Your Call: Who needs a Stanley Cup title the most?

Ben Fisher, Staff

4/4/2011 3:49:04 PM

With the start of the playoffs come the questions of whether a star player can be relied on when the games really start to count.

Several players have built up impressive reputations over the course of their career for great regular season play, but have not been able to translate that success into the playoffs.

Of the number of teams who would be disappointed if they don't reach the Stanley Cup Final, many have someone who, for one reason or another, needs to have a strong post-season.

Some are trying to shed the perception they can't get it done in the clutch, while others are in the late stages of their career looking to make a Cup run before it's too late. And some are just tortured fan bases who have been teased by their teams before.

Our question to you is: Of the relative favourites heading into the playoffs this year, who needs to have a strong playoffs and win the Stanley Cup the most? As always, it's Your Call! 

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals

With just 30 goals and 51 assists to date, Ovechkin is having a bit of an off year for his standards. The 25-year-old sniper will finish the year with his lowest totals in goals and points in his six-year career. But at this stage in his career, post-season success is probably more important than regular season success.

In Ovi's three years in the playoffs, the Capitals - Southeast Division Champions all three years - have never made it out of the second round, and lost in the first round twice.

And in the whole 'Crosby vs. Ovechkin' debate - with Crosby having been to two Finals and winning one - post-season success is critical for Ovechkin's case as the better player.

Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks

Like Ovechkin, Luongo seems to take a little more flack than the rest of the team for the Canucks falling short in previous post-seasons. Luongo has long had a reputation as one of the best goalies in the game, but a reputation he built largely in the regular season.

Also like Ovechkin, Luongo has never led Vancouver past the second round in the three years the team has been in the playoffs. Prior to that, the 31-year-old goalie had no playoff experience, playing for perennial basement-dwellers Florida Panthers and New York Islanders.

After capturing the President's Trophy this year, there won't be a lot of acceptable excuses in Vancouver if they fall short again in the playoffs. Luongo's play will certainly be in the spotlight, and with the list of goalies to have made it to the Cup Final recently adding relative no-names Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton, a lot will be expected of him. 

Tim Thomas - Boston Bruins

After another stellar regular season, Thomas is likely to win his second Vezina Trophy in three years. His story is an incredible one of perseverance and late-career success. But the one thing the 36-year-old goalie doesn't have is a Stanley Cup ring. 

Thomas has only been to the playoffs as a starter three times (last year, Tuukka Rask played all 13 of the Bruins' playoff games) and this late in his career, he may not have many more opportunities to make a run for the Final.

Hoisting the Stanley Cup would be a great capper to an already great story for Thomas. 

Todd Bertuzzi - Detroit Red Wings

One of the more intriguing storylines of last year's Stanley Cup Final was the plight of Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa. Hossa finally won a Stanley Cup after joining the 'wrong' team in the Final the previous two years.

Although not as heartbreaking, Bertuzzi had a similar situation a year before Hossa's back-to-back disappointments. Bertuzzi joined the Red Wings at the trade deadline in 2007, helping them advance to the Western Conference Final before losing to the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. Bertuzzi would join that Ducks team for the following season only to see the Red Wings win the Cup in 2008.

Now in his second stint in Detroit, Bertuzzi will be looking to follow in Hossa's footsteps and get his Cup ring after years of close disappointment. 

Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks

Thornton is another who some tap as a player who can't get it done when it matters. In his 13-year career, he's missed the playoffs just twice and has only advanced past the second round once. After a number of disappointing post-season appearances in Boston, Thornton carried that stigma with him to San Jose, where the team has perennially fallen short of expectations. The Sharks' best performance in the playoffs since his arrival was last year, when Thornton helped the team advance to the Conference Final before dropping four straight to the Cup Champion Blackhawks.

Thornton has seemingly done everything else – he's an Olympic Gold Medalist, he won the Hart Trophy in 2006, he turned Jonathon Cheechoo into a 56-goal scorer and Rocket Richard Trophy winner - but he, like everyone else on this list, has yet to capture a Stanley Cup ring. 

Philadelphia Flyers fans

After a roller coaster ride to the Stanley Cup Final last year, Flyers fans enjoyed a much smoother ride - to the playoffs at least - this season.

It took a shootout victory in their last game of the regular season in 2010 for the Flyers to even make the playoffs; but, for Philly fans, that is where the fun began. Led in net by Brian Boucher and then later Michael Leighton, the Flyers got past the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in five games in the first round, rallied from a three-game deficit to sneak past the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins in the second round and cruised past the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, making a playoff run of their own, in five games to advance to the Cup Final.

The run would ultimately end in disappointment for Flyers fans when the Blackhawks captured the Stanley Cup in overtime in Game 6. The loss was nothing new to their fans, who, since the Flyers' last Cup victory in 1975, have seen their team lose in the Final six straight times.

This year, fans of the team didn't have to go through the same ups and downs of last year's regular season - Philadelphia has been at or near the top of the Eastern Conference all season long - but will have higher expectations heading into the playoffs than they had last time around.