Roberto Luongo

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


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.

Even Dylan Larkin is fighting for the Red Wings now

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings plays against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Something very strange has been happening in Detroit in the early parts of the 2016-17 season.

The Red Wings … are fighting. A lot.

This is a strange development because not only fighting has been rapidly decreasing across the league for several years now, but also because the Red Wings have been last in the league in fighting majors in 10 out of the past 11 seasons. The one year over that stretch they were not last (2012-13) they were 29th. Nobody fights less than these guys.

In most of those years they never even reached double digits in fighting majors, and have only had eight in each of the past two seasons.

But through the first five games this season they already have five of them, and that includes a rather stunning participant on Friday night during their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predator — 20-year-old forward Dylan Larkin, the team’s leading goal-scorer from a year ago and a top-five finisher in the Calder Trophy voting.

He dropped the gloves with Predators defenseman Yannick Weber early in the third period on Friday night.

Have a look.

According to the database (all fighting stats listed here are via their database) that is Larkin’s first ever fight. And not just in the NHL, but apparently anywhere in hockey. He seemed to handle himself quite well. But let’s be honest, the Red Wings probably do not want to see the guy that is probably their best offensive player risking injury to drop his gloves and fight somebody.

As mentioned above, the Red Wings already have five fighting majors this season a number that currently leads the NHL. No other team in the NHL has more than three.

When it comes to their actual play on the ice the Red Wings have now won three games in a row after the starting the season 0-2.

They received a little bit of extra help late in the third period on Friday when protecting a one-goal lead they were given a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play in large part because of Predators forward James Neal taking one of the worst penalties of the season when he cross-checked Alexey Marchenko after the play.

Neal’s teammate, Calle Jarnkrok, was already penalized on the play for high-sticking Darren Helm. Those two penalties pretty much ended whatever comeback hopes Nashville had on the night as Helm ended up scoring a power play goal with 22 seconds to play.

Blue Jackets call up Sonny Milano from AHL

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Sonny Milano #22 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates in his first NHL game against the the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 31, 2016 in New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Blkue Jackets 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Immediately after earning their first win of the season — a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks — the Columbus Blue Jackets made a roster move by calling up one of their top prospects, forward Sonny Milano, from the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League.

To make room for Milano on the roster the Blue Jackets sent Oliver Bjorkstrand down to the AHL.

The 20-year-old Milano was the Blue Jackets’ first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2014 NHL draft. He spent most of the 2015-16 season playing for Lake Erie (now Cleveland) during their Calder Cup winning season, recording 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) during his first full season of pro hockey. He also added another eight points (four goals, four assists) during the Calder Cup playoffs.

His 2015-16 season also included a brief cup of coffee in the NHL with the Blue Jackets where he appeared in three games and recorded one assist near the end of the seasonHe had one goal in two games with Cleveland to start this season..

Milano is a highly skilled player that can do some pretty incredible things with the puck and should bring a little bit of excitement to a team that could really use some fresh talent up front.

Trevor van Riemsdyk could be out ‘for a bit’ for Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05:  Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It turned out to be a tough Friday night for the Chicago Blackhawks in Columbus.

Not only did they lose the game to the Blue Jackets, 3-2, thanks to another rough night for their penalty killing unit, but they also lost a defenseman to injury.

Trevor van Riemsdyk had to leave the game in the first period with what was described as an upper body injury when he crashed into the net. After the game coach Joel Quenneville said that van Riemsdyk could be “out for a bit” due to the injury, via Eric Lear of Blackhawks TV. He appeared in all 82 games for the Blackhawks a year ago and played nearly 20 minutes a night.

Before Friday he had appeared in only one game this season, while his name had been being mentioned in trade rumors. With van Riemsdyk getting back into the lineup on Friday there had been some speculation that it could make veteran defenseman Brian Campbell a healthy scratch, but the Blackhawks instead opted to dress seven defensemen. Even with the injury to van Riemsdyk, Campbell only played 12 minutes on Friday.

In other Blackhawks injury news, Quenneville said that injured forward Marian Hossa — who did not play on Friday — is questionable for the Blackhawks’ game on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Blackhawks PK has another brutal night in loss to Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates after the puck during the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

There will be no 0-8 start in Columbus this season.

The Blue Jackets were 3-2 winners against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night to earn their first win of the season thanks to goals from Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno and William Karlsson. The first two of those goals came on the power play as the Blue Jackets were the latest team to feast on Chicago’s dismal penalty killing unit this season. Those two power play goals came on Columbus’ only two power play opportunities of the night.

Right now everybody is scoring against the Blackhawks on the power play.

With the two more goals against on Friday, Chicago’s penalty kill has already given up 11 goals through the first five games of the season, becoming just the 18th team in the past 30 years to do that.

Their early season penalty kill success rate has been so bad that as Daily Herald beat writer John Dietz pointed out on Friday that even if they successfully kill off their next 20 shorthanded opportunities their PK would still only be at 71.8 on the season. The worst penalty kill in the NHL a season ago was 75.5 percent. In other words: That is not ideal.

After falling behind 3-1, the Blackhawks attempted to rally thanks to a goal from Richard Panik (already his fifth of the season) to cut the deficit from one. They pretty much took over the game in the third period and threw everything they could at the Blue Jackets’ net, but Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational and holding down the fort and helping the Jackets get their first win of the season.

It was a costly win for the Blue Jackets in some ways though as they lost defenseman Ryan Murray to an upper body injury in the first period. Injuries have been a problem for him throughout his young career.

As for the Blackhawks, the loss drops them to 2-3-0 on the young season. There are a lot of new faces on this year’s team, and a lot of young players filling out the bottom half of the roster. Early on it has been a struggle for pretty much everybody.