The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off tonight with three Western Conference games. Here are five American-related storylines to watch this postseason in the Western Conference.
Potential 2014 U.S. Olympic Men's Team Goalies on Display
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), Jimmy Howard (Detroit) and Cory Schneider (Vancouver) all are attempting to backstop their respective teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, there will be plenty of watchful eyes taking notes on these potential goaltending options for Sochi if NHL players are allowed to participate in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Quick has become one of the leading candidates to land the 2014 starting netminder job for Team USA after his miraculous run in last year's playoffs. The Milford, Conn. product won the Conn Smythe Trophy after going 16-4 with a 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. This year Quick went 18-13-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .902 save percentage.
Howard led American goaltenders with 21 wins this season, none bigger than the last four as the Red Wings won their final four games to squeeze into the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season. Howard posted a 2.13 GAA and a .923 save percentage. The Syracuse, N.Y. native also was tied for the league lead with five shutouts.
And who was Howard tied with? Cory Schneider.
The Canucks goaltender has thrived for the last half of the regular season as he wrestled Roberto Luongo for the team's No. 1 job. Schneider finished the year with a 17-9-4 record with a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
It is unclear if Schneider will be available for Game 1 of the Canucks-Sharks series due to a body injury.
Will Jason Pominville return in time to help the Wild try and unseat the top-seeded Blackhawks?
When the Minnesota Wild acquired Jason Pominville from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL's trade deadline, it gave the Twin Cities a trio of talented American stars to go along with free agent signees Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The eight-year veteran flourished with his new team, scoring nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 10 games. However, the right winger missed Minnesota's final two games after taking an elbow to the head from Dustin Brown on April 23 and has been ruled out for tonight's series-opener.
However, the 30-year-old did practice on Monday and should return to the series.
Minnesota certainly wants Pominville and his 14 goals and 20 assists back in the lineup against the President's Trophy winners. Even more so, Pominville is battle-tested in the postseason.
Parise (18 goals, 20 assists), Suter (league-high 27:16 ice time per game) and Pominville finished the season in the top 10 of scoring among American players.
Who will be Mr. Clutch?
Every year there is a player who rises to the occasion during the playoffs to rally his team to victory. Sometimes it can be a savvy veteran while at other times it may be an up-and-coming rookie or young player.
Just look at this year's regular season.
Joe Pavelski (San Jose) and Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim) were tied for second among American players with five game-winning goals. The duo trailed only Derek Stepan (New York Rangers) and his six game winners.
Pavelski is 28 years old and has appeared in more than 60 NHL postseason games and has scored seven game-winning goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In comparison, Palmieri is in his first full-time stint in the NHL and set career-highs in games (42), goals (10) and assists (11). The 22-year-old played in one game for the Ducks during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Another player to watch is Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, who had three game-winning goals last year during LA's Stanley Cup-winning postseason march.
Heavyweights set to Square off in St. Louis and LA
David Backes won the most faceoffs (477) among American players during the regular season. But beyond the center's success in the face-off circle comes an aggressive player who is never afraid to use his body.
The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder finished seventh in the NHL with an American-best 158 hits and at this time of year the level of intensity on the ice is at a premium and teams will need to be able to flex their muscle.
Backes finished the regular season with six goals and 22 assists and is now faced with the task of trying to lead the No. 4 Blues past the fifth seed and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Oh, and the Kings have two big guys who like to throw their weight around as well. Brown was just behind Backes with 156 hits and Kyle Clifford is another physical presence in the Kings lineup.
The Blues-Kings series has the potential to be one of the most physical first-round matchups.
Does Patrick Kane Work His Magic In The Postseason?
Patrick Kane posted his sixth consecutive season with 20 or more goals this year by leading American players with 23 goals and 32 assists for 55 points.
The 24-year-old is enjoying one of his most dominant seasons and has elevated his game to a new level. Kane, always known for his highlight reel goals, did just that when he pulled off a miraculous spin-o-rama goal against the Nashville Predators.
The 5-foot-11 right winger has already hoisted Lord Stanley in 2010, after scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and has scored 20 goals and notched 32 assists in 51 postseason affairs.
If teams were not concerned already with Kane, he has even brought back his mullet from the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.