2011 NHL Playoffs: Two Superstars Who Need to Be Super

The National Hockey league is a funny thing. For 82 games, players go out there and show what they are capable of. Many players, stars, superstars and role players, establish a certain level of consistency. There are those who will have breakout seasons, and maybe rise to a level of skill and stardom previously unheard of, but that typically will not last more than one season. Then there are those who produce at a level of consistency that others can only dream of.

Barring injury, obvious names like Alexander Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby always end up at the top of the scoring statistics by seasons end. Whereas a guy like Colton Orr may get lucky and score in 3 consecutive games, but he’ll likely end the season with a grand total of 5 goals and 120 penalty minutes in 80+ games.

The playoffs are an entirely different story. The games are highly scrutinized, as are the players. Matchups are highlighted and defense tandems will be assigned to shut down the opposition’s top scorers. Goalies and players alike will need to step up their games, in an effort to bring home Lord Stanley’s Cup, arguably the toughest trophy to win in all of professional sports. Star players can crumble under the spotlight, pressure and intensity of the playoffs. That is the focus of this article today.

Two of the games brightest stars, Roberto Luongo, and Joe Thornton are regular season dynamos. Luongo is in most people’s conversations regarding the “best goalie in the world”. However, regardless of his stellar regular season statistics, the man simply cannot get the proverbial “playoff monkey” off his back.

Time after time, Luongo has crumbled under pressure, especially at the hands of the hated Chicago Blackhawks. It has been 2 years in a row that the Vancouver Canucks have seen their season ended at the hands of the ‘Hawks. This season could be the third in a row. After taking a three to nothing series lead, the Nucks have lost three straight games and look like they are a sinking ship in distress. The Canucks have a ton of talent, but only one man can really right the ship and end the Canucks playoff futility. That man is Roberto Luongo.

Tonight, in game 7, Luongo must exercise his playoff demons and be the best goaltender on the planet, just like many people think he is. Luongo did capture Olympic Gold last winter, in the very same arena he’ll be playing tonight. He must channel that focus, that intensity, and that incredible skill that has brought him to the height of goaltending stardom, and shut the Blackhawks down for good.

The second player who needs to lead his team to victory is none other than Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe, the all star top line center for the San Jose Sharks, has all the talent in the world. He is arguably the best passing center in the game, and his regular season statistics speak volumes. He regularly leads the league in assists, and is a career point – per – game player.

That all means nothing in the post season, as Jumbo Joe has never fared particularly well in the playoffs. Maybe it is the tight checking game. Maybe it is the fact that top pair defencemen are regularly sent at him to shut him down. Regardless, a man of Thornton’s talents should be able to take his game to another level and will his team to victory. The Bruins traded him when they realized he couldn’t take them to the Cup final, and now maybe the Sharks will come to the same realization.

This year was the first in recent memory that Joe wasn’t a point per game player in the regular season. Maybe he was saving it for the playoffs? It didn’t look like it, as Thornton was having a mediocre playoffs again this year, until he scored the series clinching over time goal last night against the Los Angeles Kings. That may be the confidence boost Joe needs to finally kick it into high gear and carry the Sharks to the Cup. Time will tell.

Thornton and Luongo both know how to win. They’ve done it in the Olympics. They’ve done it in the regular season, carrying their teams to President’s trophy wins. Now is the time for them to do it under the brightest spotlight in hockey. The NHL playoffs.

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