Every player on each of the 16 teams heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs will face an added burden and will feel the pinch of added expectations. Hey, it's the postseason; pressure is what comes with the territory. But certain players, because of their particular role or their past playoff failings, will really feel the heat when the march to the Cup begins on Wednesday. Here are seven players who'll be facing extra scrutiny over the next several weeks:
When you look at Jones' stat line, two numbers stand out: 2 and 56. That's because the big, 26-year-old goaltender has appeared in just two NHL postseason games, for a total of 56 minutes. Now all he'll be expected to do in his first playoff experience as a starter is to shut down his former teammates on the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose's first-round opponent. Of course, this is why Sharks general manager Doug Wilson waited patiently for Jones to be traded to the Boston Bruins last offseason and then sent a first-round pick to the Bruins for Martin, who then became the Sharks' starting goaltender. James Reimer has played well down the stretch since moving over from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline. But the key to the Sharks exacting revenge on the Kings for 2014, when San Jose blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round, rests with Jones and his ability to carry the mail for his current team.
Things haven't gone exactly as planned since Stastny left the Colorado Avalanche, signed with St. Louis as a free agent during the summer of 2014 and returned to the town where he grew up. He has battled injuries and a disappointing lack of production -- he had just 16 goals last season and 10 in 2015-16 -- during his time with the Blues. In the first round of the playoffs a year ago, Stastny had one goal in six games as the Central Division-champion Blues were upset by the Minnesota Wild. David Backes is banged up and his availability for the start of a crucial first-round playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks is unknown, so the 30-year-old two-time U.S. Olympian needs to deliver the goods.
The last playoff action the veteran goalie saw was from the end of the Vancouver Canucks' bench during the 2013 playoffs. Luongo had been supplanted by pal Cory Schneider, who had taken over as the starter during the previous playoff year. It's all just water under the bridge now for Luongo, who returned to Florida at the 2014 trade deadline and has been a key part of a feel-good renaissance for the Panthers, the surprise Atlantic Division champions this season. Florida has a real opportunity to make its first long playoff run since 1996 but will count on a largely untested group of youngsters to build on this season's successes. It will be up to Luongo, who was 35-19-6 with a .922 save percentage during the regular season, to continue to serve as a calming presence and help smooth out the playoff bumps that will inevitably confront this callow but talented team.
The longtime Carolina Hurricanes captain's decline in production has been noticeable for a number of years. Indeed, that decline can be traced to the last time Staal played in a postseason game, during the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. That season, he scored 40 goals during the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs. This season he scored 10 goals before he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline. It hasn't been an easy transition, as Staal has just three goals in 20 games since being traded. The 31-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and a strong playoff would do wonders for his prospects of securing a nice landing spot for the next phase of his career. In the immediate future, though, Staal's ability to produce will be key for a Rangers team that figures to struggle to keep pace with a high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins team that has been the highest-scoring squad in the league since Mike Sullivan took over as head coach.
Speaking of taking time to adjust ... the former Toronto Maple Leafs sniper was like many Penguins in that it took a while to find his footing this season after being dealt to the Pens in a blockbuster deal last summer. But under Sullivan -- and playing with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino, who has filled in nicely for the injured Evgeni Malkin -- Kessel has played his best hockey of the season. In his final 13 games, he had 14 points and helped the Penguins surge into second place in the Metropolitan Division. Since coming into the league in 2006-07, Kessel has played in only 22 playoff games but has collected 21 postseason points. If he can keep up his current level of play, that bodes well for the Penguins -- and for Kessel. He was a surprise omission from the first 16 players named to Team USA's World Cup of Hockey roster in March.
Not a lot of people think the Stars can hang with the big boys of the Western Conference on the defensive side of the puck. But it would be unwise to completely dismiss their defense, and one of the key players to watch along the blue line this spring will be Klingberg. The 23-year-old Swede had an immediate impact last season when was called up from the American Hockey League. He did not disappoint this season, playing mostly with Alex Goligoski on a top defensive pairing and finishing fifth among all defensemen with 58 points while averaging 22:41 a night in ice time. How important is Klingberg? He had 50 of his points in games in which the Stars were victorious but only eight in the 29 losses in which he appeared. But the playoffs are a different beast, and this will be Klingberg's first taste of NHL postseason action. How he responds will be an indicator of just how far the Stars can advance this spring.
There are two ways to look at the Ducks. The glass-is-half-full view is that they've taken a step forward in the playoffs each of the past three seasons on their way to reaching the Western Conference finals last spring. The glass-is-half-full-of-dirt perspective is that Anaheim has lost three consecutive Game 7s -- all at home -- to the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, to end their past three playoff seasons. All of which brings us to the Ducks' captain, Getzlaf. The center was not at his best in Games 6 and 7 in the Western Conference finals last year, as Chicago erased a 3-2 series deficit and went on to win a Stanley Cup. Getzlaf struggled early this season, scoring once in October and November before rounding into form and ending up as his team's points leader, with 63. No one doubts that Getzlaf is a world-class talent. He's a two-time Olympic gold medalist and he won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. At some point this spring Anaheim is going to face a must-win, and then it will be time for Getzlaf to help this team reverse recent history.