Under Pressure: P.K. Subban

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P.K. Subban has always been a lightning rod for criticism because he doesn’t just play the game, he does it with flare; Subban isn’t afraid to do a little talking on the ice adding an eccentric celebration following a goal or a win to add salt to the wound.

As childhood on-ice nemesis, and current Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri once told me, “That’s what drives people crazy: he’s a good player and he runs his mouth a little. When good players are chirping and running their mouth, it just makes the other team want to kill him that much more.

“Then next thing you know, he’s putting one in the back of your net, which makes you even more angry.”

In Montreal, it’s hard to say Subban could be under any more pressure that was until he inked his new mammoth eight-year, $72 million contract earlier this month.

“I’ll tell you something, it’s nothing I haven’t heard in my career before,” Subban joked last week of criticism heard during the arbitration process.

Subban added, that he’s used to the added attention he garners, “I understand when it’s me, it’s a little more magnified, that’s fine.”

Now everyone’s coming out of the woodwork to offer their two cents including former Hab, Alexei Kovalev, who last week paid Subban a back-handed compliment comparing Subban to Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, before adding that he didn’t understand why Subban was making so much money.

The criticism will likely follow Subban for the duration of his contract and beyond, especially if he plays more like he did in 2013-14 than he did in 2012-13 when he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

This past season Subban had just 15 more points than he did in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but what’s more glaring is that as one of the team’s top defenseman, he carried a minus rating.

Now how could one go about adding more pressure to the 25-year-old’s shoulders? Is that even possible?

Well with the departure of captain Brian Gionta along with fellow veterans Daniel Briere and Josh Georges, the Canadiens now need to appoint a new captain.

Why not the highest paid guy on the team?

“I think the interesting thing about our team is that we have a lot of guys who are leaders, and guys that are growing into leaders,” Subban said attempting to deflect attention. “At the end of the day that’s management’s decision, they’ll make the decision as to who they feel fits the best mold as a captain.”

Playing under pressure is what Subban’s done ever since he burst on to the scene in Montreal, but it’s how he performs under that pressure going forward that Canadiens fans care about.

“I think playing in Montreal, not just me, but also my teammates, we understand the magnitude of wearing the ‘C-H ‘and playing for the Montreal Canadiens,” said Subban. “But that’s exciting, that’s the exciting thing about playing in Montreal is, to me anyway, being under the spotlight and excelling.

“This is a city that craves for success, craves for a championship and that motivates you. Its just added motivation.”

Well P.K. sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, lets hope for the sake of Habs’ fans, he can back it up on the ice.

Related: Markov represents Montreal’s other pricey extension

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.