NEW YORK -- Three goals in 25 games and a shot off a stick shaft in overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. That was New York Rangers forward Rick Nash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. That's what he can't hide from now, with a new postseason set to begin.
"I've had thousands of people be on top of me and it is what it is," Nash said. "At the end of the day you just gotta try to be better next time."
Next time is here for Nash, who realizes that scoring a career-high 42 goals this season and being a dominant player, a potential Hart Trophy finalist, won't mean much if he doesn't score to help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup this spring.
Left wing Anders Lee was the victim of a numbers game at the start of the 2014-15 season. Instead of being with the New York Islanders, he started the season in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Lee took the demotion in stride and was back with the Islanders within two weeks. Since then, the 6-foot-3, 227-pounds forward has garnered consideration for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie; he finished second among first-year players with 25 goals.
"It's been a really good year," Lee said. "I think I'd be ecstatic to look where I'm at right now. If I asked myself if I'd be in this spot at the end of the year, would I be happy? I think absolutely. I think I'd take that. It was a little bit hectic at first, but things settled down and have fallen into place."
It's lingered for the Islanders captain, especially after he sustained a knee injury while representing Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which left him out of the equation as New York failed to qualify for the postseason last season.
"I think that's what you play for," Tavares said. "It was a series we probably felt we deserved a better fate, but in a few areas we weren't as good as Pittsburgh. We're a young team and I think we just want to keep pushing for that next level. Obviously, you want to win the Cup and you want to compete for it. Watching the playoffs as a kid, you see how much fun each and every round gets, and I think that's what drives everybody."
Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings is one of the game's top coaches. He has the Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals to prove his ability.
He is primed to chase another Stanley Cup title, but it might be his last with Detroit. He is in the final year of his contract and his future in Detroit is uncertain. He may be back or may move on to a new challenge.
Either way, he will be in demand after he helps guide the Detroit Red Wings to another championship this spring. The Detroit roster has warts, but if there's one coach capable of getting the most out of any lineup, it's Babcock.
Their top prospect played sparingly at center during his formative time in Russia, including a stint in the Kontinental Hockey League. Yet he eagerly accepted the challenge and has been key to Washington's late-season success.
"I know it's a little bit different [style of] hockey and a different mentality," Kuznetsov said. "I try to focus on the hockey."
Kuznetsov, 22, came to Washington in March 2014 after five seasons playing professionally in Russia. He had to adapt quickly to the smaller ice sheet and faster pace of North American hockey and had nine points in 17 games at the end of the 2013-14 season.
"I don't know if it's a fair assessment, but in terms of Hayes' size and his vision and his skill set he reminds me a lot of when I played with Vinny [Lecavalier]," St. Louis said. "Good reach and really good with the puck. I know he knows where I'm going. There's definitely some similarity there."
Lecavalier once scored 52 goals and had 108 points playing with St. Louis on the Tampa Bay Lightning. They won the Stanley Cup together in 2004, capping a season when St. Louis won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy with 94 points in 82 games.
CHICAGO -- Center Antoine Vermette was one of the top players available at the NHL Trade Deadline, but his addition to the Chicago Blackhawks hasn't provided much of a boost.
The hope, for Vermette and the Blackhawks, is that he becomes a bigger difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Work in progress," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about Vermette recently. "Scoring a goal might help him be more confident with the puck. He's improving as far as knowing the familiarity of the routes and where [his] linemates are. That’s what we're looking for, [and] maybe offensively get a goal, and be a little more confident in the puck area."
Giordano was among the top Norris Trophy candidates before he was sidelined with a torn biceps muscle. His loss left many to write off Calgary's chances of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a five-year absence.
Instead, Russell, the NHL leader and single-season record-holder for shot blocks in a season, helped tug the upstart Flames back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.