Jimmy Howard’s Time to Shine

Jimmy Howard’s Time to Shine

MEGA 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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Around the League


Top ten players or teams under the most pressure entering the playoffs

10. Los Angeles Kings: A team that’s been to the playoffs each of the last two seasons made a blockbuster trade withColumbus to get Jeff Carter to bolster their offense at the trade deadline. The team’s dealt with heightened expectations this year, and G.M. Dean Lombardi’s job could be on the line if the Kings get ousted in the opening round for the third year in a row.

9. Tim Thomas: The 37 year old net-minder for the Bruins probably wishes his team hadn’t drawn the Washington Capitals as their opening round foe. The media has rehashed a lingering issue regarding Thomas’ controversial views on politics and his no show at the team’s White House visit in January. It’ll be Thomas’ job to play well and not let his political views become a distraction for the Bruins in their defense of the Stanley Cup.

8. Marian Gaborik: The Ranger forward is in his third season inNew York and has his best opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup. As part of the Minnesota Wild’s unexpected run to the conference final in 2003, Gaborik posted nine goals and eight assists in 18 playoff games that season. In his last three playoff appearances, only four goals and three assists in 16 games. Gaborik must perform to an elite level if the Rangers are to have a chance of getting out of the Eastern Conference.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: It’s all set for this team. They have the two of the top five players in the NHL in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Most of their core players that went to the finals in 2008 and 2009 are still with the club, and they’re finally healthy. One problem, they’re facing their cross-state rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers, who also have a lot of talent and would love nothing more than to end the Penguins season a lot sooner than anticipated.

6. Henrik Lundqvist: The Swedish net-minder for the Rangers is the consensus pick to win the Vezina Trophy this year. He’s had his best year as a pro and is a big reason why the Rangers are positioned for a deep playoff run. However, his postseason numbers haven’t matched his regular season success. That must change this spring or elseNew York will have a difficult time getting out of the East.

5. San Jose Sharks: For the team that plays in the “Shark Tank,” this playoff year feels like the last chance for many of the team’s core players. After getting humiliated in the Western Conference finals the last two seasons, the Sharks have been disappointing so far this year. A deep playoff run can change this assessment, but an early ouster this spring could finally give G.M. Doug Wilson to blow up this roster.

4. Alexander Ovechkin: The fiery Russian has been a total disappointment all season long. He’s had the worst year of his career in essentially every statistical category, and was a big reason why Bruce Boudreau was fired just after Thanksgiving. The only way he can salvage this season and his quickly fading reputation in the NHL, is leading the Capitals to a surprise run in the playoffs.

3. Ilya Bryzgalov: Being a goalie in the playoffs is a tough job. Being a goalie in the playoffs inPhiladelphia is pure Hell, unless you win. Bryzgalov had significant trouble adjusting toPhiladelphia during the first half of the season, but found his game and rode an incredible hot hand through most of the second half until he was sidelined with a foot injury. If the Flyers are to have any shot at upsetting the Penguins and making a long run in the postseason, Bryzgalov must live up to his nine year, 51 million dollar contract.

2. Nashville Predators: This franchise essentially put all of their poker chips in the middle of the table at the trade deadline. They made several moves to improve the roster, feeling that they’re capable of making a run for their first Stanley Cup championship. A deep playoff run is critical for this team, as numerous players on their roster are set to become free agents this summer, most notably Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. An early ouster could see a mass exodus ensue that may potentially set the Predators back for several years.

1. Roberto Luongo: This guy cemented this spot on this list after he and the Vancouver Canucks couldn’t close the deal in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Luongo has a tendency of running his mouth at inopportune times and knows he must make up for gagging away the Stanley Cup last spring. Bobby Lou got pulled in Game 6 inBoston when they had a chance to win the Cup and was badly outplayed by his counterpart Tim Thomas in Game 7 at home. This year he’s running on a short leash, with theVancouver faithful wanting Corey Schneider to be the playoff goaltender for the Canucks. If he has a bad game or two early in the playoffs, Canuck fans may get their wish.