The regular season is over, the Canadian teams have all been eliminated and now the most entertaining postseason in professional sports gets underway as 16 teams set out with the same goal in mind – to win the Stanley Cup.
For a team to have success and win the 16 games necessary to claim hockey’s highest prize, they need at least one guy that steps up and has the best two months of their hockey lives. Generally speaking, the player that hits that form from the eventual champs will hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded each year to the playoff MVP.
As the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs get ready to begin, here’s a look at one player from each of the Eastern Conference qualifiers that needs to step their game up in order to help their team reach the ultimate goal.
Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin
This might sound obvious, but “The Great 8” is the key piece to the Caps Stanley Cup hopes. Ovechkin has yet to have a transcendent playoff run and while this Washington squad is more complete than previous years, the Russian sniper is still the leader of this team and as Ovie goes, so will go the Capitals.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Phil Kessel
Sidney Crosby needs to be his usual self and Marc-Andre Fleury has to play at a high level (and stay healthy), but Kessel is the guy that can be a difference-maker for the Pens. He didn’t have the massive season many expected in his first season in Pittsburgh, but he’s an elite goal scorer and if he gets hot, it will improve his club’s chances.
Florida Panthers: Roberto Luongo
Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs, obviously, but for the upstart Panthers, they need their veteran keeper to set the tone for a club full of players with minimal postseason experience. “Bobby Lou” has been to the Stanley Cup Finals before and had a great season, so shouldering the load and carrying this club deep into the playoffs is a possibility.
New York Rangers: Rick Nash
Much like Ovechkin hasn’t had a massive postseason performance, Nash has failed to produce in the playoffs as well and is coming off a down year in The Big Apple. With just 10 points over the last three months, the big winger has been an afterthought for the Rangers, but if they’re going to duplicate last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Nash needs to produce.
New York Islanders: Frans Nielson & Brock Nelson
In order for the Islanders to have success, they need their secondary scorers, Nielson and Nelson, to maintain the level of output they enjoyed during the regular season. That helps take some pressure off John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, which is what you need come playoff time.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop
With Steven Stamkos out, the Lightning’s hopes rest on the shoulders of their standout netminder Bishop, who should be a Vezina finalist and could take home the trophy once the hardware gets handed out later this summer. Tampa Bay will need to be more defensively minded with “Stammer” down and Bishop will have to stand on his head in order to carry this club to the second round and beyond.
Philadelphia Flyers: Jakub Voracek
The Flyers only got in on Saturday, so their Stanley Cup chances are slim, but they’ve been playing well of late and if that is going to translate to the playoffs, they need Voracek to step his game up. After an 81-point season last year, he slipped to 53 this season, but the skill and talent is there to get hot and start putting up points in punches.
Detroit Red Wings: Brad Richards
Detroit has a very balanced attacked, but no one player that seems capable of single-handedly leading this team to great heights. That’s why someone like Richards is crucial. If the veteran can be more of a producer in the playoffs than he was in the regular season, Detroit’s chances of pulling off a massive upset increase.