May 12, 2012

Original Six: Worst NHL playoff performers

By Jesse Connolly

Nicklas Lidstrom. Tim Thomas. Martin Brodeur. These are just a few of the names that forever will be a part of hockey lore due to their remarkable ability to thrive in the pressure-packed environment that is playoff hockey. But while some rise to the occasion, others simply wilt in the spotlight and fall so short of expectations in the postseason that their failures barely can be put into words. Without further ado, here are the worst playoff performers in the NHL today:

6. Marc-Andre Fleury

Pittsburgh Penguins

For a guy that’s led his team to the finals twice, including a Cup win in 2009, Fleury sure has some pretty poor playoff numbers. Yes, he was great when Pittsburgh fell to Detroit the first time around, but even when the Penguins won it all, their young netminder’s stats (.908 save percentage) were mediocre at best.

The 27-year-old Quebec native had his worst postseason yet this spring, bombing in an opening round loss to Philadelphia. In six starts, Fleury coughed up 26 goals to the Flyers and finished with a catastrophically bad .834 save percentage (his third consecutive postseason under .900). Because of “Flower’s” failures, Pittsburgh’s Cup hopes died on the vine.

5. Marian Gaborik

New York Rangers

Since starting out with 21 points in 23 games in his first two playoff appearances, Gaborik has made three trips to the postseason. Don’t believe me? That makes a lot of sense, as the Slovakian winger has been a ghost when it matters most for quite some time.

Heading into Game 6 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Sens, Gaborik — fresh off his second 40-plus goal season in the last three years for the Blueshirts — had just two goals in his last 16 playoff contests. For a guy that gets paid big bucks ($7.5 million) to produce and regularly rocks in the regular season, he simply has to be better when the games really matter.


4. Shane Doan

Phoenix Coyotes

One obvious hindrance has been working against the oft-underrated Doan since the Jets relocated to the desert in 1996: He plays for the Coyotes. Nevertheless, the man who’s worn the ‘C’ for Phoenix since 2003 had never been able to help his team advance past the first round — until this year, his ninth trip to the playoffs.

Sure, the ’Yotes have been thin on talent at times, but they’ve also had their share of squads that were capable of more than they wound up achieving. Doan — the Coyotes’ all-time leading scorer — falls right in line with that trend, as he’s averaged less than half-a-point per game in the postseason.

 

3. Bruce Boudreau

Anaheim Ducks

What would this list be without a coach who chokes every spring? One could say that Washington’s performance in the postseason with his replacement, Dale Hunter, at the helm truly will show how much blame Boudreau deserves, but there’s no denying that the Capitals flopped under his guidance.

In each of his first four seasons in D.C., the Caps were considered one of the top threats to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. Washington never made it past the second round. Boudreau was canned in the opening months of 2011-12 before catching on with Anaheim, which failed to qualify for the playoffs. If they do make it under Boudreau, Ducks fans should temper their expectations.

2. Joe Thornton

San Jose Sharks

With 34 points in his last 38 playoff games, “Jumbo Joe” is no longer an annual no-show in playoff box scores. Unfortunately, while Thornton has found a way to be a bigger contributor, he still hasn’t figured out how to lead a team to glory.

San Jose’s playoff run lasted just five games this spring, making it seven seasons and counting that Thornton has yet to get a perennial contender in the Western Conference to the finals. The mild-mannered center earns a slight reprieve for his recent individual success, but his terrible track record when facing elimination (five points in 17 games) and inability to push the Sharks over the hump cement his spot on this list.

1. Roberto Luongo

Vancouver Canucks

When the 2011 playoffs began, I actually felt bad for Luongo. The poor guy had won a gold medal for Canada a year prior but still took so much heat. My sympathy waned when the netminder with an already shaky playoff resume almost singlehandedly blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Chicago.

In the Cup finals, he was torn to shreds by the masses for his atrocious play and smarmy attitude. This year, Luongo lost his starting job after two playoff games. Vancouver can either try to trade him or live with his mental fragility for the remaining nine years on his contract. For the Canucks, that truly has to stink — but not as badly as Luongo always does come playoff time.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.