimately, the name of the game remains putting the puck into the opposing team's net. Without consistent offense, the road to the Cup becomes more difficult.
This is the time when offensive stars must shine. This year's list of leading playoff scorers has some familiar names with reputations as proven performers.
There are also a few surprises.
One winger, whose best seasons were believed behind him, has rediscovered his scoring touch. A rookie's stellar play has provided a glimpse of future greatness. A skilled two-way forward has filled the void for his slumping teammates.
It's not enough just to run up points. The ability to lead by example or to come through in the clutch is as important—perhaps even more so—at this time of year.
The following is a ranking of the 10 best scorers so far in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
10. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
After making the playoffs for the first time in four years, the Colorado Avalanche bowed out in the opening round, falling in seven games to the Minnesota Wild. The disappointing finish overshadowed a fine offensive effort by Avalanche rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon.
During the regular season, the 18-year-old's 63 points led all NHL rookies and were fourth in team scoring. MacKinnon maintained a torrid pace in his first NHL postseason, tying Paul Stastny for the Avalanche scoring lead with 10 points. Seven of those came in his first two games against the Wild, and in Game 5 he picked up another three points, including the game-winning goal.
The Wild shut MacKinnon down during the final two games of the series, which was a contributing factor in the Avalanche's elimination. Nevertheless, his 10 points still ranks among the playoffs' leading scorers. It was a memorable debut for a budding NHL superstar.
9. Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins
When the playoffs began, few fans would've expected Jussi Jokinen to be among the leading goal scorers. A versatile two-way forward known largely for his shootout wizardry, the 31-year-old Finn was considered a secondary player in the Penguins' offensive attack.
His seven goals in 13 games led the Penguins and ranked second among playoff scorers. He also led the Penguins in game-winning goals and was tied for second among the league leaders at the time of publication.
Though the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead and were ousted by the New York Rangers in seven games, Jokinen's performance was among their few bright spots. His efforts drew praise from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.
"He's maybe one of the smartest players I've ever coached," Bylsma told The Associated Press (via CBC.ca). "He has a knack for being at the right spot at the right time and he's been all over that for us in the playoffs."
8. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
It was a difficult postseason for the Penguins. They struggled to eliminate a determined underdog in the Columbus Blue Jackets in their opening-round series, then blew a 3-1 series lead to fall in seven games to the New York Rangers.
While some of their stars struggled to score, Evgeni Malkin led the way offensively for the Penguins. A Conn Smythe Trophy winner during the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup run, the 27-year-old center was tied for the team lead in assists (eight) and led them in points (14). Malkin was among the league's top five scorers at publication and was also tied for the second-best plus/minus (plus-six).
In the coming days there will undoubtedly be plenty of speculation over potential personnel changes for the Penguins.
Given Malkin's performance, he's unlikely to be among them.
7. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
When the Wild signed Zach Parise in July 2012 to a lucrative long-term contract, it was with the understanding he could help them become a perennial playoff contender. Two years later, he more than upheld his part of the bargain.
Parise had minimal impact for the Wild during last year's playoffs, tallying only one point as they were bounced from the opening round in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 29-year-old left wing's best performance came in Game 6 of the Wild's divisional semifinal against the Colorado Avalanche.
Parise scored twice (including the game-winner) and set up two others to lead the Wild to a 5-2 victory, forcing a seventh and deciding game which the Wild won in overtime. Though the Wild eventually fell to Chicago in six games, the Blackhawks found Parise difficult to contain as he potted four points against them.
6. Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks
Throughout his long NHL career, Marian Hossa has established a reputation as an offensive star. So it was noticeable when he managed only two points in the Blackhawks' opening-round elimination of the St. Louis Blues. NHL.com's Brian Hedger reported Hossa's lack of scoring was due to his more defensively responsible play.
Against the Minnesota Wild in the divisional final, the 35-year-old winger regained his offensive touch. In six games, he scored once and set up eight others, vaulting into the Blackhawks scoring lead and joining the league's top 10 playoff scorers.
He also leads the 'Hawks in assists (nine) and shots (47).
The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Blake Schuster reported that Hossa was more productive against the Wild than higher-profile teammates Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville praised Hossa's overall play:
You look at Hoss as he's evolved here over the course of six years, game in and game out he'll be a force with or without the puck. The last two, three years have been at the same pace as when he was in his prime. So we'll say he's still in his prime.
5. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings
Joining the Kings at the NHL trade deadline in March from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Marian Gaborik had only recently returned to action from a broken collarbone. At 32, it appeared the oft-injured Slovakian winger's best years were behind him.
Gaborik, however, was rejuvenated with the Kings. Placed on a line with center Anze Kopitar, he finished the regular season with 16 points in 19 games. In the playoffs, Gaborik's been a scoring dynamo. He sits second to Kopitar in team scoring with 12 points while his eight goals lead all postseason scorers. Gaborik's also had three multigoal games.
The Los Angeles Times' Chris Foster reports Gaborik has proven a perfect fit with the Kings, particularly for Kopitar. "He is a constant threat, with his shooting ability and with his scoring ability," said the Slovenian center. "Every time he comes into the offensive zone, everyone pays attention to him. Maybe that gives me a few more inches to work with."
Gaborik and Kopitar have so far proven to be the most lethal one-two scoring punch of the 2014 playoffs.
4. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens have pushed the favored Boston Bruins to a seventh and deciding game in their divisional final. Along with goaltender Carey Price, P.K. Subban's play has been a significant factor in getting the Habs this far.
Through 10 playoff games, the 25-year-old defenseman leads the Canadiens in assists (eight), points (12), power-play points (7) and ice time (26:48), and sits second in goals (four). Subban also leads all NHL blueliners in goals (4), total points and power-play points, while ranking among the playoffs' top 10 scorers.
Sean Gordon of Toronto's The Globe and Mail called Subban "indisputably the most electrifying player of these NHL playoffs," and Canadiens' forward Daniel Briere cited his younger teammate's confidence.
"What sets him apart from what I can see is he wants to be the guy," said Briere. "He wants to be the guy with the puck on his tape when the game's on the line, he wants to make the big play."
There's little doubt that Subban's been "the guy" against the Bruins, tallying seven of his 12 points against them.
3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, a team captain is expected to step up and lead by example. In this year's postseason, there are few better examples than Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
Through 10 games Getzlaf leads the Ducks in assists (10), points (14) and power-play points (six). His offensive efforts placed him among the top five playoff scorers. The 29-year-old center is also their most consistent scorer, tallying at least a point in all but one game thus far.
His leadership skills also came to the fore in the Ducks' current series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Down two games to none, NHL.com's Adam Brady reported that Getzlaf—his face still bearing scars from being struck by a puck early in the previous round—called upon his teammates to play better. The Ducks subsequently won three straight games to push the Kings to the brink of elimination.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Since winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as he led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup title in 2010, Jonathan Toews has a well-earned reputation as one of the NHL's top leaders and clutch playoff performers. This season is proving no different.
Through 12 playoff games, Toews' five goals and 10 points puts him among the Blackhawks' leading scorers. Of those goals, four were game-winners, leading the Blackhawks and the league in that category. Three of them came in their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues with the other against the Minnesota Wild.
Toews has the nickname of "Captain Serious," but "Captain Clutch" would also suit him this spring. The Hockey News' Josh Elliott considers Toews the most dominant captain in this year's playoffs.
Few would argue with that assessment.
1. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar has been the Kings' leading scorer since 2007-08. He was also their top scorer during their Stanley Cup championship run in 2012 and has garnered a reputation as a solid all-around forward.
In this year's playoffs, the 26-year-old Slovenian is not only the Kings' leading scorer once again, but he's making an early case for a Conn Smythe Trophy nomination.
Through 12 games, Kopitar leads the Kings—and the league—in assists (12) and points (16), and also ranks among the league leaders in plus/minus (plus-six). He has been a model of offensive consistency, being held scoreless only once thus far.
The center is also a 2013-14 finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward. The nomination is finally drawing him some long-overdue attention from around the league. As the Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman reports, this comes as no surprise to his teammates. Said Kings' forward Mike Richards of Kopitar:
Obviously, he's doing really well with putting up the points, but it's not just the points. He blocks shots, he kills penalties, he takes every big faceoff, he plays at the end of games. He's been doing this stuff for probably the past five years, but this is probably the best I've ever seen him play.
In short, Kopitar's not just a scoring leader. He is perhaps the most complete player in these playoffs.