After the conclusion to round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams are already looking for more players to step up into the spotlight. Coaches are looking for performances like those of Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Kessel. Rinne stole the show for Nashville, allowing only three goals, over four games and posted a .976 save percentage. Kessel finished the first round with eight points and two powerplay goals. For a team to go all the way to the cup finals, they need heroes to emerge.
The X-Factors of Each Second Round Series
Edmonton Oilers Vs. Anaheim Ducks – X-Factor: Connor McDavid (EDM)
The Oilers are in tough against a really good Ducks team in round two and if they want to even have a shot of moving on, they need to have more production from McDavid. Four points in six games in the first round does not seem poor, but McDavid averaged 1.22 points during the regular season. Everyone knows how good McDavid is and will continue to gather attention from opposing teams ‘shut down’ guys. There is nothing he can do about that. However, the Oilers are not a deep enough team to beat the ducks with out production from their star centreman.
If McDavid can not find a way to chip in more on the scoresheet, it could be a quick elimination for the young Oilers.
In the first game of the series, McDavid only contributed in a single assist but it was the attention the Ducks gave him which lead to three of the Oilers five goals. The Ducks put a premium on shutting down McDavid but he gathered so much attention, it lead to uncharacteristic mistakes. Those mistakes were: a hooking penalty and an Adam Larsson goal. Larsson had four goals all season but had two in game one. This included one where every Ducks player had their eyes on McDavid as Larsson was allowed to walk into the slot and score. McDavid’s importance to the Oilers can not be overstated and will continue to be the most important factor in this series.
Nashville Predators Vs. St Louis Blues – X-Factor: Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)
Nashville and St Louis, both upset higher seeds in round one and it was thanks to their goaltending. Pekka Rinne was the biggest star of round one and Jake Allen helped the Blues win their matchup against Minnesota after being heavily outshot. That is why this matchup will come down to who can score more. Tarasenko is the X-factor because both the Preds and the Blues can defend well and have reliable goalies.
There is no player in this match-up with as much offensive talent as Tarasenko. Tarasenko had another phenomenal regular season scoring 39 goals and adding another 36 assists. He had 14 more points than anyone on both St Louis and Nashville, and 20 more goals than any other teammate. Despite good regular season numbers, Tarasenko only had two points in their first round series, and is going to have to contribute more if they hope to win. If Nashville can shutdown Tarasenko, the series will be over quick. However, if Tarasenko can manage to start producing and scoring goals, it will force Nashville to abandon the ‘lockdown’ style of defence they love to play.
New York Rangers Vs. Ottawa Senators – X-Factor: Derick Brassard (OTT)
The Clark MacArthur story was the biggest headline from the Senators first round but it will be Brassard who swings their series with the Rangers. After dropping game one to the Bruins, Brassard turned on the jets and had eight points in the next five games. That kind of point production would be huge against the Rangers. This series looks to be a series of one-goal, 2-1/3-2 games and which ever team can have an offensive out burst will most likely win.
Last summer, the Rangers and Senators swapped Mika Zibanejad for Brassard in a trade that surprised a lot of fans. The two very similar players will face-off in again in this series. Both had great first rounds and are looking to make an impact again. The reason their is more pressure on Brassard to be the X-factor is because of his age. Brassard is five years older than Zibanejad and he centres the teams first power play unit. Henrik Lundqvist has been very impressive in the playoffs so far and special teams will be crucial in this matchup. Ottawa also has less depth offensively and there are few players that produce as well as Brassard.
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. Washington Capitals – X-Factor: Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT)
Braden Holtby has consistently been phenomenal in the playoffs so in this series, the pressure will fall on Fleury to match-up to him. Fleury was not even slotted in to start the playoffs but a surprise injury to Matt Murray in warmups of the Penguins first game against the Blue Jackets, thrust Fleury into the starting job. The Penguins put an emphasis on scoring goals and that principle is followed at every position. The Capitals have a high powered offence and Fleury is the last line of Pittsburgh’s defence.
Last year when the Penguins won the cup, Murray was a large part of winning the series against Washington. Pittsburgh can score, but that is always expected considering their arsenal of forwards. In last years series, five of the six games were one goal games. Three ended in overtime. During the season, the Capitals scored five or more goals in three out of the four meetings with the Penguins. Washington might not put up a seven spot again, but Fleury cannot afford to let in soft goals. If this series is as close as it was last year, Fleury is going to have to steal at least one or more games for the Pens.