The beauty of the NHL is that the course of any game can change in less than one second. It is so difficult to predict how a game will turn out as teams have countless chances to completely turn the outcome around. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the pace and the physicality of the games increases drastically which provides even more of these opportunities.
There are some players that have the ability to change the outcome of a game all by themselves. Whether it is speed, leadership, intelligence, or anything other characteristic of a hockey player in the NHL, these game changing players can take over any contest with a goal, an assist, a save, a hit, and many other contributions that can lead their team to a win.
With just four teams left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the amount of these game changing players on the ice is quite concentrated. Let’s take a look at the Top 5 Game Changers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and what sets them apart from the rest:
5) Steven Stamkos
The star Tampa Bay Lightning forward got a taste of high stakes playoff hockey in 2011, when his team played seven hard-fought games against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. After staying off of the scoresheet in this year’s first round against the Detroit Red Wings, Stamkos has returned to the scoresheet with a vengeance with three goals in the second round series victory over the Montreal Canadiens alone. He is looking to channel his inner Martin St. Louis as he continues his run in the Eastern Conference Finals where he will face his mentor and his new team, the New York Rangers.
Steven Stamkos is creative. It seems as if Stamkos can see things before they happen, and he always finds a way to be at the right place at the right time. Even if it requires fielding a stretch pass surrounded by three defenders in center ice, Stamkos gets to the tough areas and simply makes it happen. Just watch below if you don’t believe me:
4) Ryan Getzlaf
Good ol’ Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf is trying desperately to avoid becoming a Dan Marino-type figure in the NHL. That is, a great athlete that holds numerous team records, has gotten so close to greatness on multiple occasions, but finishes his career without a championship. Getzlaf has flown under the radar for much of his career, playing in a comparatively small market in Anaheim with home games being played at 10pm for the East Coast, where much of the hockey recognition comes from.
However, the further Ryan Getzlaf gets through his career as a first-tier center, the more Mark Messier we see in him. Big body, great wheels, stickhandling, puck distribution, over 50% in faceoff wins. He is the leader, the captain, and a significant presence on the ice for the Anaheim Ducks. His coaches and his teammates have the utmost respect and more for this multi-faceted center. Oh yeah, and he can do this:
3) Henrik Lundqvist
You may be asking yourself: can a goaltender really be a game changer? The answer is a firm, firm yes, especially when we are talking about Henrik Lundqvist. Hank has an incomparable clutch factor. As the moment gets bigger, he elevates his level to a point where you never know if there is actually a human behind that mask. But sure enough, there stands King Henrik, standing as far back in the crease as he can and giving the New York Rangers a chance to win in every scenario.
In the last 13 games where the Rangers are facing elimination from the playoffs, Hank has started each of these contests while posting a .959 save percentage and two shutouts. It is no coincidence that his team is 11-2 in these elimination games. Hank also has a 10-0 record in Game 7’s in the heralded Madison Square Garden. In these games, Hank has a glistening 0.87 goals against average, and a .969 save percentage. This year, he ranks 1st in goals against average and save percentage out of any goaltender to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Simply put, he thrives in pressure situations.
Watch as in classic Hank fashion, he denies Alex Ovechkin, who may or may not have a picture of Hank defamed with crosshairs hanging in his locker:
2) Jonathan Toews
A quick run-through of the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks career thus far. Conn Smythe Trophy? Check. Second youngest captain to win a Stanley Cup? Check. Youngest player to join the Triple Gold Club, with an Olympic Gold Medal, a Stanley Cup, and a World Championship? Check. I forgot to mention, this is all by the end of the 2010 season. Today, Toews has a lot more under his belt: another Stanley Cup, skating circles around the Boston Bruins in six games, a Selke Trophy for his efforts as one of the best defensive forwards in the game, and a massive eight year contract extension.
Jonathan Toews does it all, which is why he is the #2 game changer on in this list. He has the largest toolkit out of any other player left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He passes, he scores, he hits, he blocks shots, he skates, he is incessant on the forecheck, and most of all, he leads, which has helped him become the third youngest player to wear the “C” on his sweater.
In this case, Toews flies through the neutral zone, splits three defenders with savvy deke and while he very well could have shot the puck, he decides to be a team player and get the puck to Marian Hossa, who is camped out and looking at a wide open net:
1) Patrick Kane
What makes Patrick Kane the #1 game changer out of any player left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is his hands and his ability to make something out what is seemingly nothing. Kane often floats down the half boards and in between the dots with tons of traffic in front of the net. Any other player thinks pass in this scenario but with Patrick Kane, the puck is in the net, the lamp is lit, and the goaltender is wondering where he is, all in the blink of an eye, kind of like this:
Over the last three years, Patrick Kane has registered 50 points in 51 playoff games for the Chicago Blackhawks. At just 26 years young, he has already surpassed the 100 career point mark and the scoring just keeps on coming. Taking his success a step further, he is just the third American-born player to average over a point per game in the playoffs, joining the likes of Brian Leetch and Kevin Stevens. There is a lot left in Patrick Kane’s tank and we can be sure that “Showtime” will continue for years to come: