Who will be the surprise hero of the 2015 playoffs? 10 players to watch

Matt Larkin
Kevin Hayes (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Chris Kontos. Claude Lemieux. Jean Sebastien-Giguere. Fernando Pisani. Bryan Bickell. Justin Williams. It seems every year some player saves his best hockey for the post-season and becomes his team’s surprise hero. Who has a chance to do the same this year?

I present 10 players to consider. Some are cogs in Cup-contending machines. Others are standout performers with potential to elevate underdog squads.

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Who deserves the first Stanley Cup pass on each playoff team?

The Hockey News
Kimmo Timonen (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Who can forget Ray Bourque’s big moment June 9, 2001?

His Colorado Avalanche had just won their second Stanley Cup. He’d won his first at age 40 after 22 stellar, Hall-of-Fame-worthy seasons. It seemed the entire sport was cheering for him. When Avs captain Joe Sakic finally hoisted the chalice, everyone watching around the world knew who was getting it. It’s impossible not to get chills watching this, which ended up being Bourque’s final moment on the ice as a player:

Assessing all 16 playoff teams for 2014-15, we pondered who each team’s Bourque is. What non-captain will get the first Cup pass on each squad? It could b a sentimental favorite like Bourque or someone with whom the captain has a personal connection. You know who Henrik Sedin would pass it to.

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10 shocking moments that changed NHL playoff series

Matt Larkin
Marty McSorley.  (Photo by Graig Abel Collection/Getty Images)

May 12, 2014. The Anaheim Ducks have just beaten the Los Angeles Kings a third straight time, staking a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference semifinal. A big reason for the Ducks’ success: young goalie John Gibson, fresh off stopping 67 of 70 shots in Anaheim’s Game 3 and 4 victories.

Cue sarcastic Kings coach Darryl Sutter after the game: “He’s the best goalie I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe we got one by him tonight. Lot of pressure on him now. A lot of pressure.”

Seed planted. Gibson holds his own in a Game 6 defeat after allowing a first-period goal, then the rookie’s wheels come off at home in Game 7. The Kings beat Gibson four times on 18 shots, chase him after 22 minutes and win the series. They hoist their second Stanley Cup in three years a month later.

We’ll never know just how impactful Sutter’s comment was – but it sure seemed to coincide with Gibson’s meltdown. One of the most exciting things about playoff series: the storylines and singular moments that change momentum. Here are the top series-changing events since 1967 expansion.

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THN’s top 100 playoff fantasy players for 2015

Matt Larkin
Steven Stamkos. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Congrats if you won your regular season fantasy pool. Apologies if you didn’t. Now it’s time to (a) win another pool and further annoy your pals or (b) redeem a nightmare season with a magical playoff run.

Playoff fantasy rankings are a vastly different beast. We can no longer evaluate players on merely their skill, role and teammates. Now we must factor in how far we believe each guy’s team will go. Note the lack of Sidney Crosby atop these rankings. Sorry, but given how done-like-dinner his Pittsburgh Penguins looked down the stretch, and that they face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers, we can’t expect to have Crosby alive for long.

The list below reflects a blend of my personal Eastern and Western Conference team predictions and players’ overall values. Even if I don’t see the likes of Crosby or Carey Price going far, I recognize some people will disagree, so I won’t bury those superstars in the rankings too much. Above all else, playoff pools are about playing your hunch of what team will do well – and loading up on that team’s players. Juggle the rankings for yourself if you have a different idea of who goes far. But consider these 100 names within whatever order you set.

Positions listed reflect Yahoo league eligibility.

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After Brossoit’s dandy debut, here are the top five first games of 2014-15

Laurent Brossoit (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)

Thursday night, Laurent Brossoit made his NHL debut between the pipes for the Edmonton Oilers. By the end of the evening, Brossoit was trotted out as the game’s first star after turning aside 49 of the 51 shots he faced.

Brossoit’s 49 stops made him the first goaltender since Manny Legace in 1998 to turn aside that much rubber in his debut. Even with his miraculous performance, the Oilers failed to take home the victory and were downed 3-1 by the San Jose Sharks.

Scoring the game-winning goal for the Sharks was Bryan Lerg, who, at 29, was also playing his first game in the big league. Lerg had bounced around the AHL for seven seasons heading into Thursday’s game, but he made the most of his first shot at NHL action, scoring with 2:52 remaining in the third period to lift the Sharks to victory.

Excluding Brossoit’s incredible first outing, here are the five best debuts of 2014-15: Read more

Contents under pressure: the five NHL playoff goalies with the most to prove

Ben Bishop (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When you sign up to be a professional hockey goaltender, you do so with the full awareness your life will be an endless pressure-cooker until the day you retire. There are only 60 NHL jobs to be had each season, new faces coming onto the scene every year, and an endless series of “must-win” games that can adversely affect future employment in hockey’s top league if things don’t go your way.

That said, there are some goalies facing greater amounts of pressure than others. With the way Montreal superstar Carey Price and Nashville net menace Pekka Rinne have played this season, they’re going to return as the starter for their respective teams next season regardless of what takes place in the 2015 playoffs. They’ll still face pressure, of course. But they don’t have as much to prove as some other NHL goalies do. Here are the five goalies with the most to prove in this year’s post-season:

5. Frederik Andersen, Ducks. The 25-year-old Andersen is tied for seventh in the league in wins this season, but his save percentage in 52 games is a pedestrian .914, and his numbers in his rookie NHL playoff experience last season – including an .899 SP and a 3.10 goals-against average – raise questions about what he’ll be able to do this time around. Andersen is under contract for next season at a very affordable $1.15-million salary cap hit, but he’s also got youngster John Gibson (who posted a .919 SP and 2.70 G.A.A. in the playoffs for Anaheim last year) breathing down his neck. A poor performance for him could put the 21-year-old Gibson in the No. 1 role, and he might never surrender it.
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Five trade deadline deals paying big dividends

Chris Stewart (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

At the 2013-14 trade deadline, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings acquired Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a song, sending Matt Frattin, a second-round and third-round pick the other way.

In the post-season, Gaborik was a force to be reckoned with. In 26 playoff games, he scored 14 goals and 22 points, led the post-season with 11 even strength goals and played nearly 18 minutes per game on the Kings top scoring unit.

The Stanley Cup final is two months away at this point, but there are more than a few acquisitions from this season’s deadline that paid off in a big way. For some, the fight for the post-season is still on, but the other four have their teams prepared for the beginning of playoff runs and hope they, too, can have a Gaborik-esque impact en route to Stanley Cup glory of their own.

In order to qualify as a deadline deal, the players appearing on this list had to be traded on or after March 1. Unfortunately, that disqualifies Jaromir Jagr, whose four goals and 12 points leads all deadline acquisitions. In addition, however, Jagr’s Panthers aren’t post-season bound. Read more

NHL losing two officiating giants after this season with retirements of referee Paul Devorski, linesman Jean Morin

Adam Proteau
NHL referee Paul Devorski (center) and linesman Jean Morin (second from right). (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images Sport)

Two senior members of the NHL officiating fraternity – referee Paul Devorski and linesman Jean Morin – are retiring at the end of this season, taking with them a wealth of experience and skill at policing arguably the toughest sport there is to police.

The 56-year-old Devorski, who officiated his first NHL game Oct. 14, 1989, ranks fifth on on the All-Time Referee list for regular-season games as of March 31 of this year, with 1,592 games under his belt. The Guelph, Ont., native currently leads all active referees in that department as well as playoff games, but trails retired icons Dan Marouelli (1,622), Don Koharski (1,701), Bill McCreary (1,737) and Kerry Fraser (1,904). The 51-year-old Morin began his NHL career in the 1991-92 campaign and sits eighth overall among active linesmen in regular-season games, as well as second overall among active linesmen in playoff games. The league has experienced significant turnover among its officials in recent years, and the professionalism of both Devorski and Morin will be missed.

Here are up-to-date lists ranking active referees and linesmen in both regular-season and playoff games: Read more