The playoffs are where legends are born. Every year there’s a new breakout hero that elevates his game to a new level in the playoffs and those performances should be celebrated. Same thing goes for the opposite end of the spectrum, though those come with derision instead of celebration.
We’re halfway through the third round and it’s time to put a spotlight on some of those players: the guys who are bringing the heat and the guys who’ve been ice cold and need to step up. Things may change in the next round, but for now these are the players who’ve played way above or below expectations, mostly based on their regular season and playoff Game Score.
From each team left, we’re highlighting one guy who’s carried their respective team to where they are and one guy who’s been dragged there despite their play. In order of highest Cup probabilities, here’s who’s bringing the heat and who’s ice cold for each remaining team.
Bringing The Heat: Bobby Ryan
I can’t remember the last time Ryan has played this well, but it’s never been for Ottawa. He’s been a perennial 50 point player for the Sens, which is a bit of a disappointment considering what they paid for him and what they pay him to play, but that disappointment pales in comparison to his 2016-17 campaign. A horrific 25 point season to go along with his usual shoddy defense. Maybe he was saving it all for the post-season because he’s been an entirely different player going from an average Game Score of 0.47 all the way to 0.82. His explosion has been a big reason for Ottawa’s ascension during the post-season as it’s given them a well-balanced attack they haven’t had before. During the regular season he was an afterthought among Ottawa’s forwards, but in the playoffs he’s leading the way. He’s been their best one.
Ice Cold: Mark Stone
As Ryan steps up to be the Senators' best forward, that means something’s up with their actual best forward. Stone was a big catalyst for the Sens' regular season success, but he’s hardly been close to that during the post-season. He hasn’t been bad by any means, but just fine isn’t what you expect from a guy who’s been playing at an over 60 point pace for the past three seasons. Even his possession numbers are a bit low and that’s another one of his strong suits. With Ottawa two wins away from the final, they might have an extra gear to them if they can get Stone to find his game.
Bringing The Heat: Filip Forsberg
Four games. Four goals. One in every game. Forsberg was already playing well these playoffs, but he’s taken his play to new heights in the third round as he’s attempting to carry the Predators to their first Cup final berth. He may have fewer points than Ryan Getzlaf on the other side, but he’s been arguably just as impressive (they have the same average Game Score) thanks to his line’s complete domination at 5-on-5. Among players still competing, he’s the leader in shot attempt percentage, hovering around 59 percent and the only other players that are close are his frequent linemates. That’s translated to a tidy plus-11 goal differential at 5-on-5 which is extremely impressive through 14 games. His line is good for basically a goal every game, and in a playoffs where the margins have never been thinner that makes a huge difference. Pekka Rinne was the Preds Conn Smythe front-runner for the first two rounds, but with Forsberg playing like this I’m not so sure anymore. He’s been one of, if not the best forwards during these playoffs. He looks unstoppable.
Ice Cold: Mike Fisher
Through 14 games, Fisher has yet to record a single point. Not one, and that’s while getting 17 minutes per night with some pretty good players. The only other Predators regular without a point is Yannick Weber, and he plays six minutes less per night and is a defenseman. For a guy who managed a respectable 42 points in 72 games this season it’s an extremely disappointing offensive showing. It’s been nearly a decade since the last time Fisher went on a streak this anemic, back in 2007-08. Maybe there’s something ailing him, but it’s shocking the Predators have managed to come this far with nothing to show from their second line centre. If they want to keep this incredible run going he’s going to have to start contributing – Forsberg and the rest of the JOFA line can’t keep doing it all for them.
Bringing The Heat: Jakob Silfverberg
Silfverberg was the key piece in the Bobby Ryan trade and he’s finally showing what he’s capable of in these playoffs. Getzlaf might be more deserving here as he’s been one of the best players these playoffs, but his performance isn’t all that surprising – we know he can bring the heat. Silfverberg on the other hand? No one really expected this out of him. He’s filling the net more than any other player not named Jake Guentzel and has 10 more shots than anyone during these playoffs. He’s getting chances and capitalizing on them with his lethal shot. He’s also tilting the ice more than any other Duck forward meaning it hasn’t been all offence for him either. He’s been responsible at both ends of the ice. Anaheim will have a tough decision ahead of them for the expansion draft, but with Silfverberg playing like this there’s no way they don’t find a way to protect him.
Ice Cold: Sami Vatanen
He may have got a point Thursday night, and his four in 10 playoff games is actually pretty decent, but man is he getting caved in at evens and that’s perhaps the more important number to keep track of for defensemen. Anaheim’s top four is doing just fine when it comes to controlling the ice, but Vatanen and whoever plays with him has really struggled. He’s got the Ducks worst shot attempt differential at minus-36 and that’s even worse when you consider that he’s played fewer games than the rest of the team. He’s rocking a 44 percent Corsi right now which is the worst mark on the team among regulars and four percent worse than the next closest D-man. Maybe the injury that kept him out at the beginning of the playoffs is still ailing him, but either way his play has still been below par with what’s expected of him.
Bringing The Heat: Phil Kessel
There’s only one skater for the Penguins who has a higher Game Score in the playoffs than he did during the regular season and that’s Kessel. Much higher, too. He was instrumental in Pittsburgh’s Cup run last year and he’s showing that was no fluke with his performance this season. He’s got 16 points in 15 games, he’s firing more pucks on net, and he’s one of the few Penguins who isn’t getting decimated on the shot clock. His minus-five Corsi for the playoffs is the third best on the team, though that’s not a great sign for how the team has played. Aside from his frequent linemate, Evgeni Malkin, and the goalie that’s saved their bacon throughout the playoffs, everyone else on the team is struggling to match their regular season output. Not Kessel though, who’s surpassed it and is solidifying himself as one of hockey’s best big game players.
Ice Cold: Conor Sheary
There are a lot of names that can fit here – these Pens haven’t looked nearly as good as they did during the regular season – but Sheary’s name stands out the most. His average Game Score right now is zero. Zero. Nada. Nothing. It’s on the same scale as points-per-game, which basically says that his total contribution this post-season is the same as if he didn’t exist, and that’s a pretty apt description for his play. He’s got three points in 14 games, but that’s completely mitigated by an ugly minus-54 shot differential that lines up perfectly with a just as bad minus-eight goal differential. When Sheary is on the ice, the Pens have gotten killed. There’s a lot of reasons why that could be – a concussion that he perhaps rushed back from, a lack of support on the backend, less ice-time with Sidney Crosby – but that doesn’t completely explain the drop from one of the league’s better wingers (thanks to Crosby, obviously) to a playoff ghost.