NHL playoffs: Seven players with something to prove this postseason
For many players, the playoffs present a new opportunity to rewrite history and amend their legacies. But being an All-Star or, in some cases, a future Hall of Famer offers no guarantee of postseason success. Simply getting there in the first place can be an elusive goal. Just ask defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, a two-time All-Star who finally made his postseason debut after a deadline trade to St. Louis. He'd endured an NHL-record 764 games over 10 seasons with perennial also-rans Calgary and Florida before getting a chance to display his considerable skills in the bright spring spotlight.
Here are some of the other notable players who are trying to burnish résumés that may look individually scintillating, but still lack one important thing: a Stanley Cup.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Sharks
The Sharks are a perennial puzzle. The team is always good, but never good enough. Between them, Thornton and Marleau have amassed 1,979 points, but have never taken their team to the Cup final. Two seasons ago, both players tried to prove their might in other ways during a series against Vancouver. Thornton challenged Ryan Kesler to a scrap before the opening face-off. Marleau, who rarely fights, started a bout with Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa and didn’t fare very well. That may have been caused by frustration. Remember the hard time analyst Jeremy Roenick was giving Marleau about his poor postseason performances? The Sharks have another chance this year to even the score with the Canucks and may need a series win to avoid some offseason changes. But the Cup is the ultimate yardstick by which Thornton and Marleau will be measured.
PREVIEW: Canucks vs. Sharks
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Two of the game’s most stylish forwards have also been two of the most proficient over the balance of their 12-year careers. They’ve combined for 1,550 points, numerous All-Star appearances, a pair of Art Ross Trophies and Olympic gold medals and a Hart Trophy for Henrik. Their Canucks have won the Presidents’ Trophy twice and their team came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. But without a title, this generation of Canucks will live on as a team that fell short unless it pulls off a title during the next couple of season. Yes, some of that falls on the maligned shoulders of Roberto Luongo, who has had some tough moments in goal and will be relegated to backup duty when Cory Schneider returns to full health. But neither Sedin was very effective in the Cup final series against Boston two years ago. Both brothers seemed slow and sluggish, worn down by the bump-and-grind of the postseason. As with their first-round foes, the Sharks, a quick playoff exit could mean a summer of change in Vancouver.
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Yes, he returned to being Alex the Great this year, posting numbers (32 goals and 56 points) that will surely get him some consideration for the Hart Trophy. But Ovi’s Caps have flamed out in the playoffs, even after some stunning regular seasons. Granted, his postseason numbers are not bad (59 points in 51 career games), but in his ninth season, Ovechkin is still trying to get his teams past the second round. When his Capitals played Sydney Crosby’s Penguins a few years ago, the confrontation between the two superstars dissolved into a mismatch by the end of the series. Couple that with the bad loss that Ovechkin’s Russian team suffered at the hands of Canada at the Vancouver Olympics, and Ovechkin is in need of a signature team-success moment to boost his résumé. Then, as he likes to say, “it’s good to be Ovi” will be an even more resonant expression.
PREVIEW: Capitals vs. Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
King Henrik has won over Broadway during a superb eight-year New York stint that includes a Vezina Trophy for 2011-12. His career record (276-171-57; .920 save percentage; 2.25 goals-against average) marks him as one of the elite goalies of his generation. Yet his Rangers haven’t parlayed that into a trip to the finals during Lundqvist’s tenure, and the Swedish sensation has a losing mark (25-30) in postseason play. The Rangers underperformed this season, and needed a late push just to get into the playoffs. Their sixth-place finish isn’t bad, all things considered. But if they hope to make a run at the championship, Lundqvist will need to steal a few games for them, as he has done during the regular seasons and occasionally -- Game 3 against New Jersey last spring -- in the postseason. New York loves its goalies with championships (Mike Richter) or without (Eddie Giacomin), but at 31, Lundqvist will soon hit the back portion of his career and his time may run out fast.
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa
Here’s an irony to this year’s playoffs: Alfredsson may very well have played his way out of a better chance to win the Cup. Had his Senators struggled during the first half of the season, he might have received the Ray Bourque treatment and been dealt to a contender, just as Jarome Iginla was. After a great career in Calgary, Iginla was sent to Pittsburgh, where he has a chance to ride off with a title, as Bourque did after going from Boston to Colorado at the end of his career. Alfredsson, 39, would have been a great rental player for a top team looking to add veteran savvy. But by the trade deadline, Ottawa was looking like a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-seeded team in the East, with strong hopes of a long playoff run. That made selling the team’s captain a no-no. The Sens slumped at the end of the season, played well in their last couple of games and now sit in the No. 7 hole. Alfredsson has more than 1,100 career points and one trip to the Cup final in his rear-view mirror. But that was six years ago. His Sens have not won a playoff series since 2007. This year's edition may not have enough firepower to contend for a title, and this may be Alfredsson’s last chance to prove otherwise. During the lockout, he considered retiring.
PREVIEW: Senators vs. Canadiens
From the vault
Here are some examples of players -- some good, others great -- who never translated their ample skills into playoff success:
Guy Charron: The current head coach of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers played in a then-record 734 regular-season games without ever seeing the postseason. That mark has since been surpassed by Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester. The Verdun, Quebec native was a capable point-producer. In parts of 12 NHL seasons with Montreal, Detroit, the old Kansas City Scouts and the early days of the Washington Capitals, Charron managed a pair of 35-goal seasons and four years of at least 75 points. He was also the head coach for parts of seasons with Calgary and Anaheim where his teams, yes, missed the playoffs.
Phil Housley: Though he had an extensive career in Buffalo and Winnipeg, he was never able to make any of those teams better. He held the record for points by a U.S.-born player (1,232) until Mike Modano surpassed him, but during his 20-year NHL career, he won a playoff series during his first season as a Sabre (1982-83) and went to the third round in 1998 with the Capitals, who kept him as a third-pair defenseman. But his other 11 postseason appearances were one-and-dones.
Olli Jokinen: Toiling for lousy teams in Los Angeles, Long Island, Florida and Phoenix, the Finnish forward broke Charron’s mark by going 799 games without appearing in the playoffs. In 2009, Jokinen finally skated in a postseason contest with the Calgary Flames, picking up five points in six games in a losing cause. Then it was back to the proverbial golf course during the next three seasons. Since his NHL debut in 1997, he has played in 1,087 regular season games, with that lone trip to playoffs to show for it.
Marcel Dionne: During his 18 NHL seasons, the Hall of Fame center amassed 731 career goals and 1,771 points, which practically put him in Gordie Howe territory. Yet Dionne’s teams in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York (the Rangers) never made it past the second round. Mike Gartner: This Hall-of-Fame winger was one of the great goal scorers and classiest people ever to lace up the skates. But even with 708 career goals and 1,335 points over 19 seasons, Gartner’s teams (Capitals, North Stars, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Coyotes) didn’t reach the semifinals until 1994, when he was with Toronto. He began that season with the Rangers, who went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years that spring. But Gartner was dealt to the Leafs at the trade deadline for Glenn Anderson, who captured the sixth ring of his career.