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Five players who have the most pressure to win the Stanley Cup

Apr 12, 2011, 11:47 PM EDT

Roberto Luongo AP

While there might be some teams and players that are happy to just get into the Stanley Cup playoffs (yes, we’re looking your way New York and Chicago), there are others for whom the pressure is enormous to win it all this year. For some, it’s pressure given the situation they’re in. For others, it’s past playoff failures coming back to haunt them leading up to having the fans shouting for their heads if they can’t bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home in June.

With such expectations lingering around the 16 cities where this year’s playoffs will take place, there’s five players in particular for whom the spotlight shines a lot brighter on them to perform in the postseason. Everyone wants to plan a parade and for these five players they can help make such urban planning fantasies a reality.

1. Roberto Luongo – Vancouver Canucks

It’s one thing to be on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team. It’s another thing to be the starting goalie on said team. It’s an entirely new level of insanity to be the starting goalie on the Presidents’ Trophy winning team and having to face the team that’s ended your season the last two years right off the bat in the playoffs.

For Roberto Luongo, he’s got to exorcise his playoff demons against the Blackhawks in the first round. Should he be able to do that, it might seem like the weight of the world is off his shoulders but that’s only the beginning as there would ultimately be 12 more games to win after that to help get the Vancouver Canucks their first Stanley Cup championship. If after all the Canucks have accomplished this year they fall short of at least making the Stanley Cup final, the season will be a failure.

2. Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals

For the second straight season the Capitals enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Last year, Ovechkin scored 50 goals and wasn’t able to do all the scoring for the Caps while they were ousted unceremoniously by eighth seeded Montreal in seven games. Once again they’ll deal with a team that plays tough defensively and has a goalie more than capable of stealing games on his own in the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist. You can understand why Caps fans might be sweating a bit.

For Ovechkin, the task is simple and the task is to win. After so much regular season success, the Caps must advance far in the playoffs. After all, when you’re the conference’s top seed you’re supposed to go deep. Should the Caps not make it to the Eastern Conference final or to the Stanley Cup final, all eyes will be turned toward coach Bruce Boudreau as well as to captain Alex Ovechkin. If Ovechkin’s offense doesn’t show up and the Caps are bounced out early, the grumblings in Washington will turn into shouts. Just hide the torches and pitchforks just in case.

3. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks

Every year the Sharks fail to make the Stanley Cup final the snarky words that are fired Joe Thornton’s way from a certain Northeast city he used to call home grow louder and nastier. Should the Sharks fail to go to the finals this year, the verbal barbs might start getting lobbed from both coasts.

Thornton had his lowest point output since his fourth year in the NHL this season (70 points) and while guys like Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture have been outstanding for the Sharks this year, not having Jumbo Joe being a major factor on creating those goals for the team is a bit alarming. The Sharks are rolling into the playoffs this year and while the “playoff choker” stuff hasn’t been in full bloom, San Jose not getting a shot at the Cup once again will have everyone questioning why the Sharks opted to make Thornton the team’s captain. Thornton’s had more playoff failures and upsets in his career than he’d care to remember and adding another one will make Sharks fans look for the chum bucket.

4. Sergei Bobrovsky – Philadelphia Flyers

Seems a bit unfair to put a rookie goalie on this list, but it’s Philadelphia and it’s the goaltending position. When you’re playing in Philly and you’re playing in goal, the pressure on you is immense. For Bobrovsky, he comes into this year’s playoffs after never having had a taste of what it’s like to play in the NHL postseason. There’s one of two ways this can turn out: Incredible success under pressure or heartbreaking failure.

Bobrovsky wasn’t around last season to see Michael Leighton come up short in the Stanley Cup final, but with the Flyers being Atlantic Division champions and the second seeded team in the East, there are certain expectations that Flyers fans and team brass want to have met. The Flyers aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year and coming up short and having it be the fault of the goaltending, people will think of Bobrovsky less as the next Ron Hextall or Bernie Parent and more like the next Roman Chechmanek.

5. Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins

If the Bruins are serious challengers for the Stanley Cup this season, it’ll be up to Zdeno Chara to help show them the way to weather the storm early on. With their opening round series against Montreal set to be a full fledged three-ring circus, Chara will be the guy that has the bulls-eye on him the whole way. Should Chara keep a stiff upper lip and not let the Max Pacioretty-related nonsense affect him and the rest of the team, he can cement his legacy as a leader in Boston.

Boston comes into the playoffs hoping to end the franchise’s long Stanley Cup drought and Chara has to be the guy that steps up and keeps the team focused and playing the bruising, physical defensive brand of hockey they’ll need to play to help keep Tim Thomas‘ sanity in check throughout the postseason. Another playoff failure in Boston will have fans coming down on everyone from the front office on down. If Chara can prove why he wears the “C” he might help Bruins fans get a chance to celebrate a Stanley Cup.

  1. thebigwhitecat - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    Hawks-Canucks will be the best of the opening series. I wouldn’t want to be the Canucks. It’s comparable to the 2008 Cubs trying to end the 100 year curse.

    Best of luck, Vancouver. Let’s have a clean, injury-free series. Go Hawks!

  2. jsarge99 - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    I don’t see how anybody thinks the Canucks might be in trouble, last 2 years the Blackhawks were as good/better in the regular season. This season the Canucks are far and away the better team, I’d be shocked if the series even got to 6 games. #1 power play + #25 penalty kill = what?

    • sfbookreviews - Apr 13, 2011 at 2:59 AM

      Sorry, but their recent history suggests they might be in trouble. 3 of the past 4 years (not counting this one) they won their division and never made it out of the second round. Until they do, there will be questions about their ability to do so. I for one am rooting for them in the first round at least, but I won’t be shocked if they fall. Just check the history of President Cup winners.

      • abrienza428 - Apr 13, 2011 at 8:29 AM

        I could be wrong about this and I’m not going to take the time to look it up, but I’m pretty sure the President Cup winners win the Stanley Cup the highest percentage of time of any position in the standings. Sure they don’t win the Cup more often than not, but over the course of history they have won the Cup the most.

  3. Chris Ross - Apr 13, 2011 at 4:05 AM

    I think this whole idea that the Blackhawks are in the Canucks head is a bit of nonsense. They have lost to a couple of very good teams in the past two years and things have changed a lot this year. And I don’t mean the supposed lack of trash talking from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler according to Gillis. Canucks should actually have some secondary scoring, there’s more depth in the bottom 6 and Luongo should be playing better unless he is just a big choker. If Luongo messes it up this year, man I’m just going to be pissed….

  4. rabidbillsfan - Apr 13, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    Umm… Does anybody know who Ryan Miller is? He’s in his prime, on a similar team to the one that went to the ECF in 2006-07, and has a silver olympic medal. Oh yea, there’s that guy Jhonas Enroth playing pretty darn well too. This first series should be ” Ryan Miller vs.Philadelphia Flyers.”

    • emperor83 - Apr 13, 2011 at 11:39 AM

      Sorry, Bobrovsky, but file this under “heartbreaking failure” The Sabres have already bested you and they’ll do it 4 more times this year…

  5. jsarge99 - Apr 13, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    The Canucks recent playoff “struggles” are so overrated. They lost to the eventual cup winners in the second round. Missed the playoffs the next year. Then won the division with 100 points and lost to the 104 point Blackhawks in the second round. Last year the Canucks win the division with 103 points, lose in the second round to the 107 point, and eventual cup winners Blackhawks. The Canucks haven’t struggled, they have lost to better teams, that is what is supposed to happen. If they lose this year we can call it a playoff failure, but there is no reason to think that will happen.

  6. blomfeld - Apr 13, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    After 40 years of fruitless struggle, finally the stars appear to be “magically aligned” for the Canucks to go all the way ? … and while I’m not necessarily a fan of the team, I did sense that something was “afoot” here, as far back as last September … we’ll see ?

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