The Stanley Cup playoffs are less than a week old, but two teams are already facing elimination and one other team is down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series. If certain teams want to avoid starting the offseason early, they’ll need their star players to step up before it’s too late.
The fact that the Carolina Hurricanes lost both of their games in Washington isn’t overly surprising. Even though they’re not in a great spot, they still haven’t dropped a game on home ice. On the other hand, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are both on life support. Both teams have no margin for error. One more loss, and they’ll be eliminated from postseason play.
In order to avoid being swept, both teams will need to get more from their best players. Getting contributions from depth bodies is great, but not when your stars are slumping. And it’s not just the Pens and Lightning, even teams that are tied need more from their franchise players before starting tonight/tomorrow.
Alright. So let’s break down the five NHL stars that need to step their game up immediately.
• Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts being down 3-0 in their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets is the biggest shock of the first round so far (it’s going to be hard to beat). Tampa Bay has gotten nothing from their stars. With Victor Hedman injured and Nikita Kucherov suspended for Game 3, they needed something from Stamkos and didn’t get it. The 29-year-old finished Sunday’s game with a minus-2 rating and no shots no goal in 16:11 of ice time. He had 45 goals and 98 points in 82 games during the regular season, but he’s still looking for his first points of the series heading into Game 4. This is alarming.
• Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins: We knew the New York Islanders could shut down opposing teams, but it was almost impossible to predict that they’d keep Crosby off the scoresheet in the first three games of their series. The Pens captain has played over 20 minutes in all three games and he’s played over 22 minutes in Games 1 and 3. The 31-year-old has accomplished a lot of incredible things during his career, but getting out of this hole doesn’t seem likely, even for him. In total, he’s fired six shots on goal in the series and he has a minus-4 rating.
• Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthews received a ton of criticism last year after he scored just one goal and one assist in Toronto’s first-round series against the Boston Bruins. A year later, and we’re talking about the exact same thing. On a positive note, the Leafs managed to win a game in Boston, but with Nazem Kadri‘s impending suspension on the horizon, Matthews will have to take his game to another level. The 21-year-old has no points and eight shots on goal in the first two games of the series. If the Leafs are going to advance to the second round, they need their franchise center to start putting the puck in the net.
• Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning: Let’s go back to Tampa. Point had an incredibly coming out party during the regular season, as he accumulated 41 goals and 92 points in 79 games. But much like Stamkos, he’s been invisible against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The 23-year-old hasn’t picked up a point yet and he’s managed to fire just three shots on goal in three games during this series. Now that linemate Nikita Kucherov has served his one-game suspension, the two need to find a way to take over this series if the Lightning are going to avoid becoming one of the biggest disappointments in playoff history.
• Brayden Schenn – St. Louis Blues: The Blues have a 2-1 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets, but they’ve done it without any production from Schenn. The 27-year-old has played at least 19:46 in each of the first three games of the series and he’s managed to take just three shots on goal (he didn’t have any in Sunday night’s home loss). Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko could stand to bring more offense too, but at least they’ve found the back of the net in the series.