Every team and every player is under pressure with the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, each spring there are certain teams, certain players, coaches, GMs and entire organizations under even more strain than usual.
These are the teams that simply can't afford a first-round loss; the general managers who know their season's worth of work might be judged over the next two weeks; and the players who sometimes feel those first 82 games don't count for anything at all.
Here are some of those pressure points at the start of the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs.
1. Curtis Joseph, Detroit Red Wings
The Wings have been good enough all season to make up for a certain decline in the quality of goaltending, but what do you expect when Dominik Hasek is gone? As always, the pressure truly shows up for goaltenders in the playoffs. This is where Joseph will be judged. The Wings are not that much better than everyone else that they can win with the sort of goaltending that got them the Cup in 1997 and 1998, or are they?
2. The rest of the goalies
With the exceptions of Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, and perhaps Ed Belfour, every goalie has something to prove. From St. Louis and Chris Osgood, to Vancouver and Dan Cloutier's wobbly knee, to the Islanders and Garth Snow, to Philadelphia and Roman Cechmanek. This is crunch time.
3. Larry Pleau, St. Louis Blues
The Blues GM has molded a team into one of the best in the NHL. They managed to play virtually the entire season without Chris Pronger. But goaltending in the playoffs will be his final grade -- and it will count for everything.
4. Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte in Philadelphia
The last time either of these guys played on a team that actually won a playoff round was in 1996 with the Blackhawks, who lost to the Avalanche in the conference semifinals. Roenick has since played in six series with two teams (Phoenix and Philadelphia) -- all first-round losses -- while Amonte only managed two playoff appearances with the Hawks (1997, 2002). The two have been magical since Amonte arrived in Philly at the trade deadline. Now comes the real test.
5. Pat Quinn, Toronto Maple Leafs, GM and coach
The Leafs' trade-deadline stockpile has been depleted by injury. However, Toronto being Toronto, a first-round loss to a Philly team that annually crashes in April will be deemed unacceptable. If that happens, his combined role of coach and GM could be history.
6. Alexei Yashin, New York Islanders
There were signs of life from Yashin over the final few of weeks of the season. What he needs now is a strong playoff series against the team, Ottawa, that traded him for a lack of such. If not, Yashin's biggest danger won't be a trade (his contract makes him virtually untradeable), but rather a cross check on his own bench from Michael Peca, the Isles captain who is going to hold every Islander accountable.
7. The Sedin twins, Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have the only coach in the West who has won a Cup as a head coach, while the other top-three seeds -- Dallas, Colorado and Detroit -- all
have first-year rookies as head coaches. However, Vancouver has the biggest question mark in goal with Cloutier's injury, and the Canucks depend heavily on one line (Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi). What the Canucks need is some balance, and the twins could provide a twin-turbo boost. Or not.
8. Jaromir Jagr, Washington Capitals
You want to talk about a drop in reputation. Maybe it's just playing in a lesser hockey market, or maybe the fact he could have been acquired by anybody who wanted to pick up his contract. Whatever the reason, Jagr needs a big playoff to put his name back on the NHL's marquee, and that won't happen if the Caps lose to Tampa Bay.
9. The Ottawa Senators
This just comes with the territory of finishing first overall. The margin for first-round error has been erased, and if they somehow can't crank it up against the Islanders -- or if they get behind the Isles -- the season will be viewed in disastrous terms.
10. The New York Rangers
Another postseason of watching. It's six in a row, and it will only get worse if the Isles, Devils and Flyers advance past the first round.
Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN.